The metaverse is not new it has been around for over 20 years, most of us are familiar with games such as Second Life and even before that The Sims. The idea behind these games was to build a community where players would interact in a virtual world.
As these games became sophisticated over the years the avatars got more sophisticated, players were able to collect skins, weapons and other tools and level up and improve their street cred. Trading occurred in these games by buying coins, loot boxes and even barter. The dynamics of the gaming universe has now transcended into a mainstream eco-system where there is potential to use the technology to create virtual immersive worlds for many industries such as healthcare, travel, entertainment, industrial manufacturing to just name a few.
What makes this possible is that technology has caught up with the human imagination. The term “metaverse” first appeared in Neal Stephenson’s 1992 sci-fi novel Snow Crash, where it described a virtual reality world. With technologies such as artificial intelligence, 5G and internet of things and the fabulous nano-meter microchip technology there is enough computing power now available to have portable VR googles which can take us into metaverse.
There are many real problems with the metaverse if we look past the glitzy façade. Let us start off with being harassed and bullied. The immersive reality makes this situation even more realistic, and people can get under your skin as you hear and feel the emotions. Its all too overwhelming to deal with – communities will need to moderate this proactively.
Confidentiality of information – how does all your data, conversations, interactions, and habits get managed. Are there logs of data recording all our activities, what if it falls into the wrong hands, the impact of this in uncertain. Think of GDPR – do we need to have something like that in the metaverse.
The dominant companies of web2 already have a lot of your data and now with the metaverse they will have more of your data. Identity theft is going to be a bigger problem to deal with and ownership of your data is a big question. Some may argue that your online avatar has no linkage to your real-world name – I disagree, there is always a link. Oculus requires you to have a Facebook account.
Reality distortion is another potential area of concern. The lines between what is virtual and what real will eventually get blurred and this a problem for some people. This phenomenon is already happening today with video gamers who spend the whole day gaming online.
The one big question to which there is no convincing answer is why do we need the metaverse? Is the real world that bad that we need to create a virtual world for us to hideaway in? Will we only use the metaverse for fun like we do on Facebook?
User safety and information security is going to define the success of the metaverse. For this to be achieved platform developers will need to stay true to the architecture of web3 and make it possible for the user to take control of their own data to put the trust back into the hands of the users. The legal aspect of the metaverse is an interesting topic - is it going to be like "what happens in vegas stays in vegas?"