The Metaverse and My Access
The metaverse will define your identity, for you and others to interact with. Like an identity card. To move between digital and physical states or between digital multiverse spheres, you will need a passport. Not every country uses national identity cards. All countries use passports.
The most spectacular aspect of the metaverse will not be haptic suits or AR glasses. It will be to let you access seamlessly these different layers of reality.
Your identity, whether in the metaverse or in physical life, defines also what you can access.
Your identity defines what you can access
In physical life, you can walk, drive or ride, depending on your vehicle. A car cannot drive on sidewalks. A truck cannot drive under certain bridges or through most city centers. As a pedestrian, you can try your luck and walk in the middle of the street, dodging bikes and e-scooters. These roads, streets, highways or airspace lanes, all come with sets of duties and entitlements. Local laws define the different vehicle classes. They define access and traffic.
Therefore, you can say that your driving license actually defines your physical space
Same goes online, in the digital world. You are defined in most systems by a supposedly unique ID and password combo. Yeah, that should exclude joeblog – pw123; only, it does not. Nevertheless, these credentials define what you can access, once you register.
Publishers gate most content, either through a hard gate or at least some cookie screen.
Already today, you can access seamlessly many sites/apps/servers through your Google or Facebook identity. Tomorrow, it seems unlikely that each of us will continue to maintain exponential numbers of passwords. Just the sheer number of them makes it improbable for practical reasons.
The metaverse infrastructure will define access. It will protect your access by controlling the validity and accuracy of your identity, in real-time. The metaverse will become probably a continuous validation. To reach the levels of integration foreseen, it will have to become more and more invisible.
Online, offline and AR will only really merge once there is no, or only minimal, visual or physical barrier between them.
This has some very practical implications. Practical, fundamental and radical.
Agreeing on basic principles of language in the metaverse
Lets start at the very beginning of communication, and leave behind for the moment advanced code structures.
In these merged realities, the most basic dimension we will have to agree on is Language. Solving this will be the basis for a universal system.
Have you ever been in a multinational multiplayer game? If it allows the parallel usage of Chinese, Cyrillic and Roman alphabets, you are projected straight into Matrix-like chat screens, odd shaped characters, sentences screaming for your attention. A bit messy. Beyond the visual shock of seeing all these characters in one chat, we speak about the basic ability to share and receive information.
It is not only the raw translations that is important. It is also the transmissions of semantics, tone and vocabulary to capture accurately intentions or meaning, implicit and explicit warnings, etc…
A solution could be to agree on a vehicular language
How actionable would that be?
Take something like Global English, also called Globish. In some regions it is a standard form of exchange. However, each region could not help but create its own idiosyncrasies on top of it – be it in accents, vocabularies or grammar. In addition, we only speak about a thin layer of people able to decrypt each of them and make it coherent at all.
Basically, to reach everyone with Globish, even within the English speaking communities, you would have to have a master-tree of language. To reach a 100% clarity of meaning, you would need Globish with sub-branches for Africa, India, South-East Asia, US, UK, etc. And even then, you would never reach everyone. It could not be a standard solution. Furthermore, we all will still want the option to fall back on our mother-tongue.
The communication system will not only be typed but also seen, heard and felt. This communication system will have to strictly cater to all local inflexions.
How many local city accents and expressions do you have in your country? Shanghai and Beijing? Moscow and St Petersburg? Ghent versus Antwerp? Or one of the 22 main languages in India? How about the total of 19500 mother tongues across the country?
The dominant programming code underpinning the metaverse
The spoken or typed language is the most directly apprehensible. The programming code is quite another.
What do you remember the movie The Matrix for? To me, one of the most, if not the most unforgettable image has to be the green code streaming. So, what will be the dominant underlying programming language to build seamless bridges between the digital and physical states and multiverses?
Do you remember the discussions between Japanese and US/English programming? today it is Python or C++. Once upon a time, it was C++ or Pascal (yeah, not the one writing the article, but the programming language) (quote)? And what about Cyrillic, Kanji and Chinese programming characters?
This time around, do not bet that economic gravity will replace competition and end up with default US solutions as a global programming standard. It will not be one company in one location that will build the metaverse, be it California or Texas, Zhejiang or Guangdong, Moscow or Sint-Petersburg.
Whether language, alphabet and code is solved or not, the metaverse will map out space.
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The metaverse will map out space
The metaverse will define what you can do, where you can do it and when. This is space.
The previous question was: “What is digital, physical or phygital?”. Differentiating one from the other seemed somehow important. Such as the difference between real and fake. You could easily become an entirely different persona on your Reddit account. Up and including logging in and out to contradict yourself and self start a flame war… Yes, you probably could still do it in the next iteration of the internet.
The metaverse will fundamentally define what is inside, what is outside, what is private, what is public, what is “real” and what is “masked”.
This means not only defining spaces, but also the rules to use it. The metaverse will define what we can do and where.
Whomever is defining what we can do and where, also gets to define who we are
Do you still wear this summer concert armband? Yes, the one that says Access All Areas! Are you proudly wearing your office access cards like a Badge of Office(s)? See them proudly dangling on display in the subway or on the bus. Who will define and guarantee this areas of access in the metaverse? Well, whomever defines and builds the metaverse.
Once the metaverse defines access, tools and space, it will also set the rules for traffic
Think about it. What is the sidewalk? This is where you can walk. Where you are allowed to walk in turn frames what you can reach but also see, hear and read. It defines your experience of the public space. Possibly your experience of the public. That’s why so many countries spend so much time and effort on building nice airports and stations. Physical first impressions do count.
Transfer this now to the internet.
You can call the metaverse Internet 2.0, 4.0 or whichever figure and concept you find appropriate. Imagine spiralling into a black hole of information to prepare for your next call or your next meeting. You will not want lengthy logins, lag or rubber-banding. What you want isthe information at the litteral tip of your fingers, possibly through your haptic gloves. What you will not expect is to have to go through a switchboard operator to help you out.
That is actually exactly what happens today with most of your internet accesses. Algorithms drive most of the information you see, read or hear. That is the only way to make it usable, at all.
Every day, essayists, chefs, poets and writers publish 7.5 millions blog posts just like this one. Of course, this one is by far better, more informed, more fun.. only joking 😉. However, who defines what will appear on your feed? Who gives you an alert? You can select on your app, yes. But apart from critical content like this one (don’t forget to subscribe!! J), the rest has to be driven by the search enginesor social media, the library, your information retailer, magazine, channel, author, etc…
What defines search strings and post searches?
If you are in a corporation, it is likely that you will see on your login screen a relevant selection of internal and possibly external information, as defined by your Internal Communications department. What will be the primary motive of this feed? Making sure you have all information about the canteen opening times and the soup of the day? Company approved stock pictures for your next presentation? Maybe a motivational poster? And so on. The choice of information shown are social engineering.
For private citizens like myself, the home screen and internet feed will be driven mainly by private companies running their own algorithms.
There are very practical reasons to these algorithms. They exist to make some sense of the information maelstrom. These companieswill retail information about your chosen topic. They will get information from your friends and your business contacts, from the news you read, your entertainment and of course, your own raw data.
It is the explicit, more often implicit, understanding that your data, usage and information will feed marketing trackers.
If you see this post, someone pushed it to you
This in turn will define for you multiple layers of multiverses. The news you see from the world will be the news selected by algorithms. Your friends’ news included.
Each private company has its own proprietary system of identity (how you define yourself, how others will get to know you), space definition (what you can do, where, when) and traffic allocation (where you can go, what you see and can see).
It is very possible that these spheres are parallel. Possibly holding conflicting information.
Today, you can be a hero within one social media platform and banned in another, if not actively chased.
Says who today? Well, it is essentially personal decrees.
For the metaverse to seamlessly merge all of these realities, it will need a mechanism to manage the multiplicity of layered and possibly conflicting realities.
Setting rules for traffic management and algorithms to allow merging of digital and physical realities
The main project of the metaverse itself is ultimately to merge all digital and all physical realities.
It means that traffic management and algorithms will have to be defined. So far, it has been largely left in the West to private companies. China has stepped back in to clarify roles and rules. Russia set up its own internet in the same manner.
To overcome the development of at least 3 “internets” or metaverse (China, Russia, Western, if not within it Europe, UK, US), defining access and traffic means also defining the off-limits spaces.
IRL (in real life), we are free to walk into any public space.., except when we cannot. For example, we are not allowed to walk on a highway or into a military base. Neither are we free to enter any house that picks our fancy. We can only enter countries with valid visas and passports.
At this point, governments and institutions have defined, ruled and controlled traffic and access, as a base rule.
We will need a neutral, acceptable, solution to decentralise at least partly the setup of these access rules
This is necessary for the metaverse to be optimised. As we are unlikely to become disembodied spirits, or zombie otakus living in haptic suits, governments are likely to have still a strong say in the access rights.
Today, as an example of status quo, the Dark Web seems tolerated. It may provide a contained illegal buffer space, a modern Thieves’ Court or Cour des Miracles for the socially irredeemable. However, the libertarian ethos of the early days of the internet will not be enough. Neither will be praying for the best.
The metaverse leaked the internet into the reality.
Random organic and biological growth cannot be trusted to build optimum, neutral systems. With the scale involved and the efforts required, not one company even claims to be able to build the metaverse today. In fact, Android and Apple are still at it on smartphones after years.
This shows it is not only a question of ability. It is also important to agree on visions.
Governments or groups of citizens will have to step in to ensure checks and balances
Even if we think that private enterprise could come up with a check and balance system on its own, it is likely to be a version of “free fox in the free chicken coop”. Governments, or at the very least groups of citizens, will have to step in. This will force some rules on access.
The digital world overlaps more and more with the physical one. So, what will be tolerated and what will be eradicated? It will be critical to agree who will be part of setting this definition.
The metaverse is actually often criticised because it will redefine de facto the public space, i.e politics itself. Our current set of politicians still have globally very little direct personal exposure to it. It will change over time as new generations come to power. But, so far, the majority of politicians will see it at best as a competition for attention. At worst as another marketing tool.
More than that, by defining identity, access and traffic, the metaverse defines your own reality itself. Not only a physical or phygital reality, but your own unique individual reality. Truth be told, the metaverse will make your multiverse more and more tailor-made to your own choices and preferences. A unique reality, which will become separate from the realities of others.
The metaverse will make your reality tailor-made
Today, try and compare your Medium, Facebook or LinkedIn feed with a partner or colleague. It is totally different. Can it change the way you look at an opportunity, an issue? Can another feed inspire or depress you?
What you feel, what you think and how you act, will be different depending on what virtual information you were fed. It will depend on your digital landscape.
The very existence of the metaverse means that your narrative is already not anymore “our” narrative.
Is that a good thing or a social danger?
Was the Ariana Grande concert on FortNite a Woodstock for the 2020s? The “group” narrative is in fact built upon layers of individual multiverses. They overlap in only some selective dimensions. Who will define the frame of these realities? Who will define how they can be accessed and overlap?
The metaverse will tell you who you are. It will be your face towards others and set your access rights. The metaverse will define traffic directions and overlaps. It will eventually come to define our collective reality, but with a new balance of layers of fully individual experiences.
This new state of being will continue to profoundly change the way we define ourselves as individuals, groups and societies.
However, the real enabler will be the ability to transfer values between the different physical, digital and phygital layers of our realities. The ability to buy a suit (a skin) in Fortnite and then actually wear it in the street, relies on the possibility to win, store, exchange and finally pay across the boundaries.
By defining what is value, the metaverse may truly change the fundamentals of our societies.
To be continued… “The Metaverse and Value“.