The Science Fiction Writer Who Coined the Term ‘Metaverse’ Is Building His Own


Neil Stephenson, the Cyberpunk science fiction writer who coined the term “metaverse” in his book “Snow Crash,” teams up with a crypto enthusiast to build his own virtual world, wired I mentioned last week. The move, reportedly stemming from Stevenson’s concern (and “disgust”) with current iterations of the metaverse concept, is raising speculation about its impact and consequences. How Stevenson could sabotage the idea of ​​the metaverse from the inside remains to be seen, but the move points to how science fiction becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The metaverse is, at its core, a playground for Big Tech. How could a science fiction writer — coining the term in his imagination about a dystopian future — disrupt this?

“Metaverse” became a buzzword late last year, as social media giant Facebook announced a rebranding to highlight a shift in focus from social media to virtual reality. The term depicts an integrated virtual world where people can function as they do in the physical world, but with better communication across distances and fewer bureaucratic obstacles. Virtual reality and augmented reality headsets connect users to this virtual world. With Covid19 restricting physical movement, people are spending a significant portion of their time online, and with cryptocurrency and digital spending – in the form of NFT, for example – the idea of ​​the metaverse has gained prominence, the idea of ​​the metaverse has gained a major boost from technocrats. Facebook’s rebranding has influenced other companies to join the bandwagon, and now every major tech company is developing their own version of the metaverse.

However, the metaverse architecture is riddled with problems. As Saumya Kalia points out in her article for The Swaddle, the most famous metaverse ambassador, Facebook, faces multiple allegations of encouraging hate speech and violent content, especially in non-Western countries, for higher engagement. This may mean that Facebook was at least partially responsible for the exacerbation of the many cases of unrest in these countries. There’s also the privacy issue: tech giants like Google and Facebook are accused of mining and selling users’ data, and as more people merge onto metaverse networks, the data privacy situation is deteriorating.

The metaverse is also an area that could unleash a new set of hate crimes against sexual, gender and ethnic minorities. A female player, for example, has been sexually harassed in the game world by a male player. Rohitha Narariseti wrote for The Swaddle earlier: “…the message boards later hotly debate whether this is ‘real’ sexual harassment.” … Accountability is hard to define in any virtual environment. There is an “update” in how we personify online, without a corresponding update in how the law understands this new reality,” and it asks “Will our avatars have human rights?” Will avatars that harm others be subject to the same penalties you would be subject to offline? “

Stevenson, in announcing the construction of his metaverse, states that the corporate rush by each tech company to build its own, centralized version of the metaverse prompted him to build one of his own. Together with his crypto partner Peter Vessenes, Stephenson has developed Lamina1 – an open source and decentralized cryptocurrency platform that allows others to use the existing framework to develop their own independent virtual worlds. told Ronnie Abovitz, Lamina1’s Strategic Advisor wired That situation is “like a Nile descending from the mountains like Gandalf, to restore the metaverse to an open, decentralized, and creative system.”

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In fact, the idea of ​​merging different parts of the metaverse into a single decentralized entity lies at the heart of Lamina1, moving away from a few giant corporations that dictate all the rules of technology. Stephen Levy, reporter at wiredHe cites current tech monopolies such as Android vs iPhone and Apple vs Windows to note how “platforms have dominated entire product categories, stifling creativity and usability just by shutting down competing systems… If this happened to the metaverse it would be a disaster. The company that ruled the metaverse would literally own The reality is where we work, play and buy things.”

It may be too late to step back from the fact that the dystopian concept is now a reality — but Stevenson’s attempt to fix what already exists requires some scrutiny on her part. Will decentralization and equality be an essential part of human life? More importantly, will it fix the problems inherent in an unregulated digital world, where people are vulnerable to unprecedented forms of harm?

Even beyond open-source innovation and the idea of ​​decentralizing the metaverse lies the question of crypto-fueled utility fueled by cryptocurrency, non-fungible and token-loaded. The primary argument against the need for this specific form of the metaverse is that human lives are connected, through social media and online multiplayer games. Universes like Minecraft actually allow users to build their own world and interact with others freely.

Besides, cryptocurrencies are responsible for burning huge amounts of fuel, which will only increase if more people jump on platforms powered by these digital currencies. Experts have also already warned about the deceptive nature of NFT, the volatility of cryptocurrencies, and the inherent exclusion that lies at the roots of blockchain technology. As such, one needs to question whether investing a significant portion of one’s income into building a digital world is worth it in the first place, even when it is open source. And the question arises: is metaverse itself recoverable, even by the one who first dreamed of it as a nightmare?


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