I’ve come around to AR. OpenSim might not be the way to get there — but Apple might be

I used to think that the path to the metaverse started with screen-based virtual worlds then expanded to virtual reality. At some point, I thought, we’d all be doing everything in the metaverse. The same way that the Internet made information instantly accessible to everyone everywhere, the metaverse would do the same with experiences and human interactions.

I spent over a decade of trying to make it happen for myself and my team. We had an in-world office. I started a group for hypergrid entrepreneurs that met in OpenSim. I am on the OpenSim Community Conference organizing team, and our early meetings are in OpenSim. I even figured out a way to get my desktop and many of my apps into OpenSim, so that I could work in my virtual office.

Spoiler: I did not, in fact, ever do any significant amount of work in my virtual office.

Here I am at my desk in my old virtual office.

I still think it’s possible. Well, theoretically possible, at least.

Eventually. But not in the immediate future, and not with the technology we have today.

First, until the resolution of a virtual world is as good as real life, there will be an advantage to working the old-fashioned way, especially when you’re in a graphics-heavy profession. I’m not an artist, but I do create graphics to go with blog articles and social media posts. And I’m the one responsible for web design for several outlets, including Hypergrid Business, MetaStellar, Writer vs AI, and Women in VR. That’s hard to do on a screen in a virtual world.

And don’t even get me started on trying to work in virtual reality. Even typing is hard if you can’t see the keyboard. I touch type, but sometimes I have to type special characters. I never remember where any of them are. In addition, I multi-task. I have several windows open at once and am cutting-and-pasting between them, looking things up, using calculators and other tools, and, of course, checking my phone. I can’t do most of that in virtual reality, even with a pass-through camera. And if I’m just going to be sitting at my computer, typing, why am I in a virtual reality headset, anyway?

But AR — augmented reality — well, that’s something entirely different. Instead of replacing the entire world around you with a virtual one, augmented reality just adds a little bit of the virtual to the actual world around you. Instead of looking out at the world through a distorting pass-through camera, you see the world as it is.

What this means is that, instead of a Zoom call, I can see the person I’m talking to sitting in front of me as a basically a hologram. Well, they’d be projected on my glasses, but to me it would look as if they were actually there.  Instead of a screen full of little Zoom faces, I could see people sitting around a conference table. I’d have to rearrange my home office so that my layout would work for this, but I had to rearrange my office anyway, so that it would look good on Zoom.

The thing is, we’re probably going to get to AR through our phones. Instead of wearing a smart watch, we’d wear smart glasses and just keep our phones in our pockets. Until the phones got so small, of course, that they’d fit completely inside the glasses frames.

The home screen of my phone is currently — blessedly! — ad-free, so I don’t expect to see pop-up ads just showing up willy-nilly in augmented reality, either. If they did, nobody would use the platform. Instead, we’d probably see ads the same places we currently see them — when we play free games and scroll through news feeds.

I can see some very interesting things happening when we get AR glasses. We’d use virtual keyboards instead of physical ones, and probably dictate quite a bit more, too.

I do like the physical feel of a tactile keyboard, but we already have Bluetooth-enabled keyboards that sync to our mobile devices, so I can easily see continuing to use one, if I prefer.

But I can also see myself dictating more.

Speech detection is getting more accurate all the time. In fact, I’m already dictating most of my text messages because it’s so convenient. And instead of physical screens, we’d get virtual screens that float at an arm’s length in front of us, and we can position them where we want them, and have as many screens as we want, of any size. I only have a couple of apps that I use that don’t run on a phone — GiMP and Filemaker. Everything else I do, including word processing, is browser-based, so I can already do it on a phone.

An AR phone will make my desktop PC, monitors and keyboards and backup laptop obsolete. Well, I’d still keep my laptop, just in case, but my other hardware will go the way of all the other devices that smartphones relegated to the trash heap of history. And, also, to literal trash heaps. And Windows. I hate Windows, and will be happy to never use it again.

Since these AR smart glasses will be so convenient, everyone will be using them for everything. We’ll be living in a world that has a continuous virtual overlay on it, a magical plane that gives us superpowers.

(Image by Maria Korolov via Midjourney.)

Oh, and our AI-powered virtual assistants who are as smart as we are, or even smarter, will live inside this virtual overlay.

All the pieces are already there — including the intelligent AI. All it will take is for someone to put them together into an actually useful device.

I’m guessing that this will be Apple. When it happens, I’ll be switching back from Android the first chance I get. I originally had an iPhone, but switched to Samsung when Gear VR came out because Apple didn’t support VR. Then I switched to the Pixel because I hated Samsung so much, and because I liked Google’s Daydream VR platform.

Both Gear VR and Daydream are now gone, though Google Cardboard remains. I still see between 3,000 and 4,000 pageviews a month on my Google Cardboard headset QR Codes page. These are the codes that people use to calibrate their Google Cardboard-compatible headsets. They’re ridiculously bad, and have limited motion tracking, but as phone screens get better, the image quality has become pretty good — good enough to watch movies on a virtual screen, and, of course, for VR porn. Ya gotta admit, porn does drive technology adoption. I’ve heard.

But the phone-screen-based approach seems to be hitting a head end, since few people want to have a huge phone screen strapped to the front of their face.

I’ve been waiting for years for Apple to do something in this space.

This might now be happening.

Here’s a quote from Apple CEO Tim Cook, in a recent interview with GQ:

“If you think about the technology itself with augmented reality, just to take one side of the AR/VR piece, the idea that you could overlay the physical world with things from the digital world could greatly enhance people’s communication, people’s connection,” Cook says. “It could empower people to achieve things they couldn’t achieve before. We might be able to collaborate on something much easier if we were sitting here brainstorming about it and all of a sudden we could pull up something digitally and both see it and begin to collaborate on it and create with it. And so it’s the idea that there is this environment that may be even better than just the real world—to overlay the virtual world on top of it might be an even better world. And so this is exciting. If it could accelerate creativity, if it could just help you do things that you do all day long and you didn’t really think about doing them in a different way.”

He didn’t deny or confirm the release of an Apple AR headset.

But, yesterday, Bloomberg reported that Apple is getting ready to unveil its augmented reality headset this June, and is already working on dedicated apps, including sports, gaming, wellness, and collaboration.

Here’s what an AI thinks that the new Apple headset might look like:

(Image by Maria Korolov via Midjourney.)

I do love my Pixel, and I’d have to replace all my Android apps with new iPhone ones if I switched, but if we’re about to hit an iPhone moment with augmented reality, I want to be first in line.

Teens slow to adopt VR and more bad news for the metaverse

(Image by Maria Korolov via Midjourney.)

Virtual reality hasn’t caught on with American teens, according to a new survey from Piper Sandler released on Tuesday.

While 29 percent percent of teens polled owned a VR device — versus 87% who own iPhones — only 4 percent of headset owners used it daily, and just 14 percent used them weekly.

Teenagers also didn’t seem that interested in buying forthcoming VR headsets either. Only 7 percent said they planned to purchase a headset, versus 52 percent of teens polled who were unsure or uninterested.

That’s not the only bad news for VR that’s come out recently.

Bloomberg has reported that Sony’s new PlayStation VR2 Headset is projected to sell 270,000 units as of the end of March, based on data from IDC. It had originally planned to sell 2 million units in the same time period, Bloomberg reported last fall.

In fact, VR headset numbers in general are down.

According to IDC, headset shipments declined 21 percent last year to 8.8 million units.

“This survey only further exemplifies that the current state of VR is very business-focused,” said Rolf Illenberger, managing director of VRdirect, a company that provides enterprise software solutions for the metaverse and virtual reality.

“The pandemic further accelerated progress for VR and AR usability in the office, while the release of new devices will mean more for developers building practical use cases than they will for teenagers seeking entertainment,” he told Hypergrid Business.

But that might be wishful thinking.

According to IDC, both consumer and enterprise interest in virtual reality fell last year.

Earlier this year, I wrote about how Microsoft and other companies have pulled back on their VR and AR plans. And the bad news has continued to come in.

In mid March, Google announced the end of Google Glass Enterprise. And, last week, the Wall Street Journal reported that Disney shut down its metaverse team and the Truth in Advertising nonprofit advocacy group reported that Walmart had shut down its Roblox virtual experience.

Even Meta’s Mark Zuckerberg seems to have soured on the metaverse. In his March letter announcing a “year of efficiency” and layoffs of 10,000 people, Zuckerberg said that the company was now going to focus on AI.

“Our single largest investment is in advancing AI and building it into every one of our products,” he wrote. So much for the metaverse being Meta’s biggest investment. In 2021 and 2022, Reality Labs — its metaverse division — reported a total loss of nearly $24 billion.

Given the explosion of interest in AI since ChatGPT was released late last year, and its clear and obvious business benefits, I have serious doubts that anyone is going to be investing much in enterprise VR this year.

After all, generative AI is clearly poised to solve a multitude of business challenges, starting with improved efficiencies in marketing, customer service, and software development. And virtual reality continues to be a technology in search of a problem to solve.

I’m a huge, huge fan of OpenSim. But, other than giving a presentation at the OpenSim Community Conference in December, I can’t remember the last time I went in-world for a meeting. It’s all Zoom, Zoom, Zoom, and occasionally Microsoft Teams.

Oh, and here’s another downer. I watched the Game Developers Conference presentations from Nvidia, Unreal Engine, and Unity. I don’t play video games much, other than on my phone, so I hadn’t noticed just how amazing graphics, environments and characters have become. I originally watched for the AI announcements, which were insane, but the realism of the visuals just blew me away. I’m feeling the urge to run out and buy a gaming console.

(Image courtesy Unreal Engine.)

Now, general purpose platforms like OpenSim don’t have to have the same level of graphics to be successful. The early web, for example, had very poor graphics compared to what was available from commercial add-ons like Flash. And look at Minecraft — you can’t get any worse than that, graphics-wise.

So while the graphics were awesome, that’s not why I was most concerned. No, I was looking at the AI-powered environment generation features. And it’s not just Unreal and Unity. There are a bunch of AI-powered startups out there making it super easy to create immersive environments, interactive characters, and everything else needed to populate a virtual world.

With the basic Unreal and Unity plans available for free, is it even worth it for developers to try to add these AI features to OpenSim? It might feel like putting a jet engine on a horse-drawn buggy. I mean, you could try, but the buggy would probably explode into splinters the minute you turned it on.

Am I wrong?

Will we be able to step into OpenSim and say, “I want a forest over there,” and see a forest spring up in front of us? Will we be able to have AI-powered NPCs we can talk to in real time? And will we be able to create interactive and actually playable in-world experience beyond just dance-and-chat and slot machines?

There’s good news, though.

AI tools are helping to accelerate everything, including software development and documentation. With the big players pulling back from enterprise VR, this gives an opportunity for open source platforms like OpenSim to use those tools, grab this window of opportunity, and catch up. Maybe even take the lead in the future hyperlinked, open source, interconnected metaverse.

Second Life offers preview of its new mobile viewer

Second Life, the popular virtual world platform that has been around for over two decades, is finally releasing a mobile viewer. The new mobile viewer is currently a work in progress, but the Second Life development team has shared a sneak peek at what users can expect.

Watch the preview in the video below:

The focus of the development team has been on delivering full rendering of avatars and 3D environments, and they have achieved impressive results so far. The mobile viewer is based on Unity and will be available on both Android and iOS platforms, allowing users to access Second Life from their mobile devices.

“We’ve started our development work with some of the most challenging aspects first…the full rendering avatars with all their complex attachments and behaviors as well as the full red ring of 3D environments that are so critical to the Second Life experience,” said Andrew Kertesz, Linden Lab’s VP of engineering, who is also known as Mojo Linden.

It is important to note that there is still no news about a web-based viewer for Second Life, which, in my opinion, is a bit more important since it makes it easier to invite new users to visit you inside the platform. Right now, the existing viewers have steep learning curves and it doesn’t help that the movement and camera controls don’t match those of popular video games.

Still, Second Life continues to be popular with its user base, despite the lack of significant innovation over the past twenty years.

Maybe a mobile viewer will get some former users to come back and revisit the platform, but it remains to be seen what impact it will have on the popularity and growth of Second Life.

“Over the past nearly two decades I have seen Second Life enable people from all corners of the globe to create socialize experiment engage in education business or even develop relationships,” said VP of product operations Eric Nix, also known as Patch Linden in-0world. “Imagine being able to stay connected with your Second Life from anywhere chat with friends visit your favorite in-world hangout spots and later do pretty much anything you can do with the desktop Second Life viewer without being tethered to your computer.”

The Second Life team has promised to keep users updated on the progress of the mobile viewer, but the beta version is expected to launch later this year.

You can learn more in Second Life’s Lab Gab:

OpenAI head calls for slow, careful release of AI — after releasing ChatGPT with no warning

(Image by Maria Korolov via Midjourney.)

I can’t tell if he’s just being tone deaf, or trying desperately to do some damage control, but after releasing ChatGPT without any warning on an unsuspecting world late last year, OpenAI CEO Sam Altman is now calling for slow and careful release of AI.

If you remember, ChatGPT was released on November 30 of 2022, just in time for take-home exams and final papers. Everyone started using it. Not just to make homework easier, but to save time on their jobs — or to create phishing emails and computer viruses. It reached one million users in just five days. According to UBS analysts, 100 million people were using it by January, making it the fastest-growing consumer application in history.

And according to a February survey by Fishbowl, a work-oriented social network, 43 percent of professionals now use ChatGPT or similar tools at work, up from 27 percent a month prior. And when they do, 70 percent of them don’t tell their bosses.

Last week, OpenAI released an API for ChatGPT allowing developers to integrate it into their apps. Approval is automatic, and the cost is only a tenth of what OpenAI was charging for the previous versions of its GPT AI models.

So. Slow and careful, right?

According to Altman, the company’s mission is to create artificial general intelligence.

That means building AIs that are smarter than humans.

He admits that there are risks.

“AGI would also come with serious risk of misuse, drastic accidents, and societal disruption,” he said.

He forgot about the killer robots that will wipe us all out, but okay.

(Image by Maria Korolov via Midjourney.)

He says that AGI can’t be stopped. It’s coming, and there’s nothing we can do about it. But it’s all good, because the potential benefits are so great.

Still, he says that the rollout of progressively more powerful AIs should be slow.

“A gradual transition gives people, policymakers, and institutions time to understand what’s happening, personally experience the benefits and downsides of these systems, adapt our economy, and to put regulation in place,” he said.

Maybe he should have considered that before putting ChatGPT out there.

“We think it’s important that efforts like ours submit to independent audits before releasing new systems,” he added.

Again, I’m sure that there are plenty of high school teachers and college professors who would have appreciated a heads-up.

However, he also said that he’s in favor of open source AI projects.

He’s not the only one — there are plenty of competitors out there furiously trying to come up with an open source version of ChatGPT that companies and individuals can run on their own computers without fear of leaking information to OpenAI. Or without having to deal with all the safeguards that OpenAI has been trying to put in place to keep people from using ChatGPT maliciously.

The thing about open source is that, by definition, it’s not within anyone’s control. People can take the code, tweak it, do whatever they want with it.

“Successfully transitioning to a world with superintelligence is perhaps the most important—and hopeful, and scary—project in human history,” he said. “Success is far from guaranteed, and the stakes (boundless downside and boundless upside) will hopefully unite all of us.”

There is one part of the statement that I found particularly interesting, however. He said that OpenAI had a cap on shareholder returns and are governed by a non-profit, which means that, if needed, the company can cancel its equity obligations to shareholders “and sponsor the world’s most comprehensive UBI experiment.”

UBI — or universal basic income — would be something like getting your Social Security check early. Instead of having to adapt to the new world, learn new skills, find new meaningful work, you could retire to Florida and play shuffleboard. Assuming Florida is still above sea level. Or you could use the money to pursue your hobbies or your creative passions.  As a journalist whose career is most definitely in the AI cross-hairs, let’s color me curious.

You can read Altman’s entire think piece here.

Avalon raises $13m to build metaverse of interoperable worlds

(Image by Maria Korolov via Midjourney.)

Florida-based Avalon Corp. has raised $13 million to build a platform for games capable of taking advantage of the metaverse, featuring a universe of interoperable worlds with various intellectual properties, to be built using technologies including blockchain and game engines.

According to the press release, Avalon Corp is uniquely experienced to solve problems that will face creators and designers in the near future, and is building the tools, framework, and more that will allow them to do so. CEO Sean Pinnock has said that the company is working towards the democratization of game creation using blockchain as a tool.

According to Pinnock, it’s gaming companies that should be building the metaverse, not anyone else.

“We know that engagement is driven through play, creativity, and human connectivity, all critical elements that are severely lacking in most self-proclaimed metaverses, and it’s exactly why the inevitable confluence of tech that will emerge as the metaverse will be built by game developers,” he said in the announcement.

He does have a point. After all, the global video game industry is now bigger than the movie, music and book industries combined. And video games, especially first-person, multi-player video games, have exactly the kind of technology — and engagement — that the metaverse needs. And that companies like Second Life, Facebook and Microsoft have, so far, been unable to tap into.

It’s also a good sign that the company doesn’t expect to build everything on its own.

“Whatever the digital future is, it’s clear that no single company can build it,” said Jeff Butler, chief product officer at Avalon Corp., in the announcement.

The press release notes that the funding for Avalon Corp is led by Bitkraft Ventures, Hashed, Delphi Digital, and Mechanism Capital, with participation from Coinbase Ventures, Yield Guild Games, Merit Circle, Avocado Guild and Morning Star Ventures. Backers also include industry veterans with a visionary view such as Twitch cofounder Kevin Lin, gaming legend Dennis Fong, Charlie Songhurst, previous head of corporate strategy at Microsoft, and Robin Jung, previous CEO of game company Pearl Abyss.

“Connected worlds are evolving at unprecedented velocity, ultimately amounting to a Darwinian game, where the fittest and most useful platforms will thrive and stay alive,” said Jun Park, senior associate at investment company Hashed. “We are excited to back Avalon Corp., led by industry veterans with a visionary view, to help the company realize its potential and pioneer the next wave of interoperable worlds.”

Of course, I’ve always thought that OpenSim was going to pioneer the next wave of interoperable worlds. But maybe they can learn something from OpenSim, about how to move users, content, and messages between different worlds in a fully decentralized way.

Still, it’s nice to see that people are still investing in metaverse projects. For a while there, it looked like everyone was throwing in the towel and rebranding themselves as AI companies.

Report: AI is weapon of ‘mass disruption’

(Image by Maria Korolov via Midjourney.)

Generative AI is one of the world’s top three geopolitical risks this year — right after Russia and China — according to a report released last month by the Eurasia Group, a US-based risk consultancy.

“This year will be a tipping point for disruptive technology’s role in society,” the report said.

According to the organization, the generative AI technology that was all over the news in 2022 is capable of creating realistic images, videos, and text with just a few sentences of guidance.

“Large language models like GPT-3 and the soon-to-be-released GPT-4 will be able to reliably pass the Turing test,” the report said.

The most famous use of this large language model is in OpenAI’s ChatGPT, but the technology has also been licensed to many other vendors, and Microsoft has already begun adding it to Bing and announced plans to embed it in Office and other Microsoft applications.

The Turing test is an experiment in which a human interacts with another entity via a computer and has to guess whether the entity on the other side is another human or an AI.

Some users are already convinced that ChatGPT is either sentient or is actually manned by an army of humans in the Philippines. And a Google engineer was fired last summer because he became convinced that Google’s version of the technology, LaMDa, had become self-aware.

Now, these tools have become simple enough to use that anyone can harness the power of AI, the report said.

“These advances represent a step-change in AI’s potential to manipulate people and sow political chaos,” the report said. “When barriers to entry for creating content no longer exist, the volume of content rises exponentially, making it impossible for most citizens to reliably distinguish fact from fiction.”

This will have adverse impacts on political discourse. Conspiracy theorists can generate bot armies to support their views, as can dictators.

And companies can also be affected, since key executives can be impersonated by malicious actors, legitimate product reviews drowned in a sea of AI-generated comments, and social media posts can impact stock prices and overwhelm sentiment-driven investment strategies.

Implications for small business owners

If you are a small business owner, it’s time to create a strategy for responding to these threats.

In the OpenSim ecosystem, we’ve occasionally seen instances where individuals were impersonated by someone else in order to harm their reputations — or people created fake personas in order to promote a particular grid or service.

We can expect this kind of activity to accelerate as AI technology allows bad actors to operate on a much more massive scale than before.

At Hypergrid Business, we haven’t — yet — seen a flood of AI-generated comment spam. Hopefully, the Disqus platform we use for comments will be able to filter the worse of it out before we have to deal with it.

Grids that have a social media presence should start thinking about a possible strategy, or a reaction plan, in case something happens. It’s always better to come up with a plan ahead of time instead of reacting in the moment based on emotion, which will usually just make the situation worse.

But there, of course, also opportunities for business to use generative AI for good.

OpenSim grids can use the technology to create AI-powered interactive NPCs to create interesting interactions for visitors to their grids, use ChatGPT to create in-world storylines for users to experience, and use generative art platforms to create textures, images, 3D objects, and even entire scenes.

Grids can also use AI to help create marketing and promotional content such as articles, videos, or podcast episodes.

Marketing is the single biggest challenge that OpenSim grids and service companies have today. If AI can reduce some of the burden, that will be a big win for the whole ecosystem.

AI farms are the new content farms — and are just as bad

In the first decade of this century, unscrupulous website owners noticed that Google had caught on to their tricks — link exchanges, invisible keywords, and meta tags. These tricks were designed to fool search engines into thinking that the websites were better and more useful than they actually were. Spoiler alert: these websites were usually completely useless, just some filler text surrounded by a sea of ads.

After Google updated its algorithms, the scammers found a new trick — content farming. Content farms were companies, often based overseas, that hired armies of poorly paid freelance writers to rewrite existing web posts in slightly different words to create new articles. Then they hired an army of equally poorly-paid editors to clean up the resulting mess into something barely readable.

I get dozens of offers a day from content farms offering guest posts for Hypergrid Business.

I routinely mark them as spam and delete them. In fact, any email that has the words “SEO,” “100 percent unique,” and “Copyscape protected” is pretty much 100 guaranteed to go into the trash bin.

This kind of fake, filler, spammy content proliferated across the Internet. People didn’t usually stay on these pages for long. After all, there was nothing new to read there. But it was long enough for the publishers to get the revenue from the ads on the page and that was all that mattered.

Some legitimate business owners fell into this trap. They thought that in order to get traffic to their websites, they needed to game the system too, and they bought stuff from content farms to fill their pages with meaningless fluff.

For a little bit more money or effort, they could have actually created real content. Something useful to their customers, based on the company’s actual expertise and opinions.

The business owners and website editors that fell into the trap were kicked to the back of the line when search engines caught on — and then they have to work even harder just to get back to where they started.

Content farms are like crash diets. They seem to work at first, but at the end you wind up worse off than you were before, even heavier and lazier, looking for next crash diet, the next quick fix, the next SEO magic wand.

Stop worrying about the scale. Exercise more. Eat healthier food. Okay, I know that doesn’t work for everybody — but crash diets don’t work for anybody at all.

AI is the new content farm

Now, I don’t have anything against AI.

I welcome our new robot overlords.

I even wrote an article recently about how to use AI to write press releases.

But what I was talking about in that article was taking a bunch of new and useful information and using AI to help you organize it into readable form.

Not everyone is a great copywriter. So if your company has an announcement to make, or a new service it’s offering, or something else they’re doing that benefits people, it can be very useful to have an AI to hammer it into a readable form.

That’s not what I’m talking about when I talk about AI content farms.

(Image by Maria Korolov via Midjourney.)

What I mean is those articles with titles like, “10 top ways to cook with chicken,” except now written by AI instead of desperate writers.

Then you click on the article and find out that it’s a retread of everything already written on the topic, without any new insights or any value. It’s the exactly the same as the old content farm junk, but now written by AI, so it’s cheaper and faster.

These articles are easy to generate. You just ask ChatGPT, “Write me an article about ten top ways to use chicken” and it spits it out.

And everyone out there is doing exactly that, producing the same article in infinite variations.

Now there are companies built around this idea. In case you’re wondering who they are, I’m not going to help you. I’m not going to link to them here and give them free publicity. In fact, the reason I’m writing this article now is that one of those companies contacted me and invited me to their affiliate program and it annoyed me.

I’m not a fan of these companies. Not because they’re charging for something people can get for free from ChatGPT itself. No, they do provide some value. They make it easy and convenient to generate that filler article, and they stuff it full of keywords, and optimize the headline for maximum click bait, and analyze search terms in order to suggest the topics you should cover next.

It’s still the same generic, useless, repetitive content. Just an order of magnitude spammier.

The companies doing this proclaim that their posts can pass AI detection tools. That is completely irrelevant. These articles are still a waste of space.

Plus, Google doesn’t care if something was written by AI or not. Plenty of useful articles are written by AI, such as financial reports or sports write-ups or weather updates. The important thing, as far as Google is concerned, is that the content adds value.

So don’t fall for the quick fix trap of AI content farms. They won’t help your site in the long run. And, depending on how good Google algorithms are, probably won’t do much in the short term, either. If you fall into the AI content farm trap, you’ll have to fight even harder to get back into search engines’ good graces.

Instead, focus on providing value. Feature your personal experiences, or your company’s expertise and knowledge of the subject. Provide brand-new information that hasn’t been seen anywhere else before. Find a fresh perspective.  I did an article about how to do this earlier this month: P.E.A.N.U.T.: 6 steps to staying ahead of AI when writing articles.

So if you’re an OpenSim grid owner or service provider or another company actually doing something and are looking to drive traffic to your website and are considering using AI to help you write some articles — go ahead and use AI. Or you could hire some of those freelance writers that are about to become unemployed.

Just don’t churn out more useless fluff.

And stay away from any vendors that promise “SEO content.” Please. Do us — and yourself — a favor.

And me? I’m going to go add the term “guaranteed to pass AI detection tests” to my spam filter.

No, you won’t get rich quick by cutting-and-pasting into ChatGPT

(Image by Maria Korolov via Midjourney.)

I watch a lot of YouTube videos about new AI technologies. It’s a great way to stay on top of what’s happening while, say, cooking dinner or working out. YouTube videos tend to be relatively short and very accessible — a great way to learn about a complicated new topic before you go on to delve into the long-form articles and research papers.

And in my searches for new videos about ChatGPT and Midjourney and other AI tools I kept coming across scammy get-rich-quick videos. The ones that say, “Make $5,000 a day with ChatGPT!” If you’ve ever been on YouTube, you know these guys. They used to pitch crypto and now they pitch AI, but it’s the same dumb thing all over again.

I watched a couple of them to see what they were on about, and the main idea seems to be to post on Fiverr or some other freelance platform offering copywriting or design services. Then whatever the client asks you to do, you just have ChatGPT or Midjourney do for you. A few minutes of cutting-and-pasting and — voila! — the money will just roll in!

The problem with AI-based get-rich-quick schemes

Obviously, this idea is stupid. Why would anyone pay you to do something they can do for free on ChatGPT’s free plan, or one of the many free Midjourney alternatives powered by Stable Diffusion?

Don’t worry, the hucksters say, there are people who don’t know about the free tools, or don’t want to learn how to use them, and would rather pay you money instead.

Umm… maybe…?

Then, the next question is, if all you’re doing is cutting and pasting, then what’s to stop someone from building a simple app that exactly that — cutting-and-pasting from Fiverr customers into ChatGPT and sending back the results? They can flood the Fiverr marketplace with these accounts, and because they’re using automation, they can cut and paste a hundred queries in the time it takes you to do one.

And then they can take some of the money they make doing this and put it towards buying ads, improving good customer service, and so on. And they might even invest some of their profits into building an easy online app that does just that one thing that they’ve automated.

And if they can, they will. I’m sure people are out there doing just that right now as I type this.

That still means you have a window of opportunity if you act fast, the hucksters say. Jump on this trend right now, before the professionals move in, and you can make thousands just by cutting-and-pasting, no skill required!

The problem with this approach is that it takes time to build a business on Fiverr or any other freelancing platform. You have to do a lot of small jobs, for very low pay, in order to get clients who will leave good recommendations for you. Then, once you have built up a reputation, you can start raising your rates and investing in your marketing.

Meanwhile, the people who already have those business aren’t idiots. They’re noticing that ChatGPT is out there, and they’re using it and other tools either to speed up their own production or to improve the quality of their work — or both. And they already have a customer base, and they already know how to write, or how to design, and when they look at the results ChatGPT or Midjourney spits out, they know which ones are good and which ones aren’t, and they know how to tweak them to get them the rest of the way. Plus, they already know how to manage customer relationships and do marketing.

If your only skill is cutting-and-pasting, you’re not going to be able to compete against these professionals.

And that’s the point of most of these videos — you can get rich without having to do any hard work or learning any real skills.

What to do instead

If you want to use AI to get rich, then use it to improve the efficiency or quality of the stuff you are already good at doing, or to help you with the individual tasks that you are bad at. So, if you have a successful business, but you’re bad at writing letters to prospective customers, use ChatGPT to create drafts for you. If you’re bad at coming up with marketing ideas, use ChatGPT for that. If you’re bad at responding to complaints… you get the idea.

Use ChatGPT to build on your positives and reduce your negatives.

You can also use ChatGPT to learn new skills, either to level up in your current profession, or to move to another field.

So, yes, there are plenty of opportunity for people do things with AI. You can use it to help you create content, to create images, to create music and videos. You can use it to create children’s books and comics, YouTube show scripts and almost anything else you can image. But you still have to build a business if you do any of those things. You will still need to find customers or viewers, you will still need to know the difference between good content and bad content, and you will have to figure out how to do things that other people can’t do.

In the virtual world space, for example, you can use AI to generate images, to generate text, and to generate code.

You can use the AI-generated images for textures, or for game maps, or for marketing materials.

You can use text to create games, to create scripts for in-world characters, or for marketing company.

And you can use code for in-world scripts, for server-side applications, and for website plugins.

But, right now, none of these are “set and forget” types of applications. You will have to review the images, text, and code that the AIs generate and carefully select the ones you need. Sometimes you will spend hours, days, or weeks modifying the prompts to get what you want.

AI is not yet ready for real-time embedding into your virtual world because it’s too easy to get a chatbot to go off the rails. Instead, if, say, you want an in-world AI-powered character, use the AI to generate scripts, instead.

Or you could start a company to create AI-powered chatbots that are tightly constrained by the games where they live, can hold a convincing conversations while staying in character, but can’t be diverted by malicious users into spewing racist garbage or crazy conspiracy theories.

ChatGPT can teach you LSL and even write code for you — kinda

When I first tried out ChatGPT late last year, I noticed that many people were using it to write code. Python. Javascript. Even machine language. So of course I asked it if knew LSL, the Linden Scripting Language used in Second Life and OpenSim.

It said no. I was disappointed but not too surprised. After all, LSL isn’t one of the big languages. It probably doesn’t have enough training data.

Today, for some random reason, I decided to try again, and it not only knew LSL, but could explain how it worked. Maybe I worded the question wrong last time?

It can even talk about the differences between LSL and OSSL, the OpenSim Scripting Language, and write OSSL-specific scripts.

Warning: It’s not perfect

We’re still in the beta release of ChatGPT.

It makes mistakes.

So test all code carefully. However, if there’s an error, you can ask ChatGPT to fix it.

And if you don’t understand why it did something, or prefer it took a different approach, you can tell it that, too.

The company behind ChatGPT, OpenAI, is working on improving its accuracy — and the billions just invested by Microsoft will definitely help.

From what I’m hearing, developers are finding that ChatGPT can already significantly speed up their workflow, but that it doesn’t completely replace them. Yet.

When I asked it to recreate the Very Simple Greeting Script by Jester Knox, it took quite a bit of prompting. On the first try, it forgot a key step. When I pointed that out, ChatGPT apologized and rewrote the script with the step added. Then I asked it to use different commands than it had chosen.

All in all, it took it four tries to get to the exact script I was looking for.

My verdict?

Right now, ChatGPT is like a very junior programmer who still makes a lot of mistakes, is supremely confident in their abilities, but is at least willing to admit when they’re wrong.

I can definitely see the potential here for creating simple scripts, especially if I need to tweak those scripts a lot.

But the big deal here, of course, isn’t in what it can do right now, but in what it will be able to do tomorrow.

“Today, the scale of the largest AI computations is doubling every six months, far outpacing Moore’s Law,” Google CEO Sunchar Pichal said in a post last week.

So if a big part of your day-to-day workflow involves writing LSL or OSSL scripts, it might be time to look for ways in which ChatGPT can speed things up. For example, you can ask it to add comments to existing code. You can ask it to outline a coding project. You can ask it to write documentation, or to create slightly different versions of scripts. If you don’t understand how something works, you can ask it to explain it to you.

You can even paste in an existing script — maybe something from the Outworldz free scripts collection — and ask ChatGPT what the script does, then ask it to suggest some ways to use this script in an OpenSim grid.

P.E.A.N.U.T.: 6 steps to staying ahead of AI when writing articles

(Image by Maria Korolov via Midjourney.)

I get dozens of emails every day from people who want to contribute articles to Hypergrid Business. Sometimes, they even want to pay me to run the articles. The catch? There’s a link somewhere in the article to something the author wants to promote.

I’m not, in principle, opposed to running sponsored content. We’d just put a “sponsored” tag on it and use the money to pay for things that people don’t want to write for free. For example, I’d love to be able to afford to hire a freelancer to go to OpenSim concerts and other events and write about them. Wouldn’t that be a fun job for someone?

But sometimes the article topics are good enough that I’d run them for free. For example, a VR company might have one of their experts write an article about the state of VR in some industry. That could be useful, even if it does promote that VR company.

Unfortunately, 99 percent of the articles that people suggest are worthless.

Here’s how I think they are created:

  • A content farmer gets an assignment, such as “Benefits of VR in medicine”
  • They Google the topic
  • They cut-and-paste the information they get from the Google search
  • They rewrite the results just enough to pass a plagiarism check and throw in some search engine-friendly keywords
  • They send me the article

Why would anyone want to read this? Everyone has Google. They can just Google the topic themselves. There’s no new information in this article. It just fills up space and lowers the value of the website to readers. As a rule of thumb, whenever I get an email pitch that doesn’t explain who the author is, that guarantees that the article is “Copyspace-proof,” or that ever uses the word “SEO,” I mark it as spam and hit the delete button. This stuff is garbage and just wastes my time.

Now, AI is going to make the problem even worse because the work flow will be dramatically accelerated:

  • A content farmer gets an assignment, such as “Benefits of VR in medicine”
  • They ask ChatGPT to write an article on the topic
  • They send me the article

Again, ChatGPT is free. Anyone can just ask ChatGPT themselves the same question. There’s no new information in this article that’s produced. Even if search engines don’t decide that all AI-generated content is spam, they’ll still down-rank it because it has no new information.

Google released guidance this Wednesday, in fact, about how they decide whether AI-generated content — or any content, for the matter — will now be ranked by their search engines.

I’ve added a couple more criteria to their list, based on what Hypergrid Business is looking for and created my own acronym — PEANUT — which stands for Personal, Emotional, Authoritative, Novel, Unique, and Trustworthy.

(Graphic by Maria Korolov via Canva and Midjourney.)

The more of these things you have in your article, the higher the chances that I’ll run it. And that applies to both sponsored and non-sponsored posts.

Oh, and if you’re a fiction author, I’ve written an article explaining how to PEANUT principles apply to fiction writing over at our sister publication, the sci-fi and fantasy magazine MetaStellar.

Here are each of those six PEANUT factors, in more depth.

(Image by Maria Korolov via Midjourney.)

P is for Personal experience

The person writing the article should talk about their own history with the topic.

For example, if you’re writing an article about AI in medicine, you might have been treated by a doctor who used AI to help read their scans. Or a relative might have been cured of cancer based in part on a treatment created with the help of AI.

If you’re writing about virtual worlds, you might talk about your own history with the platform.

An AI doesn’t have personal experience with anything, because it’s not a person.

If you don’t have personal experience with a topic, you can get some. You can ask your relatives if any of them have been treated for diseases with the help of AI. Or you might search your memory — did you get a COVID vaccine that was created with the help of AI?

Or, for the virtual world article, you can go and log into a virtual world and try it out.

(Image by Maria Korolov via Midjourney.)

E is for Emotional connection

Why does this topic mean so much to you? Was the relative cured of cancer particularly important to you? Write about that connection.

Did your experience in virtual worlds inspire you in some way? Did it make you feel things you hadn’t felt before? Were you able to do something emotionally meaningful in a virtual world? Write about that.

AIs don’t have emotional connections because they don’t have emotions.

By explaining what the topic means to you, the emotional weight it carries, you help the reader make an emotional connection as well. And that makes for a better article.

A is for Authority

Why are you the one writing on this topic? What makes you an expert?

Really. I want to know. What makes you an expert? Put your resume highlights up top in the story. If you’re the founder of a VR company, say so right up front. Your opinion matters because you know what you’re talking about.

In particular, can you offer some advice or insight that’s better than what an AI can provide, because you have deep expertise?

An AI might recommend a list of things to do, for example, but only you might know what actually works and what doesn’t, based on your experience with customers.

An AI will just repeat all the same advice that’s already out there. It won’t know that some of the advice is worthless or outdated.

(Image by Maria Korolov via Midjourney.)

N is for Novel

Do you have any new information in the article that just came out and isn’t yet available to the general public?

For example, maybe you just went to a conference, talked to a bunch of experts, and learned some cool stuff that most people don’t know yet.

Or maybe you were experimenting with some virtual world tools, and figured out a new hack.

Or maybe you got a press release from a company that is still under embargo, so nobody has seen it yet. If we publish your article right when the embargo lifts, we can be among the first publications that publishes this news.

Or maybe you conducted some research or ran a survey and have new results to share.

If you don’t have anything new to say, find it. You can talk to experts, for example, and see if any of them have a new angle on the topic. Ask them what’s happening that most people don’t know about yet, or about their predictions for what will happen next.

(Image by Maria Korolov via Midjourney.)

U is for Unique

I don’t want to run an article that’s the same as a thousand other articles out there. What makes your article different?

Do you have a different background or point of view? Do you have a particular set of qualifications that makes you uniquely qualified to write about the topic?

When you tried out the technology, did you get different results than everyone else? When you ran the survey, were the results unexpected? When you talked to the expert, did they make a prediction that was surprising, but, when you think about it, makes sense after all?

Or maybe you have an exclusive. That means that something happened and you’re the only one who has this information. Maybe you were the only one at the event when it happened, or a source agreed to only talk to you.

Exclusives are good stuff. Publications love exclusives. Sure, they don’t last long, as everyone else jumps on them soon afterwards, but, for a few days — or a few hours — we’d be the only ones with the news. Score!

(Image by Maria Korolov via Midjourney.)

T is for Trust

Why should we trust your opinion?

If you’re the founder of a company, or the owner of an OpenSim grid, of course you’re going to tell us that your stuff is the best.

If you offer a particular product or service, then of course you’re going to tell us that everyone needs that thing, and it solves all your problems.

Maybe the article you’re writing has nothing to do with selling something. For example, if you’re an OpenSim grid owner and you’ve surveyed your users about, say, how tall their avatars are, then that’s potentially useful information to people who create avatars — and isn’t overly promotional.

If, however, the survey is about why people love your grid, then yeah, we probably won’t run it. I mean, can you imagine that survey? “Do you love our grid more because of the community or because of the great support you get?” Really? Those are the only options? Yeah, nobody’s going to buy that.

You don’t have to have all six PEANUTs for every single article, but the more you have, the higher the odds that I’ll run it.

Let’s look at how this article you’re reading now scores on the PEANUT scale:

  • Personal: Yup, I’ve got personal experience accepting articles for publication.
  • Emotional: Well, I am getting a little annoyed about having to go through all those spammy emails.
  • Authority: Yes, I’m an authority on this subject. I’ve been editing Hypergrid Business since 2009, and, before that, I was a business news bureau chief in China for five years. Not to mention all my other years of experience as journalist and editor.
  • Novel: As far as I can tell, my PEANUT acronym is completely new in this context — it also means “phase-inverted echo-amplitude detected nutation” in the context of peanut allergies, but I don’t think that counts. Plus, Google’s post was only published on Wednesday, so not many people have weighed in with their advice yet. Google’s own acronym is EEAT and, personally, I think mine is catchier and more comprehensive.
  • Unique: I am the only person able to comment on how to get stories published in Hypergrid Business because I’m literally the editor of this site, and my word is final.
  • Trust: Why would I lie about this? I want people to submit good articles so that I have good stuff to run on the site.

Well, look at that. Six for six. I’m hitting the “Publish” button now.