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

Surveillance and DAOs

Nikolas Badminton

I want to shift gears a little bit towards a discussion around the Metaverse and the weaponization of data. 

I read an article the other day. Philip Rosedale, one of the founders of Linden Labs and Second Life. It’s been around since 2003 and it’s got a million monthly users – the OG Metaverse in a way. Recently, Rosedales said that a business model centered on advertising, surveillance and behavioral targeting for the virtual world would be highly problematic. 

Kharis – I want to get your thoughts on that and sort of kick off the discussion around the monetization of biometrics and the like.

Kharis O’Connell 

To me, it always comes back to this kind of criticality of how right now the companies that are investing a lot of money. And, I really mean – a lot of money – in building out these kinds of devices and background infrastructure to let these devices run operating systems. The big concern is that with all this investment and all these sensors, and all this kind of understanding of the world, because I think that’s the thing that we we haven’t really gone into, is that the metaverse is not very well defined. That’s intense. 

When you’re looking from the hardware aspect backwards is the metaverse is somebody walking down the street, they’re wearing some headset or such like, and they are having things come up as useful for them. They’re getting notifications and their friends are joining this chat channel, they’re getting virtual objects in the real world. They’re getting a mishmash of physical and digital aspects, which is the ‘Promised Land’, if you will. But, the sensors needed to do that, and to make it work properly are vast.

You only have to look back at the Google Glass conundrum. Almost a decade ago now. The biggest issue with that aside from you know, looking like what was that ‘glasshole’? Oh, my God, there’s a camera and it’s watching everything and so on. Well, the companies are still full of this. I know it’s ironic because we walk around with a camera in our pocket every day. And,  there is a certain amount of craziness about it. This kind of perception, or consensus, is whether the future is going to be fully driven by these things. It’s the sensor technologies. So, the big question then moves to where does that go? 

If you look at a company like Apple they’ve sold themselves on privacy first and we’re waiting for the big reveal of Apple’s mythical headset. Mythical glasses. Whatever. But, Apple is not going to open this thing up and be like, come on in the Apple Store, jump in these glasses. There’s a colossal app store of third party vendors, and software, and so on. And, you can send all your stuff there. If anything, they’re going to do more like a secure enclave kind of approach, where they’ll sell on the idea that your data is secure. You don’t have to worry or think about contracts or anything. You are secure. Where you’re paying for the luxury of professionals to deal with all your stuff, instead of you having to deal with it and negotiate and understand the incredibly complex world that you’re about to enter into. [The idea of an open Metaverse].

I think this is the stumbling block of the connector between the worlds that are being invested in by all the fans, and the fan companies where we’re building these things out. Then this kind of the decentralized, open source blockchain driven side of things – which is just as legitimate – but between them, that kind of like, mesh isn’t there yet, there’s no clarity on like, who is actually going to mesh this all and fit the criteria, from the decentralized side, that the company is providing the endpoint choir to be able to track it. And vice versa. 

So, and because until we have that they – the big tech companies – won’t. They’ll just keep the door shut, if you will, they won’t allow this in. Because there’s too much risk for the failure of the devices. People are bad actors, and have bad experiences. The next thing, just like Google Glass, people are taking these things off. And in the Metaverse, I lost all my money. I joined some random club thing. I don’t know. And that some somebody there did a transaction or my money’s gone for my account, you know, what’s happened, and so on. I think that that’s something that we’re seeing kind of unfortunate truths right now, for better or for worse where the connection is missing.

James Hursthouse

Just like the beginning of the last internet, though. What’s the difference?

Kharis O’Connell

It’s very much. So yeah, we’ve ended up with an internet, there’s like clickbait driven templates. That is like, driven by Google and, and people using apps and native apps that access information, because the open web, which is, albeit super unfortunate, is no longer a destination for a lot of people.

Heather Vescent

But, just because we did it in the 90s. Can we do better now than we did 30 years ago? Can we do better? Can we like learning?

Okay, should we should we have an opportunity to engage? Folks have thought about these things. The metaverse but also let’s learn from what we’ve learned and see if we can actually use blockchain technology, the smart contracts, NFTs, digital identity, decentralized identity, to make it better than the first time? 

Yeah, we survived. But can we make the world better now?

Nikolas Badminton

It’s interesting. Let’s think about that. Maybe giving power to the people. Let’s give the data commons back so that people can have the power of making money from their data or keeping it ultra private or whatever. Sure, you might go for the luxurious solutions from Apple and whatever, but someone just asked a question around decentralized autonomous organizations – DAOs. There’s a promise there. That a DAO is suddenly could potentially be a group of millions, tens of millions, hundreds of millions of people that have got that autonomy and have got power and can potentially rule over the top of these larger companies, right? 

The question I got was this and it’s really good – DAOs are frequently put into as a key aspect of a whole bunch of Web3 NFT technologies. Are you aware of any doubts that truly are decentralized and autonomous? If most aren’t, do you believe this will undermine public confidence? When our Dow is going to be all three, and when is this public Commons going to be sort of powerful enough to say – we want to buy products from Microsoft, Apple, whoever, even from small vendors but we want to be in charge as well. Are we responsible enough to do that?

Heather Vescent

Technology is limited by the mindset, the values, the enlightenment, and the evolution of the people who build it. We have a whole bunch of people that have so much energy in the space right now. Then we have people like us that have been around the block, and we’re a little bit jaded, and maybe not so excited. So, how can we work together? How can we have the mindset to be curious about this new technology, wonder where it can go, and what it can do? And, yet still be pragmatic? How can we communicate that pragmatism and these hard won lessons like that? Those of us Gen-Xers that didn’t like the early metaverse. 

How can we communicate that in a way that doesn’t pour water over all the energy of the younger generation that wants to recreate the web in that way? So I think the limitation of a DAO – which when I first heard about them I thought they were amazing – and then the execution was so far below what my expectation was. We just need to work together. The limitations are human limitations, not technology limitations. So, knowing those limitations and trying to leverage the wealth of knowledge that we have, through people who’ve experienced things through different ages, and truly having an open mind and being curious about the criticisms, and being curious about the possibilities and opportunities. I think that’s the way forward. That’s a very human emotional way of moving, and iterating and making the world better, making the technology better. Future proofing the technology AND making money.

Nikolas Badminton

So human limitations, and I love what you just said there, Heather! 

How do we motivate people to be different or to be participatory? To challenge or be resistant to being colonized by the technology that’s being thrust in front of us?

James Hursthouse

With things like wash trading, and various other things that are going on in NFTs right now, I think it’s possible to write an anti wash trade component into the contract itself to prevent it from happening. Obviously, there’s an element that there were early adopters, and folks that were in the space earlier, sort of left those convenient pieces of governance out of what’s been going on. I think over time there will be a sort of reset. And, we’ll have to take a more compassionate approach, and the market will demand it.

To answer the question about which sort of deals are we looking at now and thinking, okay, there’s something in there, there was a lot of conversation. I went to the Webcouver event earlier in the week, which was great and full of very sort of vibrant activity. Young people, they’re fully embracing Web3, and the sort of conversation around the concept of a DAO for a SuperPAC.

I would go and check out the Miami Dade DAO and see what they’re doing from the perspective of civil engagement and utilizing these new technologies in that way. Now, they’re going to get it right, straight out of the gate, maybe maybe not. It’s certainly a good example of a way in which a DAO is being adopted, at least with the goals of civic engagement and pushing forward along with the agendas of social justice. 

Imagine one million people collaborating through this decentralized system and then applying that power I suppose, to the political systems and the the issues of voting and various other components. You know, in some ways it’s the group’s which will mobilize most quickly that in a way you’re going to end up coming into power and that’s obviously worrying to a certain extent, you know. So, brave new world In many regards, right, but it is a good example. 

Final Thoughts

Nikolas Badminton

Okay. Cool. I just want to do a quick walk around the houses and ask what your final thoughts are on Metaverse and what comes next? 

Kharis O’Connell

If only it was that simple. And I think that actually what is going to happen is people are going to realize now, how inherently complex it is. I think the general public has a naivety – they’ve seen the fight. Metaverse, the term only existed among early adopters until maybe like a year or so ago. Now it’s in the context of public consciousness, but they don’t really know what this means. 

So I think there’s going to be a lot of understanding both on the investment side of things, we a lot of shocks around what is needing to be done and what it’s going to take to actually make this Metaverse really happen.

Heather Vescent

Let’s take what’s worked well, appreciate that. Bring it forward into the future. Identify what hasn’t worked well. Try to solve it with technology, the past or the present. And then just iterate and move forward with a curious mind.

James Hursthouse

There is an upside of being able to go spend time with your family from all over the world in a single space, watch one of your favorite bands that may not be around anymore from the past.

We’re literally at the dawn of an era where we can play with time, space, mortality, we can come together as a community. We can have all of these amazing experiences, both in fully virtual space and in the augmented world. I just think we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that we are at the dawn of this amazing and potentially very positive sort of evolution of human humanity.

Then we can have the ability to wrap culture and preserve it for future generations and all these kinds of things that are right there. I want to say that I would love to make sure that we solve the problems of data and security and self sovereign identity, so that we can all enjoy that positive outcome, and as Heather says, you know, we don’t have to make the same mistakes that we made with web one and web two. 

We should all work together to sort of realize that vision.

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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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