Humanity’s digitalization via AI and the metaverse is a foregone conclusion, but will it result in a decentralized, better world or a dystopian nightmare?
Will the Metaverse(s) alter the course of human history as we know it? Will the Metaverse(s) ultimately be used to augment human perception? Will it develop into an agora for our dreams (and, of course, horrors), capable of completely altering human perception? Is it already underway?
To begin, yes, the groundwork has already been set. Sensors from our cellphones, social media, digital devices, and the Fortune 500’s digital data-driven enterprises are humanity’s new cathedrals, churches, and tribal spaces. These technologies, together with the advent of the so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution, or 4IR, and the AI-driven Society 5.0, have resulted in more change in humanity in the last 50 years than in the preceding 30,000 combined. And this is only the start!
In 1974, philosopher Robert Nozick imagined a hypothetical machine capable of offering any pleasure or experience possible in a thought experiment. Nozick posed a fascinating question: Would we choose the machine over reality if given the choice? Nozick concluded that we would probably not pick the machine, suggesting that it is preferable to experience the highs and lows of the actual world than to experience the simulated’s artificial, never-ending high.
However, a great deal can change in 50 years. In 1990, sixteen years after Nozick’s death and a year after Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web, Steve Jobs used the term “bicycle for the mind,” and we were off to the artificial races.
Encoding the human desire for narratives
What would we select now if faced with a decision between the real, physical finite and the virtual, digital infinite enabled by artificial intelligence? The response is that we have already made a decision. We are now all digital magicians, scientists, and subjects in a massive ongoing virtual social experiment, engaging and stimulating one other’s brains and bodies with a variety of experiences and feelings that are completely indistinguishable from those encountered in the “real” physical world. This occurs on Facebook, TikTok, YouTube, rypto-empowering NFTs, Fortnite, Second Life, and Decentraland, among a plethora of other online and social media platforms. The Metaverse (or metaverses) are essentially the ultimate amplified form of dreaming and a predetermined outcome. Due to the rapid advancement of technology, we are truly on the verge of digitizing mankind, owing to AI and the advent of the metaverse — the future resembles Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One, in which a digitized reality enables us to experience nearly anything!
While the Metaverse is the result of the last 50 years of technological advancement, it will also welcome new and entirely distinct ways of thinking and dreaming about humanity’s infatuation with ever-larger stories. This will involve novel modes of interaction, communication, and narrative, ushering in a new age in our socioeconomic centralized and decentralized 4IR, Web3, and Society 5.0 cultural histories.
For several millennia, stories have supported human culture and civilization. They teach us to communicate effectively, to read and write, to ingest civil norms, to produce Magna Cartas, and to shape our identities. They teach us about language and psychology, as well as about belonging, ownership, and a sense of right and wrong. They define the narrative of our lives and societies, and hence of our circular socioeconomic models, financial codes, and ethics. As with Homer’s or Milton’s verses, the Metaverse of today will be remembered as a force that shaped the course of civilization, and as an island within the complex human history of epics, comedies, and tragedies, as well as inventions such as fire, the wheel, computers, and the internet, and now the Metaverse!
Just as we have begun implementing aspects of the “real world” in the Metaverse, from virtual landmarks to cities’ digital twins, we can be certain that our experiences will bridge the real and virtual worlds in the Metaverse, reshaping our narratives in the physical world, much like the internet and social media altered not only how we gather information, but also how we perceive and integrate that information into our personal narratives. However, the Metaverse provides us with a new opportunity to modify those narratives, new ways of dreaming (and suffering nightmares), so expanding the potential and mitigating the disadvantages of the existing internet model.
Artificial intelligence dreaming or a nightmarish Pandora’s Box?
The Metaverse revolution’s pioneers have been and will undoubtedly continue to be those who bridge physical and virtual experiences: from the creation of new cities and properties, to travel and art, to general experiences, all of which continue to expand and augment our society with brand new social media and gaming experiences. This is currently occurring on platforms with sizable user bases, creator marketplaces, live digital event experiences, and cutting-edge hardware, and it is these platforms that are laying the groundwork for this new medium. Web3, artificial intelligence, blockchain, and other decentralized technologies will act as a check on the organizations and individuals behind these platforms that were not available during the early days of the internet, ensuring that similar errors are not repeated as this foundation is built.
We have already begun our journey to the Metaverse through the myriad interactive experiences that have been generated over the last two decades on digital, social, and gaming platforms. It is generally established that these platforms have commodified individuals through the gathering of their data and the recording of their activities, capitalizing on both their wishes and frustrations. To address this issue, we must develop AI digital ethics, be aware of the risks associated with augmenting our perception of reality and the fake narratives that may emerge in such circumstances, and adopt self-sovereign identities (SSI), decentralized digital identities that enable the presentation and verification of credentials in digital interactions.
The emerging metaverses’ AI-powered technological solutions enable ourselves and other users to self-manage and augment our digital identities without relying on third-party companies to store and manage data centrally. However, if not controlled properly, this can be far more disruptive than anything in the previous 30,000 years of humanity.
While the use of blockchain technology and NFTs, as well as AI tools, VR, and AR — and even holograms like in Star Wars — are still in their infancy, they will be critical in scaling the vision of what metaverses are and can be, and we must imagine and build them collectively, mindful of their potential to empower us if built ethically and securely, thereby establishing trust.
To ensure the success of a metaverse, we must ensure that we are all aware that it is currently occurring! It is a part of the present moment of each of our lives, not some distant future! The Metaverse must be built by all of us, with conscience, in a way that is seamless and trusted, and in which the citizen — each of us — uses these new tools, just as fire was invented, to empower themselves by owning and evolving with the new metaverse platforms and technologies, rather than being a slave to them.
As a result, we must be cognizant of the fact that we must construct and improve the Metaverse, the AI platforms for human augmentation, rather than turning it into a dystopian prison! Only in this way will we ensure that the Metaverse we are currently constructing evolves into the ultimate set of tools and platforms for assisting us in dreaming bigger and unlocking more powerful narratives, rather than trapping us in a prison constructed from our own greatest fears and nightmares.
Disclaimer: These are the writer’s opinions and should not be considered investment advice. Readers should do their own research.