What exactly is the Metaverse? And is it really that new?
This talk will explore our emotional connections to cyberspace, our feelings of presence and immediacy in online environments, and what this means for the intensity of our experiences, good and bad. As technology promises ever more immersive, embodied experiences involving 360 degree vision, touch, and even taste, how might this merging of cyber and physical affect our lives?
A lecture by Professor Victoria Baines
The transcript and downloadable versions of the lecture are available from the Gresham College website: https://www.gresham.ac.uk/watch-now/metaverse
Gresham College has offered free public lectures for over 400 years, thanks to the generosity of our supporters. There are currently over 2,500 lectures free to access. We believe that everyone should have the opportunity to learn from some of the greatest minds. To support Gresham's mission, please consider making a donation: https://gresham.ac.uk/support/
- Citizens of Earth, (audience laughing) - the year is 2030. A global pandemic and fossil fuel, climate, and cost of living crises have propelled us into the metaverse. International travel is too expensive for anyone except the very wealthy, and the environmental cost is hard to justify. Businesses of all sizes no longer rent office space, and executives and states people conduct negotiations remotely with few exceptions. A partnership between Meta and Microsoft announced in 2022 created what is now the global market leader in workplace metaverses, and it is all but impossible to do business on other platforms. Families and friends spend time together in one of several virtual worlds where they can hug and kiss and be together as easily as they would offline. Reported levels of loneliness have fallen and therapeutic use of technology is slowing the progress of dementia. Whether in leisure spaces or workplaces, more people have content delivered in line of sight than at their arm's length. People fall in love, have sex, have children in the metaverse. The only thing they can't do, is eat, in a way that gives them any kind of sustenance. Okay, confession time. This is just a prop and I'm going to need to put my glasses back on so I can see all of you. It's a cyber punk mockup and a very fun one of what a heads-up data display could look like. But just as easily, I can turn it off and you can see, it is a dumb printed display. Those of us minded to find out what the metaverse is and on which technologies it depends, might turn to Dr. Google. But when we search the web, we often see images like this, which owe more to science fiction than they do to science fact. And when we hear about the metaverse in the media, it tends to be in one of two contexts. Enthusiasts conjure a world in which the next iteration of information technology will revolutionize how we work and play, disrupt established economies, and challenge the dominance of big tech companies all through the wearing of visors that look like they've come straight off the set of a Spielberg movie. Just as readily, this vision is shot down. Its advocates, ridiculed for their idealism or for not developing the required technology, quickly enough. Unpacking exactly what the metaverse is, is made more difficult, by the fact that the very term itself has its roots in science fiction. Now, it's generally agreed that it was the first coined by Neil Stevenson, the author in his science fiction novel "Snow Crash" in 1992. And it denotes a digital world, into which characters escape a dystopian near-future. Conceiving of the internet as an environment, one can enter physically and emotionally, has become something of a trope, to readers and cinema goers alike, through novels such as William Gibson's "Neuromancer", through "Tron", through "The Matrix" franchise, and even Disney's "Ralph Breaks the Internet". But even the fact, that the word metaverse, is a portmanteau, a composite of ancient Greek, "meta" meaning with, among, or beyond, and the English, "universe", makes for a concept that feels remote from people's understanding, that feels scientifically niche and incredible. But once we peel back the layers of hype and reaction, we see that the metaverse is in fact more of an umbrella term for features and technologies that are already in development and in some cases in mainstream use. The evolution of these technologies in such a way and at such a rate that they enable and accelerate each other, and are able to converge seamlessly in connected environments is the story of how we may get from where we are now, as summed up in the Oxford English dictionary's definition, "a virtual reality space in which users can interact with a computer generated environment and other users" to media theorist Matthew Ball's recent vision of "a massively scaled and interoperable network of real-time rendered 3D virtual worlds", that can be experienced synchronously, and persistently by an effectively unlimited number of users with an individual sense of presence, and with continuity of data such as identity, history, entitlements, objects, communications, and payments. And if we map those features to the infrastructure, and IT, required to make them a reality, we get something like this. And the fact is, that all of these technologies are already in use. Anyone who has interacted with a chat bot, is familiar with the concept of synthetic humans. Automated characters with human features, populate online games and virtual worlds. Synthetic influencers like the fashion model, Lil Miquela are presented as humans on social media, and they have some human characteristics even though they do not exist at all outside of data. In recent years, cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin and Ethereum, blockchain-based technologies and non fungible tokens, NFTs, have become increasingly visible in the economy. And if you'd like to know more about these, I strongly recommend you watch Prof. Raghavendra Rao's upcoming lectures on "Love, Trust, and Crypto," and "DeFi, Decentralized Finance, Crypto, and NFTs in Business". For some people the metaverse is a chance to reshape the internet. They argue that there will be many different metaverses or at least an ecosystem in which not only finance, but also software and governance are decentralized. Decentralization is at the heart of what is currently being called web 3.0, where web 1.0 consisted largely of read only websites, and web 2.0 marked the emergence of users as content creators on social media. Web 3.0 is heralded as a new era, in which internet users will have greater control, and ownership of digital assets. Ongoing rollout of 5G and development of six G connectivity promises greater reliability and speed and fewer delays in data transfer. And together with continuous improvements in processing power, even greater adoption of cloud computing, we will need these, if we are to experience in real time, a metaverse, that is a richly rendered and compelling 3D world. Technology such as augmented reality, AR that overlay data on our view of the offline world, are also widely in use. When we use mapping apps like Google Maps, or this one produced by ordinance survey in the UK, our view is enriched with data, that a static map couldn't possibly provide. 3D imaging enables us to see around corners, data on vehicle congestion, public transport load, and pedestrian footfall, privileges us with information that would not otherwise be visible, until we had actually reached that location. And when we play games like Pokemon Go, AR turns our offline surroundings into a treasure hunt for virtual items. In fact, this data world can be so persuasive that we often risk neglecting offline hazards. And to that end, believe it or not, there's even a website, that tracks all the deaths, and injuries linked to Pokemon Go. A successful metaverse is envisaged as one, that is immersive and in which we feel embodied. And we're going to explore the technologies, in the top right of this map in some more detail. But first, let's probe the concept of presence, a little further. Anyone who uses social media, or dating apps, or plays games online, already feels, that they are present in those environments, to some extent. If you are a parent of a child who likes to inhabit Fortnite, or ROBLOX, you may already feel that there are quite enough, all-absorbing alternate realities. Virtual Reality, VR, intensifies that experience by presenting an environment in 360 degrees. So hands up in the audience, those of you who have tried on a virtual reality headset, a headset like that... Gosh, that's quite a few of you. You know when I used to ask these questions a few years back you'd have about 10 or 20%. So this is good. This means you'll be able to answer my question. So I want you to think back to that time, the very first time that you tried on one of those headsets. Try and remember how it felt, and what you did. I can pretty much guarantee, that the very first thing you did when you put on that headset, was this... Why? Because of course, what you saw through the goggles, made you feel as if you were spatially in that environment presented to you. Perhaps that was a fantasy themed game, or you were running for your life from a Tyrannosaurus Rex. From a psychological perspective, presence is a feedback loop, in which the feeling of really being there, heightens your emotional experience of that given situation. And that heightened emotional experience in turn, intensifies the feeling of really being there. There's an associated concept of co-presence, and this applies the same feedback loop to our interactions with others, intensifying our feelings of being there together. Again, a sense of online community is, of course, also nothing new, as members of Facebook groups and guilds in online games like World of Warcraft will testify. And it's nearly 20 years, since inhabitants of Second Life started owning property, earning money, socializing, falling in love, having families, immersing themselves in the virtual world shown here. But our quest for immersion can be traced much further back and arguably to the earliest works of human literature and art. Given our time constraints this evening, let's just go back a century or so. In 1896, this film by the Lumiere Brothers, of a train arriving at La Ciotat station in France reportedly caused chaos among cinema goers who were convinced that the locomotive, was going to hit them. While this claim has not gone unchallenged since, the Lumieres' second attempt suggests that making audience members feel as if they were really in the scene was precisely their intention. In 1934, they reshot the footage in stereoscopic 3D. So those of you attending in person, should each have received a pair of these, a pair of 3D glasses and it's time to put them on. Some of you, I was very impressed. Some of you put them on at the start of the lecture. That was fantastic! The idea that I might have presented the whole lecture in 3D, thank you so much for having such high expectations of me. Okay, are we ready? To the audience at home, apologies that you're not equally technically enabled here, but hopefully you do get the picture. And really the point isn't so much the quality of this print as the fact that there was perceived demand for it. Later in the 20th century, 3D versions of mainstream movies became popular. Who could forget that classic Jaws 3D? Incontrovertible proof that the sensation of being pursued by a great white shark is a bigger thrill than quality acting or a worthy script. And for my generation, the View Master here, was a highly desirable toy, with numerous brand tie-ins. I hankered after one of these as a child, so I could immerse myself in the Muppet Show, to feel like I was in the scene with Kermit, Fozzie, and Gonzo. So in empirical terms, virtual reality is a direct descendant of 20th century 3D. The quest for immersion for presence is a constant. What changes, all that changes, is the sophistication of the hardware, the reliance on computing and IT, and the extent to which technological developments promise to heighten the intensity of those emotional and physical reactions. Headsets dominate current developments, in AR, VR and MR, Mixed Reality, which projects 3D models and spaces into the wearer's physical environment. MR headsets such as Microsoft's HoloLens, in the center here, and AR glasses such as Google Glass, are already used, in industries like manufacturing and healthcare, where workers need to have their hands free. On the top row here we can see a a number of VR headsets. We've got PlayStation, Meta, and HTC variants. According to one estimate, and it's based on devices delivered in 2019, there are 171 million people using VR around the world. So there's clearly some way to go to world domination, but equally that's not a negligible number of people, is it? The most recent release, which is in the bottom right of the screen, is the Meta Quest Pro. That's a mixed reality headset. It was announced just a couple of weeks ago. Some of you may have noticed that Apple is missing from this lineup and missing from the screen. They're rumored to be releasing an MR, a mixed reality, headset next year, 2023, and AR glasses in either '24 or '25. And we can speculate I think with some confidence, that whatever Apple launches will aim to be lighter, simpler to use, and better looking than its competitors. They could be the tipping point for mass consumer adoption, As well as creating a sense of presence, through what the user can see and can hear, technology is in development that engages sensors hitherto underused online. So at least one company is working on a device to emit fragrances in virtual worlds. Older members of the audience, you may remember the BBC's April Fool's joke in the 1960s when it claimed to have invented Smell-O-Vision. Such is the strength of the links between our senses, that viewers called the BBC, convinced that they had smelled the onions and the coffee shown on screen. So in order for us to feel really, really there, in a virtual environment, it is logical for us to try to engage all five of our senses. So then what about taste? Well, researchers at the Meiji University in Tokyo have designed a lickable TV screen that mimics food flavors such as chocolate, and pizza. Staying around the mouth, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University in the US, have invented a device that creates sensations on the lips, like kissing, excellent, brushing one's teeth, okay, and the unequivocally horrific spiders. Yes, it is already possible, to feel virtual spiders on your mouth, if you've ever wanted to. Some of the most exciting developments are in this area of touch, haptic technology. Tactile sensors capture the movements of a user, and feed vibrations or resistance back to them. And many of us actually routinely experience this without realizing it. So if you have an iPhone, the same setting that allows you to turn the sound of typing on the keyboard on and off, also allows you to set the keyboard to vibrate when you touch it. That's haptics. Some game controllers incorporate vibrations, that correspond to certain actions such as firing a weapon, picking up an object, or steering a vehicle. Haptics promise to take us though, far further than that. Several companies have patented designs for haptic gloves that allow the wearer to feel resistance and extension, as if they are really reaching out to touch something. Disney has partnered with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to develop the Force Jacket whose internal airbags enable the wearer to feel a hug, a punch, the sensation of rain, and even a snake slithering across their body. South Korea's bHaptics here on screen, they combine vests with hardware for hands, arms, and feet for a whole body experience. And Teslasuit on the right here based in the UK, has integrated haptics based on electrical stimulation, motion capture and biometrics, all in a full bodysuit rather like a wetsuit. As with everything related to the internet, the adult entertainment industry has been at the forefront of innovation in this area. People inevitably want to have sex in VR, and there are devices already on the open market that enable them to do just that. Ask me afterwards, if you would like to know more. Just as our current virtual worlds may contain fantasy based elements, so too the metaverse promises to give us brand new sensations. For instance, no one alive knows what a dodos call sounds like, and we have no recordings. A few of us claim to have seen the Loch Ness monster, but none of us knows how it feels to stroke her for she is a "she", isn't she? As the CEO of an old factory tech company mused in a recent interview, "What does a unicorn smell like? We get to invent that." Well, in case you are watching Mr. Vishnevsky, I reckon it's probably an equal mixture of two ingredients, horse and bubble gum. In its less playful applications, VR is already enabling us to do things that were hitherto impossible. Where previously we might have physically put our whole bodies inside a simulator, we can now enter simulated environments using just headsets and other hardware extensions. People can now train more effectively, while minimizing the risk of real world harm. For example, the Norwegian army has been using VR headsets since 2014, so quite a long time now, to improve the peripheral vision of its tank drivers to literally see around corners. The related concept of digital twinning, creating a copy of a system that only exists in data, has also been around for a while, particularly in the area of critical infrastructure. Testing the outcomes of a scenario, or of environmental or process change, helps to prevent planes crashing into each other, or nuclear reactors going into meltdown. But with the addition of virtual reality, workers can actually enter a digital version of a reactor, and safely interact with it. We're also seeing already life-changing and life saving applications in healthcare. And every time, is quite distracting this video, because every time I see it, I am absolutely gobsmacked by it. Earlier this year, the Gemini team at Great Ormond Street Hospital, led by Dr. Owase Jeelani, separated three year old conjoined twins, with fused skulls, intertwined brains, and shared blood vessels. 3D modeling here, and use of VR, enabled the team to perform a procedure, previously thought impossible. With teams in London and Rio de Janeiro, trialing techniques and practicing the procedure in the same virtual room. I'm getting, sorry, I'm getting goosebumps talking about this, because it is nothing short of amazing. I am brimming over with admiration. Imagine having the courage to perform a procedure like this however much you'd practiced. This is absolutely, it's kind of I'm gobsmacked, as I say, every time I see this video. We're also beginning to see the results of therapeutic use of VR in primary care. The benefits for psychological therapy, don't only extend to being able to reach more people, more often. Successful trials used to treat conditions such as agoraphobia, to combat social isolation among the elderly, and to help dementia patients recall past memories, all promise that immersive environments will bring improvements to our health and to our wellbeing. And that ability to generate a feeling of presence, means that VR is also a powerful technology for generating empathy. This is "Clouds Over Sidra". It was co-produced by the United Nations, and it's one of several immersive experiences that allowed the viewer to see life, from the perspective of a refugee. In 2015 members of the UN General Assembly, nearly 200 of them were given cardboard headsets, to experience 12 year old Sidra's life, in the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan. In the UK, the Alzheimer's Society, has released "A Walk Through Dementia", and that's a series of short VR movies, that puts all of us in the shoes, of someone who is suffering from the syndrome in everyday environments such as the home, the supermarket, and on the street. Now the COVID pandemic is seen as having accelerated a move to remote working, which has brought its own technical, operational, and security challenges. But as much as we found Zoom, and Teams, to be lifelines in lockdown, we also found that they weren't quite enough. That while families and friends were able to connect with each other over virtual drinks and for celebrations, they were still very much apart. IT enabled core business to continue, but not quite as usual. Organizations of all types and sizes missed opportunities to collaborate outside meetings and for the creativity and the camaraderie that comes through happenstance, what has come to be known in business, as the "water cooler moment". Trust is also difficult to build remotely. And this is something that diplomats and politicians really struggled with during the pandemic. Think about it, on Zoom, or on Teams, there's no way to whisper to a colleague, without noticeably having to go on mute, and there's no opportunity to exchange information in the corridors around a meeting venue. But in the metaverse, so the thinking goes, we will be able to create different spaces, with different levels of access and privacy that take us beyond heads in boxes. Now in my research, I get to imagine, how people might use technology in the future, and I get to identify potential benefits, but also potential risks. The intention in doing that isn't so much to make specific predictions within a specific timeframe. That's fraught with danger because so many different factors can be difficult to foresee. But by considering how metaverse technologies, might be used, and indeed, misused, in all of these aspects of society and more by, for instance, 2030, we can consider the steps that take us there and any potential barriers to it. Hardware that people want to use and be seen using, will certainly be a key driver for mass adoption of metaverse technologies. But so will having identities or avatars, that reflect how people want to be seen in virtual worlds. If there are different metaverses, they will need to be interoperable, and our identities portable, so that we can have similar avatars in different worlds, the same designer outfit, the same branded trainers. And that sophistication seems quite far away, when what the major platforms promise us right now is something rather like this. Particularly in our workplace metaverses, we'll probably want more lifelike avatars. (chuckles) What about if we all had something like this? This pleases me greatly to look at this video. I can't tell you. I was saying to some of the folks earlier, it's a little bit like the first time you hear yourself in a voicemail or an answer phone message and you think, "Gosh, do I really sound like that?" You can imagine when you see something like this for the first time, my first thought was, "Gosh, is that what I look like? Is that what I look like from the back?" (laughs) But it is, I think, I don't know about you. I think it's slightly more realistic, isn't it? It's the kind of identity that I could take into an immersive board meeting, or to deliver a lecture in the metaverse and be recognizably me, with sufficient proof of ownership, and non fungible token, for example, recorded on a blockchain ledger, perhaps. I could, potentially, use it to access government services, healthcare, do paid work. Now, I should say this is a 3D scan of my entire body produced by professionals who normally do this for the movie industry. And to be honest, I do find it rather jaw dropping to look at, so much so, that I'm going to play it again because I can. (audience laughs) - Companies like BGA here, have started scanning people, animals, and objects into virtual worlds. And it was, I have to say, it was hugely exciting to see how they do this. But it is also, as you can tell, quite unforgiving. It's a rendering of exactly how I looked, when the data was captured. On that day, I was slightly concerned, I was slightly concerned, firstly, about whether it would pick up the bags under my eyes. I was also quite concerned that they had six projectors, and I did wonder whether those six projectors would add 10 pounds or 60 pounds. Now people already touch up their appearance with filters on social media. So it's entirely plausible, isn't it, that they will want to do so in the metaverse. And the acceptable thresholds for that, how idealized or unlike myself, my avatar is permitted to be, are yet to be said. If levels of trust, are to some extent, determined by one's being identifiable, and recognizable as oneself, we may need to review our indicators for fakery. An avatar, this compelling also has a value beyond its purchase price. Not because I'm anyone special, but because it provides access to other spaces and services, in my name. Unauthorized access to a meeting, what's become known as Zoom bombing in recent years, in the metaverse, may be more akin to housebreaking or conning your way into an office. Hacking of realistic avatars, is likely to be of interest to criminals, particularly where they may be linked to privileged access to workspaces, to property and money, or where impersonating someone else could be an advantage. Think of it as turbo charging the identity theft we already see. Now I have all of these online identities already, and broadly what we can say about them, is that they're either photo-real or a bit cartoonish. But they're all equally me as far as I'm concerned. On different social media platforms, I'm different versions of myself. This then prompts the question, of what authenticity might mean in the metaverse. Should we demand that people in immersive virtual worlds look exactly like their offline selves? Would that requirement extend to, for example, not presenting as a different gender, or to using a wheelchair online if you do offline? The more the metaverse is centralized, the greater the likelihood that we will be required to have a single, or a dominant identity. Conversely, if there are to be many metaverses, we will be able to have many different identities and avatars, but we might not be able to transfer these as easily. Now, the metaverse that Neil Stevenson depicted in "Snow Crash" certainly does give the user the possibility to be someone completely different. And he writes of the main character who arguably has the best name ever of a main character in fiction. "When you live in a slime hole, there's always the Metaverse. And in the Metaverse, Hiro protagonist is a warrior prince." Now, virtual worlds already provide us with an escape from real life. Just as they enable us to do different things, so they give us an opportunity to look different, to be someone different. In massively multiplayer games, I can be a World War II infantryman, I can be a penguin, I can be an Orc if I want to. A metaverse which is not only more compelling and interesting, but also potentially more empowering than life offline, is not something we should dismiss as frivolous. Many people have found themselves able to do things in virtual worlds that they simply can't otherwise. People with health conditions or impairments that prevent them from participating in sports as fully as they would like, are able to become eSports champions, people who suffer from anxiety have found ways to socialize that feel more manageable for them. Virtual worlds are levelers insofar, as they can alter conventional measures of attainment and success. People with limited mobility can walk, run, fly unimpeded, and that raises the possibility that as online spaces become more immersive and persuasive, some of us will want to spend less and less time offline. Our current concerns over young people's screen time may come to seem quaint as more and more of us feel embodied online. And our responses to digital addiction may need to evolve to provide adequate psychosocial support to those who for very good reasons may not want to leave the metaverse. If we apply the logic of presence and co-presence, positive experiences in the metaverse, may feel more positive, and more immediate, than our current online interactions. Equally, we may need to prepare ourselves for negative experiences that feel worse, both emotionally and physically. Technology that allows the user to touch and be touched presents greater possibilities for intimacy, but also for abuse and assault, the sheer physicality of which, we won't have seen online before. A scenario in which you can punch somebody, on the other side of the world presents a particular conundrum for criminal justice services because they're used to proving bodily injury through evidence of physical proximity. And in the metaverse, no such physical proximity may exist offline. VR platforms have already started to deploy personal boundaries to prevent avatars coming too close to each other. News, and fake news may be more persuasive when delivered in your line of sight or by an avatar that engages you in a fully fledged conversation. YouTube videos of adults humorously scaring children with unsuitable VR games already signal the need to ensure that metaverse content is age appropriate, and that people of all ages are not recklessly exposed to traumatizing or triggering experiences. And since what is triggering for one person, may not be so for another, monitoring and vetting in a mature metaverse, may be just as challenging, if not more so, as policing the offline world. Accidental physical damage may occur if people mishandle or misuse equipment. For example, the driver of a car using a VR headset that's intended only for passengers, like this holoride modular infotainment toolkit, developed for Audi, or a medical practitioner injuring a patient when the data feed on their display is hacked. Insurers have already seen increases in household damage claims due to accidents when using VR. There've been a lot of broken TV screens apparently. And we can take also those Pokemon Go deaths and injuries, as a sign of how things might evolve, Pokemon pun entirely intended. By imagining the consequences of an evolved metaverse, and the steps that take us there, we can also be alert to issues in the wider world that deserve our attention. The first, is digital inequality. Virtual worlds already require large amounts of processing power and bandwidth, high speeds, and low latency. Countries that lag behind in terms of internet infrastructure and accessibility of the necessary hardware, may find themselves at even less of an advantage in the metaverse, where for the foreseeable future, at least, full enfranchisement, requires uninterrupted, high speed connectivity, core devices with enough processing power to render rich, realistic environments in real time and hardware whose price points exclude many members of society. The rapid development of a metaverse economy in some countries, but not others, may widen this digital gap. And while moving meetings into virtual worlds will have a positive impact on the environment, if it means that we travel less without sustainable energy sources, the demand for greater processing power may be untenable. We've already seen a signal of this in Iceland, where the energy consumed by crypto currency mining, already outstrips supply to households. Privacy is another key concern. In 2014, a woman was reportedly attacked outside a bar in San Francisco because she was wearing, a pair of Google Glass AR spectacles. And the fear is that people who wear headsets that can capture images and video may record other people without their consent. Now many of us already take photos and videos of other people with our phones, but those people can generally see when we do that because we hold our phones in the air in a certain way. But when someone has something on their face, which they activate using voice commands or some other invisible gesture, this can contribute to a feeling of being constantly under surveillance. In VR too, some users are already recording all of their interactions just in case, they need to evidence something bad happening to them. So the technology effectively equips us to operate our very own CCTV, wherever we go, online, or offline. But just because we can, does that mean we should? For many of us, this would seem to be an unacceptable intrusion of our privacy, especially when we have not been asked. So trust in the technology is certainly a clear barrier that we need to overcome. None of this really gets us much closer to answering the question of when or even whether the metaverse envisaged by its current builders will arrive. So we have no way of knowing, whether Citi Groups' recent prediction, that the total addressable market of the metaverse will be eight to 13 trillion dollars per annum by 2030 is at all accurate. But perhaps insisting on the metaverse as a moment in time as an end state, rather than an ongoing evolution, is to miss the point. The more we depict it as a futuristic far scape, the easier it is to ignore the incredible progress, these technologies have already enabled and to put off dealing with human challenges that are already here. If we instead consider immersion, presence, and co-presence as established human drives that shape technology and in turn are shaped by it, we can recognize that the metaverse has a pre-history, it has a present, not just a future. And it's entirely up to you, whether you think that the world I described at the start of this talk is idyllic, or dystopian, but many of us are already in a version of it. We are already digitally-enhanced humans. As we travel further down the road of technological development, we can expect further merging of the data world and the human world, cyberspace and so-called meat space with consequences for both of those. When it comes to the metaverse, we do not just have to wait and see. Thank you. (audience applauding) - Thank you very much. Actually, Victoria is not here, (all laugh) but her avatar is done awfully well tonight I think. - We did think about how we could make it more immersive, but it seemed that the wood paneling wasn't very well suited to projection. So... - Thank you. I work with Owase Jeelani who made the twin video. And I couldn't have done my job without early VR to manipulate the images of the heart that we do, to do cardiac surgery. It is here in my world. - I, I, to be honest with you, when you put me in touch with that team, I couldn't stop watching that clip. I really couldn't. You know, when you look at all of the blood vessels and all of the tissue being separated absolutely incredible. - What you can't show on the screen is that you can also play with that image in space with your hands, which is the same movement that you do during the operation. So you're actually acquiring three dimensional space, without doing any harm, and that you can do it over and over and over again until you get better at it, which the England football team could occasionally benefit from. (all laugh) - Any questions from the audience? - [Female Audience Member 1] I was curious about your comment on the digital assets that Web 3.0 users will own more of the digital assets. I wondered if you could say more about that. - Yeah, so if we use the analogy, I've used the example of a designer outfit. I'm not suggesting... I'm not sure I would buy a designer outfit in the metaverse, but if you have a particular way that you want to look... so I presented that scan of myself. At the moment, I can't wear that dress and I can't wear these boots in different virtual worlds, so I have to recreate myself, and even though companies like Nike, and other clothing and footwear retailers, are selling virtual outfits, you want to be able to pay for those wants, and use those across lots of different virtual worlds, not to go into different environments, and have to buy them all over again. So with something like a non fungible token that proves your ownership of that particular pair of Nike trainers, and other trainers are available, by the way, sorry, it's just, I know that they're ones that are retailing virtually, that you can actually say, "Well, I've got that. I proved my ownership of that digital asset, so I can transfer it to other environments." So that's how it would work for some consumers. But obviously we have an entire infrastructure of decentralized finance behind that, which is another lecture, and thankfully really is another lecture, because that's what Raghavendra is going to be talking about in a few weeks time. So I would certainly recommend to everybody that you come back for that, 'cause unless you've got the rest of the evening free, we probably don't have time to cover decentralized finance. But it's that idea that wherever you go online, you will be able to prove that ownership of certain assets. So it might be furniture for your house, that you want to recreate in different environments. - [Female Audience Member 2] Sorry, I'm just going to have to gather my thoughts. My mind is a bit blown. But how do you think the psychological challenges of existing online will work? Because obviously what we're currently seeing is people aren't really morally accountable for a lot of their actions. So would we foresee kind of like an online law enforcement rather than like moderators that we get now? And also, is there a danger it could lead to segregation in the real world where currently you have people who have social media accounts, people who don't, and there is actually quite a lot of separation between how people react to each other. So could we potentially have a situation, where there's people living in the real world and then people living in the virtual world and they're kind of become two distinct societies? - Have you considered becoming a futurist? Because those are all fantastic considerations and these are the things that, you know, I get hugely exercised by. So, firstly, with accountability, I think you're absolutely right. In my previous talk on internet governance and who owns the internet, I was looking at, you know, the extent to which you can make technology companies liable for their users' actions and behaviors. And I can see why governments are going down that route. But equally, I think we mustn't lose sight of the fact, that people need to be responsible for their actions and their behavior. And I'm a great fan of digital citizenship, which increasingly is being taught in schools, in a number of different countries, but not all around the world. I think digital citizenship is going to be especially important in the metaverse. If you can thump one of your schoolmates, outside of school, online and not just be nasty to them, then absolutely you need to be told why that's not a good idea, and conflict resolution skills and risk mitigation skills. So all of what we do in internet safety for young people, but also those neglected groups, so older people I think are hugely neglected in internet safety. And that's a subsequent lecture. (laughs) But you know, we need to equip people to navigate these spaces themselves, to behave respectfully towards each other, and not just wait for somebody else to clear up the problem for them. Remind me of the second part of your question 'cause it was all, it was all so interesting. - [Female Audience Member 2] Sorry. Just the idea of potentially having... Thank you. - Oh, virtual police. - [Female Audience Member 2] Yeah and like segregation between online and offline communities. - Yeah, so I think... I think particularly from the climate perspective, the environmental perspective, we're seeing greater resistance to more and more processing. We're seeing more and more protest of energy consumption for big technology. I think it's entirely possible that that could start creating a kind of increased interest in being an off gridder. So I worked on a cyber security futures exercise a few years ago where we called these people "the splitters" that they kind of went and lived on a reservation, and, you know, generated their own energy and worked really on the internet. And that said, if an avatar, like the one I showed of myself is how I access benefits and healthcare, it could be that you can't access essential services unless you have a metaverse, a digital version of yourself. We already see that, don't we, in terms of government filing taxes, visiting the doctor, etc., doing your banking, you're a person because you're a person online as well. So I think there is some tensions around that, but certainly I would see, you know, I get the impression that if you were to ask Greta Thunberg and I would love to have the opportunity, she'd probably say, more Bitcoin mining in Iceland isn't necessarily a good idea for the environment. - I'm going to take one question from the cyberspace, why not? - Yes, please. - So you alluded at the early part of your lecture to how work might change. So let's expand a little bit on... the question is, "How is the metaverse going to impact work?" - Gosh. So I think you'll be unsurprised to hear, that I see metaverse workplaces as really just an extension of what we've got, but turbocharged, you know, souped up. So you can already see where it's headed because I dunno if, for those of you who use Microsoft Teams, you'll have seen that there's an option where you can put people in a row, like they're sat in the cinema, like they're at an all hands team meeting. So there's this idea that will create different rooms in which you could meet more informally or you could actually have, you know, a metaverse version of the kitchen where you could be making a cup of tea together. I mean you're not going to get that lovely taste, well, you might do, lovely taste of tea, rather than spiders in your mouth, while you are having that kitchen moment. But the idea that you'll be able to collaborate in lots of different ways, and already we've had some workplace IT solutions that have tried to do that. So we've had metas at workplace, which is that idea that you collaborate live time and really that's what SharePoint and products like that are getting at. So if you put all of what we have together, and then imagine feeling like you're actually in a room with people and potentially like you can shake the hand of the important client that's come to meet you, etc. That's where we're headed, I think. So Zoom plus, Teams plus. - Okay, let's take this question from here. - [Male Audience Member 1] Whenever I'm going anywhere new, I go to Google Street View and explore the area. When they arrive, it's like a feeling of deja vu. I've been there already. It's weird, it's absolutely weird. But it's amazing the amount of data they've got there because you can go to all remote parts of the world, even dangerous countries you would never would've gone to before. Explore the little side streets. How did they manage to do this? (laughs) - Well, I mean, there's a data based version answer to that, and there's a kind of lower tech offline answer to that. And the offline answer is, they go, they drive around, they drive around, and they capture, they just take 3D photos. But yeah, you're absolutely right. I mean, I'm as baffled by it in some senses. Not to suggest that you are baffled, but I, I have that sense of wonderment if you like, that you get there and you think, "Gosh, it is as busy as they said it was going to be. I really shouldn't have traveled then." But then of course, if you start to be driven, if your choices are then driven by the data, what you're seeing in augmented reality, or what you're seeing on your mapping software, whatever you use, is then, it's informing you, it's empowering you, but it's also changing your choices. It's influencing your choices. So when I say we're already digitally enhanced humans, even if all we're using is Google Maps or Apple Maps, we're digitally enhanced humans, because we know the quickest way to go, but not just the quickest way to go, the quickest way to go at 5:30 in the evening. So, you know, we're artificially intelligent ourselves already. - Do you think there's an interesting question about the perception of reality? So if those of you have watched today's events on paper, you see crowds of people with their cameras up. - Mm. - Not remembering in their head. They spend ages looking through the lens at something, which is a structured memory, not the memory one used to get from just wandering around, soaking it all up and then talking about it with your friends afterwards. If you then superimpose, what is currently a modified reality on that, what does memory become, what is the structure of what we recall? - That's a very good question, Martin, and I suggest that you come back to my lecture on fighting fake news. (laughs) Because... I think memory is super fascinating in this space because we don't really need to have our own memories anymore, do we? And what I know from a law enforcement background, and from people investigating crimes, taking witness statements, etc., is that people's memory is fallible, a device's memory isn't in quite the same way. It is fallible in some senses, but it's not inherently fallible in the way that a human memory is. - You'd have to for Leslie Thomas' lectures on... - Well, I know, but, but equally, I watch with interest, I have younger siblings and obviously I work a lot with young people and they will sometimes say to me that they're making memories by taking photos. I'm making memories. I don't need to make memories. I have memories. But equally that idea that if you hadn't taken a photo of it, it didn't really happen. Yeah. - [Male Audience Member 2] You had a slide up there and you had like, seemed to have all different, you know, sort of human activity, yeah, but no, she had like military lawyer was missing. But obviously, you know, military and soldiering and warfare is a yeah, all throughout human history has been a feature of a human history. So I mean, how about sort of militaries and governments and law enforcement using the metaverse, either inside the metaverse or using the metaverse, you know, to do their activities in the real world? - You're absolutely right. And actually when I was putting this presentation together, that's a mind map that I produced for some cyber security scenarios that we did for 2030. And because we were coming at it from the perspective of security, and law enforcement, and law and order, and governance, that was kind of underneath all of those different activities, but wasn't listed as a separate one. But actually when I came back to that for this presentation, I thought, "Oh, I haven't got military in there. I haven't got law enforcement in there," So well spotted in the first place, but also it's something that law enforcement have been doing for a really long time. So we had, you know, the FBI and other law enforcement agencies setting up police stations in Second Life nearly 20 years ago. They weren't particularly successful. But that idea that the police, that governments had to be in those virtual worlds, has been around for quite a long time. Yeah. - Victoria, thank you very much for a wonderful lecture. Victoria Baines. - Thank You. (audience applauds)