“To understand what the metaverse is, it is enough to have seen the Matrix: it is a virtual reality, an immersive environment in which I move and meet other people”. We asked Stefano Quintarelli, Copernicans Scientific Committee, to help us navigate the next Facebook business. In recent weeks, the social media giant has explained that it intends to invest $ 50 million in the development of the metaverse, announcing a plan to create 10,000 new jobs in Europe over the next five years.
“The region will be put at the center of our plans to help build the metaverse that has the potential to help unlock access to new creative, social and economic opportunities,” they explain from Menlo Park. “This investment is a vote of confidence in the strength of the European technology industry and the potential of European technology talent. One of the most urgent priorities is to find highly specialized engineers, a recruitment campaign will take place throughout the region ”. “European talents will shape the metaverse from the very beginning”, comments Luca Colombo, country director of Facebook Italy, suggesting – even if there are no more details at the moment – that the new jobs will also concern our country.
This is where Quintarelli begins with his comment on what the metaverse has in store for us. “We hope that Facebook also hires many Italian people. It would be wonderful if it opened a development center in Italy, as other multinationals have already done (for example, Vodafone in Naples) ”.
The concept of metaverse – or Matrix – is not new: it was in a 1984 William Gibson novel, “Neuromancer”, while the term metaverse was first used by Neal Stephenson in the novel “Snow Crash ”, A classic of the cyberpunk genre published in 1992. It is considered the new frontier of the internet, a new large virtual world where users, through their avatars, live multimedia interactive experiences. “I want to reinvent Facebook, transforming it into an ’embodied’ social network, where people will be able to live, as in reality,” explained Mark Zuckerberg a few weeks ago. “We want to be remembered not as a social network, but as the company that built the metaverse”. And the colossus of Menlo Park is getting serious, developing all the tools necessary to enter and live in the metaverse such as the Oculus VR augmented reality glasses, hi-tech bracelets and Horizon Workrooms, a tool launched in the wake of the pandemic that allows you to work in a shared virtual environment, where you interact with the movement of your hands.
“We are talking about virtual reality, not augmented”, Quintarelli emphasizes. “Augmented reality is when, for example, I look at a monument and the descriptions of that monument pop up, or when I look at an engine and I am shown the screw that I have to unscrew to repair it. Virtual reality is an immersive environment in which I move and meet other people “.
But how does life change in the metaverse? “There are people who already today work mainly within a virtual reality: you can interact with other people at a great distance having a perception similar to that of being in the same environment – which is not looking at yourself on a screen, but looking and seeing a figure in real size, perhaps with Mickey ears, because then we can do the strangest things … In the future, the metaverse will allow us to visit places we have never been to. It can allow a fuller perception of space, and consequently a better interaction between people ”.
It will take some time for this scenario to materialize. “The web – observes Quintarelli – was born in the early nineties: thirty years have passed to have the internet as we know it now. Within thirty years it is very likely that we will have a metaverse. We must hope that this matrix is interoperable ”.
The criterion of interoperability is central to imagining what this metaverse will be like. “It is desirable that Facebook is not the only person who goes to create pieces of metaverse, but that everyone can contribute to doing it. The web is a technology that belongs to everyone: on the web all companies are allowed to develop their own projects. The web was born as a work of CERN placed in the public domain. It would be important for Facebook to do such a job by putting the metaverse in the public domain so that everyone can build their own piece of metaverse. Otherwise, if that of Facebook were to become over time the metaverse and if we wanted to do something about it, we would have to pay a duty to Zuckerberg: it would not be a question of creating a world, but of buying pieces of a world already colonized by Facebook ”.
The important issue, therefore, is the availability of the software, so that everyone can participate in the construction of the metaverse and interoperate with Facebook. Quintarelli gives the example of Whatsapp: “I don’t use it – he explains – because it is an intrinsically monopolistic platform (it works only if all parties use it); the absence of interoperability is a huge limit to competition. Simplifying: if the metaverse that Facebook has in mind is a closed environment – like Instagram or Whatsapp – that’s not good; if it’s an open environment – like the web – that’s fine ”.
Facebook’s announcement comes as the company is struggling with a dark period following the heavy blackout of its services, the revelations of former employee Frances Haugen and the growing demands for regulation, even in Europe. The metaverse could represent a new lifeblood for the social network giant. But like all digital spaces, rules will arise.
“Knowing the culture of Facebook in the past, this news would have been quite worrying,” comments the expert. “Today, with all the slaps they are taking from parliaments and regulators, I would say we can be moderately confident. At the beginning, there was no one who understood how these systems worked: the criticality of having a single messaging app that everyone must use, giving all their data to Facebook, was not even perceived. Now, however, lawmakers and competition authorities around the world are paying close attention. I don’t think Facebook will be in a position to monopolize this matrix. The fact that Facebook expressly addresses European legislators – historically more attentive to the value of privacy as a fundamental right – suggests greater sensitivity on these issues “.