Here comes the metaverse, at least if some major players in the tech industry have their way.
What is the Metaverse? According to the Fortune 500 company Nvidia’s website, the metaverse is a “three-dimensional shared virtual world or worlds that are interactive, immersive, and collaborative.”
While the Metaverse may seem like a pie-in-the-sky idea, some of the brightest and multi-billion dollar tech minds are already invested in moving society into the Metaverse over the next few years. And many more investments are coming.
Meta Platforms, Inc. (“Meta”), the social media company formerly known as Facebook, recently rebranded itself with a name change to reflect what it foresees as the technological wave of the future. Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg sees the Metaverse, which will take five to 10 years to go mainstream, as “the next frontier of technology – where people will live, work and play.”
Metaverse evangelist David Rubin imagines possible business applications for the Metaverse as follows: “Coca-Cola paying for the prime location of a pavilion, Ford paying to have its virtual cars usable, or Procter & Gamble promoting of its brands on digital billboards. Gucci could open a virtual store and Comcast would pay for a giant sign saying, “Comcast: Get Better MetaSpeed!” » »
Apple Inc., for its part, would launch a mixed reality headset in 2022. Alphabet Inc., formerly known as Google, had attempted its own version, known as “Google Glass”, which could be resurrected at the future.
Microsoft has unveiled new features in its business-oriented and collaborative Teams software that will allow companies to create immersive spaces where workers can meet. The technology uses Microsoft software called Mesh that enables augmented reality and virtual reality experiences on a variety of glasses, including Microsoft’s HoloLens.
And dozens of other tech companies are investing in potential applications to the Metaverse.
Three-dimensional business meetings may seem benign, but the likely enormous costs to the larger metaverse are all too predictable: further detachment of individuals from reality.
Even though the metaverse is collaborative in the sense that there can be multiple participating users within a three-dimensional platform, we would still have less reason to physically interact. The implications would likely be even fewer communal in-person meals, public ceremonies, celebrations, parties, etc.
The further we move away from reality, the more emotional numbness and distance we feel. The least interactive. The least human. The highs are lower and the lows higher. Any form of prolonged escape will, whether it’s mind-altering drugs, television, gambling, pornography, or, it seems, the metaverse.
We saw a glimpse of this with the mental health crises that matched the COVID-19 lockdowns – reported cases of depression and anxiety skyrocketed as we isolated ourselves from each other, despite the technology at our fingertips.
Since most people are already so addicted to our screens, imagine how much more addictive and immersive the metaverse will be when the senses are more fully engaged. The implications could mean more isolation, suicide, mental distress, poor physical health – and the list goes on.
Therefore, shouldn’t society and public policies privilege reality? Privileging reality does not mean going back to the days of the horse and buggy. This means that we can foster safeguards against technologies that do not advance human freedom and its flourishing, but restrict or even stifle it.
Technology is a tool and can be miraculous. But public policy should support technology that enables more real-world existence, not escape. There can sometimes be a fine line between the two, but it’s a line worth drawing.
To the extent that metaverse apps are simply an escapism, society should oppose them. If it can’t be expanded without dragging the world into further detachment, then the metaverse should be the complete opposite.
Some might say that the free market must prevail and drive technology forward. But freedom can only exist if it is anchored in reality and in truth. Who will shape the reality of the metaverse? Will it be a handful of tech oligarchs, overseeing a “land” of censorship and rank commercialism at the expense of meaningful speech and dialogue?
Given the lack of safeguards to protect children from the harmful effects of social media, how much worse would the metaverse be?
Given the seeming imminence of the metaverse, policy makers would do well to consider these issues now, rather than waiting for them to arrive.
Congress could start by repealing the research and development tax credits that underpin Metaverse development. Then, Congress should revise existing antitrust law that allows big tech companies to continue to benefit from broad moats and near-monopolies in their respective industries, fueling those grand visions of what could be a dystopian future.
Until adequate safeguards and oversight exist, I will stick to reality on the Metaverse. Policy makers should too.
Chad Bayse is a Navy judge advocate and former adviser to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and an attorney at the National Security Agency. The opinions expressed in this article are his own and not those of the Department of Defense or the Navy.
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