Updated: Nov 13, 2021
The phrase Metaverse was little known outside the narrow world of virtual reality technologists until Facebook Founder and CEO first rebranded the company as Meta and sought to pitch the company’s main platform in the future as the, “metaverse,” on October 29.
So Metaverse has caught up and there is a buzz around beyond technology enthusiast and geek developers.
The phrase is too early for even Merriam Webster to develop a working definition and the dictionary describes, “metaverse generally refers to the concept of a highly immersive virtual world where people gather to socialize, play, and work”.
What it implies is augmented reality communication or a superior quality of video conferencing bettering on Zoom or Google Meet given the three D impact. Creating of a self “avatar,” is another much talked about feature of the Metaverse creating a universe of its own.
In “The Technopolar Moment How Digital Powers Will Reshape the Global Order,” in Foreign Affairs November/December 2021, noted political scientist and global risk analysts outlines the impact of Meta Verse thus, “...some proponents believe that blockchain technology and decentralized apps will be the keys to unlocking the next big leap forward for the Web: the metaverse, a place where augmented and virtual reality, next-generation data networks, and decentralized financing and payment systems contribute to a more realistic and immersive digital world where people can socialize, work, and trade digital goods”.
As with all facets of technology or social development Metaverse has tremendous potential for connecting people, ideas, businesses and possibly even the militaries creating a virtual world for interaction in diverse ways.
There are downsides as well given the employment of such tools including what was strictly seen as social media – Facebook for instance for political purposes, promoting violence and disharmony.
Exposure of Facebook practices by a number of whistle blowers recently of allowing content that was harmful to children and promotion of hate speech even after having come to know of the downsides should alarm us.
India tops Facebook's Integrity Country Prioritisation list for 2021 as per a report in the Economic Times that includes countries at the risk of violence, misinformation and hate speech drawn up by the company now rebranded as Meta.
The demonstration of responsibility or lack of the same by big technology corporations as Facebook may have a far greater impact in the Metaverse universe.
So how the Metaverse interacts with the real world as well as the virtual that is created around an individual and community by tools that are not driven by the human brain but artificial intelligence, machine language et al. is not clear and the urge to be first movers by tech companies may drive them to a race for the swift to deploy resources that are not fully tested in the social and security domain much less in the technology one.
For instance the ability to manipulate, “avatars,” can lead to an impact that is far more intense in influencing people than misinformation and fake news of today.
It is important thus that adverse developments and usage by state and non state actors be factored in the development stage by companies as Facebook which are facing significant challenges on propriety with business considerations overruling individual privacy as well as manipulative practices.
The overall concept should be not to control the benign but to prevent the malign from discreetly converting a platform for higher level human interaction to political, social and emotional manipulation with ulterior motives.
There is a huge “learning box,” that is already available to us from the impact that social media platforms have created in the real world in the first couple of decades of the 21st Century which will have to be fruitfully used in developing Metaverse.