Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently announced renaming the parent company responsible for Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp to Meta. Along with the name change, Zuckerberg plans to expand Meta from offering only social media platforms to offering a full-fledged 3D virtual world.
The aim is to develop a global interconnected network of virtual communities where people can meet, play, and work via augmented reality glasses, smartphone apps, virtual reality headsets, etc. The Meta network will incorporate online shopping, social media, and other aspects of online life. However, these plans are not going to be a reality anytime soon.
“This is not an investment that is going to be profitable for us any time in the near future… But we basically believe that the metaverse is going to be the successor to the mobile internet,” Zuckerberg said during an analyst call.
He calls virtual reality the “next major computing platform.” Facebook has created a product team to work on the metaverse and plans to hire 10,000 people over the next five years in Europe.
Though the plans of a virtual world akin to a real world might sound fantastic on paper, some are worried about the new dangers posed by the technology, especially given the various privacy and censorship scandals involving the platform.
Writing for Vice, senior editor of Motherboard Janus Rose states that Meta will likely collect data on human behavior to build user profiles which will be used to prioritize the content they view. Back in 2012, Facebook carried out an experiment on users which showed that the type of content people posted depended on whether their Facebook feed showed positive or negative content.
Such algorithmic emotional manipulation can come into the virtual space as well. Meta can collect intimate data about a user’s physical body movements and use it to “influence human behavior on a large scale,” Rose wrote.
Back in 2015, a data scientist from a major Silicon Valley company had warned about tech becoming a major manipulator of human behavior.
“The goal of everything we do is to change people’s actual behavior at scale. When people use our app, we can capture their behaviors, identify good and bad behaviors, and develop ways to reward the good and punish the bad. We can test how actionable our cues are for them and how profitable for us,” the scientist said.
Interestingly, Meta also has parallels with a 1992 science fiction novel called Snow Crash. Written by author Neal Stephenson, the novel talks about a “metaverse,” which is a virtual reality successor of the internet.
In the novel, federal governments have lost power, the economy has collapsed, and the world is controlled by a few big companies. The virtual reality of metaverse acts as an escape for people where they can use digital avatars to do whatever they want.
In a recent interview with the NYT, former CEO of Google Eric Schmidt predicted that the metaverse would play a big role in replacing human relationships. People might choose to spend most of their time in a virtual world rather than in real life.
“All of the people who talk about metaverses are talking about worlds that are more satisfying than the current world — you’re richer, more handsome, more beautiful, more powerful, faster. So, in some years, people will choose to spend more time with their goggles on in the metaverse. And who gets to set the rules?” Schmidt said.