Rebranding a product or business can be challenging, but doing so for one of the world's largest corporations, with a history of PR problems, legal cases and even unethical scientific research - yet one that many people continue to use daily - is a particularly large task to surmount. Facebook have opted to bypass some of these challenges by keeping the Facebook brand for their Facebook app, but adding to it a parent entity called 'Meta', that focuses on 'The Metaverse'.
As I explained in a recent article that defines the Metaverse, what exactly the Metaverse is, is open to some interpretation. In Marc Zuckerberg's mind, the Metaverse is an opportunity to evolve computing and social interaction in ways that break down borders and enable us to overcome space/time limitations in new ways (that are dependent on technology).
Today at Connect 2021, CEO Mark Zuckerberg introduced Meta, which brings together our apps and technologies under one new company brand. Meta’s focus will be to bring the metaverse to life and help people connect, find communities and grow businesses.
The metaverse will feel like a hybrid of today’s online social experiences, sometimes expanded into three dimensions or projected into the physical world. It will let you share immersive experiences with other people even when you can’t be together — and do things together you couldn’t do in the physical world. It’s the next evolution in a long line of social technologies, and it’s ushering in a new chapter for our company.
In my own mind, it is up to us all what a 'metaverse' actually becomes. However, it is currently most likely to be a layer of technology that sits between the current 2D world of websites/apps and our 'real life' world of 3D physical activity which enables new 'features' to be brought to life. Boundaries between 'siloed' and compartmentalised/segregated websites and communities can be broken down by open source blockchain technology which will allow some of the features that Zuckerberg mentions, such as being able to take digital items bought in one computer game and using them in another game or a social space.
Essentially, it seems that 'metaverse' will be the name given to a means of integrating computing into ever deeper ways in our lives, while also changing the way that we interact with computers and each other in the process.
Some of the proposed technologies seem fun, such as being able to watch movies in 3D while not losing touch with the physical room you are sat in. Being able to experience a 3D representation of someone else as if they are in the room with you while you talk on the 'phone' (aka Star Wars' communications with Princess Leia - projected from R2D2) will no doubt be very popular.
At the same time, those who are more security minded and more cautious with regards the intentions of 'big tech' and it's investors, are aware of the alarming plans made by Klauss Schwabb at the World Economic Forum. His 'Great Reset' and '4th Industrial Revolution' are fancy names for what may amount to the replacement of many people with AI and the integration of control systems directly into people's bodies! What may start out as an 'efficiency drive' may quickly turn into global enslavement via technology. It is essential that no-one rush into anything here!
For those of us who have used Facebook over the years and who have been put in 'Facebook Jail' for all manner of harmless actions, the idea of Facebook wielding huge power over a technology that may become totally ubiquitous in our physical lives, even more than mobile devices are today - raises some serious issues. While Marc Zuckerberg's team have pulled out all the stops in their latest promotional video to paint a picture of an expansive and improved world, where they hold many of the master keys - it will not escape many that the risks are potentially huge too.
We already have fairly believable fake digital videos and audio, able to be produced by anyone at home, that can trick us into thinking we are watching/listening to a real person saying/doing something when in fact we are not. Deep fake technology has the ability to deceive us into a fake reality that will become ever more challenging to pick apart mentally. We will quickly reach the point where we are unable to easily know or understand whether a video really does show a legitimate public figure or even a relative of ours, or not!
The technology revealed by Zuckerberg and Meta includes, among numerous innovations, the ability to create fully realistic 3D avatars. The following is an image from the promotional video which is a fully animated, realtime 3D avatar of one of the project's technical team. When I first saw it I did not know it was not a real video of a real person: With wide availability of such technology, the next few years are likely to bring with them an explosion of new experiences, but also new scams, intrigue and all the other 'fun' problems we currently have to deal with. Imagine if instead of getting plagued by phone calls from Indian scammers trying to pretend they are Microsoft calling to fix a virus on your computer - you instead speak with a fully realistic AI projection of a Microsoft employee and you can't tell the difference!
Clearly, the ethics and security of these technologies need to be handled as a top priority to avoid massive societal problems, the likes of which we haven't seen before.
Examples are provided of Meta's tech in the 'real world', including tools for the workplace. They actually say that working from home will become more normal and that their tech will allow offices to effectively become a thing of the past. In the following scene, we see an impromptu meeting between two colleagues, with one being projected into the room, while physically being at another location. Their architectural project is projected onto the table for discussion.
This side of things is very likely to happen and I can definitely imagine this becoming a normalised part of life. The cost savings of not travelling into a City to work each day will be huge. The reduced stress and pollution as a result will also be hard to argue with.
The Metaverse is also described as manifesting in our social lives. This side of things will likely be more controversial! The example is given of a music gig where someone attends with her friend in a virtual way and then the two of them attend an 'after party' in VR.
The early versions of this technology, especially when filtered through the lens of a giant corporation such as Facebook/Meta seem limited and even exploitative to me. The aim seems to be to sell as much as possible to the 'consumers', while the 'famous' are insulated as much as possible from a physical presence with everyone else.
The idea that Zuckerberg continually sells all of this as 'connecting' people and 'bringing people together' is simultaneously somewhat true but also borders on denying that the gaps in society would best be healed rather than exploited using technology in order for a few people to profit financially.
It will always be a difficult sell to convince the world to buy into a system like this when only a few can afford it and the financial/social gaps between people can absolutely be widened by the insertion of big tech companies who seek to generate ever larger profits by being a 'middle man' between most human interaction
Ultimately, how we use this kind of technology will be up to us all and I fully expect truly open source or even hacked equivalents of this technology to become available - so that their benefits can be made available to the world without users being hooked in to the demands and prices charged by massive corporations.
Plenty of people I have spoken to have been alarmed by the use of the word 'Hive' in the context of both blockchain and social interaction. The desires of many to 'harness' human imagination and mentality into a kind of 'Hivemind' are real, so the concern is worth baring in mind. It is unfortunate to me that, so far at least, Hive's open source architecture means that individuals are actually empowered to create apps and services here that truly do operate as we want them to and not as others dictate.
That being said, any 'Proof of Stake' (DPOS) system such as Hive, always runs the risk of being dominated by those with the most money. This could even include being bought out by Zuckerberg in the future if it poses enough of a threat to his agenda. This is precisely the business strategy that Facebook has long employed, buying up Whatsapp and Instagram to prevent competition from stifling Facebook's growth.
However, the saving grave for Hive users and DPOS is that just as occurred with the hostile takeover of Steem, that led to the creation of Hive, any attempt to dominate the community can be met with a fork that removes the influence and allows us to start over again.
For now, the 'metaverse' functionality of Hive is pretty limited, but it contains within it the seeds of most of what is needed for it to play a part in any future Metaverse. From support for NFTs, to a rich system of social interaction and engagement, it would not be particularly difficult to integrate Hive into any Metaverse 3D VR or AR environmental system. The open nature of the Hive infrastructure means that this is quite possibly inevitable.
In some senses, the main question is whether Hive will jump into the Metaverse off the back of work done by the 'Meta' corporation or whether it will be done independently. This in turn comes down to how much resources are able to be fed into development in the Hive community. 'Meta' are so far ahead with their physical technology at this point that it seems most likely to me that we will see Meta's APIs for VR and 'Metaverse' functionality used to integrate Hive as and when they are available for use by home developers and independent companies that support Hive.
Imagine a VR ready version of Splinterlands where you can see your opponent and even talk with them and shake their hands! This is where we may well be going sooner than many imagine!