Facebook’s metaverse is a petting zoo for control

Matrix Deus Ex Machina

Right, there is so much about the metaverse, I can’t help myself but comment.

Although I do love the Iceland tourist video piss take.

Lets be clear, the metaverse and what Facebook (bloody Meta) are planning is not a metaverse any one really wants. I’m calling it the corporate metaverse, as I do think there is some useful parts which are worth exploring. However there is too much which isn’t because its always described in a commercial/capitalism space.

Neal Stephenson who coined the term in Snowcrash, did proposal a virtual real estate owned by a global commercial group. So Meta isn’t that far off the mark, especially with Ernest Cline’s Ready player one making the metaverse the literal Oasis from the real world. Leading me to the conclusion that the metaverse is not a good idea for humanity.

So I thought about it and picked out some parts, framing it within mainly the Matrix.

The metaverse under capitalism

Morpheus with a battery

This is pretty damning but in the arms of a commercial company or market, you don’t need to look far to realise the Matrix has a lot of the answers.

Quoting Morpheus in the Matrix

“What is the Matrix? Control. The Matrix is a computer-generated dream world built to turn a human being into this.” *Holds up a battery*

I won’t go as far as to say a battery but rather a resource of data or funding (almost a cash cow?). The computer generated dream world is apt and the control statement is spot on!

While immersed in the computer generated dream world, we can/will  be controlled. Complete surveillance of movement, emotion, discussion, everything. Something of the big data pipe dream, but within the tight (fist) environment of a corporate provider (overlord). The temptation is there to maximize all the data (batteries).

Morpheus with agent smith

Quoting Agent Smith also in the Matrix

“I hate this place, this zoo, this prison, this reality, whatever you want to call it.”

Agent Smith complains about the Matrix the computer generated dream world. What got me was the idea of it being in a zoo (although prison and reality is perfect too), and even more so the idea of a petting zoo. The animals are always surveilled and controlled with fences and systems. So much so, it changes their behavior, the way they think, react, etc.

The reason why a petting zoo is because the corporate owners allow their extra paying customers to pet/play with the animals. Remember this is on top of the on-going surveillance. Petting zoos are fun for the customers but I’d say less so for the animals?

Some will laugh but frankly I’m not the only one (thankfully) thinking this.
While the rest of the media does its cheer-leading and stone throwing of meta’s metaverse. The debate (its not really a conversation) isn’t going anywhere useful.

The metaverse for the public interest?

I have thought quite a lot about what public service elements could exist within a public metaverse (oppose to one owned by a corporate entity, although I don’t actually think this will happen because companies don’t want to share and we know monopolies are very bad).

I remember when I first came across the fediverse, which thanks to the use of interoperability at different levels, allows you to move between different instances with minimal pain. The other absolute fantastic thing is being able to have different friends on different instances and having no real differences (Just like email). Whats this got to do with the public interest? Do you think the corporate entity would be interested in supporting this free form of communication? Can the animals in a petting zoo, talk to each other?

Thinking about the Matrix (there is a loose theme here).

“Your appearance now is what we call residual self image. It is the mental projection of your digital self.”

Residual self image and portability of identity is something a public metaverse could/should provide. Your self image is something you control and manage and across different instances/nodes/spaces or within the bigger metaverse. I can see modification based on the public space, in the same way most people change the way they look at a funeral or wedding. There will be spaces/nodes/instances where rules/cultural/ethos. Similar to the way, Mastodon have instance/server level rules.

There is a ton of real/virtual places type things where I’d lean on public architecture, thinking of Jane Jacobs incredible book.

“Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.”

There must be a clear demarcation between what is public space and what is private space. Public and private spaces cannot ooze into each other as they do typically in suburban settings or in projects.

The metaverse must be created by everybody not just a privileged few or a corporate overlord. In a interconnected virtual space, it should be much easier to build your own and work together in a public way but this needs a lot of thought. There are lessons to be learned from our semi-democratic physical city/town planning.

With the metaverse being placed directly in the xR (extended reality) space. I certainly think its time we got to the infrastructural side of the metaverse. Everything from how data is used, how, where, etc. A long time ago I talked about X-Ray mode, so you can see the underlying data & infrastructure. Something like when Neo can finally see the Matrix code while still inside of it.

Matrix code of agents

Part of the data/code is of course the algorithms which should be public and transparent for the public benefit. Is something I’ve seen in parts elsewhere but not really in the xR space. It certainly would even up the scales. Its something we build into the living room of the future funny enough.

In summary

Although very messy thoughts, there are parts worth exploring. As mentioned at the start I think there is interesting parts to a metaverse but the corporate petting zoo is something which has become the dominate view. I see similar when people talk about social networking and social media. Their frame of reference is pinned to a dominate corporate wet dream and it clouds what it really could potentially if you start from the public interest at the core.

Author: Ianforrester

Senior firestarter at BBC R&D, emergent technology expert and serial social geek event organiser.

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