The Metaverse: Facing a Future That Has Already ArrivedBy Fernando Becerril | Fri, 07/22/2022 - 09:00
A major topic that has arisen in practically all sectors of our society is the multiverse; however, we are not very clear about what the multiverse is and much less about its future impact on our daily lives.
I am sure that many of us enjoyed reading what for a long time was called science fiction. So-called science fiction posed scenarios that, until not so long ago, seemed to be strictly the fruit of the euphoric imagination of writers, who, from the depths of their creative pens, achieved a world in which space travel, human-like beings, electronic equipment, autonomous navigation vehicles and the transmission of voice, video and even objects seemed to be an everyday occurrence. This same literary genre has proposed a world built almost entirely in the virtual environment and where people can assume a totally different role to the one they have in their physical life. “Science fiction" has ceased to be fiction and we are at a point where that science has become technology that we enjoy in our daily lives.
In a very few years, space travel became a reality, both manned and unmanned. We have placed satellites beyond our stratosphere. Today, the main means of transportation base their performance on the analysis of large collections of data that make travel faster, more efficient, more environmentally friendly and, above all, more accessible to most of the population. There are colossal airplanes with much less environmental impact than a few years ago, the fleet of vehicles with low or zero polluting emissions is increasingly common, public transport in large cities is being converted to electric systems and we are beginning to see, either in public transport networks or privately, autonomous vehicles.
At the same time, telecommunications have assumed a leading role in our daily lives. Phone and video calls and, in general, all kinds of electronic interactions, through tiny electronic devices at an affordable cost allow us to transfer mass amounts of data through intricate communication networks at a global level.
All those ideas proposed by the visionary science fiction writers are a full reality and although they are still of limited use for the majority of the population, soon these benefits will spill over naturally so that most of the almost 8 billion people on this planet can enjoy them.
However, there is a technology that has pervaded our daily actions and is present, even without our realizing it, in our daily lives. The concurrence of two major technological trends, highly developed in the last 30 years, allow us to glimpse a future of which little we can assure.
The development of communication technologies, including telecommunications networks, microwave, optical fiber and cellular networks, as well as the accelerated growth of increasingly faster mobile devices, with greater storage capacity and better connectivity to these kinds of networks, not to mention the impressive evolution of computer tools, has allowed us, with astonishing ease, to access a world that is apparently becoming virtualized.
There are many companies that are already working and focusing their efforts on creating a virtual environment in which we can develop part of our lives. Not many years ago, in 2003, Second Life emerged as the first platform where people could aspire to live a purely digital life without it affecting or having any impact on their daily lives. At the time, although it generated a great deal of concern, it was still just a new experience in which people spent time exploring. From there things have evolved and promise to be much more than an experiment.
It is no coincidence that the great monsters of the computer industry, such as Facebook, Google or Microsoft, are focusing their efforts and resources on developing their digital interaction platforms. This virtual world that is being built is what we can call the metaverse, a digital universe that goes beyond our real and tangible universe.
There are those who consider that the metaverse is nothing more than a digital layer on top of our real life, but others are more profoundly of the opinion that this will be a space in which our digital alter-egos will interact and consume through media authenticated with NFTs.
While it is true that the concept is not new and is just over 30 years old, at this moment the questions to be asked are: How far will the metaverse go? What new reality will be built from this digital universe? Will we have an equivalent "social life" to the one we enjoy today in a physical way? The pandemic and the urgent need that existed to migrate our activities to the digital environment leads us to ask ourselves, will our work also be in that digital environment, in that metaverse?
Given the existing conditions, the answer should be that it is very likely yes. It is very possible that at least some of the current generations will decide to venture more toward a life in the metaverse than a life in the real world. Recent experience tells us that this technology allows us to shorten distances, reduce expenses, increase social interactions and, in general, globalize socialization in a quick and easy way. But this, however, also generates many important challenges that we will have to face.
Undoubtedly, the most important challenge is the eminently social issue. We have to model how we are going to migrate our roles and social relations from the physical to the digital environment and thus try to ensure that this change represents a positive development for society. What will be the impact? It is difficult to predict and only time will tell what will be the result of this extrapolation to the "digital version" of our world in our society. Parallel to the purely technical and social issues, there are also many legal challenges that will have to be developed in order to ensure legal certainty for all participants in the metaverse. Human rights, image rights, consumer rights and all those rights of which we are beneficiaries in the physical environment have to be migrated to the digital environment.
In a purely digital environment, where everything is intangible, intangible assets must be subject to regulation to ensure that the holders of these rights in the physical world are also respected in the digital environment. Intellectual property rights are fundamental in this new scenario. There are already many globally recognized brands, movies, songs, concerts — in short, a large number of intellectual property rights — in the metaverse. This new alternative reality, the metaverse, offers a new world of possibilities for owners of intangible assets.
But this extraordinary variety of opportunities implies an equal number of challenges to be faced. The metaverse poses diverse and complicated situations with a myriad of nuances and circumstances. What is definitive, and what industries cannot take too long to do, is the need to initiate the protection of intellectual property rights for the digital environment. The time is ripe for a detailed analysis of intangible-asset portfolios and to determine the convenience and feasibility of extending the protection of these rights to the metaverse, so that fate does not overtake organizations and they can join this ecosystem in a safe and secure manner.
It is not yet sufficiently clear whether what is happening today, from a technological and social point of view, is a trend or a fashion. It is premature to make a strong statement on the matter, but what is evident, and as has been mentioned repeatedly, is that we are going through a change of era and not only an era of changes. Preparing ourselves to face this future that is knocking at our door is fundamental to the extent that we are aware, safe and protected to better reach that future that has already arrived.