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What is Technology and the Metaverse?
When it comes to creating new technology, there is always so much more than its core, technical development, such as its [financial, economical, cultural…] implications in our society or how positively it will alter human behaviour. In the case of Facebook’s Metaverse, its long-term implications are not that clear.
The metaverse is the convergence of the digital and the physical into a new experience of the internet, and it’s a hot topic at the moment. There’s good reason for all the attention. Consider the ways that augmented reality will overlay digital experiences onto physical spaces, alongside the build-out of virtual reality so robust that it mirrors real-life physical spaces, and there’s the potential to transform the human experience in profound ways.
Please note that this article does not intend to go against this new technology, but rather share several potentially dangerous spoilers that might indeed happen, in order to avoid such.
1. MASSIVE NARCISSISTIC REINFORCEMENT:
In the Meta universe, each individual user will have an Avatar, a digital representation of oneself. Meta users will therefore be able to have any look they like, reinforcing previous emotional baggage or insecurities, just like Instagram’s version of reality.
Furthermore, given that dear Zuckerberg will want you to stay as long as possible in their Meta universe, the platform will make you see, hear and sense what you want, ignoring how reality is. Just imagine targeted ads on steroids, but in this case, is all the surrounding universe. Even someone talking to you in this universe might potentially be filtered to suit your comfort.
For this, there is even a psychological term, the Dunning-Kruger effect which demonstrates widespread cognitive bias, in which people who know very little about a subject overestimate their knowledge, skills and abilities. This intellectual blind spot can happen to people who lack logical ability but are unaware they do, and the Meta platform will also make sure they never do, to maximize user retention.
2. END OF TRAVELLING AND TRANSPORT:
Intercity business travel has already lost its long-term viability due to the rise of online collaboration technologies. Yes, business travel will pick up post-pandemic in the short run, but give Miro, Microsoft Teams, and Google Workspace a decade inside the metaverse, and those platforms will work with a fidelity that will mimic actual spaces while outperforming them in terms of capabilities. Even a 90-minute journey between Seattle and San Francisco — let alone a 14-hour flight to Shanghai — in the future, with such sophisticated technologies widely available, establishing eye contact and shaking hands becomes wasted folly. As a result, everyone on board a future aircraft — or zero-emission airship — will be a leisure traveller of some sort, doing what leisure travellers do: connecting with people and places in ways that the metaverse won’t be able to easily replace, from retreats and vacations to natural wonders and gastronomy.
This, together with the fact that the Metaverse will deliver digital goods, such as cars, houses, clothes and what-would-have-been Amazon delivery packets, commercial goods transportation will notably reduce as well. Keep an eye out, Jeff.
3. KILL MANUFACTURING AND BANKING:
Speaking of virtual goods, there are already brands like Gucci, Apple, Microsoft or Amazon that want in the game, given that there are already producing a virtual representation in a 3D object of what would have been a physical object in the ‘real world.
Of course, most likely not to the likes of central banks, all these goods will be sold and bought in Facebook’s own cryptocurrency, and hence killing any other external dependency such as banks or taxes, especially after 2021, a year when Facebook’s platforms showed how much they depended on Apple’s own App Store or Google’s PlayStore. They want now to be the foundational platform for all these business verticals.
At the end, it was Facebook’s philosophy from the early beginning to be not only a social network but also a platform which other businesses interact and depend upon.
4. PRIVACY CONCERNS:
Facebook has traditionally been credited for coining the “move fast and break things” concept that is now widely practised in the digital industry. When combined with a system of smart sensors that may provide real-time insight into human biological processes and psychology, that method isn’t the most tempting.
In terms of potential for breaches, one of the main privacy issues is that a hypothetical VR system may function as a supercharged Alexa-style virtual assistant. Inside of houses, a headset or AR glasses might act as both a camera and a microphone; more powerful VR systems could combine this with heart and respiration rates, bodily motions, and dimensions, and utilize the unique combinations of all of this data for individual identification and tracking.
The potential for consumer harm is far bigger than anything observed so far from internet advertising and personal data collection methods. However, the Facebook metaverse will continue to exist.
5. CYBERSECURITY EXTREME CONCERNS:
In virtual worlds, VR and AR enable much more realistic homebuilding. There are furniture store apps that allow you to utilize augmented reality to place products in your home to see if they fit in the designated space. Is it possible that people will scan parts of their homes and insert them into Meta spaces? How about the true-to-life room and furniture replicas?
The worry is that we’ll end up producing scale models that may be utilized for whatever nefarious purpose you can think of. What if you could also make your home’s exterior look like the actual thing? Why stop at your house when you can use public map databases to import the entire street?
You now have a complete digital reproduction of your daily life that anyone may view. They can figure out where you live using this information and OSINT (open source intelligence).
China’s massive governmental surveillance and tech banning, together with the fact that in the upcoming decade it will most likely become the biggest kid in the block (doubling the USA’s market leadership and value) will indeed slow down all the negative aspects that the Metaverse will do to core human nature, especially regarding the user’s reward system (and ego), belief in reality / virtual reality, knowledge, habits, skills and their consumer behaviour.
It is therefore imperative for Facebook to be transparent with how its technology will be used, together with its implications and consequences, as well of how it deals with data. Looking a quick history recap, Facebook’s name does not provide unfortunately such comfort, especially with privacy, and its new Metaverse’s renaming is nothing but a marketing scheme to rebrand and start fresh, at least in the consumer’s eye.
A solution to such tendencies will indeed be to make the Metaverse open-source so that users can know precisely how their data is being used, strengthen its security and make society more aware of it overall.