Facebook promises to take us into the future with the metaverse, but is that the future we want?
CEO Mark Zuckerberg and other Facebook executives have touted the metaverse as the next big thing, promising that people could “do just about anything you can think of.”
To establish itself as the leading company guiding us all into this new era, Zuckerberg has also announced that Facebook will change its name to Meta.
Today The detailJessie Chiang looks at what the metaverse actually is, what problems are already emerging, and when are we likely to see this technology.
Matt Bartlett is a professor at the University of Auckland School of Law and has written about what is happening here, for Newsroom.co.nz.
“There is not going to be a day when we have the metaverse, you know, Facebook launches it, we all enter the metaverse and live our happy virtual lives,” he says.
The idea of the metaverse is not new; Different parts of the technology are already being worked on and other companies like Microsoft are embracing it.
Simply put, the metaverse is a virtual world where you can do a wide variety of things with people from all over the world.
We could enter fully with virtual reality helmets but the metaverse could also be accessed through augmented reality.
Bartlett says we’ve already seen examples of augmented reality through the Pokémon Go game.
“When you looked at your phone, you saw the real world, but there were also Pokémon to catch,” he says.
“There are some ideas that you would do that with augmented reality glasses.”
But it’s not clear how far the technology is: the timing of Zuckerberg’s keynote speech ranged from five years; five to 10 years; and then at the end of the decade.
So why is Facebook, or now Meta, making the metaverse announcement now?
“To answer that question, it’s hard enough not to think about the massive controversies that Facebook’s name has been embroiled in,” says Bartlett.
The company had already been embroiled in controversies around misinformation and privacy, before whistleblower Frances Haugen leaked thousands of internal Facebook documents.
Those documents, which Bartlett says journalists are still working on, suggest that the company ranked countries at levels that would determine how much effort it would make to combat misinformation. Just one revelation among many, many others.
Bartlett shares his concerns with the metaverse and says that our law should be able to regulate something like a virtual world.
“Who can set the rules? Who enforces the rules? A lot of people just assume that it would be the tech companies themselves that would enforce the rules, and that’s incredibly worrying,” he says.
Because Meta is not the only company looking for virtual worlds.
Last week, Microsoft also announced its move to the metaverse, saying that its applications like Teams would allow workers to share virtually the same space as their colleagues around the world.
The online game Fortnite is no longer used only for its original purpose, its 200 million users can log in online just to talk to each other and even go to concerts. Artists like Ariana Grande have performed within Fortnite, something Bartlett says is a “reduced” version of the metaverse.
“It’s not as simple as, it’s a good or bad thing,” he says.
“It’s like other kinds of new technology, I think it’s neutral and then what people do with it can be really good or really bad. Unfortunately with Facebook … there are many reasons to be quite suspicious of what Facebook might try to do in the metaverse “.