Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt has joined the many voices weighing in on Facebook’s metaverse and expressing concern about the future of artificial intelligence.
Schmidt, who served as Google’s top executive from 2001 to 2011 and as executive chairman until his departure in May 2020, told The New York Times that while he believes the technology will soon “be everywhere,” he warned that it is “not necessarily the best thing for human society.”
“All of the people who talk about metaverses are talking about worlds that are more satisfying than the current world – you’re richer, more handsome, more beautiful, more powerful, faster,” Schmidt told The Times. “So, in some years, people will choose to spend more time with their goggles on in the metaverse. And who gets to set the rules? The world will become more digital than physical. And that’s not necessarily the best thing for human society.”
Schmidt said he views AI, which Meta uses to run a majority of its platforms’ algorithms, as a “giant, false god” that can create unhealthy and parasocial relationships.
“It will be everywhere,” he told the New York Times opinion columnist Maureen Dowd. “What does an A.I.-enabled best friend look like, especially to a child? What does A.I.-enabled war look like? Does A.I. perceive aspects of reality that we don’t? Is it possible that A.I. will see things that humans cannot comprehend?”
The former Google executive isn’t alone in his concerns about AI. The technology has been increasingly criticized by business leaders in recent months, including Tesla CEO Elon Musk, who said his confidence is “not high” in the transparency and safety of AI within his own company. Meanwhile, some analysts say augmented reality poses even more risks of abuse than social media.
Schmidt’s comments come after Facebook announced Thursday it was changing its corporate name to Meta, and creating the metaverse as a virtual space where people can interact digitally using avatars. The company has been at the center of significant criticism in recent weeks after leaked documents exposed the company’s controversial business practices and technology.
Among the findings included in the documents are Facebook’s ability to counter misinformation, Instagram’s link to eating disorders in young girls and teenagers, and the treatment of politicians and celebrities on its platforms.
Since then, Facebook has increasingly emphasized its metaverse mission in an attempt to distance itself from the controversy. The company has since pushed back against the reports, calling them mischaracterizations. CEO Mark Zuckerberg told The Verge it was “ridiculous” for people to think that he changed Facebook’s name to Meta because of the backlash surrounding the leaked documents.
“From now on, we’ll be metaverse first, not Facebook first,” Zuckerberg said during the company’s Oculus Connect event. “Over time, you won’t need to use Facebook to use our other services.”
Facebook and Instagram usage among younger populations is already dwindling, as the platforms are increasingly being replaced by apps like TikTok and Snapchat. According to Piper Sandler’s October survey “Taking Stock With Teens”, 81% of teens said they used Instagram, the highest percentage of all the platforms. Seventy-seven percent said they use Snapchat, and 73% said they use TikTok. Only 27% of respondents said they use Facebook, the least of all the platforms.