Metaverse: A messy wonder with high potential and high risks | Jobs Vox


The dystopian future is a common theme in science fiction. Neal Stevenson’s 1992 novel Snow Crash is set in such a future — the 21st century after a global economic collapse. The world territory is divided into sovereign enclaves controlled by big business. It is, to say the least, an unpleasant existence for the common man.

In the metaverse, misinformation can seem more real due to an immersive experience. Similarly, radical messages can make a bigger impression on target audiences.

You’re basically cramming materials to build what we thought was a supercomputer 10 years ago into a frame [AR] glass about five millimeters thick. So it’s a real challenge. – Mark Zuckerberg, CEO, Meta (formerly Facebook)

Stephenson describes technology that resembles today’s multiplayer online video games. It’s a computer-generated universe that’s projected onto the wearer’s glasses and pumped into their headphones. Users can build things in this virtual reality, including spaces where the laws of physics are ignored, and combat zones, where users’ digital avatars can hunt and kill each other. To build, they have to pay Global Multimedia Protocol Group, the company that manages the technology.

Some of Stephenson’s characters were constantly online, logged into this fictional universe — it was an escape from reality. The author called his digital world the metaverse.

Thirty years later, a Google search for the term metaverse returns over 20 million results in 0.40 seconds. Headlines like “Life in the Metaverse” and “How Will Businesses Use the Metaverse?” pop up. Then there are the staggering numbers—billions of dollars in investment; trillion in projected value. No mention of Stephenson or Snow Crash. Wikipedia unhelpfully tells us that the metaverse is a “fictional universe.”

Honestly, what else is Vicki supposed to be doing? Because the metaverse isn’t fully realized, at least not yet. There are rudimentary versions in video games that allow users to wear virtual reality (VR) headsets to experience projections similar to Stephenson’s description. Players also spend real-world money on virtual products and services and socialize with other players’ avatars (there are even concerts your avatar can attend). But while gaming has helped us imagine the metaverse, the feeling hasn’t improved enough. Moreover, affordability remains an issue, especially at scale.

So what would qualify as a fully realized version? Technology CEOs have different visions. Mark Zuckerberg, who renamed Facebook Meta (hereafter referred to as Facebook in this article to avoid confusion), talks about VR or AR (augmented reality) where we can socialize, collaborate and attend meetings or events. Microsoft’s Satya Nadella explained how the company’s initiatives also include the enterprise metaverse, where businesses can build “digital twins” of offline infrastructure to better monitor their supply chains. Google, Amazon and Apple are also working on their own metaverses, but have been cautious about their plans. Other major players currently working on various aspects of the metaverse include tech and entertainment company Tencent, Epic Games, other gaming platforms such as Unity and Valve, and chip giant Nvidia.

Regardless of their approach, these business leaders seem to agree on the potential of the metaverse. According to Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang, the economy of the metaverse will be bigger than the economy in the physical world, meaning over $100 trillion! As of 2021, the global metaverse market revenue was around $60 billion. It is expected to grow at a CAGR of 40 percent to reach $1.5 trillion by 2030.

Zuckerberg explained how his vision is a natural extension of existing technology. He told The Verge that with smartphones, we already have something that people access from the moment they wake up until they go to bed. “I don’t think that’s really how humans are designed to communicate,” he said. “In many of the meetings we have today, you’re looking at a grid of faces on a screen. We don’t process things that way either. We’re used to being in a room with people and having a sense of space where if you’re sitting to my right, when you speak, it’s coming from my right. It doesn’t all just come from the same place in front of me.”

India is predicted to be a key market for the growth of Metaverse. This is because India is already a huge market for digital payments and mobile gaming. Startups like Bolli Heroes (a platform for buying rare irreplaceable tokens linked to Bollywood stars) and NextMeet (an avatar-based dating platform) are expected to drive market expansion. Tech Mahindra also launched its TechMVerse for businesses to build immersive experiences and transact in the metaverse.

Ramanathan Srikumar, Chief Solutions Officer, Mphasis, told THE WEEK that the metaverse has the potential to go beyond today’s interfaces across applications. “For example, imagine walking in.” [the simulation of] the human body to learn anatomy or to enter the sub-atomic domain to study physics or the ability to simulate surgery before operating on patients,” he said.

However, while much of our lives are now online and the pandemic has accelerated technology adoption, a fully realized metaverse requires technology that is not yet ready. For example, as Zuckerberg explained, “To get AR glasses that we wear all day, they have to be normal-looking glasses, right? So you’re basically cramming all these materials together to put what we thought of as a supercomputer 10 years ago into the frame of a pair of glasses that’s about five millimeters thick – you’ve got chips, and holographic waveguides and things to sense and map the world, and batteries and speakers , all these things, and it just needs to fit into these glasses – so that’s a real challenge.”

Natarajan Radhakrishnan, president and global chief information officer, HGS, said that despite the excitement surrounding the metaverse, we are still in a “hyperactivity phase” of technology. Therefore, the metaverse is still largely hypothetical to this day. But experts say it’s high time to start looking at the potentially dangerous aspects of the metaverse. A dystopian view, so to speak.

An example of this is the terrible experience a user had on Facebook’s Horizon Worlds platform. Facebook released Horizon Worlds, its free, online VR video game, in December 2021. It also released Horizon Venues, an app for attending live VR events, which is now merged with Horizon Worlds. In February 2022, a British woman said that while she was using Horizon Venues, several male avatars virtually gang-raped her avatar and photographed the crime. (The platform has security features that, when enabled, prevent avatars from entering other people’s personal space.)

The survivor, who initially froze in shock, recovered to remove the VR headset and log off the platform. She said her physiological and psychological response was as if it had happened in reality, because VR is “designed so that the mind and body cannot tell the difference between virtual experiences and real ones.”

Social media has fueled criminal behavior in the digital space, mostly without consequence. In the metaverse, “keyboard warriors” can move around and deal damage to others. Girish Linganna, an aerospace and defense expert, says India has not been able to deal with social media, with platforms that “completely evade the law of the land”. He adds that there have been few metaverse laws around the world, but points out that this is not necessarily a bad thing. “Think of 3D TVs,” he said. “They were the next big thing in the early 2000s. They disappeared from the market and from the mind. If laws respond faster to technologies, there will be a lot of noise, but to no avail.” The Digital India Act would link cyber crimes with the Indian Penal Code and that, he said, was a move in the right direction.

Beyond concerns about virtual violence, there are fears that the metaverse could become a digital prison where Big Tech controls the narrative. Moreover, there are many problems left over from the social media era: radicalization, privacy, misinformation, regulation of the platform. In the metaverse, misinformation can seem more real due to an immersive experience. Similarly, radical messages can make a bigger impression on target audiences.

Therefore, experts say that governance standards need to be set in motion long before the metaverse becomes a reality. IT and Innovation Advisor Sudin Baraokar said there is an urgent need for greater collaboration between the public, private and startup ecosystems to decide on standards for the metaverse. He added that metaversal standards will also help developers and the technology community for engineering and development, as well as testing and compliance.

Technology standards will be driven by industry leaders. A Metaverse Standards Forum has already been launched with the aim of developing interoperability (eg allowing users to move virtual assets across metaverse platforms). The forum consists of around 2,000 members, including IT firms and standards bodies. Kanchan Rai, Chief Technology Officer, Nagarro, said the management layer is likely to creep in slowly and that could be a good thing. “I feel like we may not need ‘metaverse police’ anytime soon, but it won’t hurt to have 911,” he said.

Another concern with the metaverse is the risk of addiction. Ray said there is a serious risk to mental health for some users. But he added that metaverse research covers social topics such as human emotions and opportunities in health care. Ultimately, he said, we must be patient and not jump to conclusions. “This is a mix of complex technology and game-changing innovation that will mature over the next five to six years,” Ray says. “When it matures, it will improve our lives.”

Also, it will be difficult to formulate policies at this stage. Ritika Amit Kumar, CEO and Co-Founder, STEM Metaverse said, “Lawyers are trying to understand the scope of the metaverse. Right now India is watching and trying to figure it out. Policies, however, are in preparation.”

Another key element of the metaverse is identity. “In this sense, the industry has been working on solutions to give users more control over their identity and data and be able to decide what to share, when to share and with whom to share,” Mphasis’ Srikumar said, adding that it reduce control companies. “Standards for the metaverse in general are still forming, but there is still much to be done in terms of safety, security and user well-being.”

Smart devices, smart cars and smart homes prove that the future is on the way. The metaverse is not something that materializes overnight. Instead, it would become more and more normalized with technological advances—more immersive video games, more realistic-looking online avatars, better ways to make video calls—all steps, big and small, bringing it closer.

Therefore, it is imperative that the general public begin to follow what is happening in the world of metaverse research. After all, some of the smartest people in the world are investing billions in the idea. If, or more likely when, they are successful in building this new digital world, we will be the ones inhabiting it. Even if we’re not driven to do so by a dystopian reality, as Stephenson’s characters were, we’re likely to be lured in, one way or another. Social media has already proven that.


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