"Social inequality will thrive inside the metaverse," says the moderator of the Youth RIGF discussion on the future of virtual worlds
In the run-up to the Second Youth Internet Governance Forum, we decided to interview Konstantin Shurunov—Deputy General Director of MD Information Systems, professor at the MIPT and the moderator of the year's most popular section "'We All Live in the Matrix': the Future of the Metaverses."

Many people think blockchain is all about cryptocurrency and NFT. However, numerous other things, such as the metaverse, have a lot to do with blockchain as well. So, what is the metaverse, exactly, and why, in your opinion, have companies recently started to actively pursue this line of work? Is this a short-lived obsession (as you know, NFT sales have dropped 92 % since September's high), or do virtual worlds stay with us forever?

Virtual worlds do not depend in themselves on certain verification technologies, such as blockchain. The metaverse is, in fact, some sort of a social network casing. Therefore, it will surely stay. As for selling virtual goods and services, it will depend on the customers, that is, on whether people and companies are ready to spend real (i.e., fiat) money inside virtual worlds. While companies are interested in advertisement, people are interested in buying emotions (e.g., by gambling or purchasing virtual status goods) and filling time (e.g., by reading news, gaming, etc.).

How can the metaverse cause structural changes in the economy?

It can't. It will attract some of the revenue that is already generated by the digital economy, for instance, by the entertainment industry, advertisement, and so forth.

What will thrive inside the metaverse is social inequality. As in the information space, the snowball effect is not limited by natural boundaries, the level of social inequality in such space is significantly higher than in the real world. The problem already exists. An average, that is, a median, U.S. blogger makes 10 dollars a month, while a few other bloggers make millions or even tens of millions of dollars a month. Due to the consolidation of various target platforms, this phenomenon will be even more prominent in the metaverse.

How safe will the metaverse be in terms of cybercrimes?

It will be just like regular social networks.

While some people consider the metaverse to be the first step toward the digital state as well as the corresponding "citizenship" and "laws," others think that nothing of the kind will happen and, as a product of Web 3.0, the metaverse will, in fact, lessen the role of the state. What is your opinion on the matter?

The "digital state" and the process of "lessening the role of the state" are the same thing. There are, indeed, certain groups, such as major transnational corporations, that are now trying to promote, including at the IGF, the concept of endowing some parts of the Internet with attributes of the state, which may lessen the role of states, that are, in fact, unlikely to accept it. We're talking about endowing major corporations with attributes of state power (by the way, such future is largely reflected in cyberpunk). No reasonable government will tolerate this on its own territory.

Today, there are several metaverses built by several companies. So, what are we most likely moving towards? Is it a single metaverse, a few metaverses operating like social networks, or is the anti-utopian "matrix" completely out of the question?

The metaverses are, in fact, social networks. However, we may still wonder whether competition will lead to consolidation. Using foreign platforms results in the "erosion of sovereignty," as the UK's Intelligence Service says. Therefore, countries (only those of them, of course, that can afford it, in terms of their economy and tech) will support their own social networks / metaverses. Countries controlling certain platforms at a sufficient level will try to promote them abroad, in order to get the opportunity to influence what's going on inside foreign countries. Actually, it has been happening for quite some time.

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