, November 30, 2021

The Metaverse Wild West; we need a Metaverse equivalent of HTML


  •   4 min reads
The Metaverse Wild West; we need a Metaverse equivalent of HTML

The Metaverse is currently like the Wild West. We need an open standard like a Metaverse HTML, which will work across multiple Metaverses.

Your face is your own. When we talk on Zoom, Teams or FaceTime, it is us;  our face, and body language. Here is one of my fears concerning the Metaverse; our avatars will differ depending upon which Metaverse we are in. For example, suppose we use Microsoft Teams, then the Avatar we use, complete with AI technology that helps mimic our body language, facial expressions, and lip movement, might be specific to the Microsoft Metaverse. Then if we jump to the Meta Metaverse it will be different.

And the creation of monopolies worries me.

We know that digital creates monopolies. In the early days of the PC market, it was like a free-for-all, different computers, each requiring its own operating system and software. Then, slowly, a standard emerged; what we used to call IBM compatible, but which in reality was at first a DOS computer and later a Windows computer. Eventually, even Apple came under the fold; its machines still have their own operating system, but they run Microsoft products.

The internet was different. It began as a US defence project from ARPANET— the idea was to build a network impervious to nuclear attack. But no one controls the internet; it comprises millions of computers (maybe billions if you include IoT devices), with no monopoly.

Then along came HTML and the World Wide Web, designed by Tim Berners Lee while employed by CERN, a research organisation run by 23 countries.  The invention made Sir Tim famous, but he didn’t benefit commercially— not directly in any case.

Clever and visionary though Sir Tim is, he has regrets. “We demonstrated that the Web had failed instead of served humanity, as it was supposed to have done, and failed in many places…The increasing centralisation of the Web…(has) “ended up producing—with no deliberate action of the people who designed the platform—a large-scale emergent phenomenon which is anti-human,” he said in an interview with Vanity Fair.

Today, he grapples with ways to re-mould the internet, so it is becoming closer to the open haven he originally envisioned.

The Metaverse is being created solely out of commercial opportunism.

Monopolies in the Metaverse

There is a general assumption that monopolies are bad things. The economist Joseph Schumpeter believed in Monopolies because he argued each company strives to become the dominant power in its industry — the prospect of becoming a monopoly drives capitalism. But he argued that monopolies don’t last, that they are brought down by great gales of creative destruction. (Incidentally, Schumpeter is often misunderstood. People mistakenly believe that bouts of destruction— like the 2008 crash, Covid or even World War 2 create a vacuum and thirst for change, leading to creativity. They may well be right, but this is not what Schumpeter meant by creative destruction. Instead, he had the relationship the other way around, that creativity caused the destruction of monopolies).

Schumpeter may have been right, and perhaps we overstate the monopolistic position of the giant techs — after all, they do compete against each other for talent.

The Metaverse may yet represent one of the biggest changes humanity has ever seen. In fact the Metaverse and real-life may well converge. One moment we might be communicating or interacting via our Avatar; the next moment, we communicate via a video feed. Using augmented reality, we might also communicate hologram to hologram. And then we will communicate in person too, the old fashioned way. For example, if we are on a date, we might communicate Avatar to Avatar while we journey to that date and flip to physical closeness once we arrive.

In this way, the Metaverse will be everywhere; depending on where we are and the availability of technology (or edge computing/cloud technology), we could be an avatar, a live video feed, and a live projection of our hologram, or there in person.

This really is a massive deal. In the real world, no one owns the air we breathe, the smell of nature, or the vision of the natural beauty all around us. Other people might own land, but we own the eyes with which we see it.

If the Metaverse becomes ubiquitous, we do not want any company or even group controlling it. Sure, some virtual real estate (hope that’s not an oxymoron) will be privately owned. Technologies will be privately owned: blockchain and NFTs will be a mechanism for conferring ownership, and there must be significant commercial opportunities for the Metaverse to develop.

AI algorithms will underpin the Metaverse creating significant profits for its creators. The Metaverse will be a massive generator of data, too; as we all know, data is the new oil. The hardware that makes it all possible will rake in big bucks for its owners. None of this is bad; indeed, it is essential for the creation of a Metaverse eco-system.

However there must be openness too, and certain core assets that constitute the Metaverse must either be owned by no one or everyone.

There must be privacy too.

The Metaverse will never be like a giant hippy community; but just as in the real world, we own our bodies, breath, smell, see without having to pay for it and obey rules of physics and chemistry — like gravity— in the Metaverse we need common open and free standards, and there must be limits to commercial ownership.

PS — no one owns language either. We write using an alphabet, in the case of this article; The English Alphabet. No one owns that. We talk using a language that no one owns.  Suppose we start using emojis more and more on the Metaverse; I have often wondered whether we might one day exclusively write using emojis. Who will own the emojis? And if we communicate via brain-computer interfaces removing the necessity to talk, who will own the mechanism for communication?  These are big issues.

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