Facebook has announced its ambition to develop a “metaverse”, a parallel digital universe in 3D, where it will be possible to communicate, meet, walk around, shop in the form of a virtual body that incorporates facial expressions and gestures, called an avatar. Metaverse will be accessible via a virtual reality helmet, sensory gloves and probably systems that reproduce perfumes, smells, still in development. In this universe, which Facebook (now Meta) sets itself the goal of controlling, companies will open shops, stalls, offices that will be their 3D digital showcases, already financially valued, according to their “proximity” to the future central core of this world.
It should be noted that it will not be available to all Internet users, because it will require expensive technological leaps, both for terminals, sensory interfaces and for the Internet network (very high-speed network, computing power that some consider multiplied by a thousand compared to current standards). On this condition, you will be able, through your avatar, to make purchases in incredible virtual stores, to touch an object, a piece of clothing, to look at it from all angles, to stroll in avenues and wild places, to dance, watch movies, attend concerts and public events, this “contactless” and without the physical limitations of the real world. As 10 years ago, when the current social networks emerged in public space, social mobilizations will undoubtedly invest these places for collective “meta-mobs” with speeches, virtual audience movements and instant interactions. In this space of all possibilities, you will also be able to meet the avatar of your distant loved ones, resume their appearance, their gestures and their voice, which you will be able to have the feeling of touching or take in hand.
“If designers have imagination, so do malevolent spirits”
And since the Facebook-Metaverse already has 15 years of data, exchanges and photos taken by its 3 billion current users, we can predict that nothing will prevent such moments to share with the avatar of a deceased person who resumes their appearance, their voice, their behavior, even their beliefs, synthesized from the publications made during their lifetime… deceased stars, historical figures will also be able to be “reborn” and attract crowds of “metaverse”. Unsettling sense of “interiority”, this word that I created 10 years ago to symbolize survival after death in “the cloud” (digital). Everything seems possible and unlimited other than the imagination of the designers!
Yes without limits really! Because if the designers have imagination, so do the malevolent spirits. In the same way that Facebook-Instagram and most social networks are confronted with the problem of regulating offensive language or cyberbullying, this “new world dream” will certainly be the place for excesses of a completely different dimension, precisely permitted by its new dimension, which the observation of current behavior unfortunately makes predictable. Overall, this space will be a new playground for cyber attacks by individuals, organizations or states, aimed at paralyzing targeted virtual places, to prevent transactions, disrupt a show, a gathering, a mobilization.
How to regulate?
There will certainly also be underground rooms, accessible by taking side roads, where you can find everything, in the same way that there is already a dark web independent of the web. The sex industry, which has always invested in new media of all kinds (subsequent books, press, cinema, Minitel, Internet, social networks, etc.) will certainly develop massively in the Metaverse, as with current dating sites and dedicated meeting places, backrooms, distant digital brothels successors to the one who rose from the ashes of Pompeii can be expected.
“It can enable verbal, even physical or sexual aggression”
At the individual level, there will be avatars – fakes, trolls, purely virtual bots, not attached to a physical person, but who will walk by your side, who you will meet, who you will interact with… they will take on a physical person appearance, a voice, a constantly renewed conversation to drown out repeated commercial information, invective, “spammer”. Remote takeovers and takeovers of avatars by real people are also predictable with the aim of redirecting their payments or bringing them into an unwanted virtual space (violent or sex scenes, unpleasant sensations from gloves, etc.). And how to distinguish the true from the false in this “false-real world” synthesized from scratch?
Above all, it will be able to enable verbal, even physical or sexual aggression, made all the more realistic with 3D, the many senses mobilized by the immersive experience of the Metaverse and the slightest perception of the physical, even moral, inherent barriers of this place designed with the idea of unfettered freedom. They can be the result of isolated or coordinated avatars in encounters with very realistic scenes of harassment or violence committed by avatars with unfriendly faces, shouting, insulting, approaching, obstructing the field of vision or “touching” your and other places. one woman has already complained about such an attack. Admittedly, the “victim” will always be able to immediately remove their virtual reality helmet and gloves, but it is understood that this kind of experience that affects sight, touch and hearing, with a rendering that is so all the more realistically, as it is precisely expected that in this world it is designed for this purpose can have far more traumatic consequences than an insulting comment on a publication.
“It will be necessary to regulate actions, gestures, movements of avatars, while ensuring the “collective security” of payments, places, entrances”
So how can order reign in this world by regulating the relationship between digital avatars, by detecting and neutralizing false avatars, and by neutralizing individual or concerted malicious acts? This promises to be much more difficult than the current moderation of comments, photos and videos on social networks, which are already problematic and unfinished. Because far beyond that, it will be necessary to regulate the actions, gestures, movements of the avatars, while ensuring the “collective security” of payments, places, entrances. Will it be a private font, Facebook’s, or public? And in the latter case, what about the differences in regulation between states in a system that is by definition globalized? The lines from the computer programmers of the Metaverse will therefore not be limited to creating this world, but they promise to be heavy with underlying societal meanings.
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