The Metaverse and The Internet – Similarities and Differences

The world will collectively have to get used to the Metaverse encroaching on our day-to-day activities.

5 mins read
[ Illustration Credit: searchenginejournal.com]

“[T]oday, most AR applications are delivered through mobile devices, but increasingly delivery will shift to hands-free wearables such as head-mounted displays or smart glasses”. ~ Michael Porter and James Heppelmann, Why Every Organization Needs an Augmented Reality Strategy Harvard Business Review

The Metaverse is still an enigma to most of us and it is neither  fully understood nor used as much as the Internet, being a work in progress that  is yet to  be universally acceptable.  Broadly speaking, the Metaverse is recognized as   a virtual reality space where users can interact with a computer-generated environment and other people in real-time.  A precise definition of the Metaverse from a global perspective of nomenclature has yet to emerge.  Mathew Ball, in his book The Metaverse: And How it will Revolutionize Everything defines the Metaverse as “A massively scaled and interoperable network of real time rendered 3D virtual worlds that can be experienced synchronously and persistently by an effectively unlimited number of users with an individual sense of presence and with continuity of data , such as identity, history, entitlements, objects, communications and payments”.

This certainly a mouthful and could be incomprehensible to the non-techie of an ancient civilization such as the one to which the author of this article belongs.  An attempt to break this definition down to simpler language would lead one to conclude that the Metaverse, can be simplistically defined as “ the layer between you and reality” which enables  users to socialize with a virtual world that persists and exists alongside a real world where the virtual world created by the Metaverse would make it easier for the user to deal with the real world through the virtual connections offered. In other words the user would be in two worlds – the real and the virtual – the latter making it easier to understand the former with the numerous connections offered by the digital realm of the Metaverse through virtual reality (VR) or augmented reality (AR) devices, interacting with objects, places, and other users.

The scope of the Metaverse is multifarious and overarching, offering various dimensions. In other words the Metaverse is a cohesive combination of virtual reality, augmented reality, artificial intelligence, blockchain technology, and the internet. It offers an interconnected virtual space that transcends individual platforms or experiences. Its reach can span many areas such as education, medicine, the arts and technology.  It can host a wide range of activities, such as gaming, socializing, education, commerce, art, and more, creating a seamless and immersive digital universe that mirrors the  abstruse complexity and possibilities of the physical world.

The Difference Between the Internet and The Metaverse

The internet, which is a mature and established communications tool, is a global network of interconnected computers that facilitates  the exchange of information and communication between users worldwide with speed and efficiency. Its most common features comprise services such as websites, email, messaging, file sharing, streaming media, and more. One of the main assets of the Internet is the ease with which users can transfer and receive data through an efficient infrastructure.

It is not incorrect to describe the Metaverse as an extension of the Internet where, unlike the Internet the Metaverse offers virtual space that would be more immersive and therefore greatly supplement basic information conveyed through the Internet. In other words, while the Internet is essentially two dimensional, the Metaverse is three dimensional covering both virtual and augmented reality technologies that are calculated to facilitate the functions of the physical world with greater accuracy and ease.

Another difference between the Internet and the Metaverse is that while the Internet helps us retrieve information and thereby communicate with one another and conduct transactions, the Metaverse provides  a sense of presence and shared experiences through  a virtual world. These experiences can be shared through  real-time interactions with other users, virtual objects, and environments, improving coordination with social groups with connections, collaboration, and a more immersive user interface. The Internet could involve disconnected websites whereas the Metaverse is seamless and unified in the interconnected virtual space it offers.

In this sense the Metaverse transcends the traditional scope offered by the Internet, which unlike the Metaverse is unable to offer a more comprehensive and holistic digital realm that mirrors and extends aspects of the physical world.

The world will collectively have to get used to the Metaverse encroaching on our day-to-day activities.  Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has opined that the Metaverse is already among us, whereas founder Bill Gates has predicted that within the next few years virtual meetings will move from 2D camera image grids to the Metaverse. Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg has predicted a 5-10 year time scale for the Metaverse to rule our day to day lives.

Similarities Between The Internet and The Metaverse

Both the Metaverse and the Internet would pose risks of data breaches, identity theft, and unauthorized access to personal information.  Along with current concerns with regard to the Internet and measures taken, the Metaverse will require robust security measures to protect user data and ensure privacy. It could well be that the escapism and addiction that some display toward the Internet could also be a concern in the context of the Metaverse. Individuals could use both platforms to escape from real-world problems. Excessive usage may lead to neglect of real-life responsibilities, relationships, and physical health, similar to the issues associated with current technology. Both could continue to serve as media for encouraging proclivities of some users toward discrimination and inequality, further endangering  marginalized communities and individuals and widening the gap between those with access and those without.

Another grave concern would be the continuity of fraud and exploitation which both the Internet and Metaverse could encourage. Phishing, scamming and other nefarious activities would be a high possibility on both platforms. Additionally, the same ethical considerations that are presented by the Internet could exist under the Metaverse. Finally, both could continue to pose the risk of social isolation and distancing of one another. 

In both instances of the Metaverse and the Internet, what is needed is strategic foresight where the State should protect the user against the malevolent use by private entities or individuals.  In other words, States should take measures to enact legislation and regulations against the misuse of 2D and 3D digital platforms. The International Law Commission, in Article 4 of its Articles of State Responsibility states that the conduct of any State organ which exercises judicial, legislative or executive functions could be considered an act of State  and as such the acts of such organ or instrumentality can be construed as being imputable to the State.  This principle was endorsed in 1999 by the ICJ which said that according to well established principles of international law, the conduct of any organ of a state must be regarded as an act of State.

The law of State responsibility for private acts of individuals has evolved through the years, from being a straightforward determination of liability of the State and its agents to a rapidly widening gap between the State and non-State parties. In today’s world private entities and persons could wield power similar to that of a State, bringing to bear the compelling significance and modern relevance of the agency nexus between the State and such parties.  This must indeed make States more aware of their own susceptibilities. 

Ruwantissa Abeyratne

Dr. Abeyratne teaches aerospace law at McGill University. Among the numerous books he has published are Air Navigation Law (2012) and Aviation Safety Law and Regulation (to be published in 2023). He is a former Senior Legal Counsel at the International Civil Aviation Organization.

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