Numbers, Facts and Trends Shaping Your World

The Metaverse in 2040

1. A sampling of overarching views on the metaverse

The following incisive and comprehensive responses to our questions about the future of the metaverse represent some of the big ideas shared by a small selection of the hundreds of thought leaders who participated in this canvassing.

‘We have always been living in a quasi-multiverse’

Sam Lehman-Wilzig, professor of communication at Bar-Ilan University, Israel, and author of “Virtuality and Humanity,” commented, “As soon as the latest virtualizing technologies (AR, VR, MR, etc.) become mature and economically accessible for the masses, humankind will adopt it without many qualms. Take a look at human history. We have always been living in a quasi-metaverse, thus the current and near-future iteration is merely old wine in new bottles. Let me explain by sharing a very short synopsis. Virtuality has been with us as homo sapiens throughout our entire history, by and large expanding over the centuries and millennia. Such virtualizing could not have existed for so long among so many people were it not for its numerous benefits.

“One can note at least seven beneficial (even critical) functions: 1) Survival (e.g., camouflage from predators). 2) Escape from boredom (imagination to go beyond the humdrum of life). 3) Efficiency (thinking creatively ‘out of the box,’ i.e., how to improve life technologically, economically, etc.). 4) Curiosity (why the world is as it is demands abstract thinking). 5) Theory of mind (putting ourselves mentally in another’s shoes to reduce social conflict). 6) Future planning (thinking beyond the here and now). 7) Relieving existential dread (seeking the meaning of life; what remains after our death?).

Our excellence in mentally ‘virtualizing’ is what separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom.

Sam Lehman-Wilzig, professor of communication at Bar-Ilan University, Israel, and author of “Virtuality and Humanity

“Indeed, our excellence in mentally ‘virtualizing’ is what separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom. This virtuality has been (and continues to be) expressed in many areas of day-to-day life and intellectual fields of endeavor: religion and supernatural belief; physics, astronomy and cosmology; philosophy; math; literature and the arts; economics; nationhood, government and war; communications – to note only a few example areas. Why would this be so?

“The universality of human virtuality is a function of our psychological makeup. We perceive our environment in highly ‘virtual’ fashion (extremely limited perception of the real world) and do not think very clearly or rationally about our immediate and extended world (distorted cognition, as Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky have shown). Indeed, many humans have always sought to further distort perception through mind-altering substances. The latest ‘fake news’ epidemic (disinformation, ‘truthiness,’ etc.) is merely an addition to such ‘virtual reality’ (lowercase v.r.) that has existed probably forever: camouflage, deception, propaganda, fakery, superstitious beliefs, conspiratorial thinking and so on.”

‘The real world will be completely covered with intelligent data, media and interactive information’

Mike Liebhold, distinguished fellow, retired, at the Institute for the Future, “The term ‘metaverse’ is simply a convenient meme and as ephemeral as the ‘Information Superhighway,’ ‘cyberspace,’ ‘ubiquitous computing,’ ‘pervasive computing,’ ‘Internet of Things (IoT),’ ‘Web 2.0,’ ‘the cloud’ and ‘Web3.’ Despite skepticism of the current hype, most of the implied technologies and experiences will have a lasting impact and will become widely useful by 2040.

“VR/AR/XR are really just one medium. The only difference is the degree of transparency and opacity of pixels. By 2040, many vendors will offer low-cost headsets, eyewear and contact lenses with full mixed-reality capabilities. Service providers will offer vast arrays of services and applications supporting a full spectrum of human experiences. Initially, locally-connected experiences will be richer, denser and more interactive because of the required computing, storage, low latency and high bandwidth. Mobile experiences will, over time, improve considerably as hardware, gigabit+ networks and edge-served computing and data become more pervasive.

“Just as humans now have access to vast libraries of human knowledge immediately accessible online, in the future, every object, place and person will be attached to discoverable, rich, visible, linked information, media, models and computation and conversational agents. The real world will be completely covered with intelligent data, media and interactive information, experiences and entertainment. Every node in the workflows of human activities will be amplified by ubiquitous embedded machine intelligence, able to provide conversational support for orchestration and choreography of systems that are too complex for limited organic human cognition without the assistance of machine intelligences.

“Unfortunately, without comprehensive efforts in developing net literacies in the general population for cognitive immunity and in developing security and privacy best practices, it is unlikely that humans will yet have overcome all of the current problems of fragmented attention, distraction, digital security, privacy and persuasive fake media, so these phenomena will still exist in possibly frightening and powerful new forms.”

‘The metaverse is already set to be a highly polarized “place”’

Sonia Livingstone, OBE, professor of social psychology at the London School of Economics and special adviser to the House of Lords’ Select Committee on Communications, said, “The experience of recent decades has taught us that digital innovations – now including the metaverse – are increasingly refined and effective for a sizable proportion of the population, sufficient to drive business and ensure continued innovation and improvement. At the same time, we know that the outcomes for a substantial minority will be problematic – exclusionary, discriminatory, hostile, exploitative and even dangerous. The metaverse is already set to be a highly polarized ‘place.’ Some are developing creative forms of expression, looking forward to new forms of participation, and new ways of doing business. All will find their data exploited in the process, and dimensions of life that were once public will become monetized, and in some ways, mainstreamed and degraded. All will experience a digital world in which the casualties – to the public sphere, to our private lives, and to a minority of ‘vulnerable groups’ – will be disregarded in the rush to privilege the already-privileged, and any protest at what is lost, or what’s going wrong, will be ignored as ‘collateral damage.’”

The potential: Socioeconomic benefits and threats to the social order

Glynn Rogers, a complex systems and networks researcher expert in information security and privacy, commented, “The fully functioning metaverse will be the result of a confluence of further advances in multiple streams of virtual reality development, most of which already exist. Examples are:

  • Immersive multiplayer games in which opposing groups can develop strategy, construct resources and coordinate activities.
  • Text- and video-based social media in which the social ‘rules of engagement’ evolve to reduce the current lawless space to a more-regulated, humane and stable social environment.
  • Virtual travel, particularly extraterrestrial travel based on imagery constructed from a multitude of spacecraft sensors, in which virtual craft can be flown, driven or sailed through environments in which humans could exist only with the most extraordinary aids.
  • Remote working, which the COVID pandemic has forced many people to experience often with quite positive reactions, at least in the more-advanced, information-based economies.
  • Educational and training settings in which, for example, VR laboratories enable multi-participant experiments to be performed via simulation that would be expensive or impossible to perform in reality.

“The integration of these developments into the metaverse is unlikely to occur by a top-down process of system design but will most likely be episodic, driven by technical innovation and commercial opportunity. While this has the potential to maximise socioeconomic benefit, it can also pose a major threat to social order because of the danger of antisocial and, indeed, criminal exploitation. Note these points:

  • The broad scope of the metaverse suggests the need for a multidisciplinary international task force to oversee the regulation of the implementation and operation of the metaverse, perhaps under the auspices of the United Nations. Why?
  • Activities to this point in social media have demonstrated how the internet can be used to propagate false information, misleading political messaging and conspiracy theories in response to contemporary events.
  • Because of its immersive characteristics, the metaverse has the potential to vastly exacerbate these problems to the point where social cohesion is threatened, suggesting the need for effective regulation of its development. However, because regulation is in the hands of individual nation-states whereas the metaverse is global, regulation will provide a very difficult challenge, perhaps a greater challenge than the regulation of the international finance industry, which has not so far been an overwhelming success.”

There will be a new class of apps that will bring real-world experiences into virtual spaces

Akah Harvey, director of engineering at Seven GPS, Cameroon, Central Africa, commented, “There will be a new class of applications designed for the same experiences we currently have in the real world. Some will exploit human fantasies to a whole new level. Humanity is going to carry the same positive and negative traits we currently exhibit in the real world into the virtual space. Sadly, this includes (but is not limited to) bullying, cybercrime, money laundering, sextortion, pornography, rape, violence and wars. However, we are also going to see some exciting new things in education, learning, research and development, and effective and revealing simulations of what’s possible in well-defined time and space constraints.”

It’s the ‘next logical iteration of the internet’; long-term, it could be ‘truly mind-blowing’

Oliver Busch, a director of agencies and ecosystem in Central Europe for Meta, working to build a bridge for marketers toward the evolving metaverse, commented, “The metaverse – a 360-degree version of the internet to ‘walk into’ and interact with contents or to ‘invite out’ digital contents to our physical space – will be just the next logical iteration of the internet. The development of the metaverse has already passed the tipping point and is happening in so many ways every day.

“Use cases of 360-degree digital contents in AR and VR for businesses or private usage reach far beyond the thriving gaming scene and the fast-growing adoption of VR devices. Evolving AR devices and the possibility to add valuable contents to our environment will boost the magic of the metaverse beyond VR. Over the last two decades, internet users came to prefer seeing text with pictures over just text and then to preferring seeing video over just seeing photos.

I absolutely can’t imagine a future where people would skip the option to interact with internet contents in the most realistic 3D and, instead, just stay with 2D.

Oliver Busch, a director of agencies and ecosystem in Central Europe for Meta

“I absolutely can’t imagine a future where people would skip the option to interact with internet contents in the most realistic 3D and, instead, just stay with 2D. To see the future, we need to differentiate short-term hype from a sustainable trend. Short-time focused speculation and the public relations stunts of digital brand presences do exist, but the truly mind-blowing dimension of metaverse-like gaming experiences allows one to view the long-term potential of 3D digital AR/VR contents for everyone on the planet, in any area of life and business.”

‘My uncertainty about the metaverse is not whether we will have “something” by 2040, but what character it will have’

David Clark, pioneer Internet Hall of Fame member and senior research scientist at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, commented, “The origin of the term ‘metaverse’ is the 1992 science fiction novel ‘Snow Crash’ by Neal Stephenson. We should respect the ability of the science fiction writer to envision a future (however dystopian, of course). We should also reflect on the fact that computer scientists have been dreaming since that time about what it would actually take to achieve that future.

“It is often the case that new applications are envisioned well before their time and lurk until the network performance and reach are sufficient to allow the app to enter the mainstream. We invented VoIP, voice over Internet protocol, in about 1978, and video teleconferencing in the 1980s. VR, AR, etc., have been lurking for some time. Is now their time? I see two relevant questions. First, will the Internet have sufficient performance to support a ‘metaverse,’ whatever that is, and second, what will the technical underpinnings of that metaverse be?

“As to the first question, the Internet will certainly have the throughput to sustain a shared experience embedded in a joint visual environment. The fundamental barrier to remote, high-interactivity on the Internet is latency, and latency will not improve, because the Internet is moving data today at almost the speed of light, and the speed of light is a constant. If multiple participants in a metaverse are in the same metro area (for example) it may be possible to get the latency down to the point where tight real-time interaction can happen with reasonable quality, but interaction (say) across the country will always have about 100 milliseconds of round-trip delay, and that means (again, for example) that we will never be able to create live music with widely distributed performers. One hundred milliseconds is just too much delay for synchronized music. There is a large body of research on Quality of Experience, and I suspect that work will provide some insights about what sorts of interaction will be possible in a metaverse.

Where the standards will come from? How open will the system be? Who controls it? My uncertainty about the metaverse is not whether we will have ‘something’ by 2040, but what character it will have.

David Clark, pioneer Internet Hall of Fame member and senior research scientist at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory

“As to the second question, I think the three critical considerations are: Where the standards will come from? How open will the system be? Who controls it? My uncertainty about the metaverse is not whether we will have ‘something’ by 2040, but what character it will have. While the Internet (and early apps like email) were decentralized and based on open standards, most of our applications today are designed by and under the control of a private-sector, for-profit firm. That outcome has strengths (rapid evolution, better control of quality of experience, better regulation of abuse, and so on) and great limitations. One outcome might be that there are competing metaverses, just as we have competing social media platforms today, with no way to take any of the attributes of a participant out of one metaverse into another. The market might tip toward one provider that gains monopoly control of the metaverse. Will it be a ‘free’ experience, in which the visual space is crowded with billboards? One example of a ‘low-fidelity’ metaverse is Second Life, which attracted a great deal of attention as an alternative experiential space. But it never quite got the traction that caused the world to tip toward it, despite a great deal of initial enthusiasm. Between now and 2040 we have the time to try and perhaps fail several times. But should we leave the shape of the metaverse we might all find ourselves in to a single private-sector firm with motivation to build a closed system?”

The metaverse will be designed to be addictive and ‘make people more susceptible to manipulation and less aware of reality’

Steve Hanna, a distinguished engineer at Infineon Technologies expert on Internet of Things security, responded, “The broader adoption of immersive technology by 2040 will make people more susceptible to manipulation and less aware of reality. Companies will figure out ways to break down barriers to adoption and increase the pleasure that people gain from the experience.

“Human behavior is rather predictable. Among our other traits, we enjoy interacting with other human beings or realistic simulacra. Companies and investors are well aware of this. They design their offerings to be highly addictive. They constantly study human behavior and test changes to their systems to maximize engagement. As VR and other immersive technologies are refined, they will surely become increasingly compelling. Thus, young people (who have few barriers to adopting new technology) will spend more and more time in fully immersive, manipulative environments. We already seen this with immersive gaming environments.

“I have serious concerns about the impacts of this trend for society and individuals. Already, most people obtain their news and worldview primarily through media. Although we might expect that governments would step in to address these issues, most countries have prevailing philosophies that are authoritarian or libertarian. The former will embrace VR as a way to control the population. The latter will permit companies to promote VR and permit people to embrace it. Some people and groups will reject the virtual reality trend, but they will be outliers. I realize that this prediction is dystopian, but I think it is likely unless companies and policymakers and researchers rapidly develop a deeper understanding of the personal and societal development implications of VR and create alternative models.”

The metaverse has little to offer in furthering enduring human values

Batya Friedman, professor of human-computer interaction at the University of Washington, wrote, “How, if at all, do the anticipated characteristics, structures and interactions of an imagined metaverse align with the sort of societies we would like to build and live in? What sort of human beings we would like to be, and how we would like to live in relation to others – humans, nonhumans, and the planet? Personally, I find the characterization of the metaverse to be impoverished. In life, our time and attention are our most precious resources. A metaverse-like environment by and large usurps those.

“A thought experiment: Consider the resources being allocated to developing the metaverse – in terms of people’s time, computation, energy to do the computing and all the other materiality involved. These resources are ongoing – to sustain, maintain and further the metaverse. Consider, also, the time and attention of the people who are engaged in the metaverse. Their time and attention are ongoing. Now, imagine those resources allocated differently. People spend time planting trees in their neighborhoods. Parents spend time playing with their toddlers. Teenagers spend time developing themselves as artists, engineers, runners, caregivers. Food is grown, harvested, cooked and eaten. Lips smile, eyes twinkle. We are fundamentally embodied creatures. Our well-being is grounded in such. Which future would you build?

“Yes, some limited metaverse-like activities can enrich our lives. But, on balance, this is far less than what is being envisioned here. If enduring human values of dignity; emotional, psychological and physical well-being; care; play; and community guide our choices – of what we build, of where and how we choose to live our lives, of who we wish to be and what societies we wish to enable – the metaverse has little to offer. Better for us to spend our resources – our time and attention and beings – elsewhere.”

‘The metaverse will mostly be a relatively mundane experience’

Alf Rehn, professor of innovation, design and management at the University of Southern Denmark, responded, “Whilst it is certainly true that the metaverse will be popular and immersive in 2040, we should not assume this means that we’ll be spending our lives in a Technicolor universe full of anime avatars. Rather, the metaverse will mostly be a relatively mundane experience. Just like the internet, much of it will be things we dip in and out of, rather than the place we truly live in. We will use our metaverse-connected glasses to check up on a message or watch a funny video on our commute, and may, whilst walking around the city, use them to check the menu of a place that looks inviting. The metaverse will be much like our current smartphones, important tools for work and play, but not something most people will lose themselves in. Yes, there will be some who ‘go native’ in the metaverse and start seeing their avatar there as more real than their material selves, but that is already true of some trolls and other netizens. The more-immersive parts will create great possibilities for art and information – imagine a documentary that puts you right in the middle of a war or in the audience at a concert – but for much of what human beings do in their lives, it will be an evolution rather than a revolution.

“Excel isn’t going to be any more exciting in the metaverse, and when working on a report or a novel, the last thing a person needs is a bustling vista of cyberpunk surrounding them. Sure, having a famous person’s avatar as your personal trainer might make exercise a bit more fun, and there will be conversations and even dates in the metaverse, but much of the time we will just adopt it as one more way of getting things done – and to amuse ourselves. After all, we’re still listening to the radio – we just call it a podcast these days.”

‘The metaverse could be a nice place to visit, but most of us wouldn’t want (or need) to live there’

Micah Altman, social and information scientist at MIT’s Center for Research in Equitable and Open Scholarship, responded, “It is highly uncertain whether a unified, fully-immersive ‘metaverse’ will become an important aspect of general daily life for a substantial fraction of the world’s global population by 2020. Virtual reality has been predicted to be ‘the technology of the next 20 years’ for over half a century, dating all the way back to 1962 and Morton Helig’s pioneering multimodal Sensorama. VR and the metaverse may continue to be ‘the technology of the next decade’ for another 50 years. The reasons that weigh against the widespread global adoption of fully-immersive general-purpose virtual worlds (and even more heavily against a single global ‘metaverse’) are not primarily technical, but psychological, sociological, political and economic.

“Advances in technology may be good for producing the metaverse – but what is the metaverse good for? The core proposition of the metaverse is to provide a unified immersive audiovisual environment. Such environments are certainly good for some things – for example, they can be helpful in promoting certain emotional states, such as awe. More generally, as virtual reality researcher Jeremy Bailenson contends, there are four conditions under which immersive experiences are of high value: when the corresponding experiences they emulate are rare, impossible, dangerous or expensive. There are many situations that satisfy these conditions, but they are not the norm – for most human interactions and tasks, being immersed in reality is likely to work out better objectively and subjectively. The metaverse could be a nice place to visit, but most of us wouldn’t want (or need) to live there.”

‘The idea that it will become something so novel that we can call it “the metaverse” is just marketing hype’

Cory Doctorow, activist journalist and author of “How to Destroy Surveillance Capitalism,” wrote, “Digitization will increase, and user-interfaces will become more intimate (for example, haptic, visual and audio feedback), but we will not have anything we would call ‘the metaverse’ any more than we currently live in ‘the internetverse’ or once inhabited ‘the telephoneverse.’ People already spend a lot of time socializing in virtual worlds, they already use screens and other user-interface elements to help augment reality (for example, walking through a strange city with Google Maps on your phone; it tells you to go straight for 10 blocks and then turn left – you put it in your pocket and when it buzzes the next maneuver, you turn without consulting it). This will continue (assuming civilizational continuity), but the idea that it will become something so novel that we can call it ‘the metaverse’ is just marketing hype. The future composts the past and technology is accretive, not supplantive. In 2040, examples of all the systems we have now will still be in critical service, wrapped in layers of imperfect abstraction that will often have to be stripped away to directly manipulate them (the way you can do a lot with an ATM without having to touch a bank’s COBOL back-end, but at a certain point, you’ve got to find a COBOL programmer). The metaverse as we understand it today is the result of Facebook’s desperate bid to stop hemorrhaging users, engineers and reputation; combined with blockchainism’s idea that all humanity’s collective action problems can be resolved by stapling on asset speculation and financial incentives.”

‘We’ll have a lot of meta but not yet much verse’ by 2040

Doc Searls, internet pioneer and co-founder of Customer Commons, wrote, “While the number of people occupying immersive virtual spaces may exceed half a billion by 2040, what we’ll have is a lot of meta but not yet much verse. Some things require enormous compute scale and power. Online immersive worlds are among those things. So, we should start by recognizing that immersive online environments can only be created and maintained by giant companies with giant data centers: the likes of today’s Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Samsung, some of which are already deeply invested in the field. This also means the ‘free market’ for VR and AR hardware, software and services will be ‘your choice of captor’ – just like we have today with PlayStation vs. Xbox game platforms and iOS vs. Android phone platforms. You will have no more freedom and independence than what those companies support and allow on their separate platforms. Privacy will also be a promise rather than an affordance each of us can bring wherever we go in our immersive worlds. No clothing to conceal our naked selves, no private spaces with doors, locks, shades or shutters that the host platform can’t see inside. They may say they won’t look, but we cannot have full confidence that they won’t, or that their funding sources won’t.

“This is how black boxes work. And there is little that regulators can do about it other than ‘forbid violations’ and prosecute suspected violators on occasions when they might be detected. Still, VR and AR have many obvious and useful purposes in verticals that will surely be well-served by 2040. Those include entertainment (including movies, games, and online sports), health care (e.g., remote surgery), industrial and military. Will there be enough of all that to push the number of users in ‘fully immersive’ digital spaces past half a billion people? Probably. But will occupying those spaces be a ‘well-functioning aspect of daily life?’ No: not if those spaces are isolated in corporate silos with no real personal privacy and no more agency than corporate overlords permit. Will we eventually have immersive environments as free and open as the Internet has been by design for the duration? Possibly. But only if we have open standards to build them on, open code to build them with, and privacy tech of our own, such as we have with clothing and shelter in the natural world. We have almost none of those so far in the online immersive space. WebXR and OpenXR have promise on the standards front, but they are very early efforts.”

‘Freedom, love and happiness are found only in real life’

Marc Rotenberg, founder and president of the Center for AI and Digital Policy, wrote, “VR techniques will be become more widely available in 2040 across a variety of fields, including medicine, public safety, and unfortunately, warfare. But these will be special-purpose applications, context dependent, where human skills are augmented by VR. By 2040, gaming will also be far more immersive, with participants joining the favorite sports stars in online competitions or sharing the concert stage with the avatars of famous musicians. But the metaverse vision of moving community to the online world will not be realized. Many of the current social problems are both too easily amplified and too difficult to monitor. The energy demands will be extraordinary during a period of critical concern about climate changes and the specific requirements of large model computing. Indeed, the ‘Matrix’ movies offered a profound warning about the problem of the metaverse – we would inhabit a world controlled by others, powered by the energy in our bodies. Take the red pill. Freedom, love and happiness are found only in real life.”

The Neal Stephenson idea of the metaverse was set in a dystopia people tried to escape

Christian Huitema, a privacy consultant, 40-year veteran of the software and internet industries and former director of the Internet Architecture Board, wrote, “I do not see a single metaverse taking over the world within the next 20 years. The metaverse was imagined a long time ago – we should remember that Neal Stephenson’s 1992 book ‘Snow Crash’ was set in a dystopian world, a real world so awful that people were driven to escape it and move into a virtual video game in their free time. Will the world be so awful in 20 years that people reward escapism? And will that escaping require building a parallel world, rather than a multiplicity of gaming universes? I certainly hope that the worst dystopias won’t come to pass, but I also very much doubt that a single parallel metaverse would be the solution. The idea of a single metaverse as dystopian continuation of social networks would be a continuation of the worst aspects of Facebook: a centralized system, controlled by a single corporation, dominating the Internet through network effects and massive scale. Postulating such domination implies that society will allow it. We already know for a fact that the Chinese government will not let that happen. They will make sure that a national champion emerges and that they can control it. A somewhat similar reaction is happening in Europe, with European governments progressively blocking the harvesting of private information that finances Facebook and other surveillance capitalists. It is too early to say, of course, but it could lead to the arrival in Europe of multiple competing networks, something we already see with the growth of Telegram.”

Two big problems need to be solved: Creating enough bandwidth and privacy protections

Giacomo Mazzone, global project director for the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, wrote, “In the 1990s I experienced the enthusiasm for the first virtual reality experiments of Jaron Lanier. In the first decade of this century, I observed with attention the widely-publicized VR experiment known as Second Life. Today, I am skeptical as I observe the latest wave of optimism about the future of the metaverse. There are still two main problems to be solved – these are the same ones that stifled the previous waves: 1) The availability of the enormous bandwidth needed to create a satisfactory environment for a lifelike experience. 2) The gigantic problems posed to personal privacy and to control over personal data by such an environment. A third problem – often not taken in consideration – is the fracture that may come to divide those remaining in the real world and the others that have moved most of their life experience into a meta-world. At the end of the day both communities shall have to come together somewhere in a shared place, because they live in the same country, within the same democracy, the same planet. The reconciliation of the two worlds could be highly problematic. Sci-fi movies of the past could illustrate the risk of this dichotomy. In the Wachowskis’ ‘Matrix’ movie trilogy nearly all of society has moved into the metaverse. Nobody has ever imagined a situation in which only part of the global population – maybe a half a billion people – has mostly moved into a ‘brave new world’ and all others have not. Then the situation will look more like that one described in John Boorman’s ‘Zardoz.’ In neither of these two dystopian stories does humankind seem to experience a happy ending.”

The real purpose of the metaverse is to quantize and monetize more aspects of life

Douglas Rushkoff, digital theorist and host of the NPR One podcast “Team Human,” responded, “The only true purpose of the metaverse or the ‘decentralized’ Web3 blockchains administrating it is to create more ‘surface area’ for the markets. The purpose is to quantize and monetize more aspects of our world and experience. In the metaverse, these words I’m typing, and the air I’m breathing, are all intellectual property. So, if we do manage to make it another 20 years, it will be because we have – like the Israelites escaping Egypt – escaped from the needs of the market. Instead of imprisoning ourselves in virtual simulations in order to feed more money to the wealthiest elites, we will have the joy and privilege of touching other human beings in the real world, looking at the sun, swimming in clean water and reclaiming the planet for nature. It’s very hard to consider the future of a particular networking interface in isolation, particularly when much larger issues, from climate change, mass migration, de-speciation, geopolitical strife, among others, are still unknowns. The ability for a billion people to spend significant time in the metaverse by 2040 will depend on our ability to find new energy sources for the servers, and water for users.

The only true purpose of the metaverse or the ‘decentralized’ Web3 blockchains administrating it is to create more ‘surface area’ for the markets. The purpose is to quantize and monetize more aspects of our world and experience.

Douglas Rushkoff, digital theorist and host of the NPR One podcast “Team Human”

“If we are able to tackle climate change, massively reduce our carbon footprint and energy consumption, and avoid global political catastrophe, my guess is that it will be because we have somehow extracted ourselves from capitalism’s requirement for exponential growth. In other words, we will have somehow extricated ourselves from surrendering all human and other life to the abstract needs of a poorly programmed balance sheet and decided that the sustainability of our planet and some of its species is even more important than the price of stocks or wealth of the top 80 families in the world. And if we have gotten there, then the idea that we want or need a metaverse at all will be called into question.”

There are at least three versions of the metaverse that different people envision

Ayden Férdeline, a public-interest technologist based in Berlin, wrote, “There are multiple futures being predicted for the metaverse. To some, the metaverse is a place to escape from reality, where we don’t have to use our real names. To others, it means just the opposite: It is a place to bring the virtual world into reality. A third major definition is linked with the Web3 movement: These people expect or at least hope that everything online in the future will be decentralized, that we will have an open and decentralized metaverse where no single entity has control over individuals’ behavior, assets and data, transferring the power to the public and away from corporate and government interests and possibly enabling a world that is governed in a more democratic manner. The broadest possible definition of the metaverse is that it is just the next iteration of the Internet, except that it is no longer just the artifacts of people who are online, but it also includes the people themselves. It will take the entirety of the next 20 years for us to build the metaverse into what enthusiasts are hoping for today. As we build out the metaverse, I hope we consider very carefully the privacy and security implications of how this technology could be exploited. During the early evolution of the World Wide Web security was an afterthought. Bad actors have exploited loopholes. It is likely that most of the metaverse will be intrinsically linked to our real-world identities, and we won’t be able to see all of the applications, devices and other users that we are interacting with or being surveilled by. We will need to develop a way to filter out all of these harms as we pull content from a space-alized, future Internet. One solution here might be what Richard Whitt of the GLIA Foundation (which is working for a trustworthy open Web) has proposed asking us to pick a trusted intermediary: a library, newspaper or consumer-protection agency to develop and maintain a ‘filter’ that scans our metaverse interactions and has a duty of care and a duty of loyalty to uphold our interests. Other solutions will likely emerge, but turning to fiduciary law rather than reinventing the wheel strikes me as a good way of addressing various forms of wrongdoing by others at our expense.”

‘It is no coincidence that the very first forays into virtual reality have been marred by sexual harassment’

Mary Anne Franks, president of the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative, a nationally and internationally recognized expert on the intersection of civil rights and technology, said, “It’s quite likely that many daily activities will take place in the ‘metaverse’ by 2040, given the resources being poured into extended reality technologies by billion-dollar companies ruthlessly focused on profit potential. And if past performance is the best indicator of future performance, this means that the state of our discourse, our security, our privacy and our democracy will have dramatically devolved rather than evolved.

“For the past 20 years, the tech industry has been given free rein to subordinate every social value to the drive for ‘engagement,’ with predictably dystopian results; if they continue to enjoy this impunity, the next 20 years will only further entrench this state of affairs. There will no doubt be some beneficial impacts of the shift to extended reality: Virtual- and augmented-reality technology offer tremendous opportunities for education, physical therapy and psychological treatment. But those opportunities will pale in comparison to the increased opportunities for harassment, surveillance, sexual exploitation and misinformation. It is no coincidence that the very first forays into virtual reality have been marred by sexual harassment (see the experiences of beta testers for Meta’s VR social platform), or that increasingly sophisticated digital-manipulation tools have been directed at the sexual exploitation of women (e.g., ‘deepfake’ porn sites and ‘nudification’ apps) and the escalation of political tensions, and yet major companies in the extended reality space continue to treat safety and privacy considerations only as an afterthought, if at all.

“One reason for this is that these companies continue to be dominated by a narrow class of individuals – white, wealthy and male – who have still not internalized the lesson that what works well for privileged groups can be catastrophic for vulnerable ones, and that inattention to this fact will ultimately threaten general welfare. Another reason is that the tech industry has been given no incentive to care about the negative consequences of its ‘move-fast-and-break-things’ mentality. As long as Section 230 of the U.S. Communications Decency Act of 1996 continues to be interpreted to insulate the tech industry from the long-standing principles of collective responsibility – preemptively absolving them from liability for entirely foreseeable injuries caused reckless or negligent practices – it will continue to churn out increasingly invasive and immersive products with no regard for the danger they pose to society.”

Pitches for the metaverse ‘fall on a spectrum from startup hustle to stock inflation to Ponzi scheme’

Janet Murray, noted scholar of digital media, influential interaction designer and the author of “Hamlet on the Holodeck: The Future of Narrative in Cyberspace,” wrote, “The current push is greed-driven and based on magical thinking. Magic Leap should be a warning case for the current hype. The appeal to Silicon Valley moguls is obvious – own the platform, own the data, own the access to users. The appeal to actual users is not at all clear. In 2040 there will be discrete VR and AR applications. It is unlikely there will be a single platform. More-convenient videoconferencing is more likely to be more appealing to users than avatar-based interactions outside of games and game-like social spaces. The current link of XR to the cryptocurrency hype and NFT huckstering and nonsense about ‘blockchain’ suggests a Venn diagram of overlapping vaporware. Like the blockchain-crypto-NFT hype, the metaverse hype is light on actual use cases, and various pitches fall on a spectrum from startup hustle to stock inflation to Ponzi scheme.”

Alternative idea: A ‘hyperverse’ where people can share using ‘tools for thought’

Stowe Boyd, consulting futurist expert in technological evolution and the future of work, said, “We could consider the metaverse idea as selling us the mallification of our experience of the world. The recent interest in it is a technoid fantasy, somewhat like the obsession with migrating to space. Both share an underlying desire to leave the simmering concerns of social and environmental ‘space’ for an imagined community (a la Benedict Anderson), one that rejects nationalism or shared concerns about the state of the planet and its inhabitants. While I believe that some elements of the metaversic vision – like augmented reality adding a new dimension to internet-based social interaction – will be successful, the larger notion of ‘living in the metaverse’ will have no greater appeal than spending long periods of time at a virtual mall. And just like a mall, we’d be inundated by brands, like Tom Cruise in the film ‘Minority Report.’ At the same time, there is hope for a web-centered alternative, a hyperverse, since we have abundant computing infrastructure and myriad devices for people to layer on and share their observations and annotations on the web and also in a place-based manner, as well. We saw a glimmering of that with Third Voice in the late 1990s, and in today’s tools like The interest in so-called ‘tools for thought’ – Notion, Roam and Obsidian – could be a part of that, as well.”

Only gamers want to live in the metaverse for more than five minutes at a time

Paul Jones, professor emeritus at the School of Information and Library Science at the University of North Carolina, said, “I feel like Rocky (the flying squirrel) watching Bullwinkle trying one more time to pull a rabbit out of his hat while he’s asking ‘Again?’ My growing disaffection with immersive 3D began with the cyclic fads in theaters – ‘House of Wax,’ ‘Creature from the Black Lagoon,’ then Warhol’s ‘Frankenstein’ and ‘Dracula.’ It continued more recently in ‘Avatar’ and ‘Martian.’ Can it be that [these 3D technologies find their best use] in horror and science fiction? Will that be the same in 2040? By now, I’m jaded about immersive VR whether it’s helmets, full rooms, glasses, goggles or sticking your phone on the end of my nose. I have seen one entire floor of a new campus building dedicated to a variety of supposedly ‘immersive’ VR that was out of date before the concrete dried – all three varieties of VR in the design. While the ‘immersiveness’ of VR has been improved in each iteration it is not yet improved enough for mass use or use for a long period of time. People other than gamers are ready to walk away from immersive VR in less than five minutes at a try. This has not changed much despite efforts to streamline and lighten the weight of the devices and increase the number of pixels presented. However, the use cases for augmented reality (AR) are strong. We are already using AR of a form in our cars – the screens used in Teslas are a good example – and we are learning how to make the AR experience both safe and reliable without losing ourselves to immersion. Short version: The metaverse will be more Augmented than Immersive. Meat-based living will have a dash of meta in it but meta will not be a replacement for embodied living.”

Current proposals for the metaverse are ‘a concept searching for a market’

Andre Brock, associate professor of literature, media and communication at Georgia Tech and adviser to the Center for Critical Race Digital Studies, said, “AT&T developed the picturephone in the 1960s and the videophone in the 1990s. Neither initiative was commercially successful despite enormous amounts of hype. While communicative devices, networks and our technical literacies have moved far beyond those primitive videophone terminals, the metaverse as argued for by Facebook/Meta is still a ‘concept looking for a market.’ By my count, this is the third iteration of a ‘graphics-intensive, computer-generated’ multiuser virtual environment, counting ActiveWorlds and Second Life. Both of those spaces still exist, but our ahistorical and ephemeral media (driven by venture capital and tech industry hype) barely acknowledge that metaverses have been tried before. This isn’t even counting the virtual worlds such as Habbo Hotel and Club Penguin, or massively multiplayer online games such as EVE Online, World of Warcraft and EverQuest. Every iteration of a multiuser virtual environment – including the present speculative offering by Facebook/Meta – requires users to purchase expensive equipment, expensive broadband connections and have disposable income. Existing inequities around computing and connectivity will be exacerbated by this new initiative – minority groups are never the ideal user for tech nor finance. Much of the present fervor over the term is driven by Facebook/Meta’s commanding market position as the largest social network, leading to speculation that this lock-in will easily convert users from the largely text-driven Facebook platform to a yet-untested platform at scale with demanding hardware and software requirements. History suggests a different outcome.”

IEEE report encourages ways to build XR ethically for best social outcomes

John C. Havens, executive director of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Global Initiative on Ethics of Autonomous and Intelligent Systems, and Monique Morrow, senior distinguished architect for emerging technologies at Syniverse, led a team of IEEE experts in producing a paper and program titled ‘Ethically Aligned Design’ that includes a chapter on the ethics of Extended Reality. They wrote, “Aspects of that work can provide a deep and highly resourced focus on answers to your extended reality question. In it we make the following important points:

‘The growing prevalence of augmented and virtual environments is set to extend our collective human cognizance. Our sense of physical identity, time and agency will become subject to entirely new paradigms where the gateways to these experiences might be controlled by interests other than citizens. This raises a host of ethical and philosophical questions about the collection, control and exploitation of user data within these ecosystems. As these capabilities move from external headsets into much more subtle, integrated sensory enhancements and embedded or implanted devices the stakes can become perilous. In order to avoid negative consequences in XR systems enhanced by autonomous and intelligent systems (A/IS), society must proactively seek solutions, set standards and adopt methods that can enhance access, innovation and governance to assure human well-being. By adopting a lens of pragmatic introspection, society can envision a positive outcome for all the inspiring and immersive realities humanity will encounter in the near future.’

“The rest of this important 29-page report goes into great detail, with separate chapters outlining important issues tied to the future of social interactions, mental health, education and training, the arts and privacy, access and control. We note that it is critical to promote widespread education about how the unique nature of XR may affect social interactions, including avoiding widespread negative societal consequences. As the report points out, there are two major forces at play in sculpting the ‘reality’ each individual encounters in their uses of interactive media: the commercial imperative to deliver services that earn profits and the public’s desire to use technology to facilitate their needs. Over the past decade the user has become the product in online environments. Thus, the coming XR world may also look like today’s current gated communities that are programmed and controlled by commercial interests. The following are a few of our many recommendations (for full details please read the report):

  • An integrated XR-awareness framework for technology developers and end-users should be co-created by policymakers and manufacturers within a social consensus-based framework. Such an awareness framework would be deployed by entities that create the technologies, with a goal of standardizing education and literacy regarding products.
  • Ethical design should be a standard part of the conversation from the very beginning of any project creating public-facing XR products. Organizations working on immersive technologies should create a multidisciplinary approach, involving social scientists and humanities researchers in technological product development in order to help identify ethical concerns from the earliest iterations.
  • All technology developers, regardless of their position in the product ecosystem, have a responsibility to provide clear disclosure and explanations for users regarding the augmented, virtual, mediated or multi-mediated experiences in which users will find themselves immersed. Such awareness initiatives should involve social scientists, humanities researchers, marketers and practitioners – including emotional intelligence or positive psychology – in addition to policymakers and manufacturers.
  • Users of any virtual realm should first be routed to a tutorial in which they learn how to rapidly exit the virtual experience at any time they choose to do so, and they are thoroughly informed about the nature of its algorithmic tracking and mediation. Users’ personal data should not be used without their prior consent as part of this experience.
  • Users should have clear assurances that their virtual and physical identities can and will be protected within virtual worlds. This applies to accidental collection of data by XR systems to better customize the experiences and the technology. Informed consent and existing best practices for user data need to be updated to incorporate specific vulnerability issues of users within XR environments.”

‘An effective story to raise venture capital for people running out of plausible tech to sell’

David Golumbia, associate professor of digital studies at Virginia Commonwealth University and author of “The Politics of Bitcoin,” wrote, “The metaverse is a completely undefined concept being pushed by Meta and venture capitalists to secure ongoing funding for their projects. There is nothing there. We have already seen the major downsides with VR and even AR tech, and unfortunately the folks promoting the metaverse starkly deny what almost everyone else sees: The more attractive virtual experiences are, the less most people want much to do with them, especially for any length of time. Digital tech entrepreneurs are running out of ways to swindle the public into buying their gear, whose destructive affordances are becoming more apparent every day. Their reliance on old science fiction narratives, including ones already shown to be much more interesting as fiction than as fact, is starting to be a ‘tell,’ as is – especially – the intertwining of the old VR story with the newfangled blockchain story. VR makes a tiny bit of occasional sense without blockchain. NFTs and blockchain make zero sense. Put together, it becomes an effective story to raise venture capital for people who are running out of plausible technology to sell. But most reasonable people – even those deluded by cryptocurrencies and NFTs – just look at this latest publicity push with complete incomprehension. There is nothing there. Less than nothing, in fact.”

‘The functionalities created in the virtual world will enhance the effect of isolation from the real world’

Luis German Rodriguez Leal, teacher and researcher at the Universidad Central de Venezuela and consultant on technology for development, said, “It is quite possible that the metaverse could be used to propagate new forms of individual and collective slavery. The metaverse is one more step in the evolution of the bubble created around each user of technological platforms in order to stimulate and often manipulate their behavior – with or without their own consent.

“Only users of these systems who have the necessary digital literacy will be able to remain free from the ever-increasing onslaught of the technological avalanche that promotes the metaverse. Unfortunately for humanity, there are very few highly literate users. This translates into a worrying growth and expansion of modern slavery. The virtualized reality expressed in the metaverse will tend to be established as a reference, just as in the present the so-called ‘influencers’ are taken as such with no other apparent criterion than their number of followers and the consumption profile of that audience.

“The functionalities created in the virtual world will enhance the effect of isolation from the real world and the limits between one and the other will become increasingly confusing for unsuspecting user. Those in the vast majority are, by far, the least educated and are highly unlikely to question the alternatives that will exist in the proposed metaverse.

“Let’s remember that each one of these environments will be fashioned to appeal to individuals’ specific characteristics in their user profile that will make each consider that this is the universe they want. Blockchain-based products will strengthen the security and privacy of each person’s preferences as individuals, but at the same time, they will make users disregard the underlying objectives of the algorithms that regulate the operation of these platforms.”

‘Humans still need direct connections, physical presence and touch’

Kelly Quinn, clinical associate professor of communication at the University of Illinois-Chicago, responded, “The pandemic crystallized for many the very real capabilities of digital tools for interaction and transactions across time and distance. Yet while we will continue to evolve our capacities for a metaverse, our experiences today demonstrate the very real advantage of physical proximity and sociality. Due to sheer necessity, we have developed more quickly and efficiently across many fronts – businesses today conduct transactions virtually in ways that were once thought impractical; remote learning is now mainstream for many students (alas, to the demise of the occasional snow day); and telehealth consultations are an everyday reality. But these opportunities do not accomplish their goals with the same efficiency and energy of in-person interaction, and the practical realities and limitations of living in virtual spaces are apparent.

  • Businesses that rely on mentoring models find that the scheduled and formal nature of Zoom management leaves something to be desired in training and development of future managers.
  • Teachers find that very valuable aspects of peer learning that naturally take place in a classroom do not occur in online classrooms, and that the ability to motivate young students across time and space is limited.
  • Even medical practitioners find that it is difficult to fully appraise illness and disease in virtual settings, and that the ability to deliver ongoing treatments (which often rely on a closer assessment of the patient) is still limited.

“Humans still need direct connections, physical presence and touch – these are important cues for understanding an imperfect world. People generally put their best selves forward in digital settings; the consequence of this is the assumption that such perfection is reality. Humans still need connections, physical presence and touch – these are important cues for understanding in an imperfect world. The recognition that people and the self are not perfect is one important reason that the metaverse will not replace our need to interact in person.”

‘If fractametaverses emerge, they’ll be like cable channels: specialized, amplifying and entrenching inequality’

Susan Crawford, a professor at Harvard Law School and former special assistant in the Obama White House for science, technology and innovation policy, commented, “A truly interesting, vibrant metaverse would require a generosity of spirt that I’m not confident will emerge over the next few years. It was the simplicity and ease of adoption of the internet protocol TCP/IP, backed by the energetic efforts and resources of the U.S. government, that forced into being the global internet.

Meta’s view of the metaverse is that it’s all about them – their business plan, their identity, their tie-ins, their incentives. That’s not something that all parts of U.S. society, much less a global community, will be interested in (literally) buying into.

Susan Crawford, a professor at Harvard Law School and former special assistant in the Obama White House for science, technology and innovation policy

“Meta’s view of the metaverse is that it’s all about them – their business plan, their identity, their tie-ins, their incentives. That’s not something that all parts of U.S. society, much less a global community, will be interested in (literally) buying into. And if fractametaverses emerge, they’ll be like cable channels: specialized, amplifying and entrenching inequality and bundled by some aggregators looking to charge a lot. My dream is for the internet to be accessible to more people at reasonable cost and to enable presence at a distance – that’s the metaverse we should aspire to.”

‘The willingness and ability of people to invent new rituals, meanings, symbols and habitus are slow to evolve’

Riel Miller, head of foresight at UNESCO, Paris, wrote, “The holodeck as an opportunity to simulate life is not a new idea. As with today’s reluctant and coercive push into virtual meetings, the willingness and ability of people to invent new rituals, meanings, symbols and habitus are slow to evolve. Like any frontier, the conditions for open access, the fluidity of birth, death, entry and exit determine what is done with the affordances that are available. Should our imaginations remain atrophied and our insistence on denying our symbiosis with our tools continue, then the metaverse will remain ‘marginal’ even if the allocation of time and money is relatively high.”

Deeper immersion will produce unexpected consequences, opportunities and threats

David Porush, writer, longtime professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and author of “The Soft Machine: Cybernetic Fiction,” wrote, “It will evolve the experiential and sensory. It will continue the trajectory of producing greater fidelity, speed, reach, sensation and bandwidth for exchanging subjectivities (technologically mediated telepathy, as it were).

  • It will produce unexpected consequences for human intimacy and connection.
  • It will produce new opportunities for global unity and tribal discord, for totalizing control and individual freedoms, and for the effective expression of both love and hate.
  • It will provide vast new opportunities for buying and selling and advertising and big data/big commerce feedback loops between desire and fulfillment and the willing sacrifice of privacy for convenient ways to scratch our itches.
  • It will produce new kinds of cyber-art.
  • In short, it will move the needle not at all towards the redemptive, visionary and inflated claims for changing human morals. That’s always already been the vaporware of media revolutions. For that, a different kind of message is needed.”

‘How will our data be used against us in the metaverse by 2040?’

Lee Warren McKnight, professor of entrepreneurship and innovation at Syracuse University’s School of Information Studies, responded, “Given the estimated 3 billion gamers worldwide by 2023, reaching half a billion metaverse-immersed by 2040 is probably a low estimate. However, first – to state the obvious – the current metaverse hype and confusion (and venture capitalists riding trends and pumping scads of money into a lot of dumb metaverse-associated ideas) are largely driven by Facebook’s very successful ‘wag the dog’ PR play to get people talking about the metaverse instead of about their data privacy-invasive business model and serial legal-and-ethical-violator, repeat-offender status. Which leads us to the larger looming issue: How will our data be used against us in the metaverse by 2040?

“A major negative of our immersive future is that privacy violation by design by platform companies like Facebook (Meta) will be supercharged. Their business models rely upon selling user data to advertisers and/or to business-intelligence/political-intelligence outfits like Cambridge Analytica that use it to manipulate the public – for instance influencing their buying behavior or nudging them into obsessive-extremist interests and disinformation campaigns. What has happened to this point in that regard is all child’s play compared to the truly dystopian ‘Blade Runner 3.0’ imaginable in 2040 when people are much more immersed in digital worlds. When they are not just relaxing playing games or interacting/sharing with friends and family and random strangers and data-gathering bots on social media. When they spend more time and invest more of themselves when the metaverse is also the workplace/the future of work. The blurring of psychic and physical boundaries could be very ugly.

“Already, the growth in the percentage of young people of college age with mental health issues, the rise in suicides and drug addiction are driven by a range of complex economic, social and political factors, not least being the pandemic. Facebook’s – excuse me – Meta’s own research data has revealed that time spent in not-yet-more-immersive social media is a major cause of serious mental stress and illness. By 2040, assuming the trendline and market/business model of data security and privacy invasion by design carries on into the metaverse, we will all be living in a much sicker world. And the sickness-causing-by-design metaverse will be at least partially to blame.”

Today’s environment will be amplified and expanded once the metaverse takes off

Mario Morino, chairman of the Morino Institute and co-founder at Venture Philanthropy Partners, commented, “Look at the gains and horrors in today’s environment and amplify and expand this in projecting to 2040. My expectation is that it will become a natural habitat in which to work, learn, share experiences, be entertained and to entertain, and to have ‘lived digital experience.’ It will be another level of immersion, building upon previous plateaus of the Internet: email, Web 2.0, gaming, cell/smartphone, social media, AI/ML [machine learning], etc. However, the power of community in the metaverse (collective activity) will bring vast new gains and even more threatening risks to society. There will be a lack of editorial and information mores and protocols, lack of ability to counter mis- and disinformation (from text to deepfakes), too few gatekeepers for checks and balances, and the ‘lone ranger’ digital player will have even more disproportionate power arising from increased externality.”

Every new tool advances horizons and inflicts harms

Frank Kaufmann, president of the Twelve Gates Foundation, said, “This shift will take place when an increasing number of ‘apps’ and life-convenience tools offer users ‘two options’: ‘conventional’ or ‘immersive.’ A smaller number of apps and tools will be offered only as ‘immersive,’ but this will be for an elite – the ‘in-the-know’ types, like early crypto traders. It will function as a sort of cultish status symbol. Most people will still not feel comfortable having tools and apps that require a steep learning curve or clumsy hardware to do simple things. All this will steadily and increasingly change. ‘Immersive’ life will be made more user-friendly by the natural function of corporate greed. And as the meta becomes more user friendly its adoption will spread via word-of-mouth tutorials (the guy next to you at the bar shows you it’s not really that difficult), gradually more people try it, and the world falls unthinkingly into increasing use and addiction to metaverse functions and life. Of course, every tool and every invention from the beginning of time has emerged to enhance the horizons of human capacity and human creativity. However, every tool and every invention from the beginning of time has also enhanced the capacity to more efficiently and more sweepingly inflict harm on other human beings and on nature.

  • It will increase human separation into new categories.
  • It will intensify dystopic inequalities of ‘haves’ and ‘have nots.’
  • It will further desensitize people, putting them further out of touch with their true selves (their divinity and humanity).
  • It will make doing harm ‘less real.’
  • It will make careless, mindless users easier targets for control and manipulation.

“For most people it will have little or no impact on how we think about our world and ourselves. The emergence and slow market expansion of this technology will have no impact on people’s abundant capacity for living in non-reflective ways, and no effort to intuit our relationship and purpose with nature. If anything, it will further diminish general consciousness into indignity, self-diminishing distractions, and obsessive addiction to acquisition and the type of ‘learning-curve addiction’ that typically drives gamers.”

If it follows the path paved by the web and Web 2.0, ‘Web3 will deepen inequalities’

Aymar Jean Christian, associate professor of communication studies at Northwestern University and adviser to the Center for Critical Race Digital Studies, wrote, “Technological advancement is only one component of social change. Cultural, political and economic factors are equally if not more important to how Web3 will develop. If it follows the same path as the original  web and Web 2.0 – with unregulated corporations and investors allowed to own as much digital property as possible, where users lack the public support and regulation for the ownership of data, devices and property – Web3 may deepen the power inequalities we see today. These inequalities are raced, gendered, nationally-bound (e.g., Western/U.S.-centric) and they replicate power dynamics that predate digital technologies (colonialism, white supremacy, heteropatriarchy, etc.). Web3 has the potential to shift power dynamics, but only if those driving the technological change are willing to make it so.”

The unknown territory: ‘How can you tell a machine from a person?’

Garth Graham, longtime leader of Telecommunities Canada, said, “We are moving into unknown territory with respect to how our relationships and connections shape our identity. This is of concern. I would like to share a passage written by Stephen Marche in ‘The Imitation of Consciousness: On the Present and Future of Natural Language Processing’ published June 23, 2021: ‘What is shocking about the artificial intelligence of natural language processing is not that we’ve created new consciousnesses, but that we’ve created machines we can’t tell apart from consciousnesses. The question isn’t going to be “Can machines think?” The question isn’t even going to be “How can you create a machine that imitates a person?” The question is going to be: “How can you tell a machine from a person?”’”

How will governments respond to the multinational nature of the metaverse?

Mark Jamison, an American Enterprise Institute scholar who previously served as manager of regulatory policy at Sprint, commented, “The direction of the metaverse will depend upon how governments react. The metaverse has the potential to be an online society with its own cultures, economies and governance systems that relate to those of the offline world, but that are optimized according to the interests of the users and developers. Such an evolution would enhance humankind by freeing us from some of the constraints of the immutable laws of physics and our DNA, but not without some painful realizations of the importance of these immutable laws and losses of long-term benefits of time spent in the offline world. It is likely that some offline governments will sense that important activities are happening beyond their reach and respond by trying to create laws to regulate the metaverse. This will be hampered by the multinational nature of the metaverse, but offline governments are powerful forces and may have the ability to restrict some societies as they try to develop in the metaverse.”

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