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Metaverse raises global intellectual property, mental health concerns

by Abhinav Chaturvedi Imagine yourself immersed in a virtual reality platform that seems as real as your biological life. Would you devote your time, energy, and sometimes even actual money towards an existence that seems like reality, but is actually an avatar that is being watched, handled, and systematically maintained by a multinational company? Or does […]

Mark Zuckerberg adhered to the Silicon Valley motto "move fast and break things". But is his metaverse project going to break reality itself? (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

by Abhinav Chaturvedi

Imagine yourself immersed in a virtual reality platform that seems as real as your biological life. Would you devote your time, energy, and sometimes even actual money towards an existence that seems like reality, but is actually an avatar that is being watched, handled, and systematically maintained by a multinational company? Or does this seem idiotic?

It might sound like a fantasy novel in casual discussion. Maybe it is never going to come into fruition. But when one of the world’s most powerful firms decides to extend beyond what they are known for and dedicate its energies to a concept that could revolutionize our lives for generations to come, we know that something big is coming, for better, or worse.

3D graphics, augmented reality games, and a virtual lifestyle have already had major impacts on our common culture. Imagine, however, all three components coming together, and that’s what you get with the “metaverse,” an idea initially dreamt up decades ago in a sci-fi novel and recently given huge publicity via the decision by Mark Zuckerberg to take the company formerly known as ‘Facebook’ and rebrand it “Meta”.

The metaverse is set to have implications that amount to a 360-degree change in education, real estate, entertainment, economics, lifestyle, and more. Just visualize a 3-D sized replication of yourself sitting by the beach, tanning with your partner, and sipping some lemonade. Or getting out of your brand-new automobile on a Saturday night outside a nightclub entrance. Now imagine that this is attuned to your predicted tastes and preferences using AI software. The possibilities-and profits- at stake are colossal in implication.

As the metaverse takes flight, however, there are more than a few underlying points that need to be addressed which haven’t received enough attention even in the business media.

Facebook rebranded itself Meta in late October

Is the legal market ready for the metaverse? To render the world-with all its trademarks, brands and imagery-in full, may require licensing agreements and endless paperwork between the parties and Facebook. Questions around intellectual property laws are sure to orbit any metaverse project. If people really intend to spend time in the metaverse as an adjunct to real life, you’d expect it to replicate the real world as much as possible. And indeed, companies such as Nike have already signed up trademarks to introduce virtual items. But those companies that don’t sign up? Are some going to take an intentional stand that they’ll remain flesh-and-blood only? And are those companies going to make a serious error staying out of the virtual matrix?

A second issue is the impact the metaverse is going to have on ‘mental health.’ People that already have hallucinations, delusions, and psychoses coming into contact with the metaverse, and the metaverse’s potential creation of these in people currently not plagued by them, could lead to a massive mental health hazard across the globe. And combining these two issues, assuming the metaverse is going to be designed to be as addictive as possible, as you’d expect given how Zuck made his bucks, are actions completely and correctly illegal in the real world-such as bloody and petty revenge murders, rape fantasies, and, on a more prosaic level, shoplifting sprees, going to be banned in the metaverse as they are in reality, or permitted?

According to Tech-in-Asia report, countries such as China, Korea, Japan and even India are set to be huge markets for virtual and augmented reality. Amidst pandemic lockdown restrictions, internet usage shot up 28 percent. Mobile gaming surged 51 percent, which speaks volumes about the market. The social media giant- now turned into an augmented firm- is set to see a massive surge of Global South users into the metaverse. Does this represent a type of Anglo-European colonial “digital enclosure”? In a span of 14 years, the American colossus has garnered about 2.89 billion users worldwide. The platform is set to boom with an infinite source of technology and infrastructure that is going to play a huge role in facilitating politics, the economy, and even seemingly prosaic issues including real estate.

The metaverse is a already a goldmine. But it is also likely to be a minefield for social stability, the rule of law, and perhaps reality itself.

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