Over the past year, all things related to metaverses have been haunting the minds of both developers and regular users. And what about philosophers and sci-fi writers who claimed that humanity would inevitably be defeated by its creature? Were they right, or is the metaverse saga just a natural phenomenon and a part of our world's evolution?
Every big technological discovery that's been made by now has its prototype in literature, in sci-fi novels to be precise. Whether we're talking about earbuds that resemble "seashells" described by Bradbury in Fahrenheit 451, credit cards from Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward, the aircraft from Jules Verne's The Master of the World or even something resembling Wikipedia described in the Strugatsky brothers' novel Monday Begins on Saturday. The integration of cyberspace into our life and the inevitable fusion of cyberspace and reality were also predicted. Remember William Gibson's Neuromancer (1984) that described how transnational tech corporations basically replaced governments and invited people to escape to the virtual reality and get free from hurt and suffering. This work inspired the Wachowskis to create The Matrix film series that depicted a universe in which people's bodies existed in the true physical world, and their minds, in a whole other world, the one that was completely controlled by artificial intelligence.
There were other attempts to interpret the meaning of metaverse and humanity's place in it as well. Roland Emmerich, that produced The Thirteenth Floor, speculated that toying with reality might result in one's loss of identity. The movie depicted how virtual consciousness entered the real world, not the other way around. Avatars created for real humans in some sort of metaverse prototype eventually defeated humans, taking their places and physical bodies in the real world. They did so with no malice intended, just because their moral values turned out to be higher than those of real humans. As for Neal Stephenson's sci-fi novel Snow Crash, the virtual world and the reality were intertwined, and one could affect the other.
We've touched upon the metaverse as seen by art. Now, what about the state of the metaverse today? Where is it headed? It's considered to be the next step in the evolution of social ties, the future of the Internet, a unique investment option, and, what's more important, a danger inherent in its own idea. As for common metaverse concepts, the most famous one has been created by venture capitalist Matthew Ball. In his description of metaverses, Ball identifies seven core attributes of a metaverse, such as persistency (you can neither "end" the metaverse the way you shut down your PC, nor "delete" it the way you delete notes from your smartphone), smoothness (events happen in real time and do not depend on external factors), infinite expansion (there is no cap to concurrent users), fully functioning economy (economy that provides jobs, goods and money), the possibility of using real world's components, interoperability of data and digital assets from various platforms, and a great amount of "content and experiences" created by its contributors.
We can already see the progress in the development of the metaverse. If you look up the word "dinosaurs," the graphics developed for Google's augmented reality will allow you to place these prehistorical creatures in your own room. You can also go to a Fortnite in-game musical show or get lost in the world of augmented reality dating apps. The virtual reality keeps changing the world.
In 2021, real estate sales on metaverse platforms reached $501 million. There are several virtual worlds that are being created by several different companies, and not only regular users, but also businesses are now planning to enter the metaverse. In February 2022, JP Morgan opened a lounge in the virtual world of Decentraland. The bank predicts that the metaverse will become a $1 trillion market opportunity. The Tokens.com company, that spent $2.5 million on a patch of virtual real estate, is planning to use this space to build clothing stores and fashion show venues. Some enterprises even purchase digital copies of their own factories. People start so-called architecture firms, meaning they manage graphic design teams that offer luxury property in the world that we can't touch just yet for the price of an apartment in Manhattan. The same applies to recreating heritage sites. The world's most famous art pieces turn into NFT. People can visit museums without needing to be physically present there. This new world even brings ancient cities to life. In 2021, Microsoft partnered with the Government of Greece to digitally revive Ancient Olympia. The original home of the Olympic games was going to be brought to life as it stood 2,000 years ago with augmented reality.
According to some experts, by 2035, 90 % of people who have access to a computer will use the metaverse as a virtual substitute for the real world, of which 70 % will spend there much of the day. The metaverse will not only replace social media, but it will also replace our entire world. However, let's not forget that being a complex structure that the metaverse is, it will also require a much more sophisticated protection. Cyber threats won't go anywhere. In fact, the metaverse will likely exacerbate the problem. At that point, identity theft will question one's survival. The actions of stolen avatars might and will be used against their owners.
The metaverse structure is based on the distributed ledger technology, an architecture that ensures that things are not controlled by any single actor. This system diminishes the role of governments; therefore, it becomes harder to catch a criminal. The perfect concept of Web 3.0 implies that in the future, due to the fact that no central authority will regulate the system in any way, the metaverse will become not a slavery, but a breath of fresh air. However, this looks like a paradise for cybercriminals and the ideal breeding ground for the rise of all mighty tech companies. If they become the ones in charge, making laws that benefit only themselves, there will be no one to limit their activity. Imagine a world created by tech companies that know everything about you. Would it be free?
Legal issues, along with the issues related to cryptocurrencies used in the metaverse, create uncertainty that turns this field into a grey area of law. The metaverse is often perceived as an experiment, a playground for kids. Most people see it as a set of VR games or simulations. One of the reasons why this happens is that an NFT, yet another component of the metaverse, is a very popular product among gamers. Though it's also important to admit that we're standing on the threshold of a new reality that we all will have to live in very soon, and not witnessing another stage of The Simsevolution.
According to the core concept of Web 3.0, a paradise can be built without becoming a part of the existing legal system, and new law will be created along the way. Could this be true? Is it possible to create a parallel life in another world, or will it always be inextricably linked to what we have now? Today, many experts all over the world are concerned by legal and other issues related to the metaverse. In Russia, the metaverse will become one of the tracks of the second Youth Internet Governance Forum. In May 2022, the development of virtual realities will be discussed during the session "We All Live in the Matrix: The Future of the Metaverses." Until recently, this issue was barely touched upon during cryptocurrency forums.
Reading a sci-fi novel, you could see how in metaverses, tech corporations were replacing governments. However, as often happens with victorious capitalism, they protected only those people who could afford the protection. The metaverse depicted in books was not a paradise, nor was it a cure for all diseases. Corporate dictatorship was inevitably overthrown, because it couldn't offer people the most important thing, justice. But is it possible to create a virtual world that wouldn't harm the real one, or are sci-fi books right, and these two worlds are meant to collapse, because neither can live while other survives? The question is still open.