TECH TALK: BILL MAGEE says online purists are about to do battle with the free-for-all advocates
Businesses hoping for a more secure online marketplace in which to operate face an uncertain year ahead. Caught in the cross-fire of a global battle over the future direction of the internet, it’s a power-play expected to accelerate during 2023.
In one digital corner are online purists. Like World Wide Web creator Sir Tim Berners-Lee pushing for more discipline and security on the net. In the other are free-for-all advocates, led by Facebook (Meta) owner Mark Zuckerberg trumpeting a metaverse virtual playground.
To make matters even more unpredictable, bang in the middle there is, of course, the Tesla and Twitter maverick Elon Musk. According to reports, the billionaire wants to kick-start the year ahead by experimenting on some of us by implanting a microchip in our heads.
Move over Dr Strangelove.
Sir Tim is director of the Web3 Consortium overseeing the advanced development of the web. It calls for a “reopening…to empower” users and help them gain back control of the internet.
Since 2015 he has been working with Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) on a new web infrastructure called Solid – or SOcial Linked Data – a decentralisation project to radically change the way web applications work.
The aim is to achieve true data ownership for all, along with radically improved privacy online. Web3 is described as the next evolutionary stage of the net.
If handled correctly it should offer unprecedented digital commercial opportunities, while levelling out what has been, to date, a haphazard, uneven and unsafe distribution of data ownership.
It also paves the way for entirely new business models, products and services and changes the way existing brands interact with the market.
Web3 is also aimed at breaking up a “Big Tech” grouping like Apple, Amazon, Google, and Meta that all but controls the net. This cartel-like global technological powerbase is expected to soon surpass £6 trillion in total value.
Those behind the nascent metaverse aim to wrest control of key parts of the net with plans combining virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR), connecting an initial one billion users, and then crucially managing their digital identities through strict controls, making huge amounts of money in the cyber-process.
However, an independent UK survey by Opinium, commissioned by Studio Graphene, finds many struggle to understand what the metaverse is all about.
It is early days and attitudes are likely to change, such is the expected trajectory of this particular emerging technology. Surely it will be hard to ignore such a futuristic immersive experience.
For some this will represent innocent escapism online fun. Tethered to AR glasses and VR headsets interacting on a 3D social/entertainment digital playground.
For the more commercially aware, what has been labelled the “Metaverse Economy” is a serious business with promises of monetisation unequalled to date.
An idea of diversity? Fiat has opened what it describes as the world’s first “metaverse-powered” vehicle buying showroom dealership. A “hyper realistic” avatar of Biggie Smalls, a rapper who died a quarter of a century ago, is going viral on Meta’s “Horizon Worlds”.
MIT says the latter raises two questions as the metaverse gains traction: will people pay to see an avatar of someone who has died and whether doing so is ethical.
Companies have been told they should treat as “business critical” preparation to counter envisaged risks on the internet by working in secure cloud environments.
Bloomberg’s Intelligence 2023 Metaverse Outlook reveals they may have more time than first thought to prepare.
Apparently lower consumer spending caused by the current uncertain economic climate appears poised to delay a take-up in VR/AR.
ScotlandIS is staging a trio of “TechTrends” events in January, led by IT analyst Richard Marshall who says of the metaverse: “Seems like a lot of people (are) either raving about it or pointing out that it meets no needs at all.”
It’s not stopping some heavy hyping of the online phenomenon with forecasts it could be worth as much as £10 trillion by 2030.
Can some sort of rapprochement be achieved, a balance be struck, between Web3 and the metaverse for the good of business, commerce and the wider society?
Don’t hold your breath. Not when there’s the likes of Mr Musk around, with Trump desperately hanging on to his coat-tails.