Ready or Not
By Shanuka Kadupitiyage
If you’ve been paying any attention to the internet the past few days, the keyword ‘Metaverse’ might be a trending topic. After Mark Zuckerberg announced Facebook’s intention to create its Metaverse, even going so far as to rebrand the entire company around it instead of Facebook itself, other companies such as Microsoft have followed suit, announcing their plans to create their metaverses.
Although the marketing and announcement videos might have you hyped for what may lie in the future, the metaverse (and any companies’ vision of it) is not something that is going to push humanity into creating a perfect new world. In fact, given the track records of big-tech companies, there are some serious concerns that you might have to keep an eye out for.
What is a Metaverse?
The word as we know it today originates from the 1992 novel ‘Snow Crash’ by author Neal Stephenson, which takes place in a dystopian world where users engage in the metaverse; a virtual world of sorts. You might have seen a similar metaverse in the more lighthearted tale of ‘Ready Player One’ as well.
As many things are in the world of science, science fiction has once again marked the future in scientific discovery. Although such a concept might have been impossible to fathom ten years ago, the sudden development in processing technology has improved so fast that we now have the potential of creating a true metaverse as read and seen in science fiction today.
What it means for us
Of course, you might be wondering how this will affect us in the near future. As it is today, the internet has permeated almost every aspect of our lives. This has only increased with the present COVID-19 pandemic and lockdowns, which has proven that we don’t necessarily need to go to work, learn at school or even do business in a physical location, which has led to many individuals and companies rethinking how we are productive each day.
This is only going to change as the metaverse increases its presence, and this will steadily happen as virtual and augmented reality technology (VR and AR) - which has advanced in leaps and bounds over the years - becomes more mainstream, reliable, and affordable.
In such circumstances, we will see a massive shift in how we live, learn and earn in the world. With the proper infrastructure in place, people wouldn’t need to live in densely-populated cities anymore and be able to live in their hometowns because they will be able to work from home and be present in all business opportunities using VR technology. Commuting to work would no longer become a necessity, but something that you might want to do ,now and then for a change of pace.
Companies would no longer need to invest heavily and build large office spaces because most of their employees would be working from home anyway. Overall wastage of resources such as electricity and water would drastically be reduced, as well as usage of fossil fuels. It would open a new, global creator economy where the possibilities to earn and enjoy content will be limitless.
The good, the bad and the scary
Of course, with every good there is also the bad. But, there is also the scary.
You might already have a general idea of the detrimental effects addiction to the metaverse might bring upon people. People would hardly have any reason to leave their homes, and so it’s likely that a lot of people simply wouldn’t. Then, there’s the worry of how people might become addicted to this new technology. With a virtual world full of limitless possibilities, why spend time in the real world at all?
But, these are the least of our problems when it comes to the creation of the metaverse.
One of the biggest worries that have popped into the entire discussion of the metaverse is the abysmal track record Facebook and other large tech companies have with tracking and selling private data of users, being a platform for the spread of fake news and racism, and many more controversies, leaving many wondering whether Facebook (now Meta) can really be trusted all this additional information that will be in their hands.
In fact, it’s almost ironic that most of the science fiction written about metaverses warn the threat of large, powerful tech corporations using their influence to cause harm to society and people as a whole, is now being built by companies that are known to have such predatory behaviour.
Also, a major concern has appeared regarding how countries can build a legal framework to regulate crime and illegal activity in the metaverse. As it is today, many countries are struggling to address these very issues in the modern context, and as people’s lives become more integrated with the world-wide-web, it’s only going to become more complicated.
The future, today
Even so, it’s clear that the metaverse may just be the new horizon in technology, and will bring in a new era for all of humanity. Much like the technology we consider normal today was once ‘cutting edge’ and changed the world as we knew it.
In fact, the entire framework for Facebook and other tech giants to create their own metaverses already exists today. Companies such as Facebook, Google, and Microsoft have already created entire software ecosystems with their products, now there is only one to connect them all in a shared universe. The biggest limitation is accessibility to VR equipment, but it is only a matter of time before VR technology becomes mainstream, which is bound to happen long before this decade is over.
After which, it is only a matter of time before the metaverse breaks beyond each Company’s ecosystem and becomes a shared virtual environment. This is already happening, and all we can do today is ensure that we safeguard our data today, reveal to the internet only that which we need to, and be aware of what developments may lie in the future.