Insights · April 20th, 2022

Nikolas Badminton – Futurist Speaker – hosted a virtual panel discussion on the future of the metaverse at the Vancouver International Privacy & Security Summit (VIPSS) called ‘The Metaverse:  The Emperor’s New Clothes?’

The Metaverse – a super-platform weaving social media, online gaming, utilitarian data provision, and ease-of-life apps, all accessible through the same digital and physical space and bound together with economic and content mechanisms. 

The global market for this new world is projected to be an $82B market by 2025 and many companies are lining up to be a part of creating this new world resulting in complexity and shiny visions of our new future.

The big promise is for this to be interoperable with connecting services so they can collect our data, track us, and demand our attention. It could be transcendent and empowering, or a broken web of complex data brokerages, incompatibility and uncoordinated experiences that drive us into a privacy and surveillance nightmare due to walled garden systems and mechanisms of monetization and control?

Nikolas Badminton, Chief Futurist at the Futurist Think Tank  moderated the discussion with 3 experts in the future of the metaverse –  James Hursthouse, CEO & Founder, Departure Lounge Inc., Kharis O’Connell, Principal, Amazon, Heather Vescent, President/Futurist, The Purple Tornado.

You can watch the full discussion here:

The entire discussion has been transcribed – and edited for flow and clairy – and is offered in three parts

Digital Transformation

Nikolas Badminton

How are we going to how are we going to shift and transform to get to the next level where the Metaverse becomes real? 

Kharis O’Connell

That’s an interesting area and it’s probably the least one at least considered areas as well for a couple of reasons. One is that AR and VR and related technologies are on the rise and getting funding. They’re also minor players in the modern world, and they don’t have a critical impact, yet. They haven’t got proven business models. They haven’t got proven out use cases outside of enterprise for a lot of this technology for specific use cases. I think a lot of people are hedging bets and sitting on the fence with regard to regulation. But, one of the things I think that it’s critical to understand is the endpoint security – me walking around in this future world whereI could be wearing AR glasses in the real world, or I could be wearing VR headsets in the virtual world. They have a bunch of sensors built into the devices. They are reading you, knowing where you are, watching who you’re talking to, what you’re looking at, etc. The security around these things and the regulation around these things, I think is going to really become something important. 

On the one hand, you’ve got like the major companies Google, Amazon, Facebook, etc. that are not going to open the pipes of data and be like – let’s just send this out to the players in the world. We have no idea how this data is being used and consumed. They’re going to want to really make sure because they’re trying to protect their own brand and their own investments. That’s what it’s about. In addition they are going to make sure that those gates are fully locked and closed? That’s where I think it’s going to be a lot of discussion between the major companies that provide the endpoint architecture and hardware, and the government entities that will be looking into this and seeing what the potential risk is for exploitation of this data.

Nikolas Badminton

The CEO of Microsoft actually said that the Metaverse is all gaming, and they’ve just acquired Activision. But we’re talking about something bigger there, right? James, you’re from that world. Is this just an extension of gaming? Is that how we’re going to sort of ease our way into this new sort of shared metaverse?

James Hursthouse

The key difference between what we’ve had in gaming so far, and now is the whole concept of blockchain and incontrovertible smart contracts. While I hear, some of the concerns around smart contracts, and the sort of workload that that’s going to entail from the computing side, there’s a lot of work going in now to make sure that smart contracts can continue to become more and more robust, without necessarily having all the very high gas fees and a lot of work in in reducing the amount of compute that’s required. At the same time having the benefit of smart contracts that can apply across the board for various things. Recent developments in smart contracts allow them to evolve. Obviously, at a certain point in time, contracts can provide you with certain capabilities that you didn’t have previously until you engage with somebody for a certain period of time. 

Then equally, this whole idea of governance without government potentially, the idea that the smart contract exists, and as a sort of community based, decentralized organization, ushers in a sea change. Individual users are going to start to claim back sovereignty over their own identity and their own data.

Let’s say there’s 200 data points about me that are currently all over the internet. In the previous model, we’ve gone and allowed this data to become the property of the companies with whom we’ve engaged. Because I can see a lot more people are trying to take that identity back there’s a lot more work around decentralized identifiers, so that as part of that contract. I need to engage with the company I want. Maybe they want to do a credit check and to do that they don’t actually have to know my name, and my address, and all these sorts of things. They just need that sort of decentralized identity component to be able to say, does he have enough money in the bank. Is he old enough to consume the product that he’s trying to gain access to?

I think what that does is it brings data ownership back into the, into the control of regular citizens. As you interact with brands you’re leasing that data rather than some sort of capitalism. The best place in which we can affect that sea change to a more egalitarian and more democratic approach and a fairer approach around data. I think the answer probably is – unlikely. Therefore, as a result of that, government should step in, because there’s a lot of areas in the modern world where smart contract where data sovereignty with healthcare, or with insurance, and all these different areas, where government can take a role to make sure that it becomes available for for for everybody regardless of sort of social status.

So I don’t think it is just gaming. I think that gaming is an area in which we practice, things like play to earn, and we practice avatar, we practice digital identity, and we practice all of these things for 20 years. What’s happening now is a lot of those ways of thinking are starting to come into society more broadly. I think the government should actually come in and be the pioneer to show the good side of that rather than only going – okay, well, smart contracts are only about making money. They’re not and they can be egalitarian and they can be implementing fairer systems. That contract is an incontrovertible component of the way in which we choose to organize society. In some senses, there wouldn’t be any argument about what was taking public opinion or, you know, the way in which the community as a whole wanted to move forward. 

There were a lot of games that used to allow players to vote on the way that the game ought to be developed. If you apply that thinking to sort of society in general, there’s a really good parallel there where we’re all contributing to the more positive outcomes. And I think that has to be spearheaded by the government.

Nikolas Badminton

I did a piece of work with a company that built systems for airlines, and ecommerce. A lot of these airlines have actually got a larger bank of value in their points (loyalty) programs than their market caps.

It’s interesting, if you look at that, as an idea around sovereignty of data –  I fly, I get points, I can do things with points. Now airlines are realizing that just getting them to redeem against flights isn’t a good idea. So now they’re going away and saying, OK, we’re going to build consumer engagement ecosystems so that we can relieve you of those points, and you get some value from that as well. Sovereignty of data seems like it’s already culturally out in the world. 

I also know that Microsoft, have been working with people like Jaron Lanier, who’s been involved in VR for a very, very long period of time, on something called Data dignity. That’s the idea that if you undertake a set of actions in a digital world, or even in the physical world, you own that data. I speculate that if we end up in a world of open data exchanges, and individuals become these people that generate that data that can be used in different ways, and we’re going to have ultra micro economies of people, families, communities or whatever coming together. I’d like to get Heather’s input on this, because I know that you’ve, you’ve sort of like thought about a whole bunch of this this stuff as well.

Heather Vescent

I liked a lot of what James and Kharis said, and I want to simply say that I need to trust that my data is not going to be weaponized against me. 

In the most mild sense that’s advertising to try to get me to buy something that I may or may not want to. In the worst sense it’s causing me to believe in something that is not true and taking me down a pathway where I end up believing in a whole set of things that is not based in reality. We’ve seen that, that forums and companies are not very good at policing that. 

Governments have had to have regulation like GDPR. One of the things I think is interesting that I’m starting to see is that there are some companies in Europe that are much more amenable to using decentralized identity, SSI, and self sovereign identity. James mentioned those as part of data privacy, increasing security. I just really wonder if those companies offering that as a baseline are going to be able to come in and better compete in a US market where we’re not forced to comply with GDPR yet. Whereas European companies have to build their products and services to comply with GDPR, which a lot of people around the globe want, which could make those products and services more competitive in markets where companies are not required to provide those types of protection. So, I think that’s a really interesting place where, you know, global competition, that dynamic of global competition might come by, because, you know, in the US and on the internet, like a lot of people say – oh, customers don’t want privacy. They don’t need that. But there’s really no legitimate way. For an individual to say I don’t like this to accompany. In theory, we could band together. 

James Hursthouse

I tell you what is funny is that you know, what’s quite funny is in some ways that GDPR and blockchain in some ways are mutually incompatible. Right, because, you know, the whole premise of GDPR is information needs to be, you know, depletable after three months or whatever, and you have to be able to get rid of that personally identifiable data. But obviously, if your first name, middle name, family name, date of birth, has been written somewhere into the blockchain, then that isn’t actually deleted in the way that GDPR would require it, right? 

Heather Vescent

You never want to put PII (personally identifiable information) on a blockchain just never put PII. No, no, no.

James Hursthouse

You have to have those decentralized identifiers that that means that all of that information isn’t available at once, or you wouldn’t lose your record of 200 data points. I like to imagine a future in which I can retract permission from anybody and thenI go around the internet, I go around the metaverse, I’m giving permission for certain interactions. But you know, I think the vision has to be that at a certain point in time, if I chose to, I could update my sort of personal contract which says – from this point forward, I have retracted permission from everybody to engage with my data. As a result of that it brings that sovereign data component back to me. That’s the sort of future that I sort of want to work towards where I have control of this.

At any point in time I can go – OK, no more and actually just means that it’s my data and I haven’t given it in return for something. I’ve leased it for a period of time and returned for value in that transaction that makes sense for both sides. But then on a given day, I’m able to say, Okay, I don’t want to be able to engage, or I don’t want those companies to be able to engage with me in that way any longer. 

That’s what I think we have to take in order to be able to have sensible data around this interoperable web. It’s impacting the augmented reality space that I think we’re going to end up living in relatively soon as well.

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NikolasBadminton_ChiefFuturist

Nikolas Badminton

Nikolas is the Chief Futurist of the Futurist Think Tank. He is world-renowned futurist speaker, a Fellow of The RSA, and has worked with over 300 of the world’s most impactful companies to establish strategic foresight capabilities, identify trends shaping our world, help anticipate unforeseen risks, and design equitable futures for all. In his new book – ‘Facing Our Futures’ – he challenges short-term thinking and provides executives and organizations with the foundations for futures design and the tools to ignite curiosity, create a framework for futures exploration, and shift their mindset from what is to WHAT IF…

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