With help from Derek Robertson
Just as this newsletter entered production, news broke that Binance, the world’s largest crypto exchange, has seen nearly $2 billion in withdrawals over the past 24 hours and has temporarily paused withdrawals of the stablecoin USDC. That news comes as the industry at large is facing increasing scrutiny over its ability to satisfy customer withdrawals, as many users of the FTX exchange are still without their funds after its collapse.
As Meta burns through money building out the metaverse and crypto values falter, the promise of a vast virtual online world may feel like vaporware.
That is, unless you want to book a therapy session in cyberspace.
During the pandemic, tele-mental health took off like a rocket. Surveys show that more than half of people prefer to do therapy online versus in-person. That willingness to go online for mental health counseling has gotten folks at the cutting edge of healthcare thinking about how the metaverse can be used to treat a variety of ailments. Of particular interest? The social aspects of the technology.
“You can have the same sharing bond that you have in physical communities, but with the added value coming from the digital world and the sense of control the ability of self expression,” Giuseppe Riva, founder of the Applied Technology for Neuro-Psychology Laboratory at Istituto Auxologico in Italy, told Digital Future Daily.
When patients for North-Star Care, a digital platform for treating alcohol use disorder, sign-up for the program, they receive a virtual reality headset in the mail. While participants meet with their doctors over run of the mill video conferencing, they meet with peer mentors in the metaverse. Virtual reality allows for a few things here. For one, patients and their mentors can meet while still maintaining anonymity.
And there’s evidence that virtual reality may be a more powerful tool for fostering connections than talking on the phone or video conferencing. For example, researchers have found that using virtual reality can help build empathy among people of different races through virtual “body swapping.”
While still early, there has been a fair amount of research showing that virtual reality can be helpful for patients suffering from anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, eating disorders and phobias. The technology allows patients to confront or work through triggers in a simulated environment.
Researchers write that what makes virtual reality and the metaverse such a strong tool in psychology has to do with the technology’s ability to make people feel connected to a space. In a study from earlier this year, researchers found people who socialized in virtual worlds, as opposed to 2D online platforms, felt transported to a physical space, which raised their sense of relatedness to other people as well as their own self-expansion.
“The next trend now in the metaverse is using the simulation potential of the metaverse to facilitate hallucination-like states,” said Riva.
He noted that numerous cultures use hallucination to free the mind, but using psychoactives like ayahuasca come with undesired effects. “With the metaverse, you can do the same— almost the same—but in a controlled way,” he said.
This is essentially an alternative to fast-on-the-rise psychedelic medicines. Pharmaceutical companies are investing heavily in psychoactive substances like psilocybin, also known as mushrooms, and MDMA, an amphetamine derivative, to treat common mental health issues like depression, anxiety, and post traumatic stress disorder. Instead of using psychedelic drugs, researchers are trying to figure out whether they can use artificial intelligence and virtual reality to get the same brain effects that hallucinations offer.
A recent study found that participants who experienced a simulated hallucination became more cognitively flexible or adaptability afterwards. But the field of study is still fairly nascent.
Part of what hinders the use of virtual reality in mental health is that the technology facilitating these life changing experiences is still too early in its development.
“We still need the killer device,” said Riva. To get the most social benefits, these devices will need more sophisticated capabilities with better graphics that will make the experience truly immersive.
If you’re keeping score in the ongoing chip wars: The German Marshall Fund unveiled yesterday its “Semiconductor Investment Tracker,” a publicly-accessible Excel spreadsheet doing, well, exactly what it says: Tracking chip manufacturing investment in the U.S. and EU.
The database lists 29 investments as of this writing, including their location, amount, type of chip or facility, and number of direct and indirect jobs created by each. It’s a useful resource for those keeping track of the West’s pivot toward semiconductor independence, whether you’re tracking its impact on the private sector itself or any given region.
One trend that jumps out immediately perusing the data is how the vast majority of the investments so far have been in Arizona and Texas, reflecting the aggressive efforts in each state to court the industry. Texas, of course, has a built-in historical advantage in the race to capitalize on the semiconductor push — earning its onetime “Silicon Prairie” nickname by headquartering companies like Texas Instruments, which drew investments in facilities from companies like AMD when they still manufactured their own conductors, and Samsung with its first stateside facility in 1996. — Derek Robertson
But what’s actually in a chip?
In the latest issue of the policy magazine City Journal, the author Bruno Macaes traces the history of the semiconductor in order to make an argument about its future: Namely, that the infinitely compounding complexity and power they contain will ultimately be used to create a truly immersive metaverse, almost indistinguishable from the world in which we actually exist.
Macaes’ argument is somewhat dreamy, if not necessarily unpersuasive: “The secret goal of the microchip is the metaverse. What else could be the endpoint of the search for the natural limits of complexity? The ultimate instance of complexity in the world is the world itself.”
The people most involved in the metaverse, it should be noted, tend to agree with him. In Matthew Ball’s book earlier this year that presented his influential vision for the metaverse he dedicates an entire chapter to the importance of “compute,” the raw mathematical power behind computer technology that is almost definitionally always in short supply — and metaverse-builders like Meta are scrambling for it, making big investments in supercomputers to power the virtual world’s development. — Derek Robertson
- Amid SBF’s arrest, his parents also find themselves under intense scrutiny.
- Meet the man trying to build an “iPod of crypto.”
- Lensa’s stunning AI avatars are already starting to lose their charm for some.
- …But that hasn’t stopped cheap clones of the software from clogging the App Store.
- A columnist argues that we need watermarks to distinguish AI-generated content.
Stay in touch with the whole team: Ben Schreckinger ([email protected]); Derek Robertson ([email protected]); Steve Heuser ([email protected]); and Benton Ives ([email protected]). Follow us @DigitalFuture on Twitter.
If you’ve had this newsletter forwarded to you, you can sign up and read our mission statement at the links provided.