The metaverse is as much a social concept as it is a techological one. Perhaps even more so than artificial intelligence, the idea of the metaverse replicates the full extext to which we are attempting to recreate the human experience. It is therefore critical that the technology remains in the hands of the individual, and that no one organization has the ability to fully control and manipulated our simulated experience.
Agency is at the center of the next generation of computing. Regardless of the form factor it takes, next-generation technology must be responsible in its allocation of agency. We are emerging from an era where too much of that agency was centralized and westernized; it’s time for us to shift our design process and push forward into a new, individualized era.
In her book “How Emotions are Made”, Lisa Feldman Barrett writes:
“Through prediction and correction, your brain continually creates and revises your mental model of the world. It’s a huge, ongoing simulation that constructs everything you perceive while determining how you act.”
This quote is in a chapter that introduces the concept of interoception, or the unified state of feeling that your brain creates as a result of all the sensory inputs it receives. Feldman Barrett goes on to write about how the brain is an evolutionary prediction machine, connecting every stimuli to a previously lived on, and reacting to the most likely scenario.
“a huge, ongoing simulation that constructs everything you perceive while determining how you act”
It is the second half of that quotation that gives me pause. Just as our brains simulate our lived reality within the concept of our self, the idea of a technological metaverse acts to simulate an artifically experienced reality. Well - the experience itself is real, but the environment that we experience is not one that grounds us in the physical elements of the universe, but instead destroys the very concept of physicality at its core.
And while often, people talk about the metaverse for its ability to suspend reality and explore beyond the reaches of what our Earth-bound constructs allow, very rarely is the pyschological impact mentioned. Which platforms are honest about how the technology they are building is meant to determine a particular action? And to take it a step further: which ones are honest about not having an answer to that question?
People instead may argue that technological metaverse platforms are only a tool. Platform developers ceaselessly argue that they aren’t to be held accountable by the people they are enabling, because to do so would be to hurt their advertising reach and year-end profits. The term “attention economy”, which often refers to the way that social media sites fight for people’s attention, must also be looked at from a human perspective. Do we realize how much of our attention is being determined for us, on a day to day basis, because of this massive technological machine that is designed to do what our very brains themselves do?
Metaverse platforms succeed or fail based on the social aspect of what their users do. At the same time, our games and applications increasingly form the foundation through which our brains are perceiving and predicting reality. We must be exceedingly careful in excusing the technologists who intentionally sow chaos and fear into our minds, and instead amplify those who present a more protopian vision of the future. Our realities would be a far better place if people like Octavia Butler and monika bielskyte were better-known than Palmer Luckey and Elon Musk.