Li Zheng: Will the Metaverse become the mainstream development model of the future digital ecology?

Metaverse: Fantasy or Trend?

At present, the “Metaverse” as a phenomenon-level vocabulary is becoming a hot topic in street discussions. While it has set off an upsurge, it has also caused some controversy. On the one hand, some industry insiders are optimistic about the development of the Metaverse. They believe that with technological breakthroughs such as digital twins, blockchain, and the Internet of Things, the Metaverse will develop and gradually integrate into human life. On the other hand, some media and related people think that the Metaverse world is just “science fiction”. So, what exactly is the Metaverse?How do you view the opportunities and limitations of the Metaverse? What impact will the Metaverse have on international politics and economy? The cover topic of this issue invites two industry scholars to write and interpret.   

– Editor’s Notes

As an emerging Internet concept, the Metaverse is likely to become the mainstream development model of the digital ecology in the future. The Metaverse is the integration of many cutting-edge information technologies today. People try to use it to create a more immersive and open digital space, thereby further promoting the increase of Internet penetration and the upgrading of the digital economy. At present, American technology giants are the main promoters of the Metaverse, and some countries have also carried out early research, exploration and deployment. Although the Metaverse contains certain economic and technological potential, it may also bring some political and social risks. Its industrial model is not yet mature and established, so it is necessary to balance its opportunities and limitations.

Li Zheng: Will the Metaverse become the mainstream development model of the future digital ecology?

On November 7, 2021, at the 4th China International Import Expo, the smart and high-end equipment exhibition area displayed naked-eye 3D display technology, which is considered to be a technology for realizing the hardware equipment of the Metaverse concept.

Seeking to become a stable and ultimate digital ecological model

The Metaverse originated from the concept proposed by American novelist Neil Stephenson in his 1992 science fiction novel Snow Crash. In this novel, humans live together with virtual people in the virtual space of the “Metaverse” through virtual reality equipment. Literally understood, Metaverse is a combination of “transcendence” (Meta) and “universe” (universe), which embodies the virtual space constructed based on and beyond the real world. The space is highly interconnected with the real world and has a complete value system.

Since 2021, American technology companies have begun to use the term Metaverse to describe the next generation of the Internet and digital ecology. In the eyes of these enterprises, the Metaverse is a super complex of various cutting-edge technologies, which form a complete ecological closed loop through integration. For example, the content production of Metaverse uses artificial intelligence and digital twin technology (a virtual copy of a physical product, process or system), its storage, confirmation and authentication mechanisms use blockchain technology, and its data processing uses artificial intelligence, cloud computing and Cloud storage technology, its network environment relies on 5G technology, and virtual and reality interaction uses human perception, 3D rendering, extended reality, brain computer interface (Brain Computer Interface), wearable technology, robotics, etc. Combined with the above-mentioned cutting-edge technologies, the use experience and business models of social networks, e-commerce, digital creativity, etc. under the Metaverse will be significantly better than the current digital space, and can replace and enhance the real space to a certain extent. In the future, more cutting-edge technologies may also be absorbed into the Metaverse to continuously enhance the overall experience of the Metaverse.

Compared with the existing digital ecology, the Metaverse has the following characteristics.

One is to strengthen virtual social interaction. Like existing social networks, Metaverse takes breaking geographic and environmental constraints as its fundamental direction to promote communication and collaboration between people.American technology companies believe that Metaverse will be an enhanced version of the current online collaboration method, not only realizing real-time interaction of voice, video, and text, but also providing more interactive methods and platforms. For example, users can use virtual reality (Virtual Reality) and Augmented Reality (Augmented Reality) equipment to build a virtual platform, retrieve data and icons at any time, and display holographic images; users may also rely on simulated skin and digital scent manufacturing devices to experience near-real tactile sensations and smell.

The second is “decentralization”. The concept of “decentralization” is closely related to the blockchain. It is the fundamental feature of the blockchain. The blockchain system is “peer-to-peer”, each node is equal, and there is no centralized system controller. . As a consensus mechanism of blockchain, the meaning of “decentralization” is that no organization or individual is responsible for the authenticity and integrity of the entire chain information. Because of this, all participants reach a consensus based on trust in technology and rules, and believe that no one can control the blockchain or tamper with the information on the chain. The increasing number of Internet senders, nodes, and relays provides a technical foundation for “decentralized” architecture technologies such as blockchain, and the Metaverse will become the first digital ecosystem to use “decentralized” technology on a large scale. “Decentralization” will further reduce restrictions on access, information, personal data and applications by a few tech giants, thereby providing users with as many digital portals as possible. That is, the identity of the Metaverse world belongs to the user, not any centralized institution.

The third is the integration of reality. Metaverse seeks to further break the boundary between digital space and real space. Through technologies such as virtual reality and augmented reality, the digital space is directly projected into the real world, and the real world is directly mapped into the virtual space. All digital innovations in the Metaverse will feature the combination of reality and virtuality, increasing the user’s sense of immersion and allowing users to finally see the Metaverse as part of the real world.

The fourth is continuous evolution. Metaverse seeks to become a stable and ultimate digital ecological model, using blockchain to stably confirm data and intellectual property rights, and the information, data and assets that have been confirmed can theoretically be permanently preserved, beyond the cycle of technological evolution and human lifespan.This means that digital memories, digital twin scenarios and even digital life in the Metaverse can exist for a long time.

The above features enable the Metaverse to further integrate people, society and digital in depth, creating a virtual world that contains all the value of the real world, and has more convenient innovation conditions and unlimited development space. This virtual world may become a real “global village”, providing a new space for ordinary people to share the dividends of digital creativity.

Li Zheng: Will the Metaverse become the mainstream development model of the future digital ecology?

On October 28, 2021, the American social networking giant Facebook announced that the company was renamed Meta. The new logo at Facebook’s corporate headquarters in California invites people to take pictures.

Tech giants are the main movers, and some governments are highly concerned

The Metaverse is in line with the development direction of today’s digital economy and provides a wide range of application scenarios for some new technologies. First of all, today’s global digital ecology is at an important node in a new round of iterative evolution. The new crown pneumonia epidemic has accelerated the process of digitalization and informatization in various countries. Remote work, online shopping, and education are becoming a mainstream model in some countries. Research shows that the Metaverse can further promote this trend, improve the penetration rate of the digital ecology and the frequency and duration of users’ use, obtain more data resources from the real world, and improve the operational efficiency of the digital economy. Second, the Metaverse can find application scenarios for many new technologies. Although the virtual reality, augmented reality, blockchain and other information technologies involved in the Metaverse have developed by leaps and bounds, no good application scenarios have been found, and a complete value chain cannot be formed. Ultimately, the Metaverse seeks to create a new digital innovation space with immeasurable commercial and innovative potential. Compared with other digital ecological development directions such as the Internet of Things, Metaverse has lower thresholds for innovation, participation and investment.

American technology companies believe that the Metaverse may provide a more convenient and feasible digital ecosystem evolution model to replace the existing digital ecosystem in the next 10 to 20 years. The Metaverse will become a new growth point of the digital economy and the next strategically significant competition area, and its development process will trigger a new round of reshuffle of the global technology industry. At present, American and Western technology giants are the main promoters of the Metaverse, and Meta, Nvidia, and Roblox are the most representative companies.Facebook Inc. has expressed its determination to move into the Metaverse by renaming its name Meta, which the company sees as a great way to upgrade its social network. Meta established the “Reality Lab” to develop virtual reality and augmented reality terminals to promote the application development of the Metaverse. NVIDIA is a global leader in the field of artificial intelligence chips. Its advantage lies in the application of artificial intelligence operations to the field of the Metaverse, which greatly improves the efficiency and experience of the construction of the Metaverse. In 2021, Nvidia founder Huang Renxun launched OmniverseAvatar, a new virtual avatar platform that carries his vision of the Metaverse.The platform may become the creation and incubation platform of the Metaverse, which is available to the vast number of digital creative companies. NVIDIA is also promoting the development of standards for the next generation of digital virtual spaces to unify the physical rules of the virtual world and achieve compatibility of Metaverse-related devices and software. Roblox is exploring the development of the Metaverse from the perspective of business models. Roblox’s business model is already part of the Metaverse, and it has a large number of users and innovators who identify with it.Roblox hopes that these users and innovators will use existing technology to create a circle of innovation that can continue to expand and grow, so that the company can become a platform giant in the Metaverse era.

Some governments have also begun to pay attention to the opportunities and risks of the Metaverse, hoping to seize strategic opportunities and avoid security risks. In its view, the Metaverse has potential governance dislocations, security risks and international competition. Compared with U.S. companies, the U.S. government’s attitude toward the Metaverse is more “stabilizing” and “political vision.” Concerns about data security and vigilance against the monopoly risks of industrial giants temporarily prevail. In October 2021, U.S. senators from both parties proposed the “Government Ownership and Oversight of Artificial Intelligence Data” Act, requiring the regulation of data involved in federal artificial intelligence systems, especially facial recognition data, and requiring the federal government to establish artificial intelligence work Group to ensure government contractors can responsibly use biometric data collected by AI technologies. Europe is also highly cautious about the Metaverse. Legislation such as the EU’s Artificial Intelligence Act, Digital Services Act, Digital Markets Act, and “Platform-to-Business” regulations illustrate the positions and tendencies that regulators may take when dealing with the Metaverse, including increased transparency and respect for user choice , Strictly protect privacy, and restrict some high-risk applications. These legislations indicate that the EU pays more attention to the supervision and rules of the Metaverse, trying to gain a first-mover advantage in governance and rules, thereby protecting the European internal market. European Commission Vice President Vestager said EU authorities need to better understand the Metaverse before deciding how to regulate it. Some European scholars believe that existing laws and antitrust measures will be undisputedly applied to the Metaverse.

South Korea is one of the countries with the most positive attitudes towards the Metaverse. South Korea has established the “Metaverse Alliance” led by the government and including more than 200 companies and institutions (including SK Telecom, Hyundai Motor, Korea Mobile Internet Business Association, etc.) Share research results and initiate joint development projects. The Seoul Metropolitan Government has announced plans to establish a Metaverse public service platform as part of its latest future urban plan, “Seoul Vision 2030.” Japan hopes to promote the preemptive development of related industries under the legal framework. The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry of Japan released the “Investigation Report on Future Possibilities and Issues of the Virtual Space Industry” in July 2021, defining the Metaverse as “in a specific virtual space, producers in various fields provide various services to consumers. and content”. The report believes that after the threshold of virtual reality equipment has been significantly lowered and virtual reality content has become more attractive, the Metaverse will cross the shackles of key development and move towards a rapid development channel. The report believes that the Japanese government should focus on preventing and solving legal problems in “virtual space”, and improve the application of transnational and cross-platform business laws; the government should formulate industry standards and guidelines with industry insiders, and export such norms to the world .

Middle Eastern countries such as Saudi Arabia take the Metaverse as a new breakthrough for economic transformation. In February 2022, the Saudi government announced that it would inject $6.4 billion into a number of Metaverse innovation companies. One of the innovative companies will lead the development of the kingdom of Saudi Arabia in the Metaverse, “replicating” the country’s cities into the Metaverse world. The Saudi Minister of Information Technology said that the Metaverse will become a new growth point for the Saudi digital economy, and the platform will also radiate to the Middle East and North Africa.

Li Zheng: Will the Metaverse become the mainstream development model of the future digital ecology?

Poster for the movie Ready Player One.

Controversy continues

The peculiarity of the space-time background has caused the Metaverse to spark continuous controversy since its birth.The Metaverse came into being in an era when the digital economy is under close scrutiny, profound reflection, high politicization, and security. Social support for the digital revolution is weakening, and different countries’ perceptions of the digital ecology are divergent. These environmental changes expose the risky challenges inherent in the Metaverse earlier.

In terms of security risks, Metaverse has most of the hidden dangers of information security and physical security in the current digital ecology, among which the hidden dangers of data security are particularly prominent. The Metaverse will still be based on the Internet and other information technology foundations. The problems of network security, information security and data security in the current information society will all appear in the Metaverse digital ecology.Since the Metaverse may use virtual reality, augmented reality equipment and more advanced human-computer interaction systems, this feature makes the data generated and collected by the Metaverse closer to people’s real life and deep psychology, and has stronger privacy. Therefore, its data security leakage will also bring greater risks to users.

In terms of social impact, the social impact brought by the Metaverse is profound and long-lasting, and it is still impossible to accurately estimate it. The impact of the Metaverse includes both political, social and personal psychological aspects. At the political and social level, the Metaverse may become an integral part of a country’s political ideology and social culture, and will have a subtle impact on a country’s political and cultural security. The Metaverse may bring about employment substitution and profound changes in the social structure, as well as some new social problems. Rumor spread, social relations, ethics, identity recognition, etc. may all have greater influence and destructive power in new forms. The highly immersive experience of the Metaverse may have a negative impact on teenage development, or it may be transformed into an addictive “digital drug.” Extremism and terrorism can also take advantage of this “extrajudicial” regulatory gap to do whatever they want. At the personal psychological level, the immersive nature of the Metaverse may cause some users to be immersed in the Metaverse for a long time, and their cognition and behavior are out of touch with people in the real world, resulting in obvious intergenerational differences and conflicts. A three-dimensional, all-encompassing Metaverse may make the culture, art, and information of the original real society unattractive. Once the Metaverse causes a large number of people and some societies to completely “turn out of reality”, the social impact it will bring will be immeasurable.

In terms of economic order, the Metaverse may form a digital monopoly that is larger, deeper, and harder to detect.Although the Metaverse has the characteristics of “decentralization”, similar to the previous cutting-edge technologies and digital ecology, it is very easy for the long-term industry evolution to eventually form a “centralized” giant. The leading companies that enter the market early will gain huge advantages through technology research and development and capital accumulation. These monopolistic giants will have more comprehensive information and data, and may take advantage of the advantages of manipulating innovators in the Metaverse ecology to achieve more hidden. high monopoly. The new business models and financial innovation models produced by the Metaverse are also vastly different from the existing economic and financial systems, and contain some financial risks that may have a systemic chain reaction.

In terms of international competition, the Metaverse may bring about fierce international competition, resulting in the division of the digital ecology between countries. The technological level, domestic market, user groups, digital ecology, industrial chain and innovation environment of some countries are more suitable for the development of the Metaverse, while other countries may lag behind due to subjective factors or objective constraints. Countries that are lagging behind will be at a disadvantage when they seek access to the Metaverse of leading nations. Different countries may have different views, positions and regulatory methods on the Metaverse, which may lead to “forks” in the development model of the digital economy, digital ecology and industrial chain, forming a system of parallel competition. A “digital cold war” is more likely to occur in the Metaverse era, and the technological globalization of today’s world may be fragmented as a result.

These challenges make governments of various countries need to make early regulatory preparations for the Metaverse, and promote relevant regulatory systems and international rules while the industry develops. The international community should also carry out exploratory and constructive cooperation and communication in the Metaverse, and guide this emerging field to develop in a healthy and orderly direction. The risks and hidden dangers contained in the Metaverse need to be continuously followed up.

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