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What exactly is the Metaverse?

To some extent, debating the meaning of “the metaverse” is similar to debating the meaning of “the internet” in the 1970s. The foundations of a new mode of communication were being put in place, but no one knew what the final product would look like. While it was true at the time that “the internet” was on the way, not every vision of what it would include was accurate.

On the other hand, the concept of the metaverse is surrounded by a lot of marketing hype. Facebook, in particular, is in a vulnerable position as a result of Apple’s decision to limit ad tracking, which has hurt the company’s financial line. It’s impossible to separate Facebook’s vision of a future in which everyone has a digital wardrobe to browse from the fact that the company intends to profit from selling virtual garments.

Virtual reality, which is characterised by persistent virtual environments that exist even when you’re not playing, and augmented reality, which mixes features of the digital and physical worlds, are examples of the metaverse. It does not, however, necessitate that those areas be only accessible through VR or AR. A virtual environment that can be accessible through PCs, game consoles, and even phones, such as Fortnite, might be metaversal.

It also refers to a digital economy in which users can design, buy, and sell products. It’s also interoperable, letting you move virtual objects like clothes or cars from one platform to another, under the more idealised conceptions of the metaverse. In the real world, you can go to the mall and buy a shirt, then wear it to the movies. Most platforms already feature virtual identities, avatars, and inventories that are bound to a single platform, but a metaverse might allow you to establish a persona that you can take with you wherever you go as easily as copying your profile image from one social network to another.

It’s tough to decipher what all of this means because, when you hear descriptions like the ones above, you might think, “Wait, doesn’t that already exist?” For example, Environment of Warcraft is a permanent virtual world where users can purchase and sell items. Rick Sanchez may learn about MLK Jr. through virtual experiences such as concerts and an exhibit in Fortnite. You may put on an Oculus headset and enter your own virtual world. Is that the definition of “metaverse”? Is it only a few new types of video games?

In a nutshell, yes and no. To call Fortnite “the metaverse” is like to refer to Google as “the internet.” Even if you could hypothetically spend a lot of time in Fortnite socialising, shopping, studying, and playing games, it doesn’t guarantee it covers everything there is to know about the metaverse.

On the other hand, just as it’s true that Google creates pieces of the internet—from physical data centres to security layers—also it’s true that Epic Games, the creator of Fortnite, is building sections of the metaverse. It isn’t the only company that does so. Some of that work will be done by tech behemoths like Microsoft and Facebook, the latter of which recently rebranded to Meta to reflect this work, though we’re still getting used to it. Many more firms are working on the infrastructure that might become the metaverse, including Nvidia, Unity, Roblox, and even Snap.

Most debates of what the metaverse entails come to a halt at this point. We have a hazy picture of what exists presently in what we might term the metaverse, and we know which corporations are investing in the concept, but we have no idea what it is. It will, according to Meta, include fictional residences where you can invite all your pals to hang out. Microsoft appears to believe that virtual conference rooms may be used to teach new hires or converse with faraway coworkers.

Why Does the Metaverse Involve Holograms?

When the internet originally came out, it was accompanied by a slew of technological breakthroughs, such as the ability to connect computers across long distances or the ability to link one web page to another. These technical capabilities served as the foundation for the abstract structures we now know as the internet, including websites, apps, social networks, and everything else that relies on them. That’s not even taking into account the convergence of non-internet interface advancements like displays, keyboards, mouse, and touchscreens, which are still required to make the internet work.

There are some new building blocks in place with the metaverse, such as the ability to host hundreds of people in a single instance of a server (future versions of a metaverse should be able to handle thousands, if not millions) and motion-tracking tools that can distinguish where a person is looking or where their hands are. These emerging technologies have the potential to be highly fascinating and futuristic.

However, there are several limits that may be insurmountable. When technology companies like Microsoft and Meta exhibit fictitious videos of their future visions, they usually skirt over how humans will interact with the metaverse. VR headsets are still clumsy, and most individuals get motion sickness or physical pain from wearing them for lengthy periods of time. In addition to the not-insignificant challenge of finding out how to wear augmented reality glasses in public without appearing like enormous dorks, augmented reality glasses face a similar problem.

So, how do tech businesses demonstrate their technology’s concept without displaying the reality of huge headgear and odd glasses? So far, it appears that their primary option is to create technologies from scratch. Is that the holographic woman from Meta’s talk? Even with the most advanced versions of extant technology, it’s simply not possible. There is no janky form of creating a three-dimensional picture to appear in midair without precisely controlled circumstances, unlike motion-tracked digital avatars, which are a little janky right now but could be better tomorrow. Perhaps these are meant to be viewed as images projected through glasses—after all, both women in the demo video are wearing similar spectacles—but even that implies a lot about small eyewear’ physical capabilities.

This kind of obfuscation of reality is common in film demonstrations of how the metaverse might work. This is OK on certain levels. Microsoft, Meta, and every other business that gives outlandish demos like these are attempting to create an artistic image of what the future might look like, rather than necessarily answering every technological concern. However, this type of wishful-thinking-as-tech demo places us in a position where it’s difficult to predict which components of various metaverse visions will become reality one day. If virtual reality and augmented reality headsets become comfortable and affordable enough for people to wear on a daily basis—a big “if”—then the idea of a virtual poker game where your pals are robots and holograms floating in space might become a reality.

The glitz and glamour of VR and AR also obscure the more ordinary features of the metaverse that are more likely to materialise. It would be trivially simple for software companies to create, for instance, an open digital avatar standard, a type of file that incorporates features you might enter into a character creator—like eye colour, haircut, or clothing options—and allow you to carry it around with you everywhere you go. For that, there’s no need to create more comfortable VR headgear.

But that’s not as entertaining to consider.

What’s the Metaverse Like Right Now?

The paradox of defining the metaverse is that you have to define away the present in order for it to be the future. MMOs, which are essentially entire virtual worlds, digital concerts, video conversations with people all over the world, online avatars, and commerce platforms are already available. So, in order to market these things as a new way of looking at the world, there has to be something new about them.

Spend enough time talking about the metaverse, and someone will undoubtedly bring up fictional works like Snow Crash, which created the phrase “metaverse,” or Ready Player One, which describes a virtual reality world where everyone works, plays, and shops. These stories, when combined with the overall pop-culture concept of holograms and heads-up displays, offer as a creative reference point for what the metaverse—a metaverse that tech corporations might genuinely sell as something new—might look like. This type of hype is as much a part of the metaverse’s concept as any other. It’s no surprise, then, that proponents of NFTs—cryptographic tokens that can be used as certificates of ownership for digital items—are also embracing the metaverse concept.

It’s crucial to keep all of this in mind because, while it’s tempting to compare today’s proto-metaverse concepts to the early internet and believe that everything will improve and grow in a linear fashion, this isn’t a given. There’s no guarantee that consumers will want to sit in a virtual office without their legs or play poker with Dreamworks CEO Mark Zuckerberg, let alone that VR and AR technology will ever become as ubiquitous as smartphones and computers are now. It’s possible that any true “metaverse” would consist primarily of fascinating VR games and digital avatars in Zoom calls, but predominantly of what we now refer to as the internet.

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Technology

Climate Crisis; Cries Asia

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By 2050, regions of Asia may see rising average temperatures, deadly heatwaves, extreme precipitation events, catastrophic hurricanes, drought, and water supply problems (see figure below). The GDP of Asia is threatened by global warming, accounting for more than two-thirds of the total yearly global GDP at danger. According to McKinsey & Company’s Climate Risk and Response in Asia report, countries in Frontier Asia (Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan) and Emerging Asia (Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam) are the most vulnerable to climate change consequences.

 

Climate change consequences are predicted to be less severe in advanced Asia (Australia, Japan, New Zealand, and South Korea) and China, which is a separate category. In fact, increased crop yields are predicted to constitute a net agricultural benefit from climate change in these countries. However, owing to more frequent extreme precipitation events and typhoons in many locations, hazards to infrastructure and supply systems will increase in these countries, which is especially critical given China’s significance in global supply chains.

 

Warming has a significant impact on what is known as Natural Capital. By 2050, the glacial mass will have decreased by up to 40%, fisheries harvests may have decreased by half, and 90 per cent of coral reefs would have suffered significant degradation. Rising temperatures and deadly heatwaves have an impact on livability and effective working hours in key Asian countries, with up to 10% of daylight work hours likely to be lost by mid-century.

 

The paper by McKinsey & Company discusses possible solutions to this massive problem. They point out that, thankfully, Asia is ideally positioned to handle these issues and seize the benefits that come with efficiently managing climate risks — if they choose to do so. Many Asian countries are still developing their infrastructure and metropolitan centres. This gives the region an opportunity to make sure that whatever is built is more robust and capable of withstanding the increased hazards of climate change.

 

The paper by McKinsey & Company discusses possible solutions to this massive problem. They point out that, thankfully, Asia is ideally positioned to handle these issues and seize the benefits that come with efficiently managing climate risks — if they choose to do so. Many Asian countries are still developing their infrastructure and metropolitan centres. This gives the region an opportunity to make sure that whatever is built is more robust and capable of withstanding the increased hazards of climate change.

 

As the Himalayan glaciers have receded, the annual melting water supply used to feed farmland in India’s Ladakh area has decreased. A system was devised to store meltwater in massive standing structures, allowing for year-round irrigation. However, without major decarbonization, these initiatives are likely to fail. Asia is responsible for about half of all greenhouse gas emissions. The research examines the transition from coal to renewables, which includes a combination of solar and wind power with battery storage, as well as rewards to coal asset owners for retiring assets before they reach the end of their useful lives.

These tactics have not proven to be very effective in the real world, and they consume a lot of energy. For everything, the amount of renewables required to reach these goals would require more steel than China now produces, and that doesn’t include renewables to make green hydrogen to decarbonize steel manufacturing. Leading Asia through the challenges of a warming planet is a huge task, but one that is just as important as leading the rest of the globe to the same objective.

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Technology

Digital Yuan: The Breakthrough Digital Currency of Winter Olympics 2022

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Shen Xue, a retired Chinese pair skater and 2010 Olympic champion, appeared on Chinese media in December 2020 as the first person to purchase a Beijing Subway pass using the country’s official digital money. Shen celebrated the start of China’s campaign to market its central bank digital currencies overseas during the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics by swiping the turnstile with ski gloves equipped with the latest digital yuan wallet. The Winter Olympics were supposed to be a big premiere for the e-CNY, a digital version of China’s sovereign currency that would be seen by millions of people across the world. Without a local bank account, foreign visitors will be able to use e-CNY to purchase things at the games, which begin on Friday.

With the emergence of the COVID-19 epidemic, which locked the Chinese capital to the rest of the world, those plans went awry. Beijing has adopted a “closed-loop system” for the games, which isolates the 11,000 participants from the general public as part of a “zero COVID” policy aimed at preventing any virus transmission.

The People’s Bank of China, a forerunner in the development of central bank digital currencies (CBDCs), first proposed a digital yuan in 2014, while its colleagues were still assessing the benefits of virtual currencies. CBDCs are issued and managed by a central government, unlike cryptocurrencies, which China banned last year because of worries about financial stability and crime. The central bank announced in January that more than 261 million individual users have enrolled for a digital yuan wallet, an app that allows users to utilise e-CNY. Since October, the number of users has roughly doubled.

According to the Beijing Financial Supervision Authority, Beijing has been pilot-testing its digital currency for usage at the games for more than a year, with 9.6 billion CNY ($1.5 billion) in transactions by the end of 2021.

Before the Olympics, the city tested the digital yuan in over 400,000 “scenes” involving real transactions of products and services, according to the regulator, with over 12 million individual users and 1.3 million business users in the capital registering on the app. Mobile payments handled a record 432 trillion yuan ($67.9 trillion) in transactions in 2020, largely on Alibaba’s Alipay and Tencent’s WeChat Pay. Last year, Bloomberg Intelligence predicted that by 2025, the digital yuan would have a 9% domestic market share. Alipay and WePay are thought to have a combined market share of over 90% at the moment.

According to Suji Yan, founder of Mask Network, a Singapore-based cryptographic and encryption start-up, transitioning from tech giants’ digital payments to a CBDC is a simple transition for Chinese citizens. They are already paying with internet giants such as WeChat and Alipay, and the shift [of payment applications] makes no difference to the majority of Chinese customers.

Distrust overseas

Beijing’s Olympic showcase for the digital yuan may be met with scepticism abroad, owing to a rising mistrust of Chinese technology, particularly in terms of data protection and regulatory monitoring. For overseas users, anonymity and privacy are the most pressing concerns when it comes to using the digital yuan. According to official media Xinhua, four levels of user categorization are currently accessible, allowing users to choose how much information to submit with the digital wallet app in order to meet different usage restrictions. Even in the most basic model, with simply a cell phone number, no one believes their transactions will be completely anonymous and private.

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Defence

Information Warfare: The Lethal Weapon of the New Ages

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Great Generals and Strategists have long believed the information to be the key to victory in any operation or conflict. Many empires have fallen or risen as a result of information. It is clear from General Sun Tzu’s book, The Art of War, that critical information about the enemy will allow us to analyse his strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities, and will ultimately provide us with a strategic advantage and triumphs in the wars that are being waged. It also emphasises the importance of information security in winning a battle.

The Internet’s arrival ushered in a fundamental shift in information warfare (IW). It has ushered in a new era in which cyberspace is being used to conduct virtual information operations in order to obtain sensitive data. Information Warfare is a concept in which information is the target and information is the tool used to carry out the information operation. Information operations can be divided into two categories: defensive and offensive.

In every element of society and human connections, information has played a critical role. As a result, it is utilised as a type of warfare in which information gathered through intelligence and cyber espionage is reviewed and manipulated through misinformation campaigns, propaganda, and fake news in order to affect targeted opponents to the state’s advantage or will. In today’s world, contentious geostrategic concerns and power conflicts between states require rivalling states to engage in information warfare, using the essential information of the rival nation. The Three Warfare Strategy and the Assassin Mace Strategy both include information warfare.

China’s Information Warfare Strategy

Information Dominance is the ultimate goal of the Chinese Information Warfare Strategy. The Chinese IW strategy is based on deterring and disrupting the adversary’s ability to use data by focusing on its important information system and decision-making process, which would eventually influence the adversary’s willingness or ability to fight. Conducting cyber espionage and psychological operations to collect sensitive information from the adversary.

Information Operations (IO) are used to strategically implement China’s IW policy across global cyberspace. Information operations are divided into two types: offensive information operations (OIO) and defensive information operations (DIO).

Methods and strategies for disrupting an adversary’s information structure, as well as cyber espionage, are included in offensive information operations. Defensive information operations, on the other hand, were focused on assuring information security, that is, shielding vital information systems from incoming enemy disruption attempts.

Implications for India

According to Cert-In assessments, there has been a slew of serious cyber-attacks linked to Chinese Information Operations against India, targeting both the government and the general population. Since June 1998, when the first known cyber-attack on India was on the computers of BARC (Bhabha Atomic Research Centre), the country has been subjected to Chinese cyber-attacks.

 

Furthermore, after any major events in India, the number of cyberattacks tends to rise. For example, 80,000 cyber-attacks were recorded following the demonetisation of banknotes, and more than 40,300 attacks were reported in the aftermath of the Galwan fight on the Indian internet. In the month following the Galwan Clash, there was a 200 per cent increase in Chinese cyberattacks, most of which were aimed at stealing critical information.

 

The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitYCert-In)’s (Indian Computer Emergency Response Team) has played a critical role by developing proactive measures. India responded positively by banning over 150 apps, including Tik Tok, PUBG, and other utility apps.

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Technology

Dating Apps: Latest Instruments of Espionage

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Espionage is not some new-age practice.

Diplomatic workers, military attachés, and trade delegations are all routinely acquiring publically available information. They obtain information through open sources such as the media, conferences, diplomatic events, and trade shows, as well as direct contact with representatives from the host government. This allows them to keep tabs on political, economic, and military developments in their host country while also providing information to their own governments. As a result, foreign officials assist their governments in shaping international, commercial, and military policy. This type of effort does not jeopardise our national security. In fact, it frequently assists us in forming positive relationships with other countries.

The goal of espionage is to get non-public information using covert techniques. First and foremost, classified material is kept secret because its exposure could jeopardise national security, jeopardise the country’s economic well-being, or hurt international relations. Its sensitivity necessitates our protection, but it also makes it appealing to spies.

Serious harm can be done if this information is obtained by individuals who have no permission to access it. Other countries, for example, are looking for technical knowledge about weapons systems in order to identify strategies to counteract our military advantages. Furthermore, the theft of sensitive technologies could allow foreign corporations to imitate them, posing a threat to national security as well as job security.

Dangerous Liaisons- Honey Trapping

A wide-ranging Chinese operation to blackmail Western businesses over sexual ties was described by the renowned British security service. The document report expressly states that Chinese intelligence agencies are attempting to build “long-term connections” and have been known to “exploit vulnerabilities such as sexual relationships… to pressurise individuals to cooperate with them,” as the London Times reported in 2009.

Spymasters of all kinds have been training their spies to utilise the amorous arts to gather hidden information for millennia. The “honey trap” is the trade name for this sort of surveillance. And it turns out that both men and women are equally capable of creating one — and equally prone to falling into it. As bait, spies utilise sex, intelligence, and the thrill of living a double life. Against a well-set honey trap, cunning, training, character, and patriotism are frequently ineffective.

Spymasters, Romeo Spies and Elaborate Honey Traps

Markus Wolf, the legendary East German spymaster, perhaps devised the biggest honey trap in intelligence history. Wolf realised in the early 1950s that, as a result of the large number of marriageable German men killed in World War II and the increasing number of German women pursuing careers, the higher echelons of the German government, commerce, and industry were now stocked with lonely single women, ripe — in his opinion — for the temptations of a honey trap.

Wolf established a special division of the Stasi, East Germany’s security organisation, and filled it with his most attractive and intelligent officers. They were dubbed “Romeo spies” by him. Their mission was to infiltrate West Germany, find influential, unmarried women, woo them, and get all of their secrets from them. The Stasi infiltrated most levels of West German government and industry thanks to the Romeo spies and their honey traps. At one point, the East Germans even had a spy inside NATO who could provide information on the West’s nuclear weapons deployment. Another utilised her contacts to work as a secretary in the office of Helmut Schmidt, the West German chancellor.

Honey Trap Spies lurking on Dating Apps Today

In 2019, India discovered 150 Pakistani social media personas that were meant to dupe Indian army officers into divulging state secrets. India instructed soldiers to deactivate Facebook, Instagram, Tinder, and hundreds of other apps from phones because the problem was so serious. A woman would normally begin the seduction by ‘liking’ a soldier’s social media post and asking for more photographs of firearms and aircraft. The conversation would then shift to direct texting, with Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence enticingly requesting defence secrets.

Foreign Interference Plot on an unspecified Australian Election Revealed

Tinder and other dating apps are being used by foreign spies to recruit Australians with access to key government information currently. While delivering his yearly threat assessment, ASIO commander Mike Burgess revealed the alarming disclosure, warning that identifying anti-vaccine campaigners who could turn violent was proving tough.

Mr Burgess confirmed espionage and foreign interference has now “supplanted” terrorism as the “principal security concern” in a wide-ranging address to an audience of military chiefs, security bosses, and politicians inside ASIO’s Canberra headquarters, declaring the recent AUKUS nuclear partnership an obvious target for international agents.

Thousands of Australians with access to confidential material are thought to have been targeted by foreign intelligence services through social media profiles over the last two years. These assassins know how to use the internet to find new recruits. On messaging systems like WhatsApp, there has been an increase in dubious approaches. As part of its attempt to entice Australians with access to state secrets, overseas intelligence operatives are being tracked by ASIO on popular dating apps. Foreign intelligence services can easily target personnel of interest by going online, according to the Director-General of Security.

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Technology

Oil of the 21st Century- How China has been using Big Data to further its global surveillance

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Data is the oil of the twenty-first century, an inexhaustible resource that will power AI algorithms, economic strength, and national might. All of us are the source of this data: our medical records and genetic sequences, our internet behaviours, our companies’ supply chain movements, and the terabytes of pictures consumed by smartphones, drones, and self-driving cars. To obtain financial, technological, and military advantages in the twenty-first century, it will be necessary to safeguard and harness this data. China is currently winning, while the West is barely involved.

Mr Xi has been hard at work building the Chinese Communist Party the world’s most powerful data broker through a latticework of new laws and regulations. How does Beijing accomplish this? By isolating Chinese data from the rest of the world, gaining additional extraterritorial control over global data flows, and putting foreign companies doing business in China in legal limbo — all while consuming data from other nations through legal and illegal means. Mr Xi understands that securing solely Chinese data, which represents the patterns and behaviour of 1.4 billion people, would stymie Beijing’s competitors in the race for global economic supremacy.

“The huge ocean of data, like oil resources during industrialization, contains immense productive potential and opportunities,” Mr Xi remarked in 2013, shortly after assuming the presidency in Beijing. Whoever controls big data technology will have the upper hand in terms of development resources.” Since then, Beijing has been putting in place the infrastructure to ensure that massive data collections suit the strategic goals of the Chinese Communist Party. In 2017, the party asserted its capacity to obtain access to private data on Chinese networks, whether in China or affiliated with Chinese corporations such as Huawei overseas, through a series of laws.

Now, Beijing has discreetly passed a new set of rules — the Data Security Law in September, followed by the Personal Information Protection Law in November — that go even farther, requiring not only access to private data but also effective control over it. This has a significant influence on international companies doing business in China. Beijing now seeks control over whether they can send Chinese data to their own headquarters, a company facility in, say, California, or a foreign government that has made a law enforcement or regulatory request.

Beijing’s new moves are in addition to its long-running efforts to buy, steal, and otherwise obtain data from foreign sources around the world. Beijing has hacked into the databases of global corporations. It organises “talent recruitment” programmes at universities and businesses throughout the world. It acquires overseas firms, such as an Italian drone manufacturer. It invests in open overseas marketplaces like Silicon Valley to fund its own data-driven start-ups. The strategy is blatantly nonreciprocal. It relies on international data while denying foreigners access to Chinese data – and appears to presume that foreign governments would remain unresponsive. 

The good news is that if democratic countries get their act together, they may be in a better position than Beijing, which is obstructing its own advancement due to a paranoid attitude. Mr Xi has been cracking down on private Chinese digital titans like Alibaba and Tencent in recent months, requiring them to hand up their data troves to state-controlled third parties. This crackdown, which resulted in the loss of over $1 trillion in market value, would make these companies less inventive because they no longer have control over their data. Democratic allies must work together to increase data sharing while limiting data flows to China. Former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe presented a blueprint. This concept, dubbed Data Free Flow With Trust, should be adopted as a policy.

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