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Mark Zuckerberg’s metaverse could fracture the world as we know it — letting people ‘reality block’ things they disagree with and making polarization even worse

"Instead of us just kind of being in our own information bubbles, we're going to be segmented into our own custom realities," an expert told Insider. ...
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg shows off his vision for the metaverse during Facebook's Oculus Connect conference on October 28, 2021.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg shows off his vision for the metaverse during Facebook's Oculus Connect conference on October 28, 2021.

  • The so-called metaverse could give us our own virtual echo chambers and tailored realities.
  • Advertisers and third parties could inject someone's virtual world with ads and overlays unique to them.
  • Experts told Insider the result could be a fractured reality where we all exist in different worlds.

In the metaverse of the future, two people could be walking down the same street and see very different things thanks to the AR glasses they're wearing.

One, who may lean conservative, could "reality block" out aspects they've been conditioned to oppose, like a fertility clinic. The other, a liberal, could walk by a gun store and not even know it's there.

Others could have paid for a third-party "app" that lets them instantly know identifying traits about people they pass on the street thanks to the data that Facebook, now Meta, has collected on its users. The word "Republican" hangs over the head of one passerby in big block virtual letters, for example.

The result is these two people believing that they're seeing the same street, only they're not — they are existing in diverging realities within this virtual overlay of the real world.

Experts told Insider that the metaverse could fracture reality as we know it, allowing advertisers and third parties to give people the personalized worlds they desire and making political polarization even worse. 

"Instead of us just kind of being in our own information bubbles, we're going to be segmented into our own custom realities," Louis Rosenberg, a 30-year veteran of AR development and the CEO of Unanimous AI, told Insider.

Social media's woes will be amplified in the metaverse

Metaverse digital cyber world technology, man with virtual reality VR goggle playing AR augmented reality game and entertainment, futuristic lifestyleMetaverse digital cyber world technology, man with virtual reality VR goggle playing AR augmented reality game and entertainment, futuristic lifestyle

The kinds of AR technology proposed through this grand metaverse concept, thrust into the limelight recently by Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg, has the potential to transform our lives.

"It will make our world feel like Harry Potter," Rosenberg said.

But, as social media has done before, could also create monumental problems for society and how we agree on what's real and what's not. Rosenberg said the risks of the metaverse probably outweigh the good, but it doesn't matter — this new iteration of the internet is inevitable.

Social media is already allowing third parties to mediate our lives through targeted news feeds and targeted advertising based on the massive knowledge that firms have collected on us. Everybody thinks they must be seeing the same thing that everyone else is — only they may not be, since algorithms can target content to you in your echo chamber.

But that will be amplified in a virtual world, where third parties can dictate what you see in your home, on the street, and at work. And experts agreed that it'll be more difficult to identify misinformation and division.

"Folks should be worried," Shawn Frayne, CEO of holographic tech startup Looking Glass Factory, told Insider. "If you think Facebook on your phone has been bad for democracy, think about your entire field of view controlled by a company like that."

As Ethan Zuckerman, who designed one of the first metaverses in the 1990s, wrote in a cautionary piece about Meta's metaverse in The Atlantic last month: "How will a company that can block only 6 percent of Arabic-language hate content deal with dangerous speech when it's worn on an avatar's T-shirt or revealed at the end of a virtual fireworks display?"

The metaverse will also transform the advertising world, Rosenberg said.

Advertisers could pay for filters within a person's virtual world to inject their reality with specific messaging. And it may not only be traditional billboards — it could be a virtual product placement where you pass a person that's not even real holding a can of a specific brand's soft drink, said Rosenberg.

Or it could be a simulation of a human that engages you in conversation in line for coffee, a human that you think is real, only for them to covertly talk about whatever an advertiser paid them to try to sell to you, whether it's a bag of potato chips or political messaging.

Experts agreed that the metaverse will need one key thing to be healthy for people, the same thing that social media needs: regulation.

"Who would the governing and enforcing entity [be] in a borderless virtual world?" Ahmer Inam, chief AI officer at Pactera EDGE, told Insider.

Read the original article on Business Insider

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