Addiction, Crime, and Data Breakup: Metavers could be the Wild West if we were
But with such rapid expansion in this new virtual world, is it safe, regulated and, is it something we should fear or accept with open arms?
We talk David Reed, Professor of AI and Space Computing at Liverpool Hope University to see what to expect from the future of Metavers.
Can you explain what a metavars is?
There are a few definitions. You can think of it from a technical point of view, where it is the successor to the Internet. Computers used to take up large rooms at one time, but by the time we get to things like pocket-sized smartphones they’ve shrunk with the constant contact you make. Metavers take this one step further, creating a real environment where you interact with the virtual, completely eliminating the computer’s interface.
Most people define metavers as tangible internet. This means that it allows you to interact with the surrounding environment and gain gut experiences that are almost identical to real life but not so. The third general definition is where it is the tipping point. It is a moment of time where everything goes digital. Your friends, your job, your identity and your currency.
How far do you think Metavers are from our daily lives?
He is already here. In the city of Seoul, they are investing about € 3 billion to build infrastructure for virtual space that reflects the city of Seoul. They will be able to communicate with people and create a virtual communication ecosystem where municipal administration will take place. This will include things like cultural interaction, tourism, education, civic services and more.
After that, there is Decentralland. They are already building real estate markets for Metavers. The problem is that there are so many different metavars. Meta has them, Microsoft has their version but they do not interact. At the moment many companies are creating their own walled garden versions of Metawors for their very specific needs and specifications. Metavers will close when you are able to interact with them.
How important do you think Metavers will be in our daily lives?
It will dwarf what the World Wide Web (WWW) has achieved. I was involved in the first part of the World Wide Web and it strikes me that Metavers is at the same stage right now. In those days, I had to persuade companies to go to the shopping malls I discovered. They don’t see the benefits of selling something online.
Metavers provide much more flexibility, data, interaction, and more visceral experience than the Internet. Whatever you do with the internet you can do in metavars, but better.
If you really think about how to move around the environment, you are basically moving around the virtual environment and you are providing a huge amount of data for the system to actually process. I also fully imagine a strong link up between Metavers and AI. Metavers is the perfect platform to learn and develop from AI.
For those who are not familiar with Metavers, what do you think are the risks and potential crimes here?
All the problems are the same as the internet, it is only widespread in the metavars. You can interact with avatars who look like people you know but that doesn’t mean you are talking to that person. Social engineering becomes a bit more realistic to get passwords and money from people.
Metavers will probably be funded on NFTs (non-fungible tokens) which again will probably attract the criminal community as well. They can easily make money laundering or fraud by moving the content to another part of the metavers.
Criminal gangs can hold people, their avatars and their possessions hostage, and will have their real value. The way you interact with the environment is more immediate. This means that everything you see or interact with produces biometric information that you provide to Metavers and is a valuable resource that can be replicated. That’s the decent thing to do, and it should end there.
Watching porn or engaging in acts of violence and online bullying, all of this becomes more visceral and leads to more psychological damage. It protects all the things where children can go, it becomes more difficult for the police and that is part of the problem. In Metavers, there are currently no rules.
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On the Internet, too, many problems go unchecked. How would you view Metavers as a cop?
Some Internet restrictions work to some extent, but most do not. The police forces themselves have to become more and more involved with the type of technology used and have to live in metavars.
If they are going to the police better than the internet then the right organizations will need to get involved with metavars from a relatively early stage. When the Internet came around, there was little interest in crime on the Internet. But if we are going to do it right this time, we need to get into almost zero ground to get the big organizations involved. Police forces and government agencies need to see what is going on there and be aware of the potential for some of these problems.
If it ever becomes mainstream, no one in it will be able to control it, just as no one in the World Wide Web can control it. What we want is something like this World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) which administers the standards for the World Wide Web.
Facebook and many other internet giants do not have a good track record for data security. How will Metavers be different?
Much worse than what is happening at the moment. The amount of data you generate when you go through metavers will be much higher than what you give from the internet.
Think about how you interact with the Internet, essentially using a keyboard and a mouse click. If you are actually physically moving out of a certain environment or if you have a tracking system, it generates far less data than all of a sudden biometric information is captured. All that biometric information about what you touch, who you interact with, and what you see in a particular environment, can all be captured.
Things like biometric theft or loss of information through biometrics are much more likely, and it will have more serious consequences than just losing your password on the internet. Big companies are aware of this, but they don’t really pay attention to it.
What are you personally most concerned about metavars?
There are psychological aspects to it as people become addicted to the internet. Metavers will be even more exciting than the internet will ever do. People will be able to spend days in Metawars and it will have psychological effects. I can see that Metavers addiction is becoming a real thing very quickly.
The potential for loss of the biometric data and personal information you provide is another major risk factor. The fact is that if you go through a certain environment you are giving a lot of information about who you are, what your preferences are and how you interact with people. There are people who can easily use this for nefarious purposes.
How do you protect people in Metavers? Young or vulnerable people who are forced or things they do not understand. You go into this new and potentially hostile environment, but will there be any warnings? Metavers is shaping up like the Wild West. Essentially, there are no rules. Some of these factors can be considered from the beginning so that we do not make mistakes with the Internet.
Do you think people will adopt metavars despite its problems?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m very excited for Metavers. It will create new jobs that we have not yet considered. When the Internet first came around no one would have thought of the concept of influencer.
You can imagine a situation in education where you can take the classroom to a very distant place. If you want to show someone how the body works or how the engine works, it becomes more subtle. Through the use of heptic gloves, surgeons can practice lifelong surgery in metavars.
Metavers can bring people together just like any other platform. People are now selling digital artwork for thousands of dollars in the virtual world that does not exist in the real world, it is a big new business. There are places where you can buy virtual houses and plots of land, you can have entire businesses towards Metawors.
Virtualization can really help many older people or people who are homeless. It gives them a chance to mentally get out of their own environment. I can imagine someone who is in bed or in a hospital distracted from real world problems. The main problem is that if people become too addicted to it, they can only choose this new virtual world.