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

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

It may sound straight out of a sci-fi novel, but this is the future of work promised by the metaverse and by NetDragon, a Chinese company that recently employed an AI-powered virtual humanoid robot as the rotating CEO of its flagship subsidiary. Fujian NetDragon, appointed. Web soft.

The metaverse, often called the next version of the Internet, promises a 3D virtual world that people enter via virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) headsets to do business, hang out and play games through their virtual avatars or holograms.

NetDragon Websoft, the Chinese game company that has gained a reputation with games such as Eudemons Online, Heroes Evolved, Conquer Online and Under Oath, is betting heavily 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’re doing it sincerely,” the company’s vice-chairman, Dr Simon Leung, told CNBC in September.

The appointment of Tang Yu, the name of the AI-powered virtual robot CEO, “is a move to pioneer the use of AI to transform corporate governance and leapfrog operational efficiency to a new level,” the company said. said in a statementadding that it represents a major milestone in 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 the 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 critical role in developing talents and ensuring a fair and efficient workplace for all employees.

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

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

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

His announcement points to the profound changes our workplaces could undergo if and when companies truly work remotely and embrace the metaverse.

What work might look like in the metaverse

The metaverse workplace can see us work from anywhere in the world, thanks to augmented reality and motion sensors that make our digital avatars behave as we do. Our workspace can also be customized to our quirks and preferences.

This will potentially eliminate the need for physical office spaces and equipment, and the need to come into 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 such as digital interactive whiteboards for brainstorming.

This year, Microsoft began rolling out Mesh, a system for virtual augmented reality meetings that will be integrated into Teams.

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

Osborne Clarke, an international legal practice providing services on all things legal, 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 problems, and we help them through that, but we also work with them to predict what the problems are going to be for them in the next six months, the next 12 months,” Olivia Sinfield, partner at Osborne Clarke , next told Euronews.

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“With something like the metaverse, it’s really crucial that they start planning and preparing for it now, and that’s why we need to get that on top of that so we can have these conversations with our customers.”

The health risks of the metaverse workplace

Despite the potential benefits that the metaverse workspace could offer, such as being able to choose more freely where you live, reducing travel costs and all but eliminating the need for physical offices, a concern arises: will it be good for us ?

The European Office of the World Health Organization already warned the metaverse may pose risks to public health.

“Spending more time online with devices connected to the metaverse could reduce levels of physical activity and give advertisers many more ways to promote unhealthy products such as junk food, tobacco or alcohol,” Dr Kremlin Wickramasinghe, acting head of the WHO s European Office for the Prevention and Control of Non-Communicable Diseases, said in a statement early this year.

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

Human social behavior is important to our health and survival, and research shows psychiatric disorders often involve some disruption of normal social behavior. This is because we are social creatures – it’s in our DNA, and our hormones are designed to drive social engagement.

The coronavirus pandemic has already highlighted the risks of less face-to-face interaction, and so has the rise of social media.

Many studies have warned that excessive use of platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and TikTok can cause symptoms of depression, addictive behaviour, loneliness and anxiety.

We were also warned about how remote work exacerbates isolation.

A pan-European poll conducted in September by LifeWorks, a wellness services company, found that 39 percent of workers surveyed were at high risk of mental health issues. Almost one third of the respondents reported that they often feel alone.

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“We can do these 20-minute Zoom calls and then move on. But it doesn’t build a sense of belonging,” LifeWorks’ global leader of research Paula Allen told Euronews Next earlier in the 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 at the office: it is not completely remote, nor is it actually present.

Depersonalization and anxiety

More research needs to be done to understand the potential health implications of working in the metaverse, but some studies highlight other possible risks.

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

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

Some VR users on Reddit have reported feeling sick after prolonged VR sessions: “It’s almost like a bit of a hangover, depending on the intensity of your VR experience (…) [But the physical symptoms] usually fades within the first 1–2 hours and gets better over time.”

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

“The interaction in the metaverse is more akin to the human connection we experience working in person and collaborating,” they wrote on the HR website Staff Today.

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

“They will have to be able to reassure employees before they expect them to stop working in this way”.


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