Who invented the metaverse?

This is an audio transcript of the FT press briefing podcast episode: Who invented the metaverse?

Marc Filippino
Hello from the Financial Times. Today is Thursday, December 23, and this is your FT News Briefing.

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Financial conditions in the United States remain historically relaxed, despite the Federal Reserve’s withdrawal from its pandemic stimulus. And US equity markets have surged this year, but a handful of stocks did most of the work. Besides, who invented the metaverse? Tech companies are investing billions in something that comes from an early ’90s sci-fi novel by Neal Stephenson.

Madhumita Murgia
But he was quoted somewhere saying he was just making things up, so we don’t really know how it ended up being taken so seriously by tech companies.

Marc Filippino
We’ll see how science fiction shapes the way we think and feel about robots. I’m Marc Filippino and this is the news you need to start your day.

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The Federal Reserve may be pulling out of its pandemic stimulus package in an attempt to fight inflation, but financial conditions in the United States, like corporate borrowing costs, are still near their peaks. weak never recorded. After the Fed meeting last week, there was only marginal tightening. According to Goldman Sachs, it is still very easy for companies to register in the public markets and apply to lenders for new loans. This shows the extraordinary levels of liquidity flowing through the global financial system, which means that there is no shortage of liquidity available for new transactions.

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This year the S&P 500 hit a record high after a record high, so you might think the stock market is in great shape, right? Well, take those layers off and things aren’t as sturdy as they might seem. FT US Markets Editor Eric Platt reminds us that the S&P, Nasdaq and other indices are not monolithic.

Eric platt
Just over two weeks ago there was a fascinating day when the S&P 500 fell. I think it was about two percent. And on the same day Apple, the biggest member of the S&P 500, it has more influence on that index than any other stock, actually rose 3%. And so this spread has been really pretty big and really unusual, considering all the big macro pilots you have in the market right now.

Marc Filippino
So Eric, are the S&P and the Nasdaq bad indicators? Are they misleading about how the wider market is doing?

Eric platt
It’s not that it’s not a good indicator, right? Because otherwise, what you would have to do is really look at the individual performance of each stock every day. And that’s quite a laborious task, right? The problem is, there are times when you see this focus and you see these clues and the stocks below moving in different directions. And I have to say, that’s not always a bad thing, right? Sometimes that makes a lot of sense if you know you have financial stocks and energy stocks are really lagging behind. But you know, consumers and the values ​​of transportation and industry are recovering. And I hope at least more than half of the index is picking up, which would, you know, go up. But if you’ve just watched the S&P 500 this year, you’ve missed a lot.

Marc Filippino
Eric Platt is the FT’s U.S. Markets Editor.

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This year, a new word has exploded into the mainstream: metaverse. Companies like Facebook spend billions to create virtual worlds where people can live online and use services as avatars. Facebook even changed its name to Meta, and it all made our European tech correspondent Madhumita Murgia wonder where the word came from. She is joining me now. Hey, Madhu.

Madhumita Murgia
Hey. Hi Mark.

Marc Filippino
So where does this word metaverse come from?

Madhumita Murgia
So I found out that the word metaverse had been coined or that the term had been coined in Snow accident, a science fiction novel by Neil Stephenson from 1992. It’s funny because I was looking for why he created this, because he inspired so many tech luminaries like Jeff Bezos. But he was quoted somewhere saying he was just making up stuff. So, you know, we don’t really know how this was taken seriously by tech companies, but it originally came out of his novel.

Marc Filippino
Thus, in this new technological frontier, Facebook and Microsoft are investing billions of dollars in development. It came from a work of fiction. But I guess that doesn’t sound surprising, does it?

Madhumita Murgia
Yeah, I mean, exactly because the whole idea sounds really fictional and like, you know, like we’re talking about living in a video game, but they really take it seriously. And like you said, you know, Facebook is investing tens of billions of dollars in that and even Microsoft, which is a lot more laid back and a little more practical and the way it does business, they’ve already built in some form. of that in Teams, which is, you know, their workplace communication and productivity software. So that’s what’s happening. But the question is how quickly it will be adopted.

Marc Filippino
So Madhu, you and I talked about how fiction affects technology, but it also affects popular perceptions of technology, especially when it comes to artificial intelligence. What did you learn about it?

Madhumita Murgia
Yeah, I thought it was really interesting because I had a conversation with a researcher called Kanta Dihal, she’s in Cambridge, and she runs a program called AI Narratives, looking at that across all different cultures. And most research shows that the West’s attitudes towards futuristic technology, especially AI, mostly come from a few sci-fi movies, mostly The Terminator.

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Madhumita Murgia
That kind of Frankenstein monster that’s invading the world. And it also shapes our kind of fear of these robots and our kind of fear that humanity will be wiped out by them.

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Marc Filippino
And then there’s Hal, the robot in 2001: A Space Odyssey, which ends up turning against humans. So like, robots are just kind of really bad people.

Madhumita Murgia
Well, exactly. And also, and also the fact that, you know, once they become conscious and intelligent, then by necessity they destroy the human race. It’s just kind of a narrative that comes up over and over again.

Marc Filippino
Note that it is in the West or at least in the United States. You know, you pointed out in your article that Japan has a very different relationship with robots. And you’ve written about the classic sci-fi animated series in Japan, which really changed attitudes in a very different way.

Madhumita Murgia
There were two animated series, Astro boy and Doraemon, and both were extremely popular and influenced many generations of Japanese opinions.

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Madhumita Murgia
Astro boy was a happy little android living alongside humans and Doraemon was a cat. These are just much cuter pictures. The stories were, you know, of these characters helping humans, saving humans, and that kind of has an impact on how people see AI as something that can help them.

Marc Filippino
What about China? What influence has science fiction had on Chinese attitudes? And you know, how is it different from the West in Japan?

Madhumita Murgia
It is really fascinating. So you know I got interested because there is such a powerful culture and ubiquitous high tech culture now in China and the lifestyle genre is so permeated with the digital world. So I was really curious about how their attitudes were affected, and spoke with Chen Qiufan, who is a well-known science fiction writer who has appeared in recent years. And he said historically, you know, Chinese attitudes were just influenced by western pop culture and western science fiction. And he grew up himself, you know, reading Philip K. Dick and so on. But this new wave of sci-fi writers is really focused on the social issues that have grown out of this kind of pervasive surveillance culture in China, especially private companies, you know, where things like WeChat, you get it. Consistently use for everything from food delivery to education to transportation.

Marc Filippino
You made an interesting point in your article that entrepreneurs often take the ideas of sci-fi writers, but not their warnings. What did you mean by that?

Madhumita Murgia
I think it’s really interesting the disconnect I found talking to writers and then looking at what’s being said in the real world of business by business leaders. Really, a lot of science fiction like, for example, even if we watch Snow accident, and then when I was talking to Chen about his job, there was a feeling of dystopia. There is a sort of warning about the direction in which we are moving as a humanity. You know, none of that, it’s not, you know, festive and positive that we’re all going to be living in this virtual world and it’s going to be awesome. There are warnings in there about what this means for humanity and how we are going to lose the core of who we are. Yet that is completely absent, I thought, from this conversation we have in the real world.

Marc Filippino
Madhumita Murgia is the European technical correspondent for FT. Thanks, Madhu.

Madhumita Murgia
Thank you.

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Marc Filippino
Before leaving, this Saturday, Christmas Day, the most ambitious telescope ever built is expected to be fired into space. The $ 10 billion James Webb Space Telescope has been in the works for three decades. It will orbit four times farther than the Moon is from Earth, and it will take photos of the very first stars and galaxies formed at cosmic dawn. It’s about 200 million years after the Big Bang. Let’s see what science fiction writers think about it.

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You can read more about all of these stories at FT.com. This has been your daily FT News briefing. We’re taking away the rest of 2021. We want to thank you for making this one hell of a year for us. Happy holidays, and we’ll catch up with you in 2022. The FT News Briefing is produced by Fiona Symon and me, Marc Filippino. Our editor is Jess Smith. We’ve had help this week from Joanna Kao, George Drake Jr., Peter Barber, and Gavin Kallmann. Our executive producer is Topher Forhecz. Cheryl Brumley is the FT’s Global Head of Audio, and our theme song is from Metaphor Music. We also want to give special thanks to Michael Bruning. You never hear his voice, but he’s been editing scripts for this podcast since day one. He is sadly leaving the Financial Times and will be sadly missed. Thank you Michel and best wishes from all of us.

This transcript was generated automatically. If by any chance there is an error, please send the details for correction to: [email protected]. We will do our best to make the change as soon as possible.


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