In the first two parts (you can find Part 1 here, and Part 2 here), I covered the challenges the Metaverse faces, as well as the things that it has going for it. Unlike the clunky VR of the 90s through 2015, VR has matured to the point where it really could provide the realistic experiences that Mark Zuckerberg portrayed on Thursday. But it must get the public to think it’s worth spending money on if it’s going to achieve mass adoption and succeed.
Protecting The Environment
If this happens, we can expect to see important environmental benefits.
The biggest one is that it can reduce the human need for travel. Nobody wants to rot away in a tiny apartment and run around pretending to be pretty like people did in the movie Surrogates. People do want to be able to make the travel in their lives be meaningful, and not a drudgery. The endless dirge of urban traffic jams not only sucks at our souls, but pollutes the air and warms the planet. When a job can be done remotely, people get a good chunk (up to 3 hours a day in some cases) eliminating their commutes, and cities can save the roads for meaningful travel instead of wasting it on things that can be done over the internet.
Virtual reality can only really provide a fancier version of a Zoom call today, but even in-person physical work could come to be replaced by it. Tasks that machines struggle to do not because they lack the dexterity, but the intelligence to perform, could be remotely operated by humans sitting (or moving) in pajamas at home. The possibilities for reduced human travel are a lot bigger than they look today.
EVs are great, but they don’t solve problems like congestion and the massive amount of space cities and private property owners in cities must allocate to parking. If less travel were needed, cities could roll back traffic congestion and reclaim some of that space for the humans who live in it to enjoy IRL.
Another advantage is that many job-related activities are heavily polluting. Military pilots who only rarely fly in actual combat still must get practice time in to be fresh when it does come time to protect their countries. Moving a good chunk of this practice time to the virtual world reduces the need for all of those emissions. For other military applications, pollution is a factor. Everything from driving trucks and tanks to getting in range time can benefit from time in the Metaverse, and virtual training doesn’t cause nearly the amount of emissions and lead contamination that in-person and live-fire training causes.
When we consider that the United States military is a bigger polluter than 140 other countries combined, this could prove to be a very important contribution to cleaning things up.
Manufacturing is going to be another thing that we can do less of if the Metaverse takes off. Instead of firing up millions of factories worldwide to make useless items like fake rubber dog poop, and many other things we use once or twice and then end up throwing away, many of these items can just exist in the virtual world for us to play with. Many toys, games, and other items can just not be made. Then, these items can avoid ending up in landfills, in the oceans, and otherwise screwing up the earth.
Even nostalgia for things we did more in the past that causes pollution can be satiated with virtual experiences if they’re good enough. Car racing (especially ICE racing), ICE boating, recreational flying, and many other things that pollute can not only happen a little less, but be a lot cheaper for more people to experience.
Saving Lives, Beyond Pollution
While reducing pollution and travel alone will save many lives on its own, the Metaverse could save many more lives in other ways.
For one, people could more easily avoid dangerous situations with VR. Fun things that are dangerous, occupational dangers, and public services could all be done either in VR alone or as part of a way to remotely control robots while still giving a human great situational awareness to use their judgment. Exposing people to fewer dangers means fewer people will die or end up disabled from accidents.
One big way accidents occur is during training to perform dangerous tasks. You can read books, watch videos, and see experienced people operate industrial machinery, drive vehicles, and do many other things, but none of that is a substitute for in-person training actually doing the task. The more you do a task, the more you’ll be able to do it safely. The Metaverse can allow people to safely experience a realistic version of the dangerous tasks and get some experience before they actually are in harm’s way.
Let’s look at teen driving alone. The Centers for Disease Control says about 2400 teen drivers died in 2019, and many others were injured. The risk of crash is highest in the first months of driving, but even overall, teen drivers are three times more likely to crash than people over 20. If teens could get more realistic virtual experience before they do real driving, they would crash and die far less.
Even the rest of us uncool old folks could benefit. By getting experience doing unusual driving tasks, like driving in adverse conditions or recovering from a loss of control, we could all do better.
I know many readers look forward to mandatory self-driving cars that drive better than humans, but we aren’t there yet and don’t know how long that will take, nor will it become mandatory for some time, if it ever even does. Having better trained drivers is still very useful.
One last thing that must be discussed is human rights. The benefits that can come from something like the Metaverse should not only be reserved for certain races, social classes, or income levels. People should also not feel like they’re unwelcome in most Metaverse experiences, because even if they could theoretically attend them, they would be discouraged from getting involved. We also need to avoid it being used for evil.
In the final part, I’ll cover some of the important human rights considerations that must be kept in mind as the Metaverse develops.
Featured image: a screenshot from Meta’s presentation showing two men remotely playing chess in a park. One appears from elsewhere and looks like a Force Ghost from Star Wars. The other changed his avatar to have a lion’s head, for fun.
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