The Metaverse is mostly described as a virtual world that was created by combining different technologies. It consists of the fusion of virtual and physical worlds and is bound to impact our lives.
But what does it really consist of? Where does it originate from? How will it evolve? Are we truly ready to embrace this new world and experience the paradigm shifts it brings? Also, what challenges await us? Let's see what it is.
Understanding the Metaverse
The term Metaverse originally derives from the 1992 science fiction novel, "Snow Crash" by AMERICAN Neal Stephenson. The book is set in a bleak dystopian future where the main character lives between his normal reality and a "metaverse", a reality modeled as an urban environment that users experience from a first-person perspective.
A complete definition of the metaverse is currently still not fully completed. However, most people refer to the "metaverse" as a new kind of Internet experience built around a number of unique technologies.
According to Mark Zuckerberg, patron of Facebook, one of the market leaders currently investing in this idea, the metaverse is a kind of "embodied Internet". It's something you can "jump in" (via Virtual Reality - VR) or "bring into your reality" (via Augmented Reality - AR).
In concrete terms, it is believed that the metaverse will redefine what it means to spend time in a virtual space and extend our capabilities beyond what is possible into the physical world. In other words, a collective shared virtual space, created by the convergence of a virtually improved physical reality and a physically persistent virtual space, including the sum of all virtual worlds, augmented reality and the Internet.
We are destined to live an "extended reality", that is a continuum between physical and digital that is spreading more and more globally. In fact, organizations expect the metaverse to become a place where people - thanks to the convergence of physical and digital worlds through AR and VR - can meet and dispose of digital assets (i.e. land, shopping malls, offices, products and avatars) that can be bought and sold, introducing a fully customizable experience and connecting the digital platforms of all areas of our life, such as work, retail and social.
Metaverse & Technologies
The three most common forms of technology associated with the metaverse (outside the internet itself) are:
Blockchain - This technology grants users more control over their online experience and through Non Fungible Tokens (NFT) provides a way to invest and support artists, smart contracts and decentralized finance.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) - Thanks to its use in natural language processing, our machines and robotics can understand us. In addition, the use of AI also supports computer vision and simultaneous location and mapping technologies, which help machines understand their physical surroundings.
Extended Reality (XR) - This technology involves the fusion of the physical and digital world through the use of headphones and devices. With extended reality, we can enter virtual worlds and interact with 3D avatars in communities. Additionally, we can use mixed and augmented reality to bring digital content into the real world as well, changing the way we interact with everything from maps to retail experiences.
The technologies integrated in the world of the metaverse are destined to be applied, not only in the "fantastic" sector - linked to cinema, games and various simulators in the advanced industry - but increasingly in the industrial, medical, military environment. and scientific.
The availability of tools based on XR technology will allow, for example, to perform technical training on the job - in presence or remotely - as if, for example, inside an airplane or a nuclear power plant or on the battlefield, carrying out the various interventions and, at the same time, having the opportunity to discover together the possible errors or examine unexpected responses from the system. In fact, using the metaverse we will be able - through a simulator - to acquire the necessary know-how or being able, remaining in front of the monitor of our PC, to defeat the attacks of the "enemy" that from time to time reveals itself, without fear of being definitively eliminated since it will be possible to start again with a new simulation.
It should be noted that the XR technology will allow for example - through the use of particular sensors and transducers - to make a soldier in training feel the pain of the wound or become aware of a jammed weapon, up to living the experience of rescuing the comrade under enemy fire. In the medical field, the surgeon will be able to operate remotely with a robot and, at the same time, have his students assist in the intervention, through their avatars and live the experience of an operating room.
In fact, everything described up to now only refers to the etymological origin of the word metaverse. From the Greek "meta" meant the action of going "beyond" something and, combined with "towards" - deriving from "universe" - we are faced with a desire to overcome the limits of the universe we live in, ie a new world , hitherto unexplored, and in a phase of evolution.
Security issues related to the metaverse
Many security issues need to be addressed before implementing the metaverse, such as:
Identity of the individual - Although virtual identity is the key identity in the metaverse, the identity demonstration mechanism is very important. However, it is currently unclear how this spoofing mechanism can be prevented in the metaverse. Also, there is a concept of Avatar in the metaverse, similar to an individual's physical body in the physical world. There are many security concerns about how Avatar protects identity in the metaverse.
Laws and regulations - There is currently no metaverse legislative framework available to address the law-related aspects of the metaverse.
Malware protection - Currently, there is no regulatory framework or security framework available to protect the metaverse from malware. Hence the need to define security standards to protect the metaverse from malware.
Data protection - There are no clear guidelines to protect data in the metaverse. In the event of the theft of sensitive and personal information, the entire concept of the metaverse would, at present, be compromised.
Intellectual Property (IP) Theft - The protection of intellectual property (IP) is paramount, and its security is extremely important in the metaverse. Since it is still difficult to secure IP in the physical world, it will be even more difficult to secure in the metaverse.
Threat deriving from the technologies used - There are specific security problems for the metaverse arising from the technologies used, ie blockchain, cryptocurrencies and NFT which therefore must be duly protected.
Ethical implications of the Metaverse
Metaverse technology has ethical implications that are bound to impact society and, at the same time, it will be necessary to ensure the safety of these parallel worlds. Let's see in what terms:
Biometric data and privacy Virtual and augmented reality devices are set up to provide users with access to the metaverse, but these devices, along with the Brain-Computer Interface (BCI) will track brain wave patterns and infer thought processes of users. In fact, the metaverse will offer companies exciting new ways to interact with consumers and predict their behaviors or engagement. That is: our inherently private and personal data can be collected, stored and kept on the blockchain forever. Many consumers today simply accept privacy policies without reading them in full, and what is worrying is that the same is true in the metaverse. In addition, compromising hacker attacks or misuse of data is another concern. Therefore, IT security and data protection must also be guaranteed in the metaverse.
Bullying, hate speech and other phenomena - The Internet and social media have already shown us people express opinions they would never have expressed in real life, giving rise to bullying, hate speech, etc. The same is very likely to happen in the metaverse, where people will be able to hide behind their avatar or "digital twin". To combat these phenomena it will be necessary to implement a legislative and regulatory framework as soon as possible.
Identity - The metaverse, through the use of the NFT (Non Fungible Token, which relies on the blockchain to embed unique codes in digital assets), will allow users to show their unique and authentic avatar. The question arises spontaneously - given that in the real world each of us has to accept our essence (ie appearance, social background, race, social status, and so on) - whether in the metaverse users can be anything they want, that is, if identity it might be something users can choose from.
Protect the Vulnerable - If users can be anything they want to be in the metaverse, it makes it difficult to protect the vulnerable. Children are already very adept at playing virtual reality games that offer an immersive experience, but where the metaverse offers universes or "walled gardens" that display violent or adult content, there must be ways to prevent children from entering. It has already been shown that virtual consumption or even participation in violent virtual reality games desensitizes people to violence, which poses the risk that the "acceptable" actions of the metaverse will be replicated in real life. These hyper-reality experiences could also trigger sensory overload and induce seizures in those users who are suffering from epilepsy.
The metaverse represents a major paradigm shift, as it occurred with the World Wide Web in the 90s and with social media in the early 2000s. It follows that it is imperative to build a metaverse that does not have the problems associated with the Internet such as we know him now.
A new place where we can learn, build, play, communicate and collaborate effectively with anyone on earth and which, at the same time, makes the world more "reachable", connecting everyone regardless of geographic location and, at the same time, more meaningful, allowing more opportunities.
The Metaverse - if used correctly - could bring humans together like never before, giving us new opportunities to connect regardless of language differences or location. That is, it could be the beginning of new environments, where to build new economies based on the shared distribution of value.
We are at the beginning of a new era, in which experiences will be built by people, for people, in an increasingly accessible landscape. However, the path to this new technology is long and will have to be based on a collaborative approach in order to establish shared norms on acceptable behavior in these ever-changing spaces. Therefore, all actors involved - ie developers, creatives, industry, governments, advocacy organizations and end users - will need to do their part in order to ideally move the broader online culture to a more open, inclusive and safer space for all.
Federica Maria Rita Levelli - Business Continuity & Risk Management Consultant
Alberto Morici - CEO of ETS Sistemi Industriali Srl
Bibliography for further information
Photo: US Air Force