When asked to describe some of the negatives of the XR world, these experts highlighted a wide-ranging number of threats. Those included reductions in personal autonomy and people’s ability to control their lives; worsening digital divides; amplified discrimination; new forms of harassment, bullying and hate; new menaces to public safety, especially around sexual violence and exploitation; more avenues for misinformation (especially tied to clever fakes); addiction to metaverse activities; distractions that dissociate people from real life and induce loneliness (or worse); new threats to users’ personal data; and the further monetization of many human activities.
The first chapters of this report contain dozens of mentions of these topics that were a fit for the various theme sections. This section includes additional mentions of worries over XR’s impact.
Mary Chayko, sociologist and professor of communication and information at Rutgers University, commented, “The metaverse in 2040 will surely be well-developed and far-reaching. It will function, but for whom? We are already well acquainted with the vulnerabilities inherent in digital technologies, networks, environments and likenesses. A meta-expansion of digital life and society will result in a corresponding reduction in personal control, with inevitable costs to our well-being.”
Rod Beckstrom, author, tech entrepreneur and former CEO of ICANN and founding director of the U.S. National Cybersecurity Center, said, “At the extreme, metaverse-generated realities may become so seemingly real that they become difficult to differentiate from reality itself, just as many AI-generated digital images of people are taken to be real photos of people in online community platforms today. Some implementations and uses of the metaverse will benefit humanity, while others will harm it; the question is whether humans will be good or not. Metaverse tools and experiences may inspire violence, and they can help people to better process their emotions and conflicts and be more peaceful. Societies often create policies to attempt to curb the deleterious effects of new technologies and encourage good effects. However, it is extremely difficult to craft policies in rapidly emerging technology fields, for a rich set of reasons, not the least of which is the difficulty of understanding the technology itself and how it might evolve, much less the direct, secondary and tertiary effects of said policies and their enforcement or lack thereof.”
Andrew Tutt, an expert in law and author of “An FDA for Algorithms,” wrote, “One social ramification of continually giving people direct access to data appears to be that individuals have less respect for expertise, even though that confidence may be unwarranted. Security vulnerability is also immense – a society that reconfigures its physical infrastructure around access to a metaverse cannot afford to have that metaverse hacked or disrupted without significant real-world consequences. We may also confront a problem wherein people have difficulty distinguishing the real world from the virtual world. We may also see, with the continued empowerment of individuals to build their own communities and make connections across the globe, the spread of ideologies in unexpected ways and into unexpected places that could pose a threat to liberal democracies.”
An internet pioneer based in Berkeley, California, commented, “[Construction of the metaverse] will happen, but that’s not my hope. When the Internet started – I was there – we believed that enhanced communication was going to tear down walls, reduce hatred and end in world peace. It turns out it didn’t work that way, and I think the same will happen with the metaverse. This will allow, for example, an environment with avatars that attack others, probably leading to a further degrading of actual constructive discussions between people who are aren’t already aligned. It will also further separate the ‘haves’ from the ‘have nots’ on the basis of financial status, physical location (due to differences in connectivity), race, religion and so forth. And don’t get me started on blockchain, at least in the form of e-currency. It’s a money launderer’s wet dream, and ultimately, I think, very destructive to our society. There will be good things that come out of this, e.g., telesurgery and a more-immersive environment for personal communication in the same way video calls give you more connection than a voice call, and 3D will be better than 2D.”
The director of a university research center focused on ethics and values in technology design wrote, “We’re already seeing negatives emerge, of course – sexual harassment, the long road to developing both safety and social norms in VR spaces, and of course the fact that such technologies open even more human interactions to datafication and surveillance. There are also possible harms around addiction that are hard to predict.”
Steven Livingstone, founding director of the Institute for Data, Democracy and Politics and professor of public affairs at George Washington University, commented, “The financial incentives are too great to pass up for companies and individuals with enormous resources at their disposal. Add to this Elon Musk’s neural net initiative, a neural lattice directly linked to the brain, and one sees the potential for a drug-like addictive quality to alternative realities.”
A director of health and life sciences and legal market analyst wrote, “I fear employers will use the new environment to intrude on HBEs (home-based employees) in their homes.”
Albert “Skip” Rizzo, clinical psychologist and director of Medical Virtual Reality at the University of Southern California Institute for Creative Technologies, commented, “All the same threats that may occur in the real world will have a presence in these virtual worlds. Early education for children (and vulnerable populations) on the do’s and don’ts will need to be implemented, and some form of non-onerous oversight or management will need to take place in ways that protect, but do not limit opportunity – a hard balance there. Some mechanism for personal responsibility may need to be in place for use of these spaces, perhaps digital IDs that are traceable to the real person might be needed for participation with some content. That will raise the ire of some personal-freedom advocates. But unfettered anonymity could allow bad actors to do damage. Perhaps ‘free worlds’ without any ID will exist where folks know they enter at their own risk, but many other spaces will need to be controlled or ‘policed’ to protect the vulnerable from the dark natures of some individuals. With proper security protocols in place or ‘buyer beware’ designations in place, we may be able to manage the impact of negative consequences and allow the more pro-social areas to thrive. Not much different than real life.”
Greg Sherwin, a leader in digital experimentation with Singularity University, said, “Despite the many wows and wonders, it will still be backed by humans, whose ethics will not have changed any – making these environments often as toxic as we witness with social media today. The change to the world will be the escapism of people who wish to control their own fake realities versus those who opt to live ‘behind’ and continue to work in the shared reality. Much of the metaverse will earn a reputation as a fairly elitist experience, with distributed communities of influencers and advocates and people building their personal businesses off of it.”
A geoscientist based in Oceania commented, “There are of course dangers in humans inhabiting a new environment, but as with every niche humans have been able to adapt to, we find social ways to generally get the best outcomes. A significant issue for all such digital technologies will be their likely carbon footprint. Creating a metaverse at the expense of life on the planet is ridiculous and should only be pursued within the context of a radical transformation of our energy resources.”
Mark Johnson, a technology adviser, administrator and consultant, wrote, “Fully immersive environments increase the opportunities for monetizing personal data and for spreading disinformation. This could increase the slope of the already dangerous path we are on.”
Deirdre Williams, an independent internet governance consultant, responded, “The biggest change is likely to be a broadening and deepening of existing divides, an escalation in misunderstanding of each other’s realities, each other’s lives. There may be increased separation and division, and a distraction of the attention of the ‘rich’ world from the difficulties of the ‘poor’ world. But people have been taught to become bored very quickly, so there is a possibility that the metaverse will quickly follow Second Life out of the mainstream.”
Fredric Litto, professor emeritus of communications at the University of São Paulo, responded, “It will grow in use and influence, but will be hampered by its psychological effect on a certain sector of the population that is increasingly unable to distinguish between ‘real reality’ and that which is artificial.”
Mei Lin Fung, chair of People-Centered Internet, wrote, “Negatives will arise out of foreseen and unforeseen consequences of the new tools and software design that is done in an unsustainable manner – without attention to incorporating feedback and quickly adjusting when harms surface to prevent problems or at least mitigate them. People of ill intent will flourish for a while, taking advantage of the gaps in the guardrails of society when advances occur too fast for our institutional social protections and societal norms to be developed.”
Tamarah Singh, a global business manager expert in technology-led innovation based in Singapore, responded, “The metaverse will need to have new governance frameworks unlike those that exist today. There are scattered efforts but there has yet to be a concerted effort to convene appropriate expertise toward considering this. The Ethereum Foundation and Blockchain Association may be helpful partners, but the experts convened should reflect the nature of the metaverse, with participation from all corners of the world despite current geopolitical tensions, bringing together the needs of all aspects of global society. Regarding the daily lives of the connected: Near-constant connection will require different approaches to well-being and health. I find a simple, familiar frame to consider this question with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Physiological needs are likely to remain offline to a degree – no doubt there would be online ‘homes,’ but humanity will still require physical shelter, and I doubt there would be a robust business case for the full digitisation of reproduction :-). Needs for public safety will likely be both on- and offline for some time, but at this level the weighting of how much moves digital starts to increase. Love and belonging may move largely online, though a recent innovation programme I worked on with 20+ year-olds reflected an exhaustion and disenchantment. There, the students sought to make metaverse connections to arrange real-life interactions (beach clean-ups, pay-it-forward coffees, tree planting, hiking). Self-esteem and self-actualisation may change in the metaverse. Social scoring systems may come into play to generate different concepts of worth.”
George Capowich, retired associate professor of sociology at Loyola University-New Orleans, wrote, “On the negative side, it further separates people and contributes to the atomization of daily life since we won’t interact with an actual person. Another negative (and a big one in my mind) is the potential for compromising privacy, the abuse of data that will be collected about people and the potential for data leaks.”
Micheal Kleeman, a senior fellow at the University of California, San Diego, who previously worked for Boston Consulting and Sprint, responded, “If the metaverse were to be more broadly adopted then it would probably worsen digital and social divides, make mental health issues worse and lead to an expanded risk of misinformation taken to a new scale and level as people’s worlds get defined by third parties. Daily lives would be corrupted by an artificial world, and real-world needs would go unaddressed.”
A professor emeritus of communications predicted, “The networks could go dark due to the loss of power-generation networks, hackers, terrorism, electromagnetic storms or warfare that disables satellites and core fiber networks. This vulnerability shouldn’t be underestimated, nor should the consequences of corruption/fraud, problems with supply chains and issues with the delivery of core commerce and financial services. The combination of climate change and the emergence of the metaverse may become the perfect storm that sets civilization back in unimaginable ways or forces the world to make a quantum leap forward toward more-equitable restructuring of our societies and allocation of resources. There are too many unknowns, and it isn’t looking good with the world on the verge of another world war.”
Phillipa Smith, associate professor of language and culture and expert in social theory and new media at Auckland University of Technology, New Zealand, responded, “While clearly there are positives in what might be offered with the metaverse, negative aspects need to be foreshadowed, prepared for and responded to such as cybersecurity and online abuse. The objective should be an internet for good, and an internet for all, and one that involves cooperation between governments, tech companies and civil society. The evolution of the metaverse, while an exciting prospect, needs to be approached with caution. Digital divides exist and may continue to exist, so there may not be benefits for all. Assumptions endure about people’s connectivity and accessibility to the digital, when on the socioeconomic level there are those who cannot afford devices, data purchase, do not have the digital skills or literacy, on the political level there may be restrictions within countries and regimes allow, and other marginalised groups need to be considered when it comes to technological design – such as people with disabilities, older users, etc.”
Griefers, criminals, profit-seekers and manipulators of all types will be able to act more deviously and instantly upon the innocent at scale
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.”
Andrew Feldstein, associate vice president for learning technologies at Fort Hays State University, responded, “Any idealized notion of benefits of fully-immersive digital spaces will need to be tempered by the inherent imperfection of human nature. Technology will continue to outpace the ability for people to change and adapt. Fully immersive digital spaces will not be able to proceed at the pace of technology. They will only proceed if developers pay attention, not only to adoption rate, but to patterns of adoption. This will be a recursive process and, potentially, one step forward, two steps back. Things may become more immediate with increased opportunities to experience new things. However, there will be equal opportunities for using newfound affordances for good or for exploitation.”
A North American research scientist responded, “I am very worried about the impact of the metaverse in promoting and making worse intersecting discrimination in online contexts such as misogyny, online harassment, cyberbullying and proliferating hate. Already there have been several articles by women who ventured into metaverse social groups and were immediately targeted by male avatars. If these interactions are already taking place, and given that gaming is already an activity that engages violence in many of the games and that it is well known as a misogynistic feminist forum, it can only get worse without effective regulation.
“Regulation in social media as we know it has been extremely difficult at best. Social media help to proliferate fake news and alt-right racist movements, homophobia, ageism, offensive jokes against people with disabilities, and we can expect much worse from the metaverse. This is especially of concern given that two years of pandemic isolation and lockdowns have created significant anger and polarization as evidenced in the protests in Canada, as well as in the political influence of far-right-wing nationalist extremists globally.
“The metaverse will be extremely difficult to regulate and is not likely to prove any better than social media at maintaining democratic forms and respectful communication. It may be difficult to maintain virtual reality environments that can then benefit people in the real world. And what will happen to our social relationships in the real world? We have already seen burnout and proliferation of mental health issues during the pandemic from Zoom meetings and social isolation.”
Yasmin Ibrahim, professor of digital economy and culture at Queen Mary University of London, responded, “It will entail quite a lot of experiments involving human subjects, and, as always, there will be a moral lag between the social appropriation of technologies and their social, moral and ethical as well as legal consequences over time. What it might engender prior to the establishment of regulatory mechanisms and adoption of appropriate norms is loss of inhibitions and an increased encroachment of violence, misogyny and aberrant behaviour.”
A professor of public policy at a major U.S. technological university said, “Today people blithely give up information on social media in response to lures thinly disguised as survey questions but clearly aimed at revealing security questions. What will people yield when they have avatars being lured into ‘relationships’ with models, movie stars, etc., opportunities to participate in the most ultimate virtual joys (no, not only lurid) that can be imagined, and all it costs is access to their most-personal information?”
Howard Rheingold, pioneering internet sociologist and author of “The Virtual Community,” said, “I don’t see how it will be possible to prevent bad actors from vandalizing immersive spaces at scale. I recall my experience with ‘griefers’ in Second Life (gatherings disrupted by squadrons of flying penises) and the current inability of Facebook to deal with bad actors, even with AI tools and thousands of human moderators.”
Alex Hicks, expert on the ethical dimensions of economic issues and dean of Oxford College at Emory University, commented, “As the truth homology improves, there will be numerous gullible fools for the metaverse to dupe if the popularity of current social media is any indication.”
People’s social and cognitive skills will be weakened or lost as they become more fully reliant on technology
David J. Krieger, director of the Institute for Communication and Leadership in Lucerne, Switzerland, said, “Regardless of whether VR or AR become more influential, a major challenge will be the loss of independent decision-making and reliance upon computer-assisted judgments and actions. Many cognitive and motor skills will no longer be needed or will be significantly modified so that it will become difficult if not impossible for people to do many things in life without technological assistance or ‘augmentation.’ Just as we are coming to the point of not being able to drive a car without a navigation or other assistance systems, we will lose many abilities we now have. They will be replaced by abilities to use technological assistants. A good cost-benefit analysis will be needed in each case and a discussion of what values society should be pursuing.”
Oscar H. Gandy Jr., scholar emeritus of the political economy of information at the University of Pennsylvania, said, “My expectations about the negative impacts of the development of this technology are based on the extent to which interactions with so-called ‘intelligent devices’ are increasingly capable of engaging in interactions with individuals in ways that are routinely experienced as being often more pleasurable than engaging in interactions with humans. Interactions with our colleagues, our friends and our neighbors are likely to decline rather dramatically.”
Alan S. Inouye, senior director for public policy and government relations at the American Library Association, said, “A major concern is the impact to the state of communities and human relationships. In the past decades, technologies have evolved and been deployed. Only later are the impacts to people and communities assessed, or rather discovered. To some degree, this is necessarily true. However, I worry about the implications of the rise of automated virtual engagements on individuals and communities and the resulting de-humanizing of daily life. Just because interactions may be efficiently mediated or performed by technology does not mean they should be.
“Leading thinkers such as Robert Putnam (author of ‘Bowling Alone’) and Eric Klinenberg (author of ‘Palaces for the People’) have noted the decline of community and social infrastructure in the past decades. The causes are multiple and complex but surely technology is in the mix. We will want to pay careful attention to how the rise of automated agents may further cause deterioration in human relationships. And there may be ways to deploy automated agents to strengthen individual and community relationships; an effort to do this is worthy of a considerable initiative.”
Kenneth A. Grady, futurist and founding author of The Algorithmic Society blog, observed, “We are already seeing hints of what negatives the movement of more work and social activities into a metaverse setting might inflict on us. People emerging from pandemic isolation and a world dominated by online meetings find they have stale social skills. People describe in-person conferences as mentally tiring as they re-adapt to always being ‘on.’ Participants report having lost some of the fluidity of in-person exchanges. They find they are more prone to talk over others in a conversation (as often happens during online meetings). They say they are slower to pick up on social cues and may miss important ones. These apocryphal stories are hints that as we replace in-person human interaction with online interaction, we may lose some of our humanness. For social beings, this could suggest momentous changes. For example, our governance mechanisms (domestic and international) depend on robust social skills. The depreciation of those skills through overuse of online tools may exacerbate challenges of managing diverse societies.”
Henning Schulzrinne, Internet Hall of Fame member, co-chair of the Internet Technical Committee of the IEEE and professor at Columbia University, responded, “One obvious danger is that these digital spaces can further amplify the pseudo-proximity of other digital spaces, where the other person seems close enough to hate or harass, but, as an avatar, doesn’t seem real enough as a person to respect and treat as a ‘real’ human being. For example, critical cues to the emotional state will be hard to convey when the person is wearing VR goggles – at least a facemask only obscures the mouth, not the eyes and other emotionally expressive parts of the face. If the digital rendering provides some kind of facsimile of my facial expression, how will I know that this is accurate and not conveying the wrong emotional tone?”
A user interaction expert based in Japan responded, “Extended-reality developments will work both positively and negatively for people who can connect and enjoy themselves. Some people may spend much or all of their time there and turn away from attending various real-life challenges. It can become impossible for some to separate the virtual world from the real world; for those who are immersed in the virtual world, the virtual becomes their reality.”
A North American futures strategist and consultant commented, “We are addicted to our smartphones, and the apps will be refined and will enrapture us. We will then become less interactive on a person-to-person level, relying on electronics.”
A professor of sociology and chair of African American Studies at a major U.S. university commented, “In general, I am critical of the ways in which we are moving away from interpersonal interaction. It seems as if every generation is being socialized into having less and less in-person interaction. More and more young people now find their partners on dating apps rather than in their friend groups, classrooms, communities, etc. And we see the social isolation, anxiety and ennui that it has created in this generation. If we are living in a metaverse rather than in this world, how will we hug our children and each other? How will we SEE each other? How will we hold someone’s hand? Just the other day, I brushed my 86-year-old mother’s hair. I worry that the metaverse will take us all away from these human interactions. In terms of how we think of our world, it will likely allow us to experience places we couldn’t before (including different places and time periods), but at the expense of NOT experiencing the place where we are. The former could create more empathy and global connections, but the latter creates alienation from the immediate time and space.”
The digital divide will be widened yet again
Zizi Papacharissi, professor of communication and political science at the University of Illinois-Chicago and editor of Social Media + Society, wrote, “Can we build a metaverse that is non-Western? Can we have an internet that does not speak English as the primary language? What would our worlds look like if our metaverses and collective internets were multilingual and deeply multicultural? I do not think the metaverse will redefine our online experiences by 2040. Frankly, I do not want it to. I find that the metaverse is premised on values and habits of everyday life the reflect Western norms of doing. U.S. norms and social practices of playing, of working, loving and of living together are disproportionately reflected in how the metaverse is imagined and rendered. And there is something wrong with that. It ascribes premium value to how people live in the U.S. It repeats and reinforces problems and injustices of how we live in the U.S. It does not allow us, in the U.S., to learn from how the rest of the world lives. And yet, we in the U.S. much enjoy traveling and meeting fellow citizens from around the world because we are inspired by the way they eat, they drink, they laugh and live together. It is easy to re-create a mirror image of our worlds on the metaverse and then invite us to step in. I do not want that. I have a world like that. I want a better world, where it is not just the environment that is augmented but our perceptions, our values, our ways of seeing and hearing. Augmented does not cut it anymore. Immersive and inclusive is the way forward.”
Tamarah Singh, a global business manager expert in technology-led innovation based in Singapore, responded, “How might this change human society? An absolute segregation of the world based on connection. Unless carefully designed and governed, the metaverse stands to deepen the divides between the connected and privileged, and the disconnected and underserved. The benefits of the metaverse are even less likely to reach these vulnerable populations, which may deprive them of basic social needs like education and health care. An alternative scenario exists where the primary industries associated with agriculture and craftsmanship become the premium industries of the future. There are yet some necessities of life that cannot be fully digitised, food for example, which may see two ways of being emerge – a connected and a disconnected society, each with differing priorities and needs.”
Amy Sample Ward, CEO of the Nonprofit Technology Enterprise Network, responded, “The question isn’t if, but for whom? It may well be that by 2040 the metaverse will be a much more refined and truly fully-immersive, well-functioning aspect of daily life. But Broadband Now estimates that in 2022 42 million Americans don’t even have the ability to purchase broadband internet. In addition, 61 million adults have a disability, and tens of millions of those are folks who have a disability that impacts their use of the internet, from gripping a mouse or using a keyboard to visual, auditory and cognitive impairments. These are just U.S. numbers, so the many forms of digital exclusion are amplified when we consider the whole world. Building the metaverse by some for some will result in a very different offline world and a very different metaverse or online world than if we build it by all for all. What does an inclusive metaverse look like? What timeline does an inclusive metaverse require? The investments we make today toward digital equity – from reliable and affordable broadband service to digital literacy and device access – are actually investments in a more inclusive future metaverse, whatever shape it takes.”
Rachel Kowert, research psychologist and research director at Take This, said, “By 2040 we can hope to see more people engaging in digital society on a more regular basis. Today, large proportions of the population remain unengaged in daily digital life. As online activities become not only more immersive but potentially more integral to society, there will be an uptick in engagement. This technology has the potential to be an equalizer across societies. If everyone has equal access to the same online spaces and equal ability to connect globally, then human society as a whole will experience a greater equalization of opportunity and accessibility to goods, services and knowledge exchange. Having more-equal access to goods, services and knowledge exchange would exponentially increase the resources to increase human potential across domains. There would be improved accessibility for work and education for those in more-remote geographical locations and those with limiting physical disabilities. However, if there continues to be a global inequality with access to this technology, disparities across location and population will increase and intensify. Among the other worries in extended-reality spaces are the magnification of social pressures such as bullying and harassment. With the increase in sensory information available in an immersive space, we are entering new ground in terms of the ways in which digital tools can be leveraged for nefarious purposes.”
An AI architect for one of the world’s most successful software companies commented, “I predict we will see a large societal divide in those with access to the metaverse whether for entertainment or work purposes.”
A professor emeritus of communications predicted, “The physical world will remain central for the many billions who have little access to these digital spaces. This will exacerbate the digital divide into a new stratification, with those able to navigate and leverage the potential power of the metaverse shaping the global economy and the very nature of our societies, access to increasingly scarce food resources, water resources, travel resources and social cohesion. The risks due to this are so large that we should expect legal, political and social resistance that could make it difficult to achieve the XR ‘promise’ by 2040.”
Amy Gonzales, associate professor of communication at the University of California, Santa Barbara, said, “To the degree that the metaverse will become a context for commercial transactions or delivery of services (e.g., education, health care), one of my primary concerns is that it will exacerbate digital divides. Many individuals will not be able to consistently afford bandwidth or devices, and many will not have the digital skills to navigate these dynamic new spaces.”
Ellery Roberts Biddle, projects director at Ranking Digital Rights, wrote, “When I look ahead and try to imagine the future of the metaverse, I can’t help but imagine a similar story playing out. I’m sure that some people and communities will transition to carrying out certain activities in the metaverse, and that this will work well for them. I expect these communities will be relatively homogeneous in their values and identities, and that they will be located in places where wealth and high-quality internet are a given. This tracks with what we’ve seen in the development of other novel kinds of spaces that allow for interaction in digital space. What we’ve also seen, and what I expect to hold true with the metaverse, is that platforms or infrastructure that is meant to engage people by the hundreds of millions will only really work well for those in privileged enough positions to enjoy smooth connectivity and insulation from some of the social and human rights harms likely to emerge from or persist with this new technology.”
A widely published technology journalist based in North America said, “The metaverse will exacerbate inequity, with patient care being different between haves and have nots. There is a heartbreaking cartoon of a child in a house sitting at a computer for virtual schooling, and another child in rags standing on a box to look into a window of a well-to-do family’s home to follow along on the same lesson. The metaverse will be more of that. It will benefit many of the affluent and leave behind the working class, many of whom are people of color. We still struggle with basic connectivity issues in the U.S., where rural areas are underserved, which will just exacerbate the digital divide between those who can interact in the metaverse and those who cannot.”
Juan Carlos Mora Montero, futurist and professor of planning and foresight at the National University of Costa Rica, responded, “If by 2040 the metaverse will be the reality in which a significant percentage of the world’s population lives, its consequences will reach the entire planet and beyond; however, its benefits will be for a smaller percentage of countries and nations.”
Thornton A. May, futurist, educator, anthropologist and author, commented, “The transition will be slow and uneven. The real question is one of affordability and accessibility. Will the metaverse be a digital gated community for first-world one-percenters?”
Beth Kolko, professor of human-centered design and engineering at the University of Washington, said, “Consider the growth over the past 20 years around mobile phones and the way they have restructured information sharing, content production and financial transactions. It seems likely that the next 20 years would support a similarly substantive shift in daily activities – this may very well be the advent of the metaverse.
“I do not, at this time, see any particular reason to be optimistic about this transition contributing to a more-equitable world. I do see the potential for new kinds of experts to arise, with wealth-creation opportunities for a small minority (similar to the way mobile has created the category of ‘influencer’ and helped more people monetize the notion of celebrity), but I do not see how the technology will contribute to any significant rebalancing of the world. The metaverse fundamentally hides the flaws of the everyday (aka global inequity), and once those flaws are hidden, it is extremely challenging to fix them.
“If mobile technology has introduced the personalization of the world, it seems plausible that the metaverse would double down on this trend and create even more fragmented, self-selected communities. Is there a way to maintain serendipity in the online world so that people are brought into contact with the unexpected, the unfamiliar, and the unknown in ways that build empathy rather than antipathy? Web3 does have the potential to create infrastructures that allow vast swaths of the global population to participate in the global economy in ways impossible previously because of local banking restrictions.”
An anonymous respondent wrote, “It might allow people with disabilities and other physical constraints to join into aspects of society that were a challenge for them. It might afford people marginalized by race, gender, geography and economic status a seat at the table, or in the virtual room, as it were. But my very significant fear is that it will not. The metaverse is already full of White men with access to technology, and it’s already becoming weaponized. Blockchain absolutely will play a central role in the building of the metaverse infrastructure, and might be a democratizing force, giving millions access to distributed finance and other secure operations without having to go through banks and other government institutions. But, again, without advocates fighting for that vision now, blockchain could devolve into a divisive weapon available to wealthy and White people only.”
A human-robot interaction expert based in Japan responded, “For some people, such a world will be realized, but it will not be so for many in the world. For the people for which personal wealth has the most meaning, this evolution might be seen as mostly positive. But the many people who have less than the privileged class may find they are only exploited.”