‘Metaverse technology is still immature, but in 30 years, everyone will use it’


Crypto.news spoke with David Shrier, the author of the book ‘Basic Metaverse,’ about the future of the virtual world.

The global metaverse market could potentially reach a revenue of $1,237 billion by 2030, as projected by recent reports. However, intricate security and privacy concerns may slow down the market’s growth.

Crypto.news discussed these and other concerns with David Shrier, a futurist, author, and entrepreneur, at Websummit in Lisbon. In his book ‘Basic Metaverse: How Virtual Worlds Will Change Our Reality and What You Can Do to Unlock Their Potential’, Shrier delves into the future of this emerging technology and its potential impact on our daily lives.

During our conversation, we explored the metaverse challenges, and the possibility of a future where interacting with the virtual world via contact lenses or even brain implants may become a reality sooner than you may think.

Crypto.news: Your book, ‘Basic Metaverse,’ was published this year when many say the “metaverse hype is dead” and the NFT market is down. Do you believe the metaverse has potential?

David Shrier: “Metaverse is dead” is a catchy headline that does not reflect the economic reality of a vibrant industry. In 2022, the metaverse generated more than $66 billion in revenue. 

The first misconception that I often have to explain to people is that the metaverse is not Meta, the company that Mark Zuckerberg runs, which grabbed the name and is making lots of noise around it. That is one tiny slice of the metaverse market. Augmented reality and three-dimensional browser-based metaverse like Roblox and Minecraft, these companies are doing fine.

No matter what you may read about Mark Zuckerberg and his losses in virtual reality, the metaverse encompasses a much wider set of ways of interacting with technology, and the market is tens of billions of dollars U.S. in revenue and is doing fine.

The NFT market has gone through a healthy correction. It’s the Gartner hype cycle: you had this invention, then you had proliferation, then you had hype. The frothy things that don’t have a value attached to them are sort of settling out of that market.

For example, Kaleidoco, one of my portfolio companies, has a game they’re launching next year called Particle Ink. Kaleidoco did an NFT mint recently and they sold out in under two hours. In this game, your characters can get unique attributes through their NFTs. That’s what I would term a natural use case for NFTs. So, if you have a viable product in the NFT market, it’s very healthy, liquid, and fungible.

Crypto.news: Why do you think the Mark Zuckerberg idea failed?

David Shrier: One reason is it was too early. The technology curve isn’t there yet. Virtual reality is just one aspect of the metaverse. It’s premature technology. For example, wearing the goggles for too long causes motion sickness. It has a name for it. It’s called cybersickness, where moving with your head and the goggles don’t quite match.

Women are four times more likely to be cyber-sick than men. So, when you have a gender-differentiated product, high manufacturing costs, and limited comfortable usage time, it creates significant barriers to adoption.

Crypto.news: Your book paints a fascinating future where the metaverse transforms various aspects of life, from dating to medicine. However, this future you’ve described is quite alarming due to privacy and deepfake concerns. What are your thoughts on this?

David Shrier: There are a couple of issues that you’re raising. One is identity. And how do we provenance a unique digital identity in an anonymous format? That’s something that blockchain technology is very good at.

Second, artificial intelligence can create deepfakes, but it can also detect deepfakes. So, we need to use AI to defend us against AI. We’re doing a lot of work on AI security with Imperial College London and several other major universities. It is a problem to be aware of, but it’s something that we can address.

The third thing to think about is use cases. In the near term, most use cases are likely to be corporate. For example, Accenture has trained over 200,000 people in the metaverse without the carbon footprint of flying them to a training center, putting them in a hotel, and the expense of travel. All of that has been erased. They’re just using a virtualized environment, replicating their offices in this sort of metaverse environment.

Crypto.news: You also mentioned in your book that developing countries tend to accept metaverses faster because people don’t have access to conferences and other real-life events.

David Shrier: Yes, it’s not only that. They’re more technologically optimistic, interestingly enough. The G7 countries take technology for granted and are already dismissing it. Cultures go through three phases of evolution with new technology: naive excitement, understanding, and then becoming decadent. I think a lot of economically prosperous countries are taking technology for granted, being in this decadent phase of technology consumption, whereas developing countries are finding this metaverse technology engaging as a solution to problems.

Crypto.news: What if a developing country is also a dictatorship and takes dominance over this technology?

David Shrier: That’s true for any technology, not just the metaverse. Social media and messaging systems also face controversies regarding government surveillance. Some countries, without naming names, don’t let you use WhatsApp or Signal because of the end-to-end encryption. They insist you use another platform that has a built-in backdoor. In that regard, metaverse is no different.
On the other hand, something really disturbing and interesting going on. Particularly Russia and China, less so, but still notably North Korea, have been very actively engaged in disinformation in social media. The metaverse provides an even more effective platform for spreading disinformation because it’s more emotionally engaging. Metaverse games are 44% more addictive than regular video games, according to HTC research. Hence, active defense against disinformation becomes crucial. We run the risk that if we don’t have an active defense against disinformation, we’re going to see an even bigger problem emerge with the adoption of metaverse technology. 

Crypto.news: What kind of defense could there be? How do we protect web3?

David Shrier: The best time to fix this would have been 20 years ago, and the second best time is right now. Regulation can be helpful. Companies and social media can set up disinformation detection and takedown groups. Additionally, emergent AI technologies developed in university research labs can help detect and flag disinformation.

Crypto.news: What if this AI technology still belongs to some centralized institution? 

David Shrier: Not necessarily. We’re big fans of open source. We have an initiative at Imperial College called the Trusted AI Alliance, centered on open-source technology. We have collaborators at other institutions with large open-source repositories where everyone can see and contribute. It’s an answer to this problem.

Crypto.news: Could there be any specific regulation proposed for web3?

David Shrier: I’ve spent a lot of time working on technology policy. An example of bad regulation would be the New York State BitLicense, which destroyed New York City’s competitiveness in finance and crypto for a long time, making it impossible for startups to enter the market. Gary Gensler, more recently, has done his best to eliminate the startup world in crypto and favor the J.P. Morgans and the Fidelities of the world.

The U.K., Singapore, Nigeria, and Kenya have taken a different approach.

Developing principles-based regulation that supports innovation while protecting consumers, incorporating standards promulgated across multiple nations, is a more viable approach. You are not going to be able to create a world government that all agrees on the same approach to regulating these technologies. But what you can do is get commonly accepted standards and promote interoperability.

I think we can come up with some approaches that will preserve personal privacy and protection of data, but also allow you to have a portable identity that you could take through your metaverse from France to Colombia and still have the same digital presence.

Rules-based regulation is not the way because technology is evolving too fast. We need to do things where, as the technology comes up with its next thing, the regulation can move with it. Elon Musk is working on Neuralink and brain implants. We didn’t come up with regulations to deal with information that gets directly zapped into your brain.

Crypto.news: In ‘Basic Metaverse,’ you predict a “three-stage evolution of access to the metaverse”: Lighter, cheaper, faster devices, invisible technologies like contact lenses, and implantable solutions. Would you implant something in your brain personally?

David Shrier: Not today, because the technology is too immature, but 30 or 40 years from now, probably. If it could stave off age-related dementia and memory loss… You know, if I’m 80 years old, would I like to be able to remember what I had for breakfast in the morning? Yes. Would I like to remember my children’s names? Yes. The potential for this technology is tremendous, but right now, it’s very immature. It is decades away from something I would put in my brain.

Everyone’s going to use it for performance enhancement. You know it’s going to happen. Students will be implanting it so they can study better for a test. All this stuff is coming.

Crypto.news: It could make sense for medical reasons, but what about something that would allow you to be in augmented reality?

David Shrier: We’re going to have that, too, a completely immersive video game or movie experience.

Crypto.news: It opens endless possibilities for manipulation.

David Shrier: As does any new technology. It is a very legitimate concern. But it’s not the first time we have a disruptive technology that could change everything. They used to have riots when the steam engine put looms into factories. The Luddite movement would burst into factories and smash the looms because they were concerned about this new technology disrupting their lives.

Crypto.news: When will we have, for example, the invisible contact lenses for entering the metaverse?

David Shrier: 10 to 15 years. Right now, they’re still grappling with the issue that today, the lenses heat up too much, and they cook your eyes. Immature technology. It will take a while for us to work out those kinks. We have today the lens of the glasses projecting something onto your reality. The trick is battery life and connectivity. So I’d say in five to seven years, we’ll have something more viable on the eyeglass-style technology.

Crypto.news: Do you think cryptocurrencies will be used in the metaverse in the future?

David Shrier: Yes. If we want to have a portable identity, we definitely want our money to move with us. Cryptocurrencies aren’t going away. It’s not going to be a hundred trillion any time soon. But it is a trillion-dollar market. And the fact that you now have institutional asset management firms like BlackRock and Fidelity launching ETFs suggests that mainstream financial services are beginning to embrace cryptocurrencies, and we see that trend continuing.

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