Would you like a robot as CEO? The Chinese firm is the first to try, as it bets on the ‘metaverse workplace’

It’s Monday morning and you’re in Hong Kong having coffee with your new boss, a virtual robot powered by artificial intelligence. Meanwhile, his digital clone attends another meeting on his behalf, taking notes that he will review later, but is actually working from his room in Rio de Janeiro.

It may sound straight out of a science fiction novel, but this is the future of work promised by the metaverse and by NetDragon, a Chinese company that recently appointed an AI-powered virtual humanoid robot as rotating CEO of its parent subsidiary, Fujian. NetDragon. web software.

Often referred to as the next version of the internet, the metaverse promises a 3D virtual world that people enter through virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) headsets to conduct business, hang out, and play games at through their holograms or virtual avatars.

NetDragon Websoft, the Chinese game company that has built a reputation with games like Eudemons Online, Heroes Evolved, Conquer Online, and Under Oath, is betting big on this new digital world and its related technologies.

“From our point of view, the metaverse is here to stay, and an AI CEO is part of the plan to get in there. We are doing this for real,” said company vice president Dr. Simon Leung, told CNBC in September.

The appointment of Tang Yu, the name of the CEO of AI-powered virtual robots, “is a step to pioneer the use of AI to transform corporate management and bring operational efficiency to a new level,” said the company in a statement. statementadding that it represented a major milestone” toward being a “metaverse organization.”

What exactly will Tang Yu do?

The company said the humanoid robot would “streamline process flow, improve the quality of work tasks, and improve speed of execution.”

Tang Yu will also function as “a real-time data hub and analytical tool to support rational decision-making in daily operations and enable a more effective risk management system.”

In addition, “Tang Yu is expected to play a pivotal role in developing talent and ensuring a fair and efficient workplace for all employees.”

“We will have Tang Yu help us run the business, and then we can move the resources we have to do their job to other segments that will help us grow the business,” Leung said.

The statement did not provide details on whether Tang Yu would make independent decisions as chief executive or whether the robot would be supervised by a human.

The company did not respond to Euronews Next’s request for comment.

His ad hints at the profound changes our workplaces could undergo if companies truly embrace remote work and the metaverse.

What might work in the metaverse look like?

The metaverse workplace could see us working from anywhere in the world, thanks to augmented reality and motion sensors that make our digital avatars act like we do. Our workspace could also be customized according to our peculiarities and preferences.

It would potentially eliminate the need for physical office spaces and equipment, and the need to be in contact with each other, face to face.

Colleagues working in separate geographic locations can collaborate as if they were physically in the same room, with features like interactive whiteboards for brainstorming.

This year, Microsoft began rolling out Mesh, an augmented reality virtual meeting system that will be integrated into Teams.

According to Gartner, the international consulting firm, a quarter of the population will spend at least one hour a day in the metaverse by 2026, whether working, shopping, socializing, or leisure.

Osborne Clarke, an international legal practice that provides services on all matters related to the law, including employment issues, data protection and hybrid work, published a report on the metaverse in 2021. It says it is already helping companies plan for this brave new world.

“Our clients sometimes have employment issues, and we help them get through them, but we’re also working with them to predict what the issues are going to be in the next six months, the next 12 months, it’s going to be for them,” Olivia Sinfield, Partner at Osborne Clarke told Euronews below.

“With something like the metaverse, it’s really crucial that they’re starting to plan and prepare for that now, so we need to monitor that so we can have these conversations with our customers.”

The Health Hazards of the Metaverse Workplace

Despite the potential benefits that the metaverse workspace can offer, such as being able to choose more freely where to live, reduce travel costs, and all but eliminate the need for physical offices, one question arises: Is it good for us?

The European office of the World Health Organization has already warned the metaverse could pose public health risks.

“Spending more time online connected to the metaverse with devices can reduce physical activity levels and give advertisers many more ways to promote unhealthy products like junk food, tobacco or alcohol,” said Dr. Kremlin Wickramasinghe, acting director of WHO European Environment Office. Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases, said in a statement at the beginning of this year.

But the health implications could go much deeper than reduced physical activity and exposure to unhealthy advertising.

Human social behavior is important to our health and survival, and studies show psychiatric disorders often involve some disruption of normal social behavior. That’s because we’re social creatures—it’s in our DNA, and our hormones are designed to drive social engagement.

The coronavirus pandemic has already exposed the risks of less face-to-face interaction, as has the rise of social media.

Many studies have warned that excessive use of platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok could lead to symptoms of depression, addictive behaviors, loneliness, and anxiety.

They have also alerted us to how remote work exacerbates isolation.

A pan-European survey conducted in September by LifeWorks, a wellness services company, found that 39 percent of workers surveyed were at high risk of mental health problems. Nearly a third of those surveyed reported that they often felt lonely.

“We can transact on these 20-minute Zoom calls and then move on. But that doesn’t create a sense of ownership,” Paula Allen, LifeWorks global research leader. he told Euronews Next at the beginning of this year.

A separate study by researchers at Boston University and the University of Canterbury found that the loneliest employees were those who worked from home.

But the metaverse presents itself as a hybrid between working from home and working in the office: it is not entirely remote, nor is it entirely face-to-face.

Depersonalization and anxiety

More research is needed to understand the potential health implications of working in the metaverse, but some studies highlight other potential risks.

2010 study found that people were more likely to experience increased dissociative feelings, also known as depersonalization-derealization disorder, after a virtual reality immersion.

This disorder is characterized by a feeling of being disconnected from our bodies and thoughts and can lead to severe anxiety and panic attacks.

Some VR users on Reddit have reported feeling unwell after prolonged VR sessions: “It’s almost like a little hangover, depending on the intensity of your VR experience (…) [But the physical symptoms] they usually fade within the first 1 to 2 hours and improve with time.”

On a more positive note, other studies suggest that working in the metaverse “may alleviate screen fatigue and mental health issues associated with the isolation of remote work,” according to Osborne Clarke’s Sinfield and colleague Alex Farrell-Thomas. .

“Interaction in the metaverse is more like the human connection we experience when working and collaborating in person,” they wrote on the Human Resources website. staff today.

“Employers have a duty to look after the health and well-being of their employees and in particular now after COVID,” Sinfield told Euronews Next.

“They’re going to have to be able to reassure employees before they expect them to stop working like this.”

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