Pew Research Center publishes ‘The Metaverse in 2040’ report
A leading US think tank has published its latest report on the future of the internet, with a key focus on what the metaverse could look like by the year 2040.
The Metaverse in 2040 report was compiled by the Pew Research Center, working alongside the Imagining the Internet Center at Elon University in North Carolina. Researchers canvassed a wide range of experts for their views on critical digital issues, to produce a non-scientific report on the potential evolution and impact of the metaverse concept.
Let’s run through a few of the key insights and opinions.
VR adoption will be rapid
Sam Lehman-Wilzig, professor of communication at Israel’s Bar-Ilan University, told the study that “As soon as the latest virtualizing technologies (AR, VR, MR, etc.) become mature and economically accessible for the masses, humankind will adopt it without many qualms.”
He argues that this is because humans excel at “mentally virtualising”, and we already perceive the real world in a limited and highly virtual fashion. VR technology would appear to be the natural next step, especially when it comes to how we access internet and digital technologies.
Mixed-reality tech will make the real world fully interactive
Mike Liebhold, a retired fellow at the Institute of the Future, predicts that by 2040, the real world will be essentially overlaid with interactive information and media. He explained to researchers how metaverse technology is likely to go beyond VR, AR and XR headsets, expanding into sophisticated wearables like contact lenses with mixed-reality capabilities.
Polarisation is highly possible
Sonia Livingston, professor of social psychology at the London School of Economics, offered a warning on the potential risks and dangers of the metaverse. She said:
“The experience of recent decades has taught us that digital innovations – now including the metaverse – are increasingly refined and effective for a sizable proportion of the population, sufficient to drive business and ensure continued innovation and improvement.
“At the same time, we know that the outcomes for a substantial minority will be problematic – exclusionary, discriminatory, hostile, exploitative and even dangerous. The metaverse is already set to be a highly polarized ‘place.’
“All will find their data exploited in the process, and dimensions of life that were once public will become monetized, and in some ways, mainstreamed and degraded.”
Looking on the more optimistic side, complex systems expert Glynn Rogers envisaged all kinds of potential uses and socioeconomic benefits of the metaverse. He offered some examples of the innovations we could expect to see by 2040, such as:
- Virtual travel, where virtual craft can travel into environments where humans wouldn’t otherwise be able to go.
- VR laboratories and training settings where experiments can be performed using simulation technology, where they’d otherwise be too expensive to enact in the real world.
However, Rogers also warned of major threats to social cohesion, saying:
“Activities to this point in social media have demonstrated how the internet can be used to propagate false information, misleading political messaging and conspiracy theories in response to contemporary events.
“Because of its immersive characteristics, the metaverse has the potential to vastly exacerbate these problems to the point where social cohesion is threatened, suggesting the need for effective regulation of its development.”
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