This is the time to start following along with what Mark Zuckerberg is doing with both the metaverse and his metaverse. The truly immersive integration of overpowering artificial intelligence controlling and surveilling both virtual and augmented reality that will fixate and capture the attention of an immobilized Z Generation will require quite a few new tricks for the old Internet dog, many of which don’t exist. Yet. But it doesn’t bode well for what’s left of the creative community.
Let’s start with a few facts. The first thing to remember is that if it weren’t for millions upon millions in lobbying and legal fees fighting these people for just a little patch of protected ground, the Internet would have effectively erased artist rights, including copyright. The main reason for our decades long rear guard action is because we did not realize we were under attack long before the Diamond Rio case in 1998 and Lessig’s publication of Code is Law in 1999.
The Internet battle was actually lost long before 1998 at the design stage of CD ripping technology which summarily–and possibly illegally–ignored metadata like the ISRC and crowd-sourced a multi-billion copy mp3 library incapable of monetization. But of course the problem wasn’t just CD rippers. It was also the Internet itself which was built with protocols that essentially were designed to leverage the network effects of distributing illegal copies starting with binary newsgroups. It was a short step from binary newsgroup posts to something really bad. I recall pointing this out to one of the anti-piracy groups in 1995 only to be told that they were on top of Internet piracy. Why?
They were on top of those bootleggers selling CDs on websites.
So there are two relevant facts there. One is that we ignored the infrastructure design of the Internet and the infrastructure of the Internet ignored us. That is happening again with “Web3” or “the metaverse”, and you know what they say about those who ignore history–they will be on top of counterfeit CDs sold on websites.
The other fact is that those who designed the Internet and their apologists did not think there was anything wrong with the way the infrastructure ignored our rights. And it is happening all over again with the metaverse.
That’s a feature, not a bug. We are the bug.
Here’s another fact. In order for the metaverse to be the complete, end-to-end, infinite loop of reality substitution, companies like Facebook (Meta) will need greater access to our thoughts and behaviors than they already have. We are way beyond wearables now. They are very interested in the subject of how the human brain intersects with artificial intelligence. How do we know this?
The Zucks are kicking in $500 million to have Harvard work on this algorithmic intersection of machine learning and human learning and committed to kicking in another $2.9 billion according to Harvard Magazine: “Zuckerberg and Chan, a pediatrician, will donate an additional $2.9 billion to support biomedical research focused on improving human health, with the aim of ultimately ending all human disease.” How very Gen Z. Of course, the Godlike transhumanist goal of ending human disease depends a lot on how you define “human”, right? And how you define “god”, for that matter. And of course the first place you go to eliminate human disease is studying artificial intelligence, the core asset of Facebook and its algorithms, right? I think not.
Imagine for a moment that the elites at Davos were as concerned with respecting the rights of others as they were about riding pell mell and hell bent for leather into the metaverse, aka the greatest surveillance opportunity of all mankind. Imagine if a group of record companies, music publishers and concert promoters endowed Harvard with tax-advantaged $500 million to develop a rights respecting infrastructure for the metaverse (or maybe even the Internet). Or even if Daniel Ek invested in such an effort instead of a naming rights deal with Barcelona FC’s Camp Nou? Infrastructure that would stop corporations like Facebook, Twitter, Google and others from profiting from piracy and selling ads on illegal sites. Or how about just stop them profiting from human misery in general?
Do you think Harvard would take the money? I don’t, but just imagine if that happened. Would it change how the Davos class looked at the rights of others?
Zuckerberg was interviewed about his metaverse project and made a couple revealing statements along these lines:
[I]t’s not like we’re the only company working on this today [so there’s no conspiracy or anything]. You have Nvidia building the chips, Unity and Unreal building a lot of the software infrastructure, as well as companies like Roblox building early versions of some of these experiences that could be open platforms over time. Satya at Microsoft talks about building an enterprise version of the metaverse.
The question is: How do we get these things to be as interoperable as possible? We want as much of the software as possible to run on our systems. We want avatars and commerce to build to [be interoperable].
I want to make sure that we use the other things that we’re building to help develop some of these ecosystems. You saw the NFT announcement that we made on Instagram. At the end of the day, I don’t think the most exciting thing to do with NFTs is to display a few things in your Instagram profile. But I view that as a starting point. It’s not that far-fetched to imagine how being able to display some digital collectibles in your Instagram profile is a precursor to being able to have a shirt from your favorite brand that you can take from Horizon to then wear in Fortnite.https://www.protocol.com/entertainment/mark-zuckerberg-interview-metaverse-vr
What if “your favorite brand” licensed their shirt to Horizon but not Fortnite because they had no deal with Fortnite or just didn’t want to do business with Fortnite (because Uyghurs)? Or if the shirt had an artist’s likeness that was licensed to one or not the other or had a particular message that was in context on one but not the other? Like if the shirt said “Free Tibet” and Fortnite changed it because of pressure from Tencent and the CCP (a la Top Gun Maverick)? What then? Want to bet that the infrastructure would make somebody spend money to chase and catch the offenders DMCA style and bring an expensive private lawsuit for a transaction that the infrastructure could have prevented?
Or what if the metaverse stripped metadata from the digital assets so that nobody could track the piracy very easily (like CD rippers)? In a world where everything was automated except tracking? Want to bet that Silicon Valley will want a DMCA and Music Modernization Act for trademark infringement rather than change the infrastructure that can tell if a teen is pregnant based on behavioral data scraping but can’t manage to block piracy, human trafficking or drug peddling?
Should we make the same mistake twice? Because we have those bootleggers selling CDs on websites all buttoned up?
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