Meta Beta: Has Dystopia Arrived?

In my October 4, 2021 BlogInfoSec column, “Human vs. Artificial Intelligence for Autonomous Systems,” I jokingly conjured up the idea that perhaps AI systems would eventually train humans rather than the other way around … no joke! Just a few weeks later, Mark Zuckerberg changed Facebook’s name to Meta—not such a big deal; Google created Alphabet as its overarching company—but, at the same time, unveiled his plans for a metaverse.  The term “metaverse” was first coined by Neal Stephenson, who established a vision of a “computer generated universe” in his 1992 novel Snow Crash, per Wikipedia.

Douglas Rushkoff in his October 29, 2021 CNN Opinion column, “Mark Zuckerberg is inviting you into his metaverse,” available at Mark Zuckerberg is inviting you into his metaverse (opinion) – CNN  describes the metaverse, which was launched on October 28, 2021, as follows:

“A profound reversal of the relationship between human beings and technology: a flipping of the real and virtual.”

Rushkoff describes the metaverse as eventually “subsuming what we think of as the real world.”

If you read his column further, he paints a grim picture wherein “our behaviors and interactions … become so standard and mechanical that it won’t even matter [that it is not real].” He ends the column with the suggestion that “to go in the direction that Zuckerberg is pushing us, we must leave our humanity behind.”

Strong words. Are they an exaggeration? We’ll find out in the years to come. But one area not specifically addressed by Rushkoff, is how secure and safe this virtual environment will be. And is this the final blow to privacy?

When you consider the gaps between the lack of understanding of privacy by technologists and the dearth of knowledge of technology by politicians—as described in my BlogInfoSec column “Many techies don’t understand privacy …” dated November 1, 2021 —we have the ingredients for the potential creation of a horrendously malevolent and dystopian world.

Another observation made by Rushkoff is that, at first, he thought the announcement was a joke and that Zuckerberg had been “deep faked.” This same thought has crossed my mind a number of times as we see Mark testifying before Congress—not a hair out of place, barely a facial expression, and blowing off questions with a succession of standard utterances about doing better. Perhaps, I surmised, he had Facebook create an avatar, much as high-level politicians are known to use body doubles, to protect his real self. And, if such an avatar existed, could it have been hacked by one or more foreign powers? That would explain a lot!

Clearly, such ideas are farfetched. But, in a metaverse, maybe it would be possible and could happen. Who knows? And are we prepared for the consequences? I think not.

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