The Problem with the Metaverse

Talal Abu-Ghazaleh

I have written in the past about why calls to establish a Metaverse, the augmentation of our physical worlds through virtual and augmented reality technology to create a new reality for everybody to live in, can be problematic. While the idea of augmented reality in general has its merits, the current dialogue around it seems to be dominated by Mark Zuckerberg’s aspirations and vision of what, specifically, our digital future should encompass. Zuckerberg has created the new ‘Meta’ umbrella brand, pledging to spend $10 billion US dollars to build his version of the Metaverse and claiming that Meta will develop the fastest AI supercomputer in the world.
My concerns with this concept are manifold, including the risks outlined by my daughter Jumana, an innovator, patent owner, prolific technology writer, and founder of the non-profit Pivot For Humanity in an article she posted on Medium.com.
She highlights that Zuckerberg’s Metaverse promotes gamification in all aspects of our lives, making it an addictive world to be in, effectively turning our daily lives into games. Unfortunately, yet predictably, pretending our lives at home, our relationships, our work and everything else are merely a game that will inevitably lead to withdrawal from reality, leaving each of us to live in their own private Metaverse, fully customized to their habits, likes, opinions and online profiles.
Everyone living in their own individual Metaverse poses serious existential questions around human existence, social and societal norms and the very concept of community. If everyone is going to be stuck in their own Metaverse in a ‘coma’ like state, will future, ‘Metaverse doped’, generations even be able to deal with real life situations as simple as taking out the trash?
Jumana discusses how the Metaverse promotes a concept called long-termism. In her own words:
“Long-termism, as a philosophy, basically states that the only thing that matters is to keep the human race going–not to keep it just, just keep it going… long-termism trivializes real and present dangers, dismisses the foreseeable future, and minimizes anything that’s not literally apocalyptic as mere bumps on the road to glory of the most evolved.”
This is a truly frightening prospect, where the aim is to keep people ‘just alive’ so that they can continue their animation in the Metaverse, rather than live full, complete lives as human beings in the real world and deal with challenges that pose a real threat to our existence, Metaverse included!
There is no reason why the Metaverse cannot be a positive place for an augmentation of our realities to occur, but this must be done now using deliberate thought with the input of technology companies and regulatory bodies during its initial development; not something left to whims or chance.
The Metaverse is coming, and we must make sure that it is built in a collaborative fashion so that it is not dominated by one person’s vision and inherent biases, doesn’t cause further division and is, instead, a healthy, regulated environment with well-defined boundaries and the means to hold developers and owners responsible and accountable for the wellbeing of people within the digital environments they render.
As such, I believe it is important to bring the efforts of companies working in this space together to develop an integrated Metaverse, not silo spaces. Many minds are better than one and may well mitigate some of the ill effects that a single person’s tunnel vision may cause.
With outspoken technologists like Jumana, I believe the future of the Internet, the Metaverse and other technology is in the safe hands of the wise.


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