We need to kick Big Tech out of Metaverse

The global pandemic has pushed us all inland and online. We work, learn, live and play in virtual spaces and digital communities. We spend time with friends using a screen and a Zoom filter and explore fictional and ancient worlds on gaming or e-learning platforms. Video game worlds have become much more than just playing, with players passing through the lobbies and offering billions in the latest skin and avatar modifications or enjoying virtual reality shows. Digital works backed by cryptocurrencies, such as the BEEPLE record Every day: the first 5000 days – He witnessed a sudden boom and burst into the mainstream. Let’s move on to what author Neal Stephenson called “the metaverse”: a global, interconnected galaxy of virtual worlds, avatars, online communities, and mixed reality. Stephenson first conceived the Metaverse in 1992 in his novel Snow Crash, now widely considered a science fiction classic. Increasingly, this concept leaves the realm of science fiction and enters our current reality.

But curb your enthusiasm. As things stand, this new reality is already taking shape along the familiar, proprietary, and monopolistic lines that have characterized – and pursued – the most recent phase of the evolution of the Internet. The platforms where the Metaverse is created have become walled gardens, increasingly centralized and controlled by corporate interests. Facebook owns WhatsApp, Instagram and Oculus, giving them ownership of our friends, our behavior, our gait, eye movement and emotional state. Google, Amazon and Apple are vying to build the next virtual and dominant gaming platforms, hoping to build on their data dominance and their market-driven positions.

This is not a small risk. Our reluctance to challenge the dangers of black box algorithms, opaque healing systems, and predatory privacy practices has already led the world to a defeat of misinformation and manipulation, the rise of pernicious conspiracy theories, and the triumph of surveillance capitalism. As we enter the era of Metaverse, we somnambulize into a future where continuing to ignore these red flags can be catastrophic, where the real danger is not only that we are known, but that we can be guided.

Virtual reality developers will learn about the concept of “redirected walking”: a clever technique for making a player walk in circles while thinking he is walking in a straight line. It allows you to explore huge dungeons in the comfort of your living room without ever stepping into the wall, as you like the directions game developers want you to make. It’s a classic misstep and surprisingly easy to do: a little visual push here, an audio signal there, and before you know it, you’re facing the way you came without ever realizing they’d turned you on .

Similarly, what we see, who we talk to, and what we learn is manipulated every day, turning our opinions that way. Facebook decides which of our friends we follow and what news we see; Twitter and YouTube control who is recommended, who earns income, and who is out of place; Google orchestrates the direction and rotation of our search results. As motion tracking, eye tracking, neural input, and biometrics are integrated to “enrich our experience” in Metaverse, these platforms will be even more adept at inferring our moods and using them. to manipulate our opinions, sources of information and community. in real time.

As this data is collected, shared, sold and inevitably hacked, it will be armed by those seeking new benefits or ways to harm or intimidate, by ruthless advertisers, hateful trolls and malicious state actors. Social media and voice assistant data will allow predators to move from text chat to fake videos of Grandma Facetiming to our children to open the front door for them. Today’s Twitter harassment stands out against the future ability to address Jews with mixed-reality recreations of death camps in their backyards or bombard survivors of sexual assaults with violent images on their way to the work. The automated illusions of transversal reality, tailor-made through an intimate knowledge of the life and mental states of each individual, will take misinformation to a whole new level, destroying our ability to trust any source of information. If the rise of QAnon worried you, get ready for QAnon in VR.

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