Broadly defined, the metaverse is the realm of computer-generated, networked extended-reality spaces (XR, which includes VR, AR and/or MR) in which interactions take place among humans and automated entities, some in gaming or fantasy worlds and some in “mirror worlds” that duplicate real-life environments.
Extended-reality gaming and social spaces have been in existence for decades, and recent technological advances have pushed the development of the metaverse to the forefront. This has inspired tens of billions of dollars in investments and predictions that this is “the future of the internet.”
On one hand, this could create opportunities for advanced, immersive, 3D, online spaces that could benefit all aspects of society. There are also concerns about the health, safety, security, privacy and economic implications of these new spaces. The ramifications will impact education, healthcare, gaming, entertainment, the arts, as well as most of our social and civic lives.
As part of the new conversations about what the maturing of the metaverse will look like and what that means for society, the Pew Research Center released a recent survey of experts in the field to better understand the possibilities and consequences as the metaverse evolves from now until 2040. They asked by 2040, WILL or WILL NOT the metaverse be a much-more-refined and truly fully-immersive, well-functioning aspect of daily life for a half-billion or more people globally.
My full response is shared below.
I think the term “metaverse” is currently a catch-all term for anything that will change with the Internet as it evolves over the next decade. We see the same thing happening in the use of terms like Web3 and changes to the current ecosystem.
What is exciting about these changes and the maturation of digital spaces is that it appears that a general decentralization of places, practices, and policies is underway. That is to suggest that the first iteration of the web (Web 1.0) was mostly read-only and included many more content consumers than content producers. Web 2.0, or the next evolution of digital spaces provided opportunities for more user-generated content, usability, and interoperability. Web 2.0 was far more social and participative. The challenge with Web 2.0 is that networks began to provide spaces for users to connect, communicate, and collaborate. The challenge is that this gave all power and control of data over to these companies and corporations.
Web 3.0 indicates an arbitrary evolution of digital spaces in which connections between users can take multiple paths. This includes a future that is hopefully more focused on data that is portable and personal. As evidenced and influenced by the blockchain, digital spaces will be more distributed and hopefully, users will have more control over their data, information, and identity. As an example, If I share and use Instagram, I’m giving them my content, data, and information. They can use this information as they see fit, and if I have a problem with that arrangement I have little recourse. If they sell the company or data, I may never know, and once again I have little that I can do about this. With a distributed system, I can relatively easily join other federated systems and identify how, when, and where my data and information is used.
Once again, I think when we discuss the “metaverse” it is just an indication that “everything is going to change.” Because the Internet is the common space for most individuals globally, this will impact the tools we use to build future digital environments, the places we’ll frequent, and what we’ll value and share in these spaces.
Up to this point, it seems like all of this is a relatively good idea…and it is.
The problem I have with the metaverse, and “everything changing” is a concern about trust and third parties in a distributed system. Up to this point, it seems like most of the solutions we’re seeing in terms of blockchain, distributed ledges, the metaverse, NFTS, and crypto are trying to solve current problems using newer solutions. For now, I don’t see the solution to the problem and the introduction of blockchain and “what comes next” as being better than the current solution.
What is exciting is decentralizing power and decision-making as we think about the possibilities. Add a dash of transparency in the model…and count me in.