The virtual and 3D Metaverse expands our reality with additional information – or even creates a parallel, independent world on the Internet.
What does that do to us when we soon interact as an avatar? Stefan Segerst, futurologist and founder of the research center WIRE in Zurich, puts it in perspective.
Stefan Segerst is the founder and president of the WIRE Research Center in Zurich and the Society for the Future. He and his team analyze global developments in business, science and society and identify future challenges and new solutions. Sigrist studied molecular biology at ETH Zurich and previously worked in medical research and as a management consultant.
SRF: Will everyone soon be living with ‘virtual reality’ glasses?
Stefan Siegrist: It’s been a part of our lives for a bit for a long time. For example, millions of people play games every day and there are already online worlds like “Second Life” where people interact with each other as avatars.
People sell digital building land themselves.
Indeed, there is a social and technological experiment upon us. This raises huge expectations and there is a real atmosphere of the gold rush. Digital products are widely sold. People sell digital building land themselves. At the same time, there is a lot of hype around the Metaverse. It is still too early for a good diagnosis.
Who leads the Metaverse – and why?
Above all, these are the digital pioneers of the past 20 years. This includes companies based in Silicon Valley, but China is also becoming a new digital powerhouse.
These players have strong business interests. Ultimately, big data companies want to buy more people’s time so they can sell them more ads and digital goods.
We are reaching the limits of current case law.
But I also give them credit for doing pioneering work to move the internet into a 3D world.
In the Metaverse, I can have superpowers and take on another character. Are we dealing with ethical problems if there is no reference to reality?
The Metaverse presents us with a number of ethical challenges. We already see many of them on the current internet: data protection, misinformation, manipulation, addiction. This will now increase.
When it comes to protecting individuals, we are reaching the limits of current case law and our current notions of morality. For example, is assaulting my avatar that I’m not physically aware of considered sexual harassment?
So there is still a lot to explain. What values should guide us in this?
I’m torn about that. We live in a liberal world where my freedom ends where it affects others. Since the metaverse has many similarities with reality, we must also apply the same criteria.
Tech companies are now building the technical infrastructure for the Metaverse. At the same time, we must create the moral and social foundations for this.
What does that mean specifically?
Issues such as child pornography and rape should be prosecuted. Human dignity must be enforceable here in order to prevent a borderless and dangerous world.
Teaching basic skills is also central: How do I deal with the possibility of addiction? How do I deal with fears, exhaustion and stress? This is also the task of schools and other educational institutions.
We need real-world feedback.
How realistic are the promises of the Metaverse?
It certainly wouldn’t be desirable to spend most of our time virtual. We need feedback for the real world, for real people.
That is why we have to turn to digitization selectively. After all, what good is the metaverse just because it’s technically possible? It should be about new experiences that we can marvel at – and that complement our current lives in a meaningful way.
The conversation was conducted by Florian Skelton.