From Metaverse to AI: Embracing Emerging Tech as a Parent

By: Ritesh Kotak

October 18, 2023

October marks Cybersecurity Awareness Month, a dedicated period to emphasize the critical significance of cybersecurity and online safety. Throughout this month, we will provide valuable Cyber Smart information tailored for parents and caregivers. Our goal is to empower you with the knowledge needed to safeguard your children’s online experiences effectively.

We live in an interesting time where we hear about new technology daily. It can be overwhelming, but this post’s goal is to provide you with information so you can make more informed decisions on the use of emerging tech as a parent or caregiver.

Tips for Parents & Caregivers on How to Navigate Emerging Technology

What is the Metaverse?

The Metaverse is a marketing term coined by Meta, the parent company of Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram and Threads. Many believe that the Metaverse is Virtual Reality (“VR”), where you can explore new worlds and play games as an avatar. However, the Metaverse is part of a bigger movement referred to as Web 3.0. 

The first iteration of the internet, Web 1.0, allowed us the ability to “read.” Remember Ask Jeeves and AOL? We could log onto the computer and following the weird connection sounds of our modem, we had the world’s information on our screen. The second iteration of the internet, Web 2.0, allowed us the ability to “write.” This is when we all became content creators and shared our thoughts on social media platforms. We are now living through the third iteration of the internet, which is our ability to “own.” 

Some examples of Web 3.0, in addition to the Metaverse, are NFTs and cryptocurrencies. 

So how does it work?

Recently the NBA partnered with Meta to allow individuals to have virtual courtside seats at select basketball games. Your avatar would have been seated courtside and it would feel as if you were at the game. Eventually, you could purchase virtual jerseys for your favourite team. These virtual goods don’t exist in the physical world but they do in the virtual world where the purchases are happening with real money. I had a similar experience where I was invited to a virtual concert with a popular mainstream artist. The attendees were from all over the world but the concert felt real and was an incredible experience. 

This is the type of experience that is going to become more and more sought after. Currently one of the most popular requests made to parents has been for VR headsets that can transport users into new worlds, rather than new gaming consoles. But with new worlds, come new challenges.

The Challenges of Emerging Tech

One of the biggest challenges parents and caregivers will face in this new Web 3.0 world is not knowing who your child may be interacting with. Firstly, just like you monitor your child’s computer and cellphone activity, you will need to monitor their avatar and virtual activity. Many headsets have parental control settings that limit who your child can interact with and what they can do when in VR. Some of these features are similar to what we encounter on social media platforms (limiting direct messaging features, preventing in-app purchases without authorization and ensuring no adults can interact with children). The Metaverse has unique features where an avatar could have a safety bubble preventing other avatars from touching them.

This may seem scary, but if simple safety protocols are adhered to, this can be an extremely productive tool. Here’s an example: With the recent announcement of Apple’s headset (Apple Vision Pro), the ability for students to learn virtually about history, collaborate on school projects and relax by watching an immersive Disney movie is a step in the right direction. 

I remember learning about the solar system in Grade 2, which included having an astronaut talk to our school about their experience. That was incredible, but imagine if children today could learn about our solar system by wearing a headset that gives them the ability to walk on the moon, fly to different planets and float through the international space station. The Metaverse does have its challenges but if leveraged correctly, the opportunities are literally out of this world.

From the Metaverse to Chat GPT: Should I be concerned that my child is using AI tools?

There has been so much talk about ChatGPT and how artificial intelligence (AI) is being used to generate everything from essays to images. Many educational institutions were unsure of how to regulate and some initially came out with a blanket ban on its use. So what exactly is it and should parents be concerned?

I am sure we have all used AI tools without realizing it. When you’re writing an email and you get suggestions on completing sentences, that is powered by AI. Now imagine going to a website, similar to the popular search engines, and typing in “write me an email in a professional tone to the school principal regarding my child’s absence”. Within seconds, an email is generated without errors and you can simply hit send. 

Now imagine asking the same tool to write an essay about the history of Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms or a thousand-word biography on Terry Fox. The tool will generate the essay, but clearly, this is cheating. At what point does it cross the threshold from being a tool to guide versus becoming a tool of deceit?

Some of us might remember going to the library, looking up books on particular topics and then locating the text using the “Dewey Decimal System.” It was painfully slow, and books were rarely in the correct place. However, this was an important research skill that we developed. Today, this is an obsolete process and with a few clicks from your computer, not only can you retrieve any material, but tools will ingest the data and summarize the key points for you. This presents parents, teachers and caregivers with a dilemma and there is no easy answer. 

Academic integrity is paramount, but not being able to use the tools available will have a counter-negative impact. Striking the correct balance is essential. 

These tools are still in their infancy and there have been several instances where false data was presented as facts and fake citations were generated. There has even been concern about the collection of data by these tools. 

Imagine asking questions about personal medical conditions or sensitive matters. The AI tool may now know intimate details about you and your children. When you hit the “I Agree” button, you may have also consented to share that data with third parties. These concerns are genuine and can have lasting impacts if misused.

Technology is rapidly evolving. ChatGPT generates text but new tools such as DALL-E generate images based on text. Imagine uploading a picture of someone and having the AI modify it. There has also been an influx of AI tools that can generate voices and videos. As a parent, this adds another layer of complexity. The laws are also evolving but not at the rate of the technology. It will be important to understand the ‘art of the possible’ concerning AI.

AI has a long way to go, but it is here to stay. As parents and caregivers, the top five tips for navigating it are:

  1. Educate yourself on the AI tools your children are using – if you know how to use it, you can guide your children to use it safely.
  2. Prioritize tools that have safeguards in place to protect your children.
  3. Teach your kids about critical thinking and using multiple sources for information gathering. 
  4. Remind children that these are tools that can enhance their education, but should not replace their teachers, parents, friends, doctors or other important people in their lives.
  5. Foster open communication with your children about their experience using these tools – good experiences and bad experiences. 

By the way, the previous line was generated using ChatGPT.

Overall, the message here is that the web is changing, our kids’ access to information and their experiences online are changing, and there are benefits and drawbacks to this all. Ultimately, if parents and caregivers do their research and take this journey into new online worlds alongside their children, they will be better prepared to help keep them safe online. 

About the Author:

Ritesh Kotak is a Cybersecurity/Technology Analyst and a Lawyer in Ontario. Ritesh started his career in policing where he specialized in Cybercrime and Digital Transformation before leaving to pursue opportunities in the tech sector. Ritesh is also a frequent media contributor on segments related to online safety and emerging technology.

Learn more about Actua’s Cyber Smart Education project and preparing youth for a digital future.