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There’s been a lot of talk about the Metaverse recently, thanks to Mark Zuckerberg’s announcement last year that he’d be changing Facebook’s name to Meta and shifting the company’s focus to “the Metaverse.

What is the Metaverse?

Although we have glimpses of the Metaverse today in gaming (Roblox, Fortnite, and other games), the Metaverse is still a primarily conceptual and emerging idea for virtual worlds.

Essentially, it’s the confluence of mixed realities delivered on virtual platforms that allow for autonomous movement of trusted persistent identities. You get to create the best digital version of yourself and live your best digital life among your digital counterparts—across games and without barriers. There are significant questions about how you interface with these digital worlds, often falling along philosophical lines of whether you should go outside for Augmented experiences, like Pokemon Go, or strap on an Oculus for traditional VR (virtual reality).

And the technologies are maturing. Artificial Intelligence can provide you with hyper-personalized experiences and predict what to surface, blockchain makes assets portable and verifiable, and AR/VR headsets are becoming more affordable.

What is the value of the Metaverse?

Several estimates exist for the value of the Metaverse, with a fairly conservative number in the 800 million dollars according to Bloomberg. Additionally, estimates top over a trillion dollars in revenue, explaining the hurried interests.

Gaming in the Metaverse is a primary application, with the industry generating an estimated 180 million dollars in revenue which resulted in Netflix’s entrance into the market. However, other applications could provide students access to educational tools that are sorely needed post-Covid, if society solves the universal broadband access dilemma. Remote learning in the Metaverse could deliver virtual hands-on training through VR and bring portable screens to remote areas. However, for that to occur, silos can’t thrive.

The Metaverse could be an open, collaborative space that connects worlds through electronic fair trade policies, an environment that provides access to capital for digital artists through NFT (non-fungible tokens), new ways to address user accessibility, and a means to facilitate innovation through new collaboration.

Or it could be a dystopian hellscape for propagating disinformation and unrestricted inequitable outcomes, a breeding ground for extreme ideologies.

The problem with Big Tech

The largest tech companies struggle to self-regulate today, even with stated good intentions. Our politicians notoriously fail in the most basic understanding of modern technologies and consumer protection. Anything resembling the UK’s digital privacy legislation GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) has almost no route through the current Congress even with California passing the CCPA (the California Consumer Protection Act).

Microsoft acquiring Activision positions it as an early giant against Meta, formerly known as Facebook. However, Microsoft becomes the third-largest gaming company in the world with access to:

  • one of the most powerful virtual platforms in existence – and the team that built it
  • years of established effective lobbyists
  • one of the strongest licensing strongholds in the industry
  • a near complete AR/VR stack (including HoloLens) to integrate vertically
  • and an on-demand compute platform, Azure, second only to AWS

So on the one hand, we have a company that failed to police disinformation to the detriment of democracy with its social media platform, and on the other, a giant dark horse with a market capitalization of over two trillion dollars and nearly limitless resources. And although both companies have laid out very different visions for the future for the Metaverse, they’ve laid the groundwork that could fundamentally shape the next few iterations of digital human interaction.

I think we can agree that Meta is going to be a problem, but I ask you: can we trust such an undertaking to the company that brought us Windows Vista?

Disclosure: Alix is a senior technologist at Google. Personal expressed opinions do not reflect the views of the company.

Alix is a Senior Technologist at Google, focused on helping customers reimagine an inclusive, sustainable future where innovation doesn't leave people behind.