It’s a term on the tip of everyone’s tongue and yet still a concept that lacks a clear definition. It’s an idea that has captured the brightest minds of the biggest tech companies – Apple, Metanee Facebook, Microsoft – and yet no one really knows what it will be. It is the metaverse.
Although questions remain, what we do know is that it is coming. No doubt it already exists. We know it will integrate today’s internet with virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and blockchain technology. We know it will be a place where people interact with each other, where they buy and sell goods and services, where communities form around education, culture, entertainment and faith, and where the traditional boundaries of personal data, ownership, and privacy will be wide open. We know it will look in some ways like the digital world we already know and in others it will be completely different.
Finally, it will be a place where our current social structures – our governments, our schools, our religious institutions, our social service agencies, our cultural and political organizations – will have to adapt quickly if they are to play a meaningful role.
Obviously, the issues of security, privacy, taxation, worker classification, and consumer regulation that are already preoccupying the tech world today will all be critical to the functioning of the metaverse. We also know it will operate around and across traditional sovereign borders, which makes it both really exciting and potentially dangerous.
While policymakers can’t come up with specific, detailed regulations for the metaverse until we have a better idea of what’s really coming, we can avoid making the same mistakes we made with Facebook. , Instagram, Twitter and social media in general if we can develop a framework intellectual vision to regulate the metaverse now.
Based on what we know about the metaverse, I believe:
- The problems we currently have with regulating tech companies will be replicated and amplified in the metaverse. You thought it was difficult to control state-sponsored misinformation on Facebook and Twitter. Wait to try it in 3D.
- The first order of business must be to do no harm to children. We have allowed the digital world to evolve in a way that is especially detrimental to young minds. We must avoid perpetuating this grave mistake.
- Governing the metaverse will require the active participation and coordination of three major interest groups and a new paradigm of cooperation and accountability. It starts with the companies themselves developing their own backups and protections from scratch and not waiting to feign surprise at the bad things that emerge. Next, we will need input from private groups with specific interests and expertise, such as parents, mental health professionals, free speech advocates, constitutional law theorists, civil rights activists , futurists and many more. Finally, there is our government, which must abandon its own timid, wait-and-see approach and proactively guide this process.
The metaverse, after all, is a human enterprise, and as such will attract and harbor its share of destructive human behavior. This is not a reason to be afraid of it or to oppose it. It is rather a reason to develop innovative ideas on governance alongside its construction. The more we clarify the rules, the better the metaverse will be for everyone.
As we have seen so often with all types of emerging technologies, especially social media platforms, regulators are always late. Now is the time for leaders to start asking the right questions. This is an opportunity to think about how to regulate the metaverse. This means asking tough questions such as:
- Who rules the metaverse?
- Who maintains it?
- Who is in charge?
- How to regulate a digital entity designed to transcend sovereign borders?
- How to ensure security in a non-sovereign digital concept? How to prevent consumer fraud and protect against online predators?
- Who has the legal power to do this?
- What are the risks of terrorism in the metaverse?
- How would counterterrorism work?
- How should privacy rights work?
- What about taxation and consumer protection?
- Do people own their own data? Is it portable?
- How do you manage the classification of workers?
- How do you regulate industries that largely move online, like gaming?
- How to avoid a new digital divide?
- Can you move government services to the metaverse? If yes, which ones? Education? Health care? Vote? The DVM?
Jthere are so many questions and yet so few answers.
Once a new technology is fully developed and released to the public, good luck putting the genie back in the bottle. But if regulators take the time and make the effort to think about the metaverse now, the threats and opportunities it presents, it can, for once, get ahead of new technologies rather than starting from behind.
Imagine creating a version of JASON– an elite group of scientists from academia and industry who have advised the US government on critical issues since the Cold War – but specifically for the Metaverse. Imagine working groups, formed and activated now, of agency professionals, think tank gurus, technology experts, scientists, lawyers, social psychologists, state regulators, and perhaps a few elected officials who can begin to address the issues raised in this memo . Imagine being ahead of the curve for once.
So let’s go ahead. This is an opportunity to do things right.
Bradley Tusk is a venture capitalist, writer, philanthropist and political strategist.