For a few weeks now, a new buzzword has been filling the digital media space: “metavers”. What are we talking about more precisely, that’s what I will try to sweep through this article.
You said Metavers?
What are we talking about? It’s the new trendy concept promoted by Facebook. This highlighting of the metaverses concept by the sulphurous Californian company comes from the publicity put around the name change, justifying it by the strategic pivot towards the development of the Facebook metaverse.
But what else? For Facebook, it is about interconnected virtual spaces in which users can share immersive 3D experiences in real time. Facebook is not the only company to enter the field, we have players like Nvidia, Roblox or Epic Game (l’Usine Digitale-02 Nov 21), but also players with projects more oriented towards the business world such as Microsoft or Mozilla, who want to give videoconferencing a new dimension.
In short, the metaverse is the virtual world as imagined, for example, in the novel Player one by Ernest Cline (2011) and masterfully adapted to the cinema by Steven Spielberg in 2018 in Ready Player One.
The metaverse revolution
It is really a radical transformation of the approach that one could have of the Internet. The objective is to allow a new way of interacting with the digital world, thanks to an increased virtualization and to the immersive possibility that virtual reality glasses represent.
This innovation is made possible thanks to the progression of graphic chips and their calculation capacity, the development of algorithms that allow to manage the graphic evolutions (images, kinetics) of the universe in real time and with a rendering close to reality. Let’s also add the evolution of objects that allow a more and more realistic immersion in this virtual environment: virtual reality glasses, haptronics gloves (with force and/or sensitivity feedback).
This evolution, before being thought for the general public, has been deployed in certain fields such as health. They allow for example to propose training tools for surgery in virtual reality (IHS).
Apart from these technological applications for professional or health purposes, research is carried out in order to create instruments: suits, gloves, glasses (réalité-virtuelle.com) which allow to consider a complete immersion in a virtual reality world, giving the individual the possibility to feel what happens to him. Startups like HaptX have the ambition to integrate these technologies in order to achieve a complete immersion of the user in visual reality. Once again, at first these extremely expensive complete equipments will be reserved for professional uses as we have seen in the health sector, but also for the training of law enforcement agencies or our armed forces…
Very soon the democratization of these technologies, or “lightened” versions will allow to deploy these tools in the field of games, which to be honest is already the case with virtual reality headsets such as Oculus Quest, HTC Vive, Pimax or Playstation VR for the best known.
But this is not the only potential field of application and the American digital giants and Facebook in the lead want to impose this transformation.
The first reason is that the technological innovations are there and maturing, and therefore it allows to consider their deployment in a massive way.
The other most important reason, the one that has always animated the #MAGAF, is to keep their users captive in order to plunder their personal data even more. But this is not the only objective, it’s to make money. Imagine all the services you can charge to users, whether for entertainment or even commercial aspects, you will need your online store in this universe, in order to reach this captive target of this metaverse, right? Facebook, in this case, will be able to get paid by reselling the personal information of their users’ habits, they will also be able to charge you for the creation of the location of your e-shop and all the nice “amenities” that will make it an exceptional virtual place.…
If my “geek” side finds the concept interesting and makes me curious, we cannot fail to highlight the many dangers that this arrival of metaverses represents.
The first of them, which I started to address in the previous paragraph, is economic, with a trusteeship of small or medium-sized companies selling goods or services. If this risk is serious for our economies, it is not a short-term risk, but rather a medium-term one, and is therefore all the more pernicious. The method of small steps means that you are trapped without having seen it coming…
The second category of risks that I find very worrying concerns the users.
First of all, there is the risk of addiction, which we have already seen with social networking sites, due to their very mechanisms, notably the search for immediate satisfaction provided by the “Like”. We have the right to ask ourselves what the effects of a prolonged immersion in a virtual world will be, which in certain aspects could be more attractive than the real world and tempt the weakest to flee this reality. (Courrier International, Vice)
Linked to this risk, there is the risk of increased de-socialization and therefore an inherent risk of the rise of violence in our societies, during our (brief) appearances in the real world. I am not talking about the risks that virtual reality represents on our relationship to sexuality and love. It is enough to note the damage caused by the easy access to pornographic contents on Internet, here the effect could be multiplied.
Then comes the major risk of commodification of the human being, of our body. Isn’t there already a will to interface more directly the brain with the machine, as shown by the intracerebral chipset project (Neuralink) of Elon Musk ? We must not forget that the vast majority of the leaders of the American digital giants are followers of transhumanism (Futura) and want to “improve” man. But we can see through this ideology the old demons of eugenics and the creation of several categories of human… A superior race and its servants, this is a frightening future that should not be swept away. And the reality has soon overtaken science fiction like Orwell’s 1984 or a film like Matrix… We can already see social control being set up in China in a systematic way, and we can wonder about the imitation of the West’s use of this digital control during the pandemic… The consequences of these upheavals are vertiginous…
There is also the risk of ending up controlling our sensations, feelings, our way of thinking and ultimately our very perception of reality. These vertiginous and worrying possibilities have already been the source of inspiration for a number of Science-Fiction books.
Another risk that should not be excluded is the ecological risk. Indeed, these new technologies are energy-hungry, and even if data centers are working more and more on their energy efficiency, the massive use of metaverses could well deal a fatal blow to global warming, which is one of the major challenges we have to face.…
We cannot prohibit technical progress, once a technology exists, it tends to spread. However, as a society, we have the duty to choose the use we want to make of it, and the place of Man we want to have in our evolved societies. In what world do we want to live, what are the interactions we want to have? Are we still able to face reality and the frustrations that come from confronting it?
Through our culture, perhaps we have the weapons not to let ourselves be submerged by these technologies and not to become their slaves. I want to believe that we can still put a little bit of wonder and sincere spirituality in our future.