Blockchain & Metaverse: Why All the Hype? Event Follow-Up

INATBA hosted the first in a series of events on the topic of Metaverse, titled Blockchain & Metaverse: Why All the Hype?, exploring what opportunities as well as challenges and threats this new digital space brings.

Attended by more than 120 representatives of the industry, public sector and the academia, the session was introduced by INATBA’s new Executive Director Ricardo Simões, inviting everyone to join the discussion and the work that INATBA’s working groups are doing on the topic of Web3 and Metaverse.

The keynote speech was given by Antonis Polemitis, the CEO of the University of Nicosia, explaining that the Metaverse is the Internet and as such there are two potential architectures: closed or open. The likely outcome of a closed Metaverse is going to be national security and economic security risk. Given this, the EU in particular should be pushing towards the open Metaverse.

Expanding on his points, Mr. Polemitis stated that the Metaverse is the Internet with a couple of twists, including better visualisation (pushing us out of the 2D world into a world where we can switch from reality as we know it into virtual reality and augmented reality) and persistent digital objects. The question is whether you store them through a closed or open system. The closed system presents worry for the EU due to the lack of major EU players in this space. In the future it might be those non-EU based players causing the economic outflow from the EU, having the power to make decisions about the EU digital space, and causing a certain level of surveillance risk.

Mr. Polemitis sees the path forward in promoting open architecture through the use of blockchain and NFTs. In that respect, the current regulatory framework should go beyond the discussion that view blockchain and cryptocurrencies from a purely AML, consumer-safety perspective. “…ensuring that Europe is digitally sovereign in a world in 10–15 years from now, I think a large percentage of economy, society, personal relationships will be happening in these persistent digital spaces, it is a much bigger topic than AML. It touches on constitutional issues, accessibility issues, massive economic issues and it touches on surveillance issues,” explained Mr. Polemitis. Metaverse is 100 % inevitable with a broad set of usages and as such the EU has a huge incentive to making sure it’s open.

In her presentation on Building a culture of digital ethics for Web 3.0, Dr. Ingrid Vasiliu-Feltes, CEO of Softhread, CIO at GBA and Advisor to the EU Blockchain Observatory and Forum, concurred that the Metaverse is inevitable with economy, investments, converging technologies, legal and regulatory being the key topics in the discussion.

She continued with listing the numerous challenges we face (privacy, trust, digital ethics literacy and fluency), emphasising the need for a better effort in educating the public about the digital ethics. The opportunities, on the other hand, include financial and digital inclusion, zero-trust environments for global data exchanges, creating a culture of digital ethics and cyber-resilience, and upholding human rights. Dr. Vasiliu-Feltes encouraged the audience to work jointly on Bill of Rights and Code of Conduct for Web 3.0.

“I really think it’s important to think from all perspectives: individual digital ethics will be crucial in Web 3.0, business and corporate ethics and then societal ethics. We must provide guidance on all these assets.” She called for upholding key principles when building Web 3.0, such as responsibility, trustworthiness, fairness and accountability. Other hot topics to consider for Web 3.0 include digital identity management, cross-border validity, privacy, security, standards and interoperability, to name just a few. Dr. Vasiliu-Feltes emphasised that it is important to start thinking early on those various topics and what those scenarios would look like in a Web 3-enabled world.

Alexander Whalen, Public Policy Manager for EU Affairs at Meta, presented the company’s vision of the Metaverse as the next evolution of social technologies, enabling people around the world to interact with each other in both virtual and augmented reality. “We aspire it to be a hybrid of today’s online social experiences and ideally sometimes expanded into 3-dimension.” Drawing from the experience of the past two years, Meta believes the Metaverse will bring us closer in times when physical meetings are not possible, helping us feeling more connected.

At the same time it was emphasises that the objective is not to replace the in-person experience, but rather to have better and more meaningful online experiences (when forced to have those in an online setting. The core principle that the company works with is that they do not want to surprise people nor they want this to be a “US thing”. The development of the Metaverse will take around another decade or longer to come into life and the company wants to join the conversation in the open, way in advance these technologies are launched, so that they can work in collaboration with other companies, policy-makers, academia and other stakeholders. Mr. Whalen mentioned some of the projects the company is working on, including Horizon Workrooms and Portal. “We believe that blockchain can relate to entitlements for things like access to entertainment. […] enterprise customers will be able to build decentralised and transparent solutions to provide digital proof of ownership or collectability and value transfer and most importantly interoperability. We want to be able to have an open Metaverse where transactions can be completed on-demand and we believe blockchain is the right technology to deliver this,” Mr. Whalen commented on one of ways that blockchain can be utilised within the Metaverse.

The event then followed with a discussion including panelists Alexander Whalen, Jim Mason (Expert Panel Member of EUBOF), Dr. Merav Ozair (Rutgers Business School)

Florian Wimmer (Blockpit), moderated by Hussein Hashish (EIS Group, AthensDAO), covering such questions as:

  1. With financial layer embedded within the new internet, how do you foresee governments regulating a borderless, permissionless open economy? Will we be seeing digital trade agreements?
  2. It is apparent that the internet of ownership empowers anyone with an internet connection to make a living while pursuing their passion. How will the education landscape evolve to cater for this renaissance?
  3. Openness, interoperability and theoretical wandering on what the Metaverse will end up being are driving the conversation. Will this be at the expense of the values, ethics and philosophy we need to build the future of web technology around? How do we go about deciding what those ethical judgments will be, or who the responsibility is with?
  4. Metaverse platforms will be able to track body movement, brainwaves, and physiological responses to adverts you don’t even know are adverts. Every eye movement checked, reviewed, and confirmed. Could this Metaverse data be sold to the highest bidder? Like today, only infinitely worse? Or will new business models evolve that would substitute this ad based revenue model?
  5. The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) imposes obligations onto organizations on how and why they collect data. Will the law cover the Metaverse? Could a new cross-chain, cross-platform regulation work? And if so, how?

 

INATBA wants to thank all the speakers and participants for attending the event. We will follow up with other Metaverse-related events on more specific topics. For industry, join INATBA and contribute to the discussion on those topics. For the academia and governments, if you are interested in the work the Academic Advisory Body and the Governmental Advisory Body are doing, please contact bara.greplova@inatba.org.

The recording of the event is available to the INATBA members via the members portal.

 

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