The risks and opportunities of metaverse digital twins
"Porting real-life experiences into the metaverse’s immersive environment will raise novel ethical, legal and social questions," writes Dov Greenbaum
The metaverse, whatever it is, increasingly drives a lot of interest across all sectors of the economy. And, like the internet itself, there are parts of the metaverse that are all business and focus on finance and governance, and there are parts that accommodate the worst of society.
Recent events indicate that all of these sectors seem to be interested in shoring up virtual property in the metaverse to operate there. For example, the creators of the Bored Ape Yacht Club brand of NFTs, Yuga Labs, only just launched a sale of 55,000 pieces of virtual real estate property, Otherdeeds for their upcoming metaverse game/world, the Otherside. Demand for those parcels was so intense that it caused disruptions across the entire Ethereum blockchain. However, like many things in the metaverse, despite initial strong interest, the market has already cooled somewhat with many of the early investors losing money on their deals only days later.
While much of the volatility of this real estate may be fueled by speculators, Yuga Labs has successfully shown that property in the metaverse can be a hot commodity with even otherwise non-tech companies buying property and creating spaces in the metaverse to interact with clients and customers.
To this end, corporations and government agencies interested in pursuing opportunities in the metaverse have begun to employ digital twins on their recently purchased property stakes.
These virtual representations of all sorts of real-life objects were initially developed by academics and NASA as a way to cheaply and extensively test and simulate complicated machines such as spacecrafts and their engines. Digital twins allowed NASA to iteratively test their designs without the cost of building and destroying the devices.
Digital twins are often tied to their real-life counterpart objects through the flow of real-world data via a myriad of sensors attached to the physical twin in the digital twin pair. And while the metaverse will soon offer AI versions of humans for virtual companionship, we might eventually even see digital twins of real humans based on genomic and physical data collected from individuals.
Large multinationals have also gotten onto the digital twin/metaverse bandwagon. Nike, the sportswear manufacturer, just announced their digital shoes - partially in response to emerging competition that were providing digital twins of Nike branded shoes. Nike’s CryptoKicks, while reportedly not yet digital representations of the real thing, will come with Snapchat filters that allow owners of the NFT-based sneakers to pose online wearing them.
Other multinationals like BMW and Lockheed Martin for example have created working digital replicas of complex manufacturing floors as well as digital replicas of wildlife areas for fire behavior analysis and safety.
The city of Orlando is developing a model of the entire metro region to help it develop a tech hub. And other major metropolises like Las Vegas, Los Angeles, New York, Phoenix, Helsinki and Singapore are developing digital versions of their cities to advance various policies. Even Dubai’s cryptocurreny regulation agency, the Virtual Assets Regulatory Authority, has set up shop in the Sandbox metaverse platform.
Correctional facilities are also setting up digital twins of real-life environments in an effort to facilitate the transition of long-term incarcerated individuals into modern society. Convicted felons will be able to virtually practice how to use self-checkout aisles in supermarkets prior to their release.
However, the metaverse isn’t all virtual roses. Porting real-life experiences into the metaverse’s immersive environment will raise novel ethical, legal and social questions. For example, much of the metaverse will be accessed through the technologies of XR (extended reality) such as virtual reality and augmented reality. These devices have the capability to collect millions of data points of their users as they immerse themselves in the metaverse. This data can be especially private such as biometric information relating to breathing and heart rate, as well as location and text and audio information. The collection of this data by metaverse platforms could be violations of emerging laws such as the California Privacy Rights Act, coming into force in January 2023 that severely limits the collection of consumer biometric data.
These and other issues will be discussed this coming week at a conference jointly developed by Meta (formerly Facebook) The Peres Center for Peace and Innovation, The Adelson School for Entrepreneurship and the Zvi Meitar Institute for Legal Implications of Emerging Technologies at Reichman University.
Prof. Dov Greenbaum is the director of the Zvi Meitar Institute for Legal Implications of Emerging Technologies at the Harry Radzyner Law School, at Reichman University.