The concept of the Metaverse, a shared digital world that enables users to interact with each other and virtual objects in a more immersive and realistic manner than the current internet, has been the subject of much speculation and excitement in recent years.
With the pandemic accelerating the adoption of virtual environments for work, entertainment, and socialization, many companies are exploring ways to create their own metaverse platforms that could become the next big thing in tech.
One of the pioneers in this field is Niantic, the company behind the hit augmented reality game Pokemon Go. Niantic has been working on developing a metaverse for years, and its CEO John Hanke recently shared some of the company’s vision and concerns in an interview with Fast Company’s Mark Sullivan.
While Hanke sees great potential in the metaverse as a means of connecting people, enhancing creativity, and fostering innovation, he also recognizes the risks of creating a digital world that could become a nightmare of surveillance, exploitation, and inequality.
Here are some of the key insights from the interview:
Background on the Metaverse:
Hanke describes the metaverse as “a convergence of the physical and digital worlds, where people can interact with each other and with virtual objects in a seamless and meaningful way.” He notes that the term was coined by sci-fi writers and popularized by Neal Stephenson’s 1992 novel Snow Crash, which portrayed a dystopian future where corporations controlled different layers of the metaverse and used it to manipulate people’s minds and behaviors.
Hanke says that Niantic’s vision of the metaverse is more utopian than dystopian, but he acknowledges that there are real risks of creating a digital world that replicates or exacerbates the problems of the physical world, such as inequality, injustice, and environmental degradation.
Niantic’s Approach to the Metaverse:
Hanke believes that the key to creating a successful metaverse is to make it open and participatory so that users can shape and co-create the world with their own ideas and values. He compares it to the internet, which started as a decentralized network of nodes and evolved into a global platform with many different applications and communities.
Hanke says that Niantic wants to build the metaverse on top of the real-world map data that it has collected through its games, such as Pokemon Go and Ingress. This would enable users to overlay virtual objects, experiences, and interactions onto physical locations, creating a seamless blend of the two realms. Hanke emphasizes the importance of privacy, security, and user consent in designing the metaverse, and says that Niantic is working on developing new tools and standards for these issues.
Challenges and Opportunities of the Metaverse:
Hanke acknowledges that there are many challenges and risks associated with the metaverse, such as the potential for addiction, harassment, and exploitation of vulnerable users.
He also points out that the metaverse could amplify the digital divide and widen the gaps between rich and poor, as well as create new forms of inequality based on access, data control, and power dynamics.
However, Hanke also sees enormous potential in the metaverse for boosting creativity, innovation, and social impact. He cites examples of Niantic’s games being used for promoting public health, cultural heritage, and environmental awareness, and envisions similar applications in the metaverse.
Hanke believes that the metaverse can be a powerful tool for connecting people across cultures, generations, and geographies, and for addressing global challenges such as climate change, poverty, and conflict resolution.
The interview with John Hanke provides a fascinating glimpse into the future of the metaverse and its implications for society, technology, and human interaction.
It shows that the concept of the metaverse is not just a sci-fi dream or a tech buzzword, but a complex and evolving phenomenon that involves many stakeholders, interests, and risks.
Niantic’s vision of the metaverse as a participatory, open, and sustainable world that enhances human potential and well-being is inspiring, but it also requires careful design, governance, and ethical considerations.
As the metaverse becomes more integrated into our lives and cultures, it will be important for companies, policymakers, and users to engage in a dialogue about its benefits and drawbacks, and to work together to shape its future in a way that reflects our values and aspirations.
Interview with Niantic CEO John Hanke about the company’s vision for the metaverse and how it could become a dystopian nightmare Mark Sullivan Fast Company