The experts’ answers to our questions about the future of the metaverse that are reported in this section are somewhat longer than those in the previous section, and they often have a more panoramic perspective.

‘It will be even more difficult to separate the “real world” from the manifold mirror worlds we will be engaged in and – yes – addicted to’

Sam Adams, artificial general intelligence researcher at Metacognitive Technology, previously a distinguished engineer with IBM, commented, “Cognitive immersion can occur anytime a mind focuses intensely on something to the exclusion of everything else. Musicians experience it, as do athletes, artists, assembly line workers, mothers giving birth, authors and computer programmers. In all cases it requires a focal point as well as the engagement of some number of senses and muscles. The stronger the focus, the broader the engagement of the senses, the lower the latency between muscle twitch and sensory response, the easier it becomes to slip into that state of immersion. As a college student in 1980, I found myself fully immersed in the original adventure game, ‘The Colossal Cave.’ The interface was minimal, the visual and auditory distractions many, but I was entirely oblivious to them as I wandered in the cave and puzzled over the various challenges, ignoring the hunger and exhaustion from lack of sleep for as long as I could. Simply put, it was immersive and addicting.

“With the development of XR technology and content over the next 20 years, I expect this experience of cognitive immersion to be commonly available on demand to anyone with access to the bandwidth and sensor/effector interface equipment. As with the original PC wave, then the desktop/Internet/browser wave and the mobile Internet wave, the XR wave will be driven by device access, bandwidth and content. I fully expect device access to be a non-issue, as XR by 2030 will be delivered to the human senses via ubiquitous wearable devices, probably in eyeglass format. Broadband beyond 5G and low-Earth-orbit satellites like StarLink will provide the low-latency bandwidth required to trigger full immersion of the senses.

“This leaves the content, which will largely be a predictable mix of passive (music and movies) and active (social, gaming, sports) offerings. But the rest of the metaverse ecosystem, the massive cloud computing centers with their daily exabyte data feeds and the trillions of Internet of Things (IoT) devices will usher in a kind of content we have only hinted at in today’s XR experience: David Gelernter’s ‘Mirror Worlds.’ And just as it is nearly impossible to engage in modern life and society without hours of daily Internet interaction today, it will be even more difficult to separate the ‘real world’ from the manifold mirror worlds we will be engaged in and – yes – addicted to.

“Positives include broader life experiences and the development and maintenance of personal relationships, especially with those we will never likely meet ‘in the flesh.’ Remote work and, especially, collaborative remote work will be greatly enhanced.

“Negatives may sound like a broken record, but less and less of life will be spent in-the-flesh-present with other humans, breathing the same air, feeling the physical closeness of companions and crowds. A larger segment of the population will choose to live as solely digitally as possible, with their physical existence and needs being minimally met so to allow maximum time ‘in the ’verse.’ Early examples of this are the ‘sleep, eat, game, repeat’ crowd, who have no ambition outside spending more time ‘in-game.’

“Changing the world? It will amplify the existing cross-border unification and hyper-balkanization of society that we have been experiencing with the global mobile internet for the past 10 years. Changing our lives? For the connected, more time away from real life, but this will also create a desire to unplug, at least for retreats and vacations. Look for ‘Faraday Retreats’ that use technology to digitally isolate guests from the ’verse. Extremes will include Faraday communities (anti-digital communes) where people chose to live their lives in ‘the real world,’ without being jacked into the ’verse.

“But in the end, people are still people. Until the highly unlikely full-brain interface that no longer requires the physical senses, experiences will still be modulated by the human interface: eyes, ears, touch, taste, smell, motion, speech, etc. Blockchain will fade into the core of the internet to provide anonymous but irrefutable authentication and transactions, including the securing of content (like the fledgling Web3). But its anonymity when applied through XR will create a different kind of trust, where you can trust the transaction but never really know the other party. Transactions-only trust leaves behind many of the societal notions of reputation and branding and allows for parties of currently illegal/bad-reputation (e.g., narco syndicates, mafia, terrorists) to easily conduct ‘legitimate’ business which income supports their antisocial agendas without the transactions being tarred with their true purpose.”

The future environment for most is likely to be ‘a kind of everyday mixed-reality system that allows for both physical and digital worlds to overlap’

Jamais Cascio, distinguished fellow at the Institute for the Future, responded, “By 2040, the technologies that fall under the ‘metaverse’ umbrella will very likely be in ubiquitous use, even if the term ‘metaverse’ has fallen out of use. Fully-immersive virtual environments distinct from the physical environment will likely be occasional-use tools, as we see today with games. More commonly, we’re likely to be using a kind of everyday mixed-reality system that allows for both the physical and the digital worlds to overlap.

By 2040, the technologies that fall under the ‘metaverse’ umbrella will very likely be in ubiquitous use, even if the term ‘metaverse’ has fallen out of use.

Jamais Cascio, distinguished fellow at the Institute for the Future

“There are multiple reasons why a full-immersion non-physical environment will be used in a more-limited fashion, but primary among these is the sensory limitation. While visuals and sound may be reproduced at better-than-real clarity, touch, balance, smell/taste and other bodily senses that are outside of sight and hearing do not get the same kind of immersion. (For the sake of this discussion, I’m not talking about direct neural interface – the technology is plausible in this timeframe but has impacts and cautions that go well beyond the ‘metaverse’ conversation.)

“I believe that we’ll confirm that bodily sensation is necessary for a truly immersive experience and that being disconnected from the body for extended periods will lead to both physical and mental health issues. Conversely, mixed (blended, augmented) reality technologies that allow experiencing physical and digital sensory inputs simultaneously will likely be far more widely used. This can even include experiences where all visual and audio input is digital – but working in concert with the real-world environment (such as virtual decoration and imagery for clothing, rooms, faces, etc.).

“Toned-down versions of this technology can be extraordinarily useful for both work and personal enjoyment. We already have narrowly-focused iterations of this technology in use; this 2040 version would be much richer and more environment-aware (e.g., will not require beacons indicating the size of a space, as with current VR technology).

“There are two significant concerns that arise from this kind of technology. The first is more blatant, the second is more subtle but it is ultimately a bigger problem. Mixed reality, by definition, allows for the imposition of digital imagery over physical reality. The potential for abuse is clear, from censorship to non-consenting pornography. The technologies needed to police such abuses are even more complex than trying to block harmful images and text from Facebook, and would likely be similarly ineffective. The more subtle problem would also apply, at least to some degree, to all forms of metaverse technology: enclosure, in the classical economics sense.

“Things that in ‘real’ reality are free to see (architecture, clothing design, street art) can in a metaverse system be paywalled off, such that only people with the right token can see the ‘true’ shape of the building or the full details of the dress. The nightmare iteration of this is that essentially everything has to be paid for to experience – it’s a world where everything is an NFT.

“We shouldn’t let legitimate concerns like this force us to set the technologies aside entirely. The ability to see the world at greater depth (look closely at the plant and see its taxonomic description, or how it circulates water, or its life cycle, or its total carbon captured), to allow for creative people to intermix the surreal with the physical (giants wandering off in the distance, or clothing that leaves an echo of itself in its wake, or tattoos that offer commentary on what the wearer is doing), and even to clear away visual clutter (and you know that ad-blockers will be the first thing many people install) can be a source of delight. But having to subscribe to reality? No, thank you.”

‘We’re rushing headlong into it without all the safety measures that we need’

Avi Bar-Zeev, an XR pioneer who played important roles in developing and creating the technology of HoloLens, Google Earth and Second Life and has worked with Microsoft, Google, Apple, Amazon, Disney VR and more, agreed to share several segments of his writing and talks about the metaverse as his contribution to this report.

In a November 2021 talk at Augmented World Expo, Bar-Zeev, predicted:

“AR is going to be bigger than ‘the metaverse,’ not by volume but by ubiquity and user experience. The fact that we will be wearing our AR glasses for potentially 18 hours a day makes it more personal to us. The same interfaces that work for us in the real world will work for us in the virtual world, so we will be applying these same ideas across any reality, across any world. The fact is that we want to interact with stuff that is personal. So, if the metaverse is essentially the next generation of the internet, and XR hardware is essentially the browser and we are the browsers, then AR-like user experiences may be the most common user interface.

“This is why AR goes beyond what people talk about today when they talk about the metaverse. Really, there will be states of presence and co-presence. I propose ‘coreality’ as the best way to describe the collection of spaces where we can be present or co-present. We are working to form the XR Guild in order to come up with a set of principles for XR developers that they can own and use to get better results for humanity.”

In a February 2022 interview with Spatial Reality, Bar-Zeev said:

“My biggest worry about all this is that we’re rushing headlong into it without all the safety measures that we need. There is no regulating force in this new world, other than for-profit companies with their own territories. There is no force coming in to say, ‘Here are the ways we should behave, and here’s what we do with the small percentage of people who misbehave.’ And unfortunately, one bad actor can cause grief to thousands or millions of people. It’s a really important thing to get it right before we all rush in and say we’re going to live there. It’s nowhere near ready for us to live there. There are no rules. Everybody is just rushing in to grab whatever pickaxe and gold they can find on the ground. … What is the harm of moving slowly? What’s the downside of actually being careful? It might cost us a little more money upfront. But the cost of doing it wrong, the cost of making a mistake, the cost of hurting people or leaving people out? That’s tremendous …

“Privacy is critical. And the biggest threat to privacy, honestly, is the ad-driven business model. It’s not that the ads by themselves are evil. Ads often are just giving us information or creative expressions, and they’re largely protected by the First Amendment. The problem is the way that our personal information is being used to deliver ads. What I’m arguing for, and other more-prominent people are arguing for, is that we need to regulate the business model, not the expression of the ads themselves.

“When XR has eye tracking and emotional analysis, the computer is going to better understand how we think and feel about everything in our environment. It’s going to know more about how we feel about people in our lives. It’s going to know how we feel about political issues. It’s going to be able to know about our emotional triggers. Whatever our hot-button triggers are, the companies will know how to get us into a much-less-rational state, which is the perfect state for making us susceptible to all sorts of influences. By optimizing the system, driving it for the maximum extraction of ad revenue, we’ve turned people into data mines and no longer truly free-thinking individuals. Ultimately, if we take it to its extreme, we lose our autonomy, we lose our ability to think for ourselves because the systems are pushing our buttons for profit.

“The best computing interface of the future is the one that knows us so intimately that it can help us get our work done. If companies continue to exploit us, then we’re going to have to just come down and say, ‘No, we can’t do that. It’s too dangerous.’ Let’s be cautious and human-centered about these things. Let’s act on the negatives we see today. We can’t ignore them and just hope things will get better over time. Taking action is the only way we’re going to steer this stuff toward the best outcomes.”

And in a column he wrote for Bar-Zeev predicted:

“Imagine 10-20 years from now. We’ll each have a pair of contact lenses that can create AR and VR as well as we want (except maybe for touch, taste and smell). By then, the words ‘AR,’ ‘VR’ and ‘meta’ will likely be relegated to academic writing and old-timey company branding in favor of something more hip, now and organic. Open your eyes and you’ll see 3D holograms in the real world perfectly mixed with real objects and people. Close your eyes (or otherwise elide the natural light) and you can be virtually anyplace else. Audio must also mix perfectly. But AR and VR are only two points on a spectrum. If you start with AR and add enough virtual stuff to distract you from reality, you’re effectively in VR.

“If you add digitized 3D ‘twins’ or otherwise live camera feeds of your real-world environment into VR, you’re essentially back in AR again, or at least a simulation of it. VR fundamentally strips away the most common constraints of reality: location and travel, physics, even sometimes time, where hours can often seem like minutes, and we can travel to the historical past or imagined futures. We can also pretend to be someone else in VR (or perhaps more of our truer selves?) to temporarily remove the constraints of our births: sex, appearance, even changing aspects of our personality. We can gain ‘superpowers’ inside these worlds too, like flying, invisibility and content creation. Eventually, everyone will just call them ‘abilities.’

“On the way to that ubiquity, power imbalances invariably lead to social strife. Without the normal constraints of reality or other ways to defend ourselves, we are more vulnerable to other people’s powers, personalities and agendas. If we increase our individual power beyond prose and memes today toward experiences with effective superpowers, we also turn up the volume on the negative expressions as well. This is not an arms race that anyone can ‘win.’ Even in a virtual world of one, with no multiplayer capability, we have to consider the owners of the space as unseen, god-like entities who may want to influence our thoughts and actions in positive or negative ways. And some will.

“What AR really does is provide a new way to see and interact with the real world and the people in it. It can improve the signal-to-noise ratio of our daily life by filtering out what we don’t need to see and enhancing what’s most relevant and impactful to us, individually, contextually, based on what matters most. …

“Mark Zuckerberg recently touted a desired feature of his company’s future AR glasses as being able to carry on other conversations while we’re talking to someone in person. Let’s also figure the glasses can secretly bring up the social media profiles, criminal records and posted vacation photos of the people we meet. These particular features are clearly anti-social, even sociopathic, giving the wearer much more power over others. If the goal is adding presence and connection, then being distracted by information and social anxiety about the contents of each other’s AR displays yields the opposite result. However, if the glasses monitor our own individual emotions and let us know when we’re getting too emotional or otherwise less present (e.g., lost in past memories or worries of the future), then they will provide a tool for us to be more present, more grounded and better connected with others around us. Why don’t we ever hear about that as a feature?

“How we design these experiences will largely determine how this goes. Do we add unhelpful saturating layers to reality, or do we help strip away some noise? People with more money than sense will routinely make bad experiences and occasionally wonder why they don’t work. Hopefully we can all learn from these mistakes and do better ourselves. Our hope is that the marketplace and other social institutions will help get rid of the bad ideas fast enough and help ensure a brighter future for us all. The better path is to find and fund the better designers now, to build that future proactively.”

Despite concerns, ‘the metaverse will eventually draw us together’ as other media have done throughout history

Stephen Downes, expert with the Digital Technologies Research Centre of the National Research Council of Canada, said, “Opportunities for fraud and scams will abound. As well, there is the risk of a non-traceable shadow economy developing. It will be hard for people to grasp the idea that something could be both digital and ‘real’ and, despite the reassurances, it will be very hard not to believe that they could simply cease to exist. The danger here is that people will think of very real things – like, say, digital currency debts – as non-real, and suffer harmful consequences. Complicating matters will be the fact that digital objects may also embody artificial intelligence.

Opportunities for fraud and scams will abound. … The danger here is that people will think of very real things – like, say, digital currency debts – as non-real, and suffer harmful consequences.

Stephen Downes, expert with the Digital Technologies Research Centre of the National Research Council of Canada

“By 2040 (probably much sooner), it will not be possible for most people to distinguish between avatars representing humans and AIs. The proliferation of AIs will enable actors with more resources to simulate a much greater presence online (just as we have seen with social media bots). A lot of these will be laughable (there will be the metaverse equivalent of the Nigerian prince), but there will also be serious cases of impersonation and worse. It is perhaps too early to demand specific legislation, but it is not too early to develop frameworks describing what will be acceptable and unacceptable uses of the metaverse both legally and commercially.

“Having said all that, despite the risks, we will not be able to resist developing, entering and using the metaverse. It will be very difficult to enjoy flat-screen media entertainment after watching an immersive movie or sporting event. Today’s games are not yet more compelling in VR, but as the interface improves play will be much more fluid and natural, making traditional gameplay on a screen with controller or keyboard seem awkward. Just as it’s hard to get up from the television or pull the plug on a video-gaming marathon, it will be difficult to put down the controller. Psychologists will undoubtedly talk about dissociation disorders afflicting people after long VR sessions.

“Having said all that, the metaverse will eventually draw us together. Just as radio and television created the common experience, just as social media created shared memes, we are going to find we share our world more deeply and meaningfully with people (and ideas, and representations) we could not have imagined before plugging in. being closer to each other isn’t always pleasant (as we’ve certainly learned!) but being closer leads to deeper dialogue, greater understanding, and more empathy. No, this is not universal – the divisions in our global society will also be magnified. We will need to ensure that these divisions are not incentivized and monetized, as they are in some social media today, because the experience will be that much more personal, the hurt caused by these divisions is that much greater. More, because digital resources are not scarce in the way that physical resources are scarce, there will be more opportunity for people in less-advantaged positions and societies, providing they can gain access to the network.

“We saw manufacturing develop worldwide with the development of a global supply chain infrastructure. People worldwide can today offer digital services thanks to the global internet. A person does not need to own a factory or a farm to earn wealth in a digital world. This depends, though, on a shared digital infrastructure. If the inhabitants of the metaverse are merely tenants, then most likely they will be excluded from any prosperity the metaverse may create.

“Decentralization is the great promise of the metaverse, especially some of the enabling technologies such as blockchain networks and self-sovereign identity. In a truly decentralized system each of us might enjoy more autonomy to design our own lives and our own worlds. If we are indeed moving toward a world of less regulation and oversight, it will have to be a very different from today’s world. Personal autonomy and self-governance can thrive only in a world where authoritarianism and coercion are difficult, and where people are protected from the ill effects of inequity and exclusion.

“Without mechanisms to ensure reasonable levels of personal freedom and prosperity, we can enter a dystopian world very quickly. Without regulation, not only governments, but corporations, schools, gangs and even individuals can use their freedoms to oppress others. The rise of the metaverse will lead to a renewed discussion of rights. This discussion will be partially focused on diversity, equity and inclusion, reflecting the current dialogue flowing from events in the physical world, but will it also reflect the requirement to enable people to participate fully in a digital society? Issues such as access, consent, transparency and openness, ownership and association, among others, will shape the great debates of the 2020s and 2030s.”

The biggest impact will tie to the question: What does it mean to be human?

Chris Labash, associate professor of communication and innovation at Carnegie Mellon University, wrote, “Remember that part in ‘The Matrix’ where Agent Smith and Neo are fighting in the subway and the train is bearing down on them and Smith says, ‘Do you hear that sound, Mr. Anderson? That is the sound of inevitability.’ That’s the metaverse today and the likelihood of it being real, ubiquitous and normalized by 2040. Right now, I have a student research team creating ‘An Investor’s Guide to the Metaverse.’ Right now, I have a student doing an independent study on creating and managing products in the metaverse. Right now, a friend of mine has just launched an NFT Asset Management company. [Here are] my top five [questions about the metaverse], starting with the most important:

5.0 The most important question about the metaverse is about its fundamental ontological impact on what it means to be ‘human.’ Will it make us more civil? Will it represent an opportunity for ‘augmented humanity?’ What happens when AI-enabled ‘entities’ can be part of the metaverse? Every great leap in technology is inextricably interwoven with fundamental human questions. As we move forward, the questions get harder, the answers more challenging to put into practice.

4.0 Apropos of the above, what about diversity, equity and inclusion? The metaverse offers a great opportunity for specific groups to establish safe spaces where they can share experiences, desires and dreams and then have the tools to actualize them. It can also, as we’ve already seen, be a dark alleyway where the most horrible elements of our global society do most-horrible things, often with no consequences. It could potentially level the playing field both economically and socially for those sidelined in the physical world. And note that I say ‘physical’ versus ‘real’ world. The metaverse being digital doesn’t make it any less real; in fact, by 2040, it may be considered by many people to be as real or even more real a space than ‘physical’ space. The blurring line between the physical universe and the metaverse is potentially very empowering. I taught on the Second Life platform years ago and it was interesting that people with physical disabilities made their avatars reflect those disabilities, rather than be a ‘perfect’ character.

3.0 Similarly, will the metaverse drive social participation or social isolation? Both are likely. One potential problem is the possibility of over-participation. In the early days of Nintendo 64, traders on Wall Street were staying home to play ‘GoldenEye’ rather than showing up for work. The metaverse will be even more addictive. The metaverse can also be a safe space for the painfully shy or introverted to interact with others on their own timetable and terms. The obvious minus: right now 37% of 12- to 17-year-olds have been bullied online, 30% more than once, and more than 50% of LGBTQ+ young people have been bullied. The metaverse can exacerbate this and/or help mitigate it.

2.0 What will be the role of government? When it comes to how real the metaverse will be on a global scale, consider the possibilities. As I write this, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has intensified, and the show of support for Ukraine is both global and unprecedented. Fast-forward to 2040: If such a conflict took place in the world of an interconnected metaverse, imagine the power of seeing millions of digital people dressed in blue and yellow all gathered in a vast open space in a profound show of support for Ukraine. Now couple that visual support with digital sanctions – economic and otherwise; with the sharing of blockchain-verified real-time information that goes beyond a government’s control, with the sharing of real-time crowdsourced information about Russian troop deployment, supply and logistic issues, with the humanitarian needs of Ukraine and fundraising and other efforts to get help to those in need … and you begin to see both the power and the possibility of a world where the metaverse has become an elemental part of everyday life, intertwined with physical reality, that allows for immediate action and reaction. We will also see ‘digital alliances’ emerging just as we are seeing in the response to Russia’s invasion: pan-government groups that span finance, media and the social sector that can bring enormous pressure to bear. We will also likely see the rise of ‘digital states.’ If Facebook were a country its population right now would outnumber that of China. The metaverse will be far bigger (and more participative) than Facebook. That’s a lot of power.

1.0 – Finally, one of the most basic questions that people will have is ‘Can I trust it?’ Participation in the metaverse requires trust, trust requires governance, governance requires accountability and accountability requires redress. How, in an entity that belongs to no one, can any of that be achieved and achieved consistently? Will people not just participate but continually participate in the metaverse? One potentially strong attribute is that people will turn to the metaverse for ‘trusted’ communication; misinformation, disinformation and state- or group-sponsored information terrorism could be mitigated by the real-time public verification that a blockchain-powered metaverse allows.

“There are so many other areas for discussion: How will the metaverse’s infrastructure be used to make business, government and everything else faster, more efficient and more accessible? Will there be the metaverse equivalent of bilateral trade, which research suggests reduces conflict? What are the microverses that will comprise the metaverse? Will it be a technical oligarchy or truly democratized? What will the economics of it be? And maybe most interestingly, What’s the future? What’s beyond meta? What will it help us become? I’m excited to find out. See you in 2040.”

A vision of what a great metaverse – or great metaverses – could be

David Weinberger, senior researcher at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, wrote, “Let’s assume that that the metaverse will be like the  web in that it does not consist of a single, wholly owned place, but rather is composed of many, many, many linked metaverses. There is reason to think that metaverses are highly likely to become the primary way we participate on the Internet. The Internet has pretty consistently tended toward richer media, so metaverses seem like a ‘natural’ next step.

“This assumes that access to affordable bandwidth and low-cost VR/AR devices will increase, and the like. And that, in turn, will further increase the digital divide. We should therefore be, from the start, designing metaverse protocols that will scale from full-sensory user experiences to accessibility on low-end 2D devices. This should not require add-ons or third-party transformers, any more than viewing a webpage on a huge, high-resolution screen or a mobile device does.

“Let’s make a further optimistic assumption: metaverses are made deeply interoperable in exactly the way that social media platforms are not but webpages are. You can open a website on virtually any device because webpages and web browsers follow protocols. That’s why any proper browser can display any non-broken webpage and even lots of pages that are broken.

“Let’s hope that metaverse interoperability means not only that you can display and interact with a metaverse on any metaverse ‘browser,’ but that metaverses know how to use the information you choose to provide. For example, a metaverse should be able to display your chosen avatar, which you might also use in other metaverses; this would help provide continuity of perceived identity across these spaces. Simply having the same avatar across metaverses – especially if you’re in third-person view so you can see yourself in the metaverse – will give us a sense of digital personhood that we don’t generally have on the web or Internet. It will also enable others to recognize you, enabling a deeper sense of social connection. Being on a thread with a player named ‘Excal143a’ is very different from joining a conversation with a person you recognize because of their pink frog head and by their sense of fashion.

“But your avatar is the least of it. You should be able to carry into each individual metaverse what you want that metaverse to know about you. We’ve long had this dream of each of us controlling what various sites and services can know about us, but perhaps efforts like Tim Berners-Lee’s Solid will start to gain a foothold. There’s every reason to think that metaverses will take on some of the most important properties of games: an emphasis on engagement, a sense of play, sociality and mods.

1) Engagement: Metaverses will compete for our attention by looking great, but also by encouraging exploration and participation. Exploration might manifest itself by leaving much hidden but discoverable. Participation means that we will often be able to build permanent elements in a metaverse, by ourselves or with others. Just look what happens with Minecraft.

2) Play: The web has already eroded the wall between the serious and the playful. That is not only usually a false wall, but it keeps people away from explorations we’d all be better off engaging in. Metaverses will perhaps encourage play the way lots of discussion boards enable or encourage collaborative humor.

3) Sociality: There are more invitations to connect when your avatar almost literally runs into another. Or if that avatar is a creature with a pink frog head who’s carving ellipses in a waterfall. The synchronous and visual nature of metaverses may encourage more social connections, perhaps with more cross-session persistence. I’m sure we’ll also invent new ways to attack and degrade one another.

4) Mods: Game makers have learned that mods – customer-created maps, potions, rules, etc. – not only help them retain their users longer, they deepen the users’ attachment to the game. Metaverses with mods? Yes please!

“This all might well change our ideas about the role of the real. Full-on metaverses will succeed by putting us into a world with other people in which we encounter, discuss and create things that matter. We can say that none of that is ‘real’ (something the philosopher David Chalmers disputes in his recent book ‘Reality+’), but as we spend more and more time going through metaverses on the Internet, it will become ever more clear that what matters to us transcends both the real and the media we’re engaged in.

“Metaverses are going to make it clearer than ever that what’s most important to us is not what’s real and thus independent of us, but what matters to us together.”

Watch for the rise of ‘digital twins’ and the variety of ways they will be helpful

Melissa Sassi, global head of IBM Hyper Protect Accelerator, wrote in great detail about a number of use cases for extended reality: “There are still significant hurdles to overcome with metaverse applications in real-life scenarios; however, I do expect the technology to continue to evolve and become more refined leading up to 2040.

“I see the rise of the digital twin and personalized ways of bringing AI and ML to life via our digital twins: a new definition of ‘in real life.’ We will continue to rely on technology to help us become more productive, more efficient and able to virtually be in far corners of the world without physically being there. As the digital world continues to intertwine with the physical world, these lines will continue to blur for all of us to the point at which I am not even sure we can say ‘in real life’ anymore. Real life will have become our digital life and vice-versa.

“Use Case #1: Health care – Significant efforts today are put toward treating symptoms as opposed to achieving prevention, and we all recognize the challenges with sharing patient records across doctors and health care networks. Having a digital twin in health care could be incredibly powerful when it comes to predictive modeling and sharing data across health care providers and entities, where the patient is put more in the driver’s seat in regard to preventative care and bringing your own record to medical doctors and other health care representatives responsible for care. One example I have seen inspiring this work is BioTwin, an early stage health tech startup that’s created a virtual replica geared toward detecting and preventing health care ailments before they occur. This is a budding space to watch when it comes to health care innovation, disruption and putting more information in the hands of the people to drive good health care and well-being, which is one of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

“Use Case #2: Education – Having digital twins gives rise to better opportunities for those learning to become health care professionals or medical doctors for practicing in virtual environments. Tiny mistakes and major adverse effects that occur during surgery or other types of medical treatment can be decreased by providing learners with virtually simulated environments and twins to practice with no risk to human life. AR, MR and VR plus the personalization of AI and ML will give other boosts in people’s education journey, for instance in practicing professional development or soft skills, including public speaking, problem solving, critical thinking, teamwork and collaboration, and many other skills of the future. Many ed-tech platforms today focus on certification factors and talking heads; imagine a scenario where people can interact as digital twins in different scenarios to practice real-life skills. According to the World Economic Forum, we are in a workforce crisis, with 87% of companies worldwide expecting skills gaps, as noted by Boston Consulting Group. Employers today say supervisory staff and front-line workers lack future-ready skills. Having a digital twin provides significant opportunities for learning practically and being immersed in the learning journey. Advances can also give rise to the digital-twin educator in K-12, higher education and other settings where teaching can happen in different ways from the past, especially in scenarios where we are learning in digital formats. COVID-19 has taught the education sector that relying on in-person instruction is not always possible, which has given rise to significant increases in e-learning investment within the venture capital community.

“Use Case #3: Digital and entrepreneurial thinking – The same conceptualization can be applied to learning digital skills or entrepreneurial thinking. According to the World Economic Forum, the lack of digital skills among their people cost 14 G20 countries $11.5 trillion in GDP growth. It also reported that by 2030 U.S. talent shortages and a skills gap could cost its economy $8.5 trillion. Learning and development leaders see skilling, upskilling and reskilling as strategic priorities, further demonstrating the need for new business models, technology applications, content and curriculum and practical ways of demonstrating that workers have gained these skills that can be applied in the workplace. Bringing the metaverse into this realm could have significant impacts. The World Economic Forum’s ‘Reskilling Revolution’ program aims to provide 1 billion people with better education, skills and jobs by 2030. There is no reason this cannot happen via augmented reality.

“Use Case #4: Entertainment and gaming – Gaming will continue to evolve as a space with more interactivity and more engagement with the digital world. The metaverse also has applications for concerts where digital-only concerts are also a consideration. With hundreds of millions of users, Epic Games, the creator of Fortnite, and other game developers have significant opportunities for intertwining gaming and entertainment with the metaverse. Epic produced a live virtual show in its Fortnight game starring EDM producer Marshmello. More than 10 million people ‘attended’ the concert. It followed later with a virtual concert starring Travis Scott that drew an audience of 12.3 million people. As of 2021 Fortnite was played by 40% of children between the ages of 10 and 17, according to National Research Group. But the rise of virtual entertainment is not just for children and youth. During the pandemic, the annual adult gathering known as Burning Man went virtual as well. I would say the vote is still out on whether the feeling, sentiment, experience and memories of real-life entertainment can be replicated via metaverse applications. I am not convinced that the metaverse replaces how one feels being on the Playa in Blackrock City, Nevada.

“Use Case #5: Social life – While we already are experiencing and enjoying digital opportunities to ‘see’ others in far corners of the earth through video conferencing and virtual events today, I am 100% certain that these virtual events, even if done in AR/VR/MR, do not replicate the ‘in-real-life’ experience. I recently had an opportunity to go back onto the in-person conference scene after the long stretch of COVID-19-induced isolation, and no virtual event in the last two years could replicate that feeling of talking with real people, in real life, and enjoying what the physical world has to offer. Who knows? Perhaps future innovations in the metaverse space will change my mind, but for now, keep my ‘in real life’ social interaction at the top of the list of things I am after vs. metaverse interactions. I would say the vote is still out on whether the feeling, sentiment, experience and memories of real-life entertainment can be replicated via metaverse applications.

“Use Case #6: Culture, the arts and travel – Extended-reality applications will create significant opportunities for making cultural experiences and the arts available to all. These experiences can be set in any chronology. Via digital replicas you can witness and participate in how life was lived in years past in any setting or experience those settings’ contemporary cultures. It’s a great way of learning about the world, although there is no doubt that the ‘in-real-life’ feeling of really standing there at the Grand Canyon, the Eiffel Tower, Times Square, the Pyramids of Giza, the French Riviera, Angkor Wat or any other faraway land cannot be duplicated. I would rather lie on the beach in the Caribbean with a drink in my hand, visit Museo del Prado in Madrid Spain, sail on a Catamaran in Costa Rica or see the Great Wall of China with my own eyes and experience the ‘in-real-life’ impact of people, language, food and everything that has to offer. Innovations are unlikely to completely replace the depth of our traditional means of connecting with culture, the arts and travel.”

The worst online problems could intensify; then add interpersonal dissociation

Daniel S. Schiff, a Ph.D. candidate who studies the governance and social and ethical implications of AI at the School of Public Policy at Georgia Tech, said, “The existence of a metaverse renews questions about misinformation, protection of privacy, targeted advertising, disparate treatment of subgroups, coercion, harassment, bullying, labor and sexual exploitation, and more. VR theoretically makes many of these and other social and ethical issues raised by the internet and social media even more stark given the enhanced experience associated with immersive audiovisual content. Harassment and bullying could become more traumatizing, while protecting privacy would be even more essential given increased access to data about an individual’s digital location, emotional state, or behavior. The early experiences of sexual harassment in virtual spaces indeed point to a dire need for proactive governance and regulation, especially to protect vulnerable groups and children. Further issues surround psychological well-being. Indeed, just as digital technologies and social media have altered people’s cognitive patterns, attention spans, systems of reward, and mental health, so too can VR/AR alter and even exploit these phenomena, likely to a greater degree. Careful research and governance will be needed stay ahead of these and other associated harms, especially if they are indeed more stark in phenomenologically enhanced VR settings.

VR theoretically makes many of these and other social and ethical issues raised by the internet and social media even more stark given the enhanced experience associated with immersive audiovisual content. Harassment and bullying could become more traumatizing…

Daniel S. Schiff, a Ph.D. candidate who studies the governance and social and ethical implications of AI at the School of Public Policy at Georgia Tech

“A further set of questions surrounds notions of identity and interpersonal relations and behavior. In particular, will individuals be likely to substitute alternative digital personas for their real-world personalities, and will such behavior allow for creative expression and development or instead psychological dissonance, harmful artificiality, and social and self-alienation? That is, will increasingly immersive environments allow for more genuine expression of the self and deepening of relationships, or simply for more immersive forms of self and social displacement, deception and so on? Of particular concern is that acts of sexual or physical violence or criminal activity may find a home in the metaverse.

“A further issue in VR/AR ethics associated with modern philosophy surrounds the Nozickian ‘experience machine,’ most prominently portrayed in popular culture through the film ‘The Matrix.’ The cautionary tale here is that individuals who embrace the metaverse may dissociate from society and real-world relationships and obligations, for example, by deprioritizing school work, marriage, job-hunting and child-raising. These kinds of disengagement have been explored in the context of the adoption of television and the internet, with some real indications of social harm.

“Needless to say, to the extent that these risks are realized rather than overblown, they can spell major societal challenges in the form of insufficient educational achievement, fractured labor markets, lack of stable family or community life, structural demographic problems, crime, loneliness, poor health, political instability and additional social and psychological pathologies.

“Ultimately, a metaverse presents the opportunity to revolutionize expression and creativity, create new venues for social connection and exploration, enhance commerce and entertainment, and even increase access to underserved populations. Whether adoption is slow or fast, the possibilities are expansive if the risks are carefully managed. To manifest the best version of the metaverse, then, technologists, policymakers, researchers and the public will need to work actively to envision possibilities and minimize harms.”

Services will grow and digital gaps will widen, too

Robert M. Mason, professor emeritus at the University of Washington whose research focuses on the culture and ethics of knowledge management, commented, “By 2040 the metaverse will be a much more refined and truly fully-immersive, well-functioning aspect of daily life for a half billion or more people globally. The global population in 2040 is estimated to be over 9 billion, so this statement posits that about 5.5% of the global population would be affected by a more refined and well-functioning metaverse.

“Without parsing all the nuances or quibbling about definitions, I expect the relevant technologies will continue to improve, with image resolution and improved sensory stimuli enabling increasingly immersive virtual encounters. For those living in 2040, the metaverse can provide an expanding range of physical/social encounters and intense experiences.

“Having lived through a few iterations of technologies that have great potential to enhance our access to knowledge and provide a wider scope of virtual experiences, I have become less enamored with the technologies themselves and more intrigued with questions of 1) how these technologies are assembled into systems and services that provide experiential opportunities for users and 2) who the users are.

“What experiences will be available to users and what will motivate producers to provide these experiences? These three categories will help shape the future metaverse:

  • What services are available?
  • Who has access to these services?
  • What (government) regulations are enacted?

“If we review what producers provided with earlier versions of the ‘virtual’ or Internet-connected world, we arguably could begin with France’s Minitel. Developed and operated by the French administration for telecommunications to increase citizens’ use of the phone service and to lower the cost of printing telephone directories, Minitel provided popular and successful. Although based on a rudimentary text-only terminal (provided free to phone subscribers), Minitel provided a glimpse into the Internet-powered future of connectivity and online services and offers some insight into the tension between regulation and open access for developers (a forerunner of net neutrality).

“With all the beneficial and cost-effective services that Minitel provided, the French government seemed almost embarrassed to report on the high volume and high revenue provided by games and chat rooms, particularly the messageries roses (adult chat rooms). Despite concerns about minors’ access to these sex sites, France PTT decided not to prohibit them, leaving access control to parents. Men were more likely to be users of these sites than women, prompting many of the sites to hire men to impersonate women to maintain high call/chat volume. Consequently, these chat rooms expanded, even to the point of overloading and crashing the Minitel system.

“Observers of today’s Internet and other online services disagree on estimates of the financial impact of gaming and entertainment (including pornography and ‘pink’ interactive services), but all agree that the volume is high and revenues substantially more than $100 billion. Virtual reality and augmented reality (VR and AR) games in 2019 comprised less than 10% of this total but were growing.

“Assuming a Western (U.S.) capitalistic (or even oligarchic) economic environment for the continued evolutionary development of the metaverse, I anticipate that the profit motive, perhaps lightly controlled by government regulation, will shape, if not dictate, the types of services available and the accessibility of these services.

“As I write these notes today, almost 60% of the global population are active Internet users. However, Internet activity is not equally distributed; the World Bank estimates that Internet use ranges from over 90% in most economically advanced countries to less than 10% in countries with emerging economies.

“If history and current services are guides to how services will evolve in the metaverse, I would expect that gaming and entertainment (including pornography and ‘pink’ services) to be early adopters of the technological capabilities associated with the metaverse. Innovative developers are likely to drawn to the wide range of economic and manipulative opportunities in the metaverse, including scams and swindles. The past success of sex-based websites and Internet services would attract developers for metaverse platforms that offer similar services. I expect such services to be a significant, though not necessarily the dominant, driver of developer innovation and user adoption in the emerging metaverse.

“The opportunity for metaverse engagement is likely to continue to be uneven. Absent any government-based services designed to engage all households, the technology accessibility gap will continue to grow and increase the social inequality of metaverse engagement.

“In summary, I anticipate that the metaverse, supported and enabled with increasingly richer visualizations and experiences, will provide only a modest (if any) increase in the range of human behaviors, yet it can and will leverage the impact of the values embedded in the engagement opportunities in the evolved environment. The metaverse will empower developers to create services that appeal to both the higher and lower aspects of human nature through gaming, entertainment and social engagement. These engagement opportunities will be available unevenly, with citizens in the more affluent societies having greater access to a wider range of such services.”

‘This could increase our loneliness and lead to more polarization’

Maja Vujovic, owner/director of Compass Communications in Belgrade, Serbia, wrote, “If we take just the two most-discussed activities we’ve experienced en masse during the pandemic of COVID-19 – remote education and remote work – and imagine them within the metaverse, we can readily see that the drawbacks of those unhappy experiences would get resolved in this new and improved setting. Instead of staring at the Muppet-theater-like gallery of passive faces, who cannot do any work while they talk one at a time, individual workers and students could be at their workstations at home, quietly do their work and only occasionally talk to their colleagues’ and their bosses’ avatars on their screens. They could have almost exactly the same experience as they would have on location at a workplace, or in a school setting – for real. And that could easily include the small talk at the water cooler or accidental encounters in the canteen – occasionally priceless opportunities for exchanging ideas and information.

“Throughout that teleported experience in a seemingly joint office or classroom, they could comfortably and effectively be doing whatever activity that brought them together in the first place, without the infamous virtual meeting fatigue. This would go beyond making just our 2D experiences more immersive. This would be a very effective and productive upgrade of a 3D experience that occupies the most hours of our days. The same logic and the same technology could also be used for attending any number of group activities, such as exhibitions, entertainment shows, public debates, trade shows and conferences, trials, etc. This would add a lot of depth to the expression ‘hybrid work.’

“There is no doubt this would become the beloved option for anyone who would be given a choice to fully participate in an essential collective activity without the discomfort of commuting, polluting, shaving or applying makeup, packing kids’ lunches, etc. But the downsides would be considerable, too. There would be a drop in the foot traffic in urban areas, which would bring a reduction in commerce, casual shopping, impromptu meals and coffee breaks, cab rides, public transportation demand and most likely even tourism.

“Critically, this could considerably increase our loneliness. It could work fine for already established families, which would be able to structure their time better. But it would reduce the opportunities for people to meet, get to know each other, become romantically involved and start families. It would likely help us get in touch and develop relationships with people from other parts of the world with whom we have something in common or with whom we think alike. But this would be at the expense of the everyday contacts with our immediate neighbours, people in our communities, our colleagues, etc. This would lead to more polarization, not less.

“It is very likely that we will use the potential of these technologies to delegate ourselves into situations we would rather avoid, such as a job interview at a distant location, a parent-teacher meeting that conflicts with our work hours and so on. Dating applications will have a field day with this technology, as will teaching, sales and any other sector where presentation is key.

“The change in our daily lives will not be a grand one. We will use these tools the way we use a thesaurus in a word-processing program or a spreadsheet to track our expenses. They will be tools only and we will not be any smarter or kinder than without them. They will save us time and offer more convenience, an additional layer of entertainment, more variety in our day-to-day existence. But we will not mistake them for a distinct layer of reality, nor will we get confused about our identity. If really superb avatars get developed and we get to customize them ourselves (a whole economy would develop around that alone) we will at the most treat those avatars the way we treat pets – as very close beings that we love dearly, but that we can keep in their place most of the time.

“The blockchain and smart contracts will likely have a role of a new paradigm, new phase in technology. On a large scale, we will substitute most of what we use today – social media, interest groups, databases of all sorts (expenses, gift lists, playlists, etc.) as well as any seminal interactions, and we will port them all into the blockchain. We will use blockchain to tackle the biggest problem that the metaverse will exacerbate and turn into our main priority: the question of trust. Blockchain-backed provenance will become the only solid source of truth that we will have to combat misinformation, fake news, identity theft and other transgressions of that kind.

“Behind this grand gamut of new possibilities at the tips of our fingers will be tight teams of overworked production people. Tech-savvy creatives will hurriedly be perfecting the shimmers, the twinkles and the smoothness of our virtual clothing, hair and skin. They will perennially run against tight deadlines and put up with exigent bosses, in their insufficiently paid jobs. So not much will change in our social contract, alas.”

A whole new range of social challenges will arise

Michael M.J. Fischer, professor of anthropology and science and technology studies at MIT and lecturer in the department of global health and social medicine at Harvard Medical School, said, “As defined here, the metaverse is computer-generated, networked-extended, reality spaces (XR, including VR, AR, MR). All these are already extant, so it is not much of a stretch that these (and perhaps also holograms) will continue to be refined, extended and made interactive by 2040. In addition, it is likely that progress will continue to be made in many fields, such as haptic feedback-enabled prostheses (i.e., biomechanical, neuro-electronic interfaced, cyborg) along the lines of those being developed in Hugh Herr’s lab at MIT.

These will become rich spaces for artistic speculative and material-environment play:

  • More-efficient, accessible and user-customizable storage spaces for information (aiding chemical, pharmacological, archival and environmental search and retrieval)
  • Gaming environments for scenario planning and resilience planning
  • New architecture – materials, textures, 3D shape transformations, energy flows and recirculation, green technologies
  • Transport – self-driving vehicles are already in use in high-throughput ports
  • Socially-livable urban spaces

“Among the advantages or new affordances might be more-flexible attitudes in regard to the worlds we live in and make for ourselves, and an expanded ability to live with and switch among various cognitive, affective and aesthetic modalities. No doubt these will also stimulate new forms of math and physics and deeper understandings of biological processes.

“The worries are that these can easily become aids to intensified surveillance societies, concentrated corporate structures and anti-user control (also known as ‘anti-democratic’ in conventional parlance), including anti-privacy and anti-tolerance of diversity, tinkering and eccentricities. The technological developments being rolled out in China in Xingjiang to control and ‘reeducate’ the Uyghurs are the most obvious disturbing red warning lights, especially since much of that technology is Silicon Valley-developed, parts of which are being introduced also in our neoliberal societies under management-speak, techno-optimistic sales tactics [driven by] the needs for capital to develop technologies and sales at the cost of abandoning societal values.

“More attention needs to be given to: 1) social implications of complex systems to social responsibility and social justice concerns; 2) multiple social arrangements that are not normalized into coercive, algorithmic reductiveness driven by efficiency models; and 3) increasingly problematic mental health issues being reported globally as due to a rise in individuals’ feeling isolated and alienated – including increases in suicides.

“These social issues cannot be accommodated under the rubric of ‘ethics’ which is a) based on outmoded individualist models of usually rational behaviorism (social responsibility is a better alternative descriptive except that it has been coopted by greenwashing-style corporate social responsibility scams), and b) is all too often bureaucratized into to-do checklists that are easily evaded. Particularly, more attention needs to be given to the freeing, creativity-stimulating and psychodynamically interactive features of play, memory, traumatic experiences and the cultural resources of very different languages, cultural experiences and ways of attending to the world.”

‘Education is where the greatest and most valuable shifts may come’

Nigel M. Cameron, president emeritus of the Center for Policy on Emerging Technologies in Washington, D.C., wrote, “It’s a truism that tech changes tend to be slower than expected but also more fundamental in their impacts. I suspect this case will bear that out. 2040 seems a long way off, though 2004 seems as if it was just yesterday. Much has happened since then, though Second Life proved to be a cul-de-sac, MOOCs [massive open online courses] remained outside the mainstream of education despite the COVID-19 fillip to all things distant, and the allegedly liberating power of technologies and their corporate purveyors are currently held in much more suspicion than they were in 2004 – by governments and people alike.

“I’m anticipating a steady migration online of all manner of economic activity, though the nonce word ‘metaverse’ suggesting a basic recasting does not appeal to me. My book on robots and jobs from five years back already looks pretty dated (we really were on the cusp of self-driving cars, before we weren’t). While the direction of travel of AI development is one-way, that may not be the case for take-up of its possibilities, partly as COVID-19 has potently reminded us of much that is uniquely special about the non-metaverse, partly as cybersecurity issues remain wide open and as advances in cyber-physical systems raise levels of risk to potentially existential heights.

Keynes’ vision of widespread ‘technological unemployment’ is a non-trivial possibility; it was Bill Gates who opined some years back that governments would be pleading with companies to employ people, not machines. Certainly, tax subsystems will adjust – both to preserve employment and of course to capture value added – and it may be social movements will grant ever-more-enhanced value to human interaction and notions of human service. When I spoke at the Champalimaud Foundation’s 10th anniversary conference on The World in 100 Years, I said I hoped when the Foundation celebrates its 110th anniversary our descendants will still wish to fly to Lisbon and party in-person in the Jeronimos Monastery. It may be that the next 18 years will pretty much decide the direction we’ll be taking long after, as we discover whether we can gain real benefit from the metaverse while keeping our focus on a human future.

“My sense is that education is where the greatest and most valuable shifts may come, even though online teaching is still often little more than a 19th-century correspondence course. The complete failure of COVID-19 to drive creative and widescale immersive MOOC-type educational provision at all ages has been rather remarkable, though certainly at secondary and college levels were it to succeed it would likely cut the number of teachers needed by a factor of, say, 100 (and expose every child to the very best of them).”

‘The demand for all manner of physical objects will drastically diminish’

Jonathan Kolber, author of “A Celebration Society,” wrote, “What most people don’t understand about virtual reality is that a fully immersive VR experience, with zero latency (subjectively), will be functionally equivalent to physical reality for most purposes. While we are far from that experience as of yet, all of the enabling technologies are either entering commercialization or emerging from laboratories. To whatever extent these technologies prove insufficient or limited by comparison to ‘real’ physical reality, the commercial pressures to refine them in the direction of full immersion will be immense and will grow as use cases for VR grow.

“One profound implication of this anticipated development by 2040 is that the demand for all manner of physical objects will drastically diminish. The reason is that, in almost all cases, what people want is the experiences that are enabled by an object rather than the object itself. While unique artworks have cachet, even that can be digitized, as evidenced by NFTs. By way of example, once people can experience idealized living environments which can be customized and modified almost instantly from vast ‘libraries’ of digital components with AI curation, there will be much less pressure for the oft-cited ‘location, location, location’ that seemingly drives real estate prices ever higher. It will likewise become much easier to ‘own’ a set of immersive digital representations of cars than the physical cars, which require expensive maintenance, storage space and are subject to breakdowns and are not easily modifiable. People who spend large parts of every day immersed in virtual worlds may only require basic necessities from the ‘real’ physical environment: modest housing, adequate if bland nutrition and preventive health care. Since the health care can also be provided via the VR environment, in most cases via automated monitoring of vitals and occasional human consultation, there will be little need for most people to physically travel anywhere.

People who spend large parts of every day immersed in virtual worlds may only require basic necessities from the ‘real’ physical environment. … The reduction in requirements for manufactured physical objects will utterly transform and eventually render obsolete the economy.

Jonathan Kolber, author of “A Celebration Society

“The reduction in requirements for manufactured physical objects will utterly transform and eventually render obsolete the economy. I therefore expect life on Earth post-2040 to become largely a playground and place of voluntary mutual service, with the best examples of such service lavishly celebrated. In this world, the human inhabitants will have our basic needs met by robots and the AIs that control those robots, with few humans having to ‘work’ as currently understood. (The reasoning behind this statement is extensive, and a primary topic of my book.)

“Nevertheless, I do expect a trickle of people to begin migrating to the first O’Neill-style space world in the late 21st century, due to the unique physical experiences possible there which, to my knowledge, cannot be replicated in VR – and the paradisiacal environments they can create. Once the first has been built – and either the space elevator or SSTO spaceplanes for transport – I expect an exponential increase in spaceworlds, with both habitation and tourism bringing vast numbers of people to them in the 22nd century and beyond.

“As with any transformative technology, fully-immersive VR will have both angelic and demonic uses. The demonic uses could include intrusive surveillance and control at a level that even George Orwell could not imagine, and I expect totalitarian states to embrace this power. Likewise, hackers may be able to take control of a user’s experiences, even to the extent of convincing the user that their VR experience IS reality, tricking them into emptying financial accounts, etc.

“These problems lack easy answers but, if we can shift the conversation in the direction of systems of sustainable technological abundance, based upon forthcoming effectively unlimited supplies of energy, raw materials and organizing intelligence (i.e., software), these threats and pressures will significantly abate, and the ‘angelic’ possibilities are far more likely to flourish.”

‘An even deeper immersion into “social media,” which means a further centralization of our culture, and the increasing power of the technological elite’

Russ White, infrastructure architect and internet pioneer, commented, “Whether the metaverse will play a major role in the lives of a large portion of the world’s population by 2040 largely hinges on social and cultural realities rather than technical ones (although there is a technical component). There are two positive aspects of the ‘metaverse.’ First, it promises, like Web3, a return to the individual-creator origins of the Internet. Second, it promises disruption, which means the current large players may well be dethroned and replaced with a more decentralized group of smaller players. For the dream of the metaverse to come to life, however, we must all live in the same ‘world.’ The metaverse, like social media, requires a network effect. People want to talk to people; for that to happen, we must be on the same platform. Platforms are expensive and complex and rely on the infrastructure of the Internet to reach everyone. The money and technical expertise required to build the platform(s) on which the metaverse must run are in the hands of a small group of people – the same people who have built and control the current neurodigital media landscape.

“The most likely result, then, is that the metaverse turns out to be an even deeper immersion into ‘social media,’ which means a further centralization of our culture, and the increasing power of the technological elite. These trends, however, may have run their course. There may be a backlash against the technological elite forming. We may be currently living through the high tide of an authoritarian moment. It might be that the current globalist regime can hang onto power, but it doesn’t look promising right now. Since the metaverse is a project of this technological elite, so it’s hard to judge its future. It might be that the global economy has reached a sort of tipping point, and we cannot restore the ideas of widespread ownership and decentralized control. The difficulty of building and maintaining these technologies is also a factor.

“There is an illusion of control by the ‘smartest and brightest’ in our current culture. From the COVID-19 pandemic to building the platforms that run our daily lives, people have largely turned control over to experts – people with specialized training and experience. The failure of these experts, however, to keep their promises in a purely technical way is becoming obvious to large segments of the population. In the technology world, specifically, security and privacy are becoming huge issues. The personal information of hundreds of millions of people is exposed every year. DDoS [distributed denial of service attacks] are on the rise. Cars are being bricked because of mistakes in a radio broadcast. Large providers are experiencing multiday outages. Each time there is a large-scale outage, each time people’s privacy is violated, each time a prediction about the future (on which policy is based) fails, the confidence in ‘the elite’ slips a little.

“Will trust erode to the point that large masses of people reject the metaverse outright? It seems like the more likely situation is the metaverse catches on with some classes of people, but not with the large mass of humanity. The metaverse will have an impact – much like the gamer’s world does today – on some significant portion of the population. But it won’t be used by ‘everyone’ in 2040. Its influence will be limited – closer to the parallel universe of Twitter and Facebook than ‘the real world en masse.’”

Glenn Edens, Internet Hall of Fame member and professor of practice at the School of Global Management at Arizona State University, wrote, “The metaverse in prototype form has existed for a while now, first as 3D spaces mapped onto 2D spaces (Second Life, Minecraft, Roblox, myriad blockbuster games, etc.) and now moving to simulations of immersive spaces using 3D projection. Although, at present these 3D spaces are implemented very crudely using head-and-body-position tracking, localized displays (head-mounted stereoscopic such as Oculus, HTC, etc.) or glasses (Google Glass, Microsoft HoloLens, etc.), or room-based projections (Avalon Holographic, Looking Glass, etc.) – it’s all very crude. These implementations all limit the metaverse to specialized viewing spaces and highly constructed experiences, not entirely unlike a home theater system or even a good hi-fidelity stereo system where you have to ‘sit in the right place’ to get the full effect. (Of course, wireless headphones and spatial audio are a solution in the audio-only realm.) Looking at the historically slow progress of this field, we should ask four questions:

  • Will the metaverse be portable (i.e., mobile) or relatively stationary?
  • Will the metaverse be a separate space in our lives or integrated into it?
  • Will the metaverse be pervasive or task-related?
  • Will the metaverse experiences really be social, with all the nuances, or will it be a crude simulation, slightly better than online today?

“My bet is by 2040 we’ll be stationary (you’ll have to ‘sit in the right place’), it will be a separate space one intentionally visits, it will be task-related, and it will still be a simulation of true social interaction, only slightly better than Zoom is today, for example. You will ‘go in’ for work or play or health care or socializing and you will ‘come out’ when you are done or need a break.

“The first challenge to implementing the 2040 vision is to create a set of viewing tools that are comfortable and natural to wear, that allow freedom of movement and enhance activities rather than require a dedication to the activities (i.e., if one is passionate about their VR gaming, they are willing to put up with the discomfort and clunkiness of a head-mounted display). This is proving to be a technical challenge, so far.

“The next challenge to implement the 2040 vision is tackling standards, architecture and governance (the three pillars of any platform). Just how will these unfold? The Internet is compelling since no one company owns it – TCP/IP, UDP, DNS, etc. – are standards, along with standard physical equipment created to implement those standards (routers, switches, multiplexors, etc.), that allow billions of devices to interconnect and appear to work together.

“If, when and how will we get to a set of standards, architecture and governance to create a single metaverse is key, or will we have thousands of individual metaverses, or should it be metaversi :-)? Of course, today we all understand the Internet is a geographically fragmented global network with significant local control, however it still appears largely as a global agora.

“Technically, the viewing hardware that will drive the experience is the problem. Let’s be honest, for the average person the user interfaces we have today are horrific. I am certain we will have the software platforms, authoring tools, algorithms, computation resources, storage and communications bandwidth necessary to create viable metaverse experiences. I’d predict that many (if not most) visitors to the metaverse will see the 3D world mapped to a 2D device (Second Life got a lot right, it was just way too early).

“Our current metaverse situation reminds of the early years, long ago, when bulletin boards (remember Fido?), Tymshare, The Well, Prodigy, CompuServe and America Online were individual, unique and competing visions of an online world ultimately subsumed by an improved set of standards, architecture and governance that is now called ‘the Internet.’ The safe bet is that individual economically-driven enterprises offering competing capabilities, experiences and visions of the future will continue to be the structure of the metaverse in 2040.

“The economic and technology forces favor task-driven multiple metaverses, enabled by continuing improvement in software, communications, computing and viewing equipment. These multi-metaverses will be run by many commercial enterprises, non-profits, educational institutions, research labs, government institutions and, hopefully, grass roots activists and citizens. You will decide what you want to do, where you will sit (or stand) and which metaverse to visit. The metaverse will be additive to our present-day online and computing experiences rather than replacing them.

“So, my best-guess answers to the primary questions are:

  • Will the metaverse be portable or relatively stationary? Stationary – it will not be as pervasive as mobile devices and the web are today.
  • Will the metaverse be a separate space in our lives or integrated into it? Separate – it will be an intentional decision to ‘enter’ and to ‘leave.’
  • Will the metaverse be pervasive or task-related? Task-related.
  • Will the metaverse experiences really be social, with all the nuances, or will it be a simulation of social experiences, slightly better than online today? It will be a simulation, which will fall short of true presence or prana.

“Immersive experiences and environments have benefits: They can be more engaging; they can increase comprehension and communications; they can more effectively share complex information and details; they can compress time and space, reducing the effort of travel; they can improve task efficiencies (such as maintenance of complex equipment); they might improve education and health care outcomes; and they might increase access and diffusion of knowledge and experience. All of these factors should have real economic and societal benefits.

“The big question in my mind is as follows: Are these metaverse investments and engineering to create virtual spaces and mirror worlds a New World, or are they just the next evolution of user-interface and user-experience design? If it turns out to be just the latter, a lot of investors might be disappointed.”

‘We need signposts, guardrails and rulebooks for distinguishing the metaverse from the biological universe’

Maggie Jackson, award-winning journalist and author of “Distracted: Reclaiming Our Focus in a World of Lost Attention,” said, “In thinking about the role that the metaverse might play in the future of humanity, we must separate the question of ‘what can we create?’ from the question of how our creations, now and in future, will influence humanity. We must ask, in other words, ‘What do we want from the metaverse?’ This is a caution that tech critics from Langdon Winner to Wendall Berry have wisely offered for decades. The choices we make today in terms of what kind of virtual/digital worlds we create and inhabit are critical. The very survival of humanity is at stake. My concerns are multifold. Despite falling far short of any kind of truly realistic simulation of life itself, the digital world already is taken for ‘real.’ Whether we are dealing with a caregiver robot or allowing ourselves to be transported by VR, humans are very willing to treat almost any digital experience as real. Any further improvements in the realism of the metaverse will make this more so.

“It’s important to keep in mind that however ‘real’ we deem the metaverse to be, it will not constitute the totality of our reality. At least for a long while, the physical, biological, nondigital reality remains and should be cherished. It would be a huge mistake to seek to subsume ‘non-virtual experience’ within ‘meta-experience.’ Nondigital realities are slower, more messy, more demanding, and so offer us exactly the kind of experiences and skills that are needed for deliberation, creativity, contemplation. If we invest ourselves too fully in a metaverse that seems to answer all our needs at the push of a button, that rewards instant gratification, that allows an easy escape from the difficulty of non-virtual life, we are narrowing ourselves in the moment and over time.

“At a time of great flux and increasingly complex systems-wide crises, we need more than ever to invest in the side of ourselves that can work with uncertainty, not fear it; that can push past the first, often-mistaken impression of a person or a problem; that can admit that we don’t fully know and can’t fully control the world, especially at a click. This is why, as we move forward in creating any metaverse, it is crucial that companies, citizens, inventors and users alike demand transparency in this realm on multiple levels. Both children and adults must know what is digital and what is not when entering the metaverse; this sounds like an obvious point, but it will be more crucial in coming years. One of the most heartening measures being seriously considered in ethical AI circles is this kind of transparency for caregiver and other assistive robots. We need signposts, guardrails and rulebooks for distinguishing the metaverse from the biological universe, and we need them quickly.”

A mirror world that will change our perception of place, space, time,  presentation of ourselves and connection to reality

Barry Chudakov, founder and principal at Sertain Research, wrote, “Calling the metaverse ‘the future of the internet’ or ‘the next internet battleground’ is to miss (or dismiss) the logic of mirror worlds, recently promoted as the metaverse. Thinking that the metaverse will be another internet is like thinking the internet would be another kind of television. It’s understandable that we might use a current reference to frame the future, but that frame is misleading. The metaverse is a worldwide mirror – a mirror world – which you will walk into with some version of yourself; a made-up world that purportedly is a replica of the real world. That mirror may be accurate or distorting, deliberately manipulated or scrupulously precise. And by 2040, looking into – and entering – that mirror will significantly change us and our perceptions. Writer Jia Tolentino called social media a trick mirror; imagine how much trickier a metaverse mirror will be where, in Kevin Kelly’s words, ‘everything will have a paired twin … all things and places will be machine-readable, subject to the power of algorithms.’

The metaverse is a worldwide mirror – a mirror world – which you will walk into with some version of yourself; a made-up world that purportedly is a replica of the real world. That mirror may be accurate or distorting, deliberately manipulated or scrupulously precise.

Barry Chudakov, founder and principal at Sertain Research

“David Gelernter, writing in his 1991 book, ‘Mirror Worlds’:

People build microcosms to find topsight. … The simplest way to get it … is to recreate a big scene in little. Then I can soar above it—tower over it; literally see the big picture…. Microcosms are satisfying because they give you the sense of comprehending the whole thing or understanding how the parts fit together and what it all means.’

“Today, investors and tech pundits are excited about the financial returns of this new technology incarnation. But the metaverse – whether as currently envisioned by Facebook/Meta, or as an evolution of mirror worlds – will be more than a branding bonanza, a new-world land grab. As Gelernter wrote years ago, the deeper, much more important value of the metaverse microcosm is how it helps us to understand – and hopefully improve – the world we live in; understand some aspect, or many aspects, of the pieces and parts the mirror world shows us; how they fit together and what that means.

“So, the first thing we need to consider is what a metaverse truly is; then the breadth and depth of the change a metaverse brings to us, our consciousness, our physical world. Indeed, advanced, immersive, 3D, online worlds have the potential to benefit all aspects of society, from education, health care and government to gaming, entertainment and the arts – positively affecting all social and civic life. If – and this if could not loom larger – if we examine, grapple with, come to understand and then regularly monitor the logic of the metaverse and our adapting to (entraining with) that logic.

“In the history of art, the advent of mirrors fundamentally changed painting, as David Hockney and others have described. Why? Because this seemingly benign technological advance led painters to more exactly replicate the world the mirror enabled them to see. In other words, looking in the mirror changed how they saw; and that changed how they thought. Replicating the world, presenting and re-presenting the world, seems to be as fundamental a human enterprise as building cities or making art. The metaverse represents an ultimate expression of that will to replicate.

“Replication changes how we see, and so what we tell ourselves about the world. For millennia humans told stories of how the world was: how it began (Genesis), how it would end (Revelation). And in our private lives, many of us did the best we could with what (little) we knew. Then came the Enlightenment, the rise of science and technology. What emerged, albeit slowly, was objective reality. Prior to the Enlightenment, objective reality was an undiscovered land. We take this for granted, at least in free societies, because we can access so many objective resources, from libraries and schools to government resources like the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] or the Census Bureau. We stopped making up the world when we started measuring it. Via replication, the metaverse – mirror worlds – has the potential to be the finest measuring tool humans have ever created because it will be designed to exactly reproduce reality in multiple dimensions.

“Replication is a complete change of perspective. So, first, among a series of new demands such a remarkable technology as the metaverse makes upon our consciousness we must examine and come to understand the logic of the metaverse. The logic of the metaverse is the logic of the mirror, multiplied by the logic of immersion. Since mirror logic entails exaction – the desire to exactly reproduce what the mirror shows – and this exaction is fundamental to seeing the world more accurately, we will see that the product of exaction is facticity, the state of what is really going on. If you see exactly, you are seeing what is – and this leads you to see differently, engendering topsight and greater insight. This is a whole new story.

“As a digital representation of any- and everything in the world, the metaverse will be a camera-ready venue; everything in the physical world will be captured by innumerable cameras – ‘pinpoint electric eyes that can be placed anywhere and everywhere’ – to re-create reality. Our consensus physical reality will be translated into the mirror world. As everything and everyone will be on camera 24/7/365, we all become the Kardashians. Our workplace, our homes, public and private spaces will be reflected back to us in the mirror, creating reflection as broadcast. We will all become as transparent as windows. We will wonder: Have I become a person of interest to some tracking entity, since anyone, anywhere can see me?

“Such concerns will be countered by new mores and privacy boundaries that will naturally emerge. As the metaverse bulldozes boundaries and mirror-reflection becomes our first-line self-awareness, even the new selfie, the presentation of self – and almost anything else – in everyday life will be a presentation to cameras. For a car-manufacturing company or a shipper of goods and services with numerous warehouse and delivery protocols, the mirror world is a game-changing advance of remarkable dimensions. Mirroring enables and enhances many things, such as supply chain management, production efficiency, assembly line accuracy, etc. While at the human level ubiquitous cameras and mirrors create a host of moral, identity and privacy quandaries.

“Our identities and behaviors and thoughts and actions will adhere – as they always do when we use a new tool – to the logic of the metaverse. How will our identity evolve in the metaverse? Today, following the example of Second Life, a digital representation of ourselves in the metaverse is likely to be an avatar, a cartoon-like replica of ourselves. This self-representation or persona will not remain a cartoon. Selfies will morph in the metaverse to represent us more accurately, more beautifully or handsomely; they will change to become more congruent with our affiliations or view of the world. Do we understand how that self-presentation of our identities in the metaverse will alter our overall presentation of self, given the immersive logic of coming mirror worlds? Do we even understand that we need to know that logic in order not to be used by it as we use the metaverse? Again, Kevin Kelly writing in Wired describing mirror worlds: ‘The great paradox is that the only way to understand how AR [or the metaverse] works is to build AR [or the metaverse] and test ourselves in it. It’s weirdly recursive: The technology itself is the microscope needed to inspect the effects of the technology.’

“On a personal level the metaverse not only entails watching, surveillance and the thorny ground of self-presentation and self-obsession; it also embraces self-evaluation, the desire to fit in, to conform, to succeed, to be seen and heard. Considering exaction, there is a curious, recursive logic at play when humans use mirrors: the will to exactly represent, reproduce, capture and re-create changes us; when we use mirrors, our use is not passive. In painting, artists like Vermeer changed how we saw the world using a mirror to capture each detail on canvas. Camera and video capture images that not only spur memory, they become memory; they are the documentation of our lives, our encounters, our loves, our crimes. This is the logic we take with us as we build and enter the metaverse. When we see ourselves in the mirror – in that mirror world – we take our ambitions, insecurities, self-image and (often-breathless) prejudices with us into the mirror. How will we know what this means if the technology itself is the microscope needed to see the effects of the technology?

“We will rewrite laws and create new laws for infractions and crimes committed in the metaverse; we will debate and set new boundaries as the mirror follows us into our lives, our homes, our bedrooms.

“Of course, this presumes that the metaverse documentarians and builders are as scrupulous and accurate as Ken Burns, Doris Kearns Godwin, Walter Isaacson or Jon Meacham. And what will the soundtrack of the metaverse be? Will we hear the voices of Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Hannah Arendt or Rebecca West? Because the very nature of immersive environments that purport to mirror reality means that the mirror must accurately reflect the reality it purportedly represents. We are currently having trouble sorting information from disinformation, news from propaganda, and we are only a step or two beyond newspapers and magazines. Remember, technologists built Facebook to make it stickier, Instagram to reward scrolling doom. What will happen when technologists build monetizing metaverse environments to make them more inviting, more believable – and then the power structure of the metaverse changes and some entity wants its users to believe untruths and distortions? Who will police this environment? What rules or laws will those digital overseers enforce? What integrities can we assume are guaranteed?

“By branding and promoting the metaverse, Zuckerberg and Meta are hoping to promote the monetizing of the metaverse. Meta wants companies and people, gamers and social media types, to fund development for the metaverse and to use the metaverse as a new venue for business, akin to opening up a splashy new shop in a mall (except malls are now so turn-of-the-century). Monetizing may be a laudable goal. After all, without an economic engine and ongoing support the metaverse would simply be another idea that technologists devised that never got off the ground. But the timing of the metaverse is spookily ironic. As we have despoiled the physical environment of our planet, vanished species and whole biospheres like the Amazon rain forest, polluted our air and oceans, melted our polar ice caps and poisoned our food systems, we build a metaverse which is not only a mirror of the real world, but another world altogether. Is the metaverse an attempt to redo the real world, create an alt world now that we have wrecked the one we inherited? Or can we use it to reinvent the world, see it more clearly, fix what has gone awry and build towards a freer, more equitable, balanced and holistic future?

“Further, when monetizing and market makers get involved, the goals and parameters of experience change. The metaverse will present a look-in-the-mirror challenge to our base assumptions of presence and value. As Kim Stanley Robinson wrote, ‘We can’t think in anything but economic terms, our ethics must be quantified and rated for the effects that our actions have on GDP. This is said to be the only thing people can agree on.’The metaverse will present its logic and value on its own terms. For example, consider how Decentraland, a metaverse venue, ignores the logic of everyday experience in the real world to promote its footprint – not in typical real-world terms, but via NFTs, a newer blockchain valuation with little or no market-value track record. co-founder and CEO Andrew Kiguel described Decentraland on a TV news broadcast as a different kind of NFT, or nonfungible token. NFTs represent a new way of creating and building value.

“Monetizing the metaverse will prioritize where money can be made. This is an obvious conclusion from looking at global industries, like pharmaceuticals and insurance. There is always a balance between serving customers and returning dividends and profits to shareholders. Initially the metaverse will prioritize land (the digital equivalent of a URL in our current website-based environment); entertainment, where existing brands and personalities and expand their reach and profits by finding new users to entertain; and the horde of followers who will see these trends and want to take their brand into the metaverse to present goods and services in a most modern way. That is given. Today, while anyone can buy virtual land on the Decentraland platform, metaversers have to use a form of digital currency called MANNA, which can be purchased only with bitcoin or ethereum cryptocurrency. Then, like going to a physical real estate office, they can go to the site to see what’s for sale. Parcels have been purchased already, but many are available secondhand. The price fluctuates just like real estate in the physical world.

  • Who will monetize – and thereby prioritize – the urgency of climate change as the Amazon rainforest hurtles toward abrupt and irreversible devastation, in the face of the breadth of ocean pollution, vanishing biodiversity, expanding drought, receding shorelines, unmanageable storms and the increasing numbers of climate refugees who cross national borders in search of food and a better life?
  • Who will monetize a way to combat misinformation and disinformation, fostered by growing communities of nativism and populism?
  • Who will monetize factfulness, the Hans Rosling moniker for a fact-based understanding of basic issues like literacy, poverty, women’s and minority rights, wealth of nations, and the advance or decline of democracy?

“In other words, will the metaverse merely become another gold rush that attracts wealthy investors who want to make more money than they already have? Or is there a way to encourage investment while also creating clarity and focus around a fact-based assessment of the real world while looking to resolve large and pressing global issues that face humankind? After all, in a mirror of the world, like a telescope, we should be able to see and do something positive about things and issues we typically miss or ignore with the naked eye.

“The shift of many online activities into the metaverse, more fully immersive digital spaces and digital life will initially take place as a virtual meeting, for example a telehealth consult today. But it won’t stay there. Once we move more of our meetings and activities to the metaverse, this change will be like base conversion, or changing base in mathematics; like moving from designing the world according to biblical dictates to designing the world in ones and zeroes. This is effectively a new order, a new way of ordering things, environments, presence, identity – a reordering of ourselves.

“Fully immersive digital spaces will supplant social media. We need to consider and game-plan for the difference between immersion and online access. This is a different logic, a different way of showing up. If we show up as ourselves, given behaviors we can see today on TikTok and Instagram and Snap, we will not be content to leave ourselves as we are; we will immerse as an enhanced version of ourselves. Our eyebrows may be darker, our muscles and breasts bigger, our skin tone altered to achieve some social goal of inclusion or exclusivity. So, immersion is not like so-called real life, it is more like the teenagers who watch Tourette syndrome victims on TikTok or YouTube and copy or become more like that behavior. We will adapt to metaverse realities by assuming them as our own, which has attendant benefits.

“Consider also that you will spend an hour, or a series of hours, in an environment that is neither where you live nor where you work; it will be the new meta space where you live or work. You will adapt easily to work there because metaverse software will have been tested with people like you and there will be a consensus of amenities to make you comfortable in the digital plane of the workaverse. Yet we are, after all, bodies as the first substrate of our reality. Our sense of the ends of our bodies, our proprioception, will alter significantly as we transition from physical reality to metaverse logic and reality. Thus, the most profound thing I imagine that this shift of online activities into more fully immersive digital spaces will do is confound this proprioception. Where does our physical form end and the world begin? And which body do I want to show up in, anyway? This is not a small consideration. Our bodies and our relationship to our bodies will become more fluid, less rigid.

“As we ‘jack into’ the metaverse to become present there as ourselves, without the encumbrance or enhancements of our physical form, not only our presentation of self in everyday life will change – our sense of self will expand. We will feel we have multiple selves, and psychiatrists and counselors will be called in to help people cope with multiple-self syndrome.

“Wherever we are here will become a transport vehicle to there. We have seen this movie before, as gamers donned their headsets and stayed locked at their stations until they needed nourishment, had bathroom breaks, or even died.

“The metaverse, or mirror worlds, will fundamentally change human society by producing alternatives to commonplace reality. There will likely be multiple alts, multiple realities; we may well number them like dimensions in equations: reality1, reality2[DK1] , etc. Human life has become more multidimensional with various technologies, starting with photography and television. Once the internet arrived, we had another there besides working in an office or a field to which we might go or retreat. But it was still two-dimensional, a screen, a picture of something in the real world. The metaverse, once it is fully developed, for many will effectively have the beats and depth of a real world; for some – especially those with a gripe or discontent with conventional reality – this may be the realer world, or at least a reasonable alternative to houses, streets, stores, and buildings where you live and work. Humans have not had, or lived with, alts for long; we do not have traditions and protocols based on alts. We have not collectively, and barely individually, decided how to behave in alternate realities. Coming to that understanding, and then diving into it, will change human society as few things have before.

“First, our sense of place will undergo a profound transformation. In her book ‘The Power of Place,’ Winifred Gallagher describes how our surroundings shape our thoughts, emotions and actions. Place was once the village, the farm, the town square, the forest or ocean. We took place for granted because it was all we knew; all we could know. The home, the local bar or tavern, the school, the office – these were three-dimensional places, not placeholders; they were our concrete understanding of being somewhere.

“Our devices and screens have already changed our sense of place, of being here and there. Here used to be where I am, and there where you are. Now here and there are blended into digital environments, sites, apps, Zoom calls and Microsoft Teams gatherings. The metaverse will accelerate that perception on steroids. Whatever store you might like will have its metaverse locale, as most brands will. The act of going somewhere to try and buy, to see and shop, will be augmented, and to some degree replaced, by metaverse fun zones and shopping experiences. We will gain in terms of time and convenience; we will lose in terms of physical contact and unprogrammed encounters.

“Second, our sense of space will move from linear – point A to point B, so many miles away – to perceptual, to being ‘jacked in.’ With the metaverse, like wilderness or exotic animal species, place vanishes. With our current devices, it already is being eroded by time. Instantaneous connectivity (Japanese engineers have demonstrated a data transmission rate of 319 Terabits per second (Tb/s) through optical fibers) is a new dimension of time. High-speed connectivity catapults us out of place into the realm of infinite now-ness.

“As of this writing there are 5.232 billion Internet users in the world; 171 billion emails are being sent today; 522 million tweets sent today; 8,227 tweets are sent in 1 second and will be sent today each and every second. Being connected on a variety of devices enables us to ignore – even abandon – place-ness in favor of now-ness. As we do, our awareness of place and our place in it changes. While gaming environments provide alternate locales (we play there in our graphics-fueled imaginations yet there exists here), now-ness neuters place – vaulting us into the limbic realm of connectivity itself. As when gaming enthusiast Chen Rong-yu remained at his gaming console so long he expired, we come to disregard our physical place – even our physicality – to focus intently on being connected and on the experience that connectivity provides. Here is the world circumscribed by the metaverse: what comes here, what fits here, what captures my attention here. There (formerly, place) is now an afterthought, a leftover, the remainder of hours when here has exhausted us.

“Third, with place altered, our sense of time will be compressed and distorted. This new time dimension will blithely appropriate artifacts from (any) place to furnish almost any featureless locale with the appearance of place. In other words, via the metaverse we will experience connectedness – not place – and that connectedness will exist only in time; place becomes thereby an artifact of connectedness. Speed hurtles us into time. This is not conventional time measured in o’clocks. It is the time of perpetual here-ness, endless now-ness. Time in that measure becomes place – re-places place with a ticking nowscape of messages, updates, sounds and swipes.

“Fourth, our presentation of self will undergo profound alternations. As Erving Goffman describes in ‘The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life,’ we cobble together a performance for the people we encounter and interact with daily. In the metaverse, there will be new cues, new traps and feints. We might be less worried about whether our hair is done right and more concerned with whether we bought the right metaverse outfit for the conference or occasion.

“Akin to Tristan Harris’ amplifiganda (the newer version of propaganda that amplifies something to make people believe it), the metaverse will amplify our need to be immersed, to be an insider: in a situation, an environment, a conflict, a celebrity’s house or a metaverse destination. Without this sense of immersion, we will feel we are not present, we don’t fully understand or participate – just as today the internet and video take us inside people’s lives, actions and bodies.

“The metaverse will change the daily lives of the connected particularly via our sense of location. Even today, since there is now anywhere, there is gone, except as a GPS coordinate. There is now here. Pix of some there on Twitter or Facebook are not there. You are never there anymore; you are only here. Even when you travel there, you morph it into here with one hipster post of how cool there is – but no one is there with you. We all join you here.

“Living here changes where we live, and the metaverse will only enhance that change. You see it today as people walk face-in-phone through life. They are not in the grocery store or on the avenue. They are un-placed. They are (soon we all will be?) re-placed. Time, as instant connectivity or metaverse immersion, eats our awareness of place. For most of human history, there was no alternative to place, just as there was no way to instantly connect with millions of others on a digitally networked platform. To be out of place was anathema; our places, both as roles and as physical locations, were fixed, defined by geography, norms and cultural institutions. This highlights how far our present state has removed us from our history: now-ness is blissfully ahistorical.

“The daily lives of the metaversians will become less connected to physical reality. Office buildings, the site of work, will no longer be the sole, or even the principal, place where work gets done. Nor will retail stores and malls be the principal place where goods are shopped, sold and bought. Of course, this happened already with COVID stay-at-home experiences, but the metaverse will accelerate that evolution. Connection used to mean how our social networks and experiences, personal and interpersonal, were tethered; with the advent of the metaverse, connection will simultaneously mean connected to the metaverse land, destinations, and experiences; and at the same time, it will denote diminished intimate, physical connectedness.

“Being connected will mean being immersed. Like the cyborgs in the movie ‘Minority Report,’ we will all be underwater, submerged in the metaverse substrate. This disconnection from physical reality will be at the heart of a contradiction that, hopefully, we will use to our advantage. As climate change accelerates, the metaverse can focus specifically on areas that need immediate attention or where strategies of containment or enhancement need tweaking. But there is little doubt of the irony: As our outside climate deteriorates, our interior digital world – the metaverse – will be expanding and attracting more capital.

“Immersion brings another distortion. Namely assessing the realness of a situation, a person, a feeling. There is little doubt that with advances in technology, the replication of five-sensory reality will enable being in the metaverse to be a construct as real as the so-called real world. Metaversarians will then wonder: Which do I find more real? Where I am in my physical life, or where I am in the metaverse? This will fill psychiatrists’ and other caregivers’ offices with confused and confounded patients, as metaverse syndrome becomes another kind of PTSD.

“A further distortion will be deliberate. Any mirror world can be manipulated to become distorted. The mirror world, the metaverse, can be intentionally manipulated to show disinformation, misinformation, or outright lies as a means of gaining control, cash, or raw power. As Peter Pomerantsev says in his book, ‘This Is Not Propaganda: Adventures in the War Against Reality,’ when information is a weapon every opinion is an act of war. For this reason, and for reasons attendant to this one, the metaverse will require a bill of integrities to ensure that what is presented as real is accurate, unbiased, undistorted, not impinged upon by forces that would seek to use the metaverse for nefarious means.

“Presence will be the key to how the daily lives of the connected are accessed, watched, streamed and tracked. With the advent of the metaverse, we will come to ask ourselves the strangest of questions: Where am I present? Cognizance of place demands that we are present in it; that we see a given locale as a unique combination of light, air, smells, sounds, people, experiences. Speed, as a dimension of time – imagine: 319 terabits per second – blurs presence. The faster we go, the less aware we are of, the less we actually live in, place. In this way, time severs us from place, making it irrelevant. Reality is no longer where we are; it is how fast there becomes here. Already under considerable pressure from rogue dictators who bleed their countries of money and resources, international rule-based order will find itself under increasing pressure as the rules of the previous order meet the realities of the metaverse.”