What Will Working in the Metaverse Be Like? – Tech News Briefing

This transcript was prepared by a transcription service. This version may not be in its final form and may be updated. Zoe Thomas: This is your Tech News Briefing for Tuesday, February 8th. I’m Zoe Thomas for the Wall Street Journal. With so much work moving online during the pandemic, […]

This transcript was prepared by a transcription service. This version may not be in its final form and may be updated.

Zoe Thomas: This is your Tech News Briefing for Tuesday, February 8th. I’m Zoe Thomas for the Wall Street Journal. With so much work moving online during the pandemic, the workplace changed a lot, and if some predictions by big tech companies and workplace experts for the metaverse come true, it will be changing a lot more. Our water cooler conversations, our workplace training, even our after-work hangouts could get a whole new life in this new online realm. On today’s show, our tech reporter, Sarah Needleman, joins us to discuss what clocking in in the metaverse could look like, the good and the bad. That’s after these headlines.
The Securities and Exchange Commission has subpoenaed Tesla. It’s seeking information about the company’s compliance with a settlement related to CEO Elon Musk’s tweets. In 2018, Musk posted claiming he’d secured funding to potentially take Tesla private. That led to an agreement where Tesla paid a $20 million penalty and agreed to have a company lawyer pre-approve certain social media posts by Musk. Since then, Musk has sometimes posted combative tweets about regulators and the SEC in particular. Tesla didn’t immediately respond to a request for a comment. The SEC declined a comment.
More developments in the growing controversy around Spotify and podcaster Joe Rogan after the singer-songwriter, India Arie, posted a video showing times when Rogan had used a racial slur on his show. The CEO of Spotify, Daniel Ek, apologized to employees for how it affected them. But in a letter shared with the Wall Street Journal, Ek said the company had no plans to remove Rogan from its platform. Rogan has apologized for the incident. Our music and business reporter, Anne Steele, says, “As Spotify expands its audio empire, it’s facing growing pressure to take more responsibility for the content on its platform.”

Anne Steele: Daniel Ek has talked about how Spotify wants to be more than just music. It wants to be the largest audio company in the world. A key part of its strategy has been these exclusive podcasts. So whether that’s partnering with creators or studios to develop podcasts that are just for Spotify or like the Joe Rogan deal, licensing a podcast. So even though Spotify has no part in the actual creation of this content and these episodes, it is paying to have that content exclusively. So people are looking at these relationships and saying this is more than just Spotify hosting or distributing this content. This is Spotify really having a role and a responsibility for the content on its platform. It’s really becoming more like a media company than just a pure play tech company that it started as.

Zoe Thomas: We should note that the publisher of the Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones, has a content partnership with Spotify’s Gimlet unit, and you can hear more from Anne on yesterday’s PM episode of our sister podcast, What’s News.
Israel is launching a state inquiry into allegations that the country’s police used spyware to elicitly hack into the phones of individuals who aren’t suspected of any major wrongdoing, including political activists, senior government bureaucrats, and people close to former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Israeli police have said they use a variety of spyware tools to track criminal activity amid the rising use of encrypted messaging services. The inquiry threatens to upend the corruption trial of Netanyahu whose legal team says the proceedings should be paused until it’s determined whether the evidence in the trial was obtained illegally.
Venture capitalist, Peter Thiel is planning to step down from the board of Facebook’s parent company, Meta. A person familiar with the matter says Thiel plans to focus his efforts on helping Republican candidates that support former President Donald Trump’s agenda in the 2022 midterm elections. Thiel became Facebook’s first outside investor when he acquired a stake for $500,000 in August 2004. He served on the company’s board since 2005.
All right. Coming up, Meta may be trying to go all in on the metaverse, but what about your workplace? We’ll discuss what working in the virtual realm could be like after the break.
Remote, in-person, hybrid. These are the three main work setups we’ve had for nearly two years as companies adapt to the new realities of the pandemic, but the next evolution of work could be in the emerging online realm known as the metaverse, but working in the metaverse presents plenty of challenges as well as opportunities. Joining us to discuss those is WSJ tech reporter and regular guest on the podcast, Sarah Needleman. Thanks for being here, Sarah.

Sarah Needleman: It’s my pleasure as always.

Zoe Thomas: So, Sarah, how will working in the metaverse work?

Sarah Needleman: It would depend to some extent on how you’re using the metaverse, but generally speaking, the thinking is that we’d be able to log into these virtual spaces that are so realistic. It would be as if we’re in the same physical room. It’s a lot more immersive than a video chat, and we would look and see each other as avatars that could, if we choose, look identical to our real selves, and you can imagine in a workplace setting, you would be expected to have your avatar look professional. If you are working in a factory, you might be trained on how to use dangerous equipment or costly equipment. In a virtual setting, because there’s no real danger there, no real cost if you’re working with a virtual replica of a complex piece of machinery, for example, and you might go hang out with your colleagues at a virtual bowling alley to just socialize.

Zoe Thomas: Does that mean workers are going to be in the metaverse all day?

Sarah Needleman: No, it does not. At least in most cases, it won’t be. We’re only going to use a virtual reality or an AR headset when we need to. It’s not something that we’re going to spend all our time in. It’s just not practical, and it’s probably not even healthy to have our eyes glued to a screen all day long. So when the occasion arises, we’ll go in, but it’s not something we’re going to do 24/7. We’re not going to go into the office, and put on a headset, and look like a bunch of weirdos all day long. That’s certainly not what the developers are anticipating when they make the software and hardware for the metaverse.

Zoe Thomas: So why would employers embrace this? I mean, we already have remote and hybrid work. Why invest in having a metaverse workplace instead?

Sarah Needleman: Right now, we’ve certainly seen the pros and cons of working remotely, and for some organizations, it actually turned out to be a lot better. So when you’re looking for talent and maybe the best person for the job is nowhere near your office, well, that’s no longer an issue. Then, as I mentioned before, you’re guesting to test equipment that in real life would maybe be very expensive. Like imagine, for example, the testing vehicles. We have crash test dummies, and we really damage real cars to test them out. In the metaverse, the idea is that you could test a vehicle for safety in multiple weather conditions just in a matter of seconds. You don’t need to actually damage a real car, and you don’t need test dummies, and you don’t need real human beings to clean up the mess afterwards and start over.
That’s just one small example. So you can imagine if you are a consultant and your client is an oil rig business. To get out to an oil rig is certainly not ideal, and dangerous, and complicated. Again, you could be able to do that in the metaverse without having to actually leave your home. So there are plenty of applications that will make the workplace more efficient. There’ll be faster feedback loops. If your job is to learn how to use a piece of equipment, you could do as many times as you want in the metaverse because the equipment is virtual. It’s not real. So you could just go at it until you perfect it. So there are a lot of potential benefits to this technology.

Zoe Thomas: It makes me wonder though. If you are, for example, going out to an oil rig or if you’re a regulator who wants to inspect how a company is operating, if you’re doing that in the metaverse, it seems like there are some obvious pitfalls or maybe ways companies could skirt certain rules if you’re not really seeing what’s going on, if you’re only seeing what’s in the virtual world.

Sarah Needleman: Sure. If you’re talking about regulatory matters, that’s different, and there are a number of negatives, like some things will have to be done with your own eyes. But even in the metaverse, we could have cameras that look into real time, real world. Keep in mind that the metaverse is not replacing the existing workplace. It’s more additive as opposed to substitutive, but it’s going to depend on certain situations, and not everything is going to translate over to a virtual setting.
Speaking of the downsides. One of the concerns is that managers would have a much more powerful tool for oversight and surveillance. So while there could be benefits to that, there could also be downsides to that where the potential that your information is being misinterpreted. They could track your body temperature or heart rate from a smart watch and use eye tracking to see your avatar’s head moving left or right, and maybe come to some sort of conclusion about your emotional state that is inaccurate.

Zoe Thomas: Speaking of potential downsides, it seems like there are certain jobs that just won’t work in the metaverse. For instance, if you’re a dentist, how do you see a patient in the metaverse?

Sarah Needleman: You might meet them to show them 3D replicas of their teeth and say… If you’ve ever been to the dentist, sometimes they’ll show you slides and whatnot. So you could potentially meet with them and to go over maybe serious surgery that you’re going to have, and they could show you in 3D what work is going to be done. But for your average cleaning, that does seem rather unlikely. The dentist, however, may use VR to train. There may be some sort of new procedure, and rather than test it out on a poor person who’s willing to be a guinea pig, the dentist might practice it on a virtual replica of a person first. So there are different use cases for it, but it’s not something you would necessarily use 24/7.
I mean, even in a grocery store, you still… Well, we may have people just scanning their own food and not need a person to scan for them. But in those old-fashioned situations, you might have someone doing a training of a virtual store. You’ll know where every single item goes. Before you even set foot for your first day in the job, you’ll know where everything belongs because you have a virtual replica of that store, and so you’ll be very familiar where every product is, and that training might happen in advance. But when you’re actually there on the job, no, you wouldn’t necessarily be using a headset.

Zoe Thomas: So, Sarah, would you work in the metaverse?

Sarah Needleman: I certainly could see myself meeting with some people. Sometimes when I’m writing about tech, there are companies that want to give me a demonstration of their tech. That would be best done in real life. If I can’t get out there, and I could do it in the metaverse and get a much more immersive experience, why not?

Zoe Thomas: Then, you and I could have these conversations at the virtual Wall Street Journal water cooler.

Sarah Needleman: Exactly.

Zoe Thomas: Yeah.

Sarah Needleman: It will feel as if we’re sitting next to each other rather than many miles away, and we can see each other’s body language. With the avatars, the metaverse, the avatars are expected to be so lifelike that if I’m winking in real life, you’ll see me wink in the metaverse. If I raise my hand or if I roll my eyes, you’ll see that too.

Zoe Thomas: All right. That was our reporter, Sarah Needleman. Thanks so much for joining us, Sarah.

Sarah Needleman: Great to be here.

Zoe Thomas: That’s it for today’s Tech News Briefing. If you want more tech stories, check out our website, wsj.com. If you like our show, please rate and review it. You can do that wherever you get your podcasts. I’m Zoe Thomas for the Wall Street Journal. Thanks for listening.

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