I recently had dinner with a comedian who had just done his first gig in the metaverse. It was in a new meta-comedy club. He was excited and showed me a recording of the gig.
I have to admit, my inner geek thought it was very cool: disembodied hands clapping with avataresque names floating above, bursts of virtual confetti for the biggest laughs, and even a virtual hook that instantly snagged meta-hecklers, banning them to meta-purgatory until they promised to behave. The comedian said he wanted to record a comedy meta-album in the meta-club to release to his meta-followers.
It was all very meta.
As I mentioned, as a geek, I’m intrigued by the metaverse. But as a human who ponders our future (probably more than is healthy), I have grave concerns on a number of fronts. I have mentioned most of these individually in previous posts, but I thought it might be useful to round them up.
Removed from Reality
My first issue is that the metaverse just isn’t real. It’s a manufactured reality. This is at the heart of all the other issues to come.
We might think we’re clever and can manufacturer a better world than the one that nature has given us. But my response to that belief would be Orgel’s Second Rule, courtesy of Sir Francis Crick, co-discoverer of DNA: “Evolution is cleverer than you are."
For millions of years, we have evolved to be a good fit in our natural environment. Most of that natural adaptation lies hidden from us, ticking away below the surface of both our bodies and brains, silently correcting course to keep us aligned and functioning well in our world.
But we, in our never-ending human hubris, somehow believe we can engineer an environment better than reality in less than a single generation. If we take Second Life as the first iteration of the metaverse, we’re barely two decades into the engineering of a meta-reality.
If I was placing bets on who is the better environmental designer for us, humans or evolution, my money would be on evolution, every time.
Whose Law is It Anyway?
One of the biggest selling features of the metaverse is that it frees us from the restrictions of geography. Physical distance has no meaning when we go meta.
This fact also creates issues. Societies need laws, and our laws have evolved to be grounded within the boundaries of geographical jurisdictions. What happens when those geographical jurisdictions become meaningless?
Right now, there are no laws specifically regulating the metaverse. And even if there are laws in the future, in what jurisdiction would they be enforced?
This is a troubling loophole -- and by hole, I mean a massive, gaping, metaverse-sized void. You know who's attracted by a lack of laws? Those who have no regard for the law. If you don’t think that criminals are currently eyeing the metaverse looking for opportunity, I have a beautiful virtual time-share condo in the heart of meta-Boca Raton I’d love to sell you.
Data is Matter of the Metaverse
Another selling point for the metaverse is that it allows us to append metadata to our own experiences, enriching them with access to information and opportunities that would be impossible in the real world. We can stroll through worlds, real or imagined, and the sum of all our accumulated knowledge is just one user-prompt away.
But here’s the thing about this admittedly intriguing notion: It makes data a commodity, and commodities are built to be exchanged based on market value. In order to get something of value, you have to exchange something of value. And for the builders of the metaverse, that value lies in your personal data. The last shreds of personal privacy protection will be gone, forever!
The For-Profit Reality
This brings us to my biggest problem with the metaverse: the motivation for building it. It is being built not by philanthropists or philosophers, academics or even bureaucrats. The metaverse is being built by corporations, who must hit quarterly profit projections. They are building it to make a buck, or, more correctly, several billion bucks.
These are the same people who have made social media addictive by taking the dirtiest secrets of Las Vegas casinos and using them to enslave us through our smartphones. They have toppled legitimate governments for the sake of advertising revenue. They have destroyed our concept of truth, bashed apart the soft guardrails of society, and are currently dismantling democracy. There is no noble purpose for a corporation -- their only purpose is profit.
Do you really want to put your future reality in those hands?
Interesting. The metaverse has not SEC or FTC. No DOJ or comsumer protection. The creator is God or worse, the leader of Mad Max's Thunderdome. Maybe it should be called, NoRulesVerse.