These are summaries versus actual transcriptions of the episodes from our podcast and we provide them for reference or for those who prefer to read versus listen. Still, in many cases, a transcript will not do justice to the context of the discussion, and we will, at times, refer you back to the audio podcast.
Over the past 50 years, if you wanted to find out what’s going to happen in the future, the best thing to do was read science fiction. William Gibson gave us the term cyberspace and an incredibly accurate description of what would happen in what we came to know as the internet. The movie “Minority Report” which was adapted from a science fiction story, showed us the era of internet data analysis and how it would be used in commerce. Many would argue that the movie Network, that predicted the rise to the presidency by a reality TV star was a stunningly accurate prediction of current US politics and social media.
What we have come to call the metaverse is no exception.
A novel published in 1992 by Neal Stephenson called Snow Crash gives us a imaginative blueprint of a dystopian future where a few corporations control the world and where what we know today as America “did only four things better than anyone else – movies, music, microcode (software development) and high speed pizza delivery).
Our hero, whose name really is “hero protagonist”, spends his days as a pizza delivery driver and freelance computer hacker – what we would term a gig worker today. He harvests data and sells it as his source of income. He is paid only when others download or what we would term “stream” the data he has sold them.
All his spare time is spent in the metaverse.
The book describes the metaverse as a set of “moving illustrations drawn by his computer according to specifications coming down (a) fibre optic cable.” “The people” in this virtual world “are pieces of software called avatars.”
It’s an immersive world where you strap on 3D goggles with built in headphones and are transported to a new reality.
IRL short for “In Real Life”, our hero is just an average person scraping by. In the metaverse, he has property. He lives in an exclusive gated community. He is no longer a faceless employee of a pizza chain, he is a superstar hacker sought after for his skills as a coder, one of only a few thousand people who can enter the exclusive club of the metaverse.
A struggle between democratization and commerce
The attraction of the individual to the metaverse is well explained. The metaverse offers a new frontier, a place where we can transcend the limitations of our current social or economic status – a place where anything is possible.
But what about the infrastructure? Who will finance the building of the massive computer infrastructure and who will drive the innovations necessary to create the virtual worlds. While there is foundation already built – some might argue that the metaverse is already here – the is still a massive amount of development and innovation to truly deliver on the vision of a virtual world or worlds.
What will drive this? Money. There’s an incredible amount of money to be made. It’s not far-fetched.
Whoever controls that world or worlds will have wealth beyond their wildest dreams. That’s one reason why, “In Real Life” Mark Zuckerberg has thrown everything he has into this new virtual world. But Zuckerberg is only one of many possible contenders to build and control the metaverse.
Although Zuckerberg has gotten the most attention, it’s unlikely that one person or even one company control the metaverse?
We argue that there are a number of contenders to build the new metaverse and that there are three possible future models.
One company controls it – like Facebook does for social interaction now. Yes there are others who have a piece of it, but Facebook dominates – with it and …. It’s a virtual monopoly.
An oligopoly – a few companies or even governments have their own competing metaverses.
An egalitarian vision like what people are calling Web 3 – where there is a single platform but everyone controls their own data and existence. Others can freely add their own businesses or experiences but these are off to their own. This is a return to what the original version of the internet was supposed to be.
We’ll use these overall concepts to continue to explore the metaverse and where it goes from here.
In the next episode, we’ll look at a real version of the metaverse that has already been in operation for almost two decades. We’ll look at what can be learned and we’ll talk to one of the early citizens of that first virtual world – Second Life.
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