Monthly Archives: September 2021

The Metaverse – one of countless variants of virtuality.

My biggest ever error as a futurist was in 1991, just before I first played with VR on a Virtuality machine, when I predicted that VR would overtake TV as a form of recreation by 2000. It seemed obvious that it would. I estimated the approximate resolutions needed to make things sufficiently acceptable, and derived the computing power to fill a typical display with the virtual components a viewer would see at a time, then estimated how long that would take to arrive. I got 1998, and allowed a couple of further years for the market to take off enormously.

Before moving on, it’s worth looking at some of the reasons I got it wrong. First, computers did get better that quickly, but most of the increased power and memory was wasted by increasingly inefficient software practices. That has continued to be the case ever since. Secondly, I had assumed far too fast market take-up, but in my defence, that was my first ever project in futurology. Thirdly – and this wasn’t predictable so not my fault – Corning was sued for problems allegedly caused by their breast implants. The fact that the case was highly dubious and demanded enormous compensation for something Corning may well not have been the cause of must have absolutely terrified corporate lawyers all over the world. A few pieces of evidence were emerging that people using VR had become disoriented and one or two have minor accidents, while a few others felt eye strain. Any lawyer with a three digit IQ would have considered it extremely likely that there might be huge class actions against anyone developing VR visors by no-win, no-fee companies on behalf of every future teenager that developed a squint, regardless of whether it was caused by VR or any other cause. In my view, that probably delayed visors by decades, while poor software practices probably delayed the technological capability by a decade too. We have since seen some VR and AR appear, and it is far higher quality than I assumed was needed when I made my prediction and calculations, so I certainly have to accept that I was 100% wrong on the appeal and and market uptake rate. It is worth remembering this analysis when looking at potential future tech and markets. I was in the front edge of IT research but still managed to be very wrong.

Moving on, we’re seeing endless citation of the term ‘Metaverse’, of which Wikipedia says :

the word “Metaverse” is made up of the prefix “meta” and the stem “verse”; the term is typically used to describe the concept of a future iteration of the internet, made up of persistent, shared, 3D virtual spaces linked into a perceived virtual universe.

It’s nice Wikipedia is still a credible source of information for those things that have no possible political angle. It isn’t all biased.

Hang on. This ‘metaverse’ represents such a blinkered, limited vision of the future I am astonished it has been given the dignity of a name.

Internet? Persistant? Shared? 3d? Virtual? Spaces? That makes the metaverse on of 250 billion variations available.

We used to use the term ‘cyberspace’ to describe the notional space that existed inside the IT. Nothing in our understanding of cyberspace ever limited that virtual ‘universe’ to any of those words. The IT industry knew 25 years ago that combining virtual worlds with the real world would one day be a lucrative market area, and that ‘augmented reality’ as it is now known, would sit alongside VR as two of the headline markets, but the assumptions that they would be limited to persistant, shared or even 3D spaces was absent. We saw the opportunities in their full glory. If this Metaverse is meant to represent Newthink around cyberspace, it needs work. Lots of it. It sucks.

My 1998 paper Cyberspace: from order to chaos and back, won the best paper award when it was finally published in the Jan 2000 BT Engineering Journal. Its first key point is that there are essentially three domains, physical, mental and virtual. The physical domain is what we see all around us. The virtual domain, with all its countless variants that we used to loosely call cyberspace, is just 1s and 0s inside our IT (though analog signals or quantum processes could also form part of it). The mental domain is everything inside our minds – culture, memories, imagination and so on. Some people might add a 4th, a spiritual domain. As a techie, I acknowledge its existence (which obviously doesn’t depend on the existence of any gods – atheists can still have spiritual experiences), but the only parts of it that can be fabricated also exist in the mental domain. We can’t manufacture a spirit, just images or sculptures of how we might imagine one

Many things exist solely in one of the domains. A pebble that has never been seen exists solely in the physical world. A childhood memory exists purely in mental space. The virtual world models used by robots exists only in cyberspace. However, most market value exists where the domains meet. So there is huge value where physical meets mental. Objects become valuable because people want them; a filing cabinet is valuable because it physically implements a mental idea, a pencil because it lets is write an idea down. Where mental meets virtual, we see that stories become valuable when someone writes a book or makes a film, computer games and VR create value by letting us see and interact with virtual things. Augmented reality tries to combine all three, overlaying mental concepts onto the physical world as it appears on our visor, mapping both virtual objects and physical world sensor data onto virtual objects and letting us physically interact with physical things via virtual intermediation. I’ve often said that the enormously valuable world wide web resulted from convergence of computing and telecomms, but augmented reality will be vastly bigger market, because it results from convergence of the entire physical, mental and virtual domains. There’s gold in them there boundaries, but it’s also worth noting that we have only scratched the very surface of the virtual domain so far and much of value might lie withing it, as well as at the boundaries, even if much is only accessible to our AI and machines.

The Metaverse as described above does allow some of this and will be valuable as far as it goes. However, it excludes almost all potential realizations of this convergence and their potential markets.

Sure, persistence is useful, but so is transience, volatility. Shared is valuable but so is private, so is corporate. And so on. When we look at the full scope of convergence, it is helpful to consider dimensions, i.e the ways in which you can vary things. A mathematician typically chooses picks dimensions that are orthogonal, that can all be varied independently of each other, such as height, width, depth, colour, temperature, price.

Here are two diagrams from my paper:

I listed several potential variants of 14 dimensions and each option in each dimension can be used with any option from each other, 250 billion combos. But I didn’t run out of dimensions to include or even variants within them. I ran out of space. For example, I didn’t list the communications dimension. It could use the internet, or a global superhighway, or a mobile phone network, a satellite network, a mesh, sponge, ad-hoc, peer to peer or hybrid network, or letters, or CD in the post, etc etc. I didn’t list the operating system dimension, many options again. Or the display dimension – visor, phone screen, TV, computer monitor, visor, goggles, active contact lenses. Or style of user interface. Or who pays and all the variant business models. Or who chooses, you, the AI, the provider, government, a distributed conscience system… I could go on and on. I also overlooked many key variants (e.g. presentation via brail, or haptics, or active skin stimulation) and almost certainly still am.

If there are 25 useful dimensions (may be many more), and 10 variants in each one, then there are at least 10^25 potential ways in which they can be combined. 10 million billion billion. That makes 250 billion look like a drop in the ocean. What about our Metaverse? ‘Shared’ is only one tenth of the sharing possibilities. ‘Internet’ is one tenth of the network infrastructure possibilities. ‘Persistent’ is only one tenth of the time consistency possibilities. ‘3D’ is only one tenth of the immersion possibilities. ‘Virtual spaces’ are only one tenth of their dimension once we start to account for all the different kinds of AI and robots and machines that will also interact with virtual universes. Even the word ‘linked’ is only a tenth of a connectivity dimension and ‘perceived’ is one tenth of the potential there too. Is a tree perceived by an AI or robot that isn’t conscious? ‘Universe’? Why not multiverse, subverse, hyperverse, hybriverse or whatever? Now I’m just making words up for things that don’t exist yet, but could and maybe will. With just those 8 dubious words in its wikipedia definition needlessly limiting it to tiny fractions of the potential options, metaverse already limits itself to 1 100,000,000 of the potential market and reading between the lines, almost certainly adds many more zeros onto that via the many unspecified dimensions.

So you see why I’m annoyed at this suddenly fashionable term ‘metaverse’.

But let’s quickly look at that 10^25 figure. If a software engineer was told to write a package that would allow businesses or individuals or governments to enable virtuality with all these dimensions, how long would it take to try every single one just for an instant to make sure it works? If a million software engineers could somehow collaborate and get loads of AI to help them, with unlimited computing power, maybe they could explore a million every second. At one million every second, it would take 10 billion billion seconds to explore them all. 300 billion years, 23 times the age of the universe.

Cyberspace is big, very big. It cannot ever be fully explored. Of course we should try to spot the most valuable combinations and most lucrative potential markets. But the Metaverse blindfolds and deafens us and ties our hands and feet together before we start.

A distributed conscience system

It’s ages since my last post so I thought I’d better write something.

It seems some of the things I designed in the early 1990s when I worked in Cybernetics and my early 2000s inventions: active skin, digital air, ground-up intelligence and ultra-simple computing are now exactly what we need to ensure people behave. What with COVID vaccines, gender ideology, critical race theory, controlling hate speech climate alarmism and its inevitable consequential restrictions, our chiefs are going to need every tool they can get to ensure compliance on an increasing range of issues by a population comprised of the obedient and the difficult.

Starting with the first of these, it is clear that in areas such as getting vaccinated against COVID, some people are refusing, and many of those who have had it would like to see them forced to take it. The vaccine passports in various stages of introduction around the world were initially intended (officially) to show whether people are safe or likely plague carriers, but we know for certain that even double vaccinated people can still get the virus and still infect others with it, so they don’t achieve that goal, and really just show that you have had your jabs. The slightly more cynical of us would argue that vaccine passports are essentially nothing more than obedience certificates, and more cynical people again would argue that they are just another foundation stone for The Great Reset. I’ll get back to that later.

So where does conscience come in?

Taking your jabs is what the system is loudly telling us is the right thing to do – government, the media and those nutters who yell at you in the supermarket if you walk closer than 2m. The system with its rules is the ‘conscience’ and the vaccine passport is just a simple tool that helps police it, certifying that you have done as you are told and had your jabs. Getting the passport provides a nice clear conscience, while not having it will soon label you clearly as unclean, a trouble-maker, an outcast, a sinner if you like. The technology platform can easily be extended to cover other aspects of health, or compliance with pretty much any other directive – the NHS app is designed that way in fact, at least in the UK. Linked via your mobile phone to your biometrics, your health records, worn health-monitoring devices and their knowledge of your body (with their insights into your weight, activity, blood chemistry, nerve activity, heart rate, some emotions), your payments, banking, social media, where you are, who you’re with, what you’re doing and what you and your companions are saying, it becomes very rapidly clear that your behavior and compliance with the rules across a very wide range of areas can be monitored and policed in great detail. It would be as if we have a conscience that tells us the official right and wrong across a wide range of areas, backed up with a system that responds with privileges, permits, restrictions or punishments accordingly. The Chinese Social Credit System implemented much of this in China years ago. Our Western governments have now discovered just how useful it could be.

There are two ways this could happen (it’s possible in principle to get both). If states implements this, as many seem determined to, we’d rightly call them authoritarian, but it could also arise from pressure groups, building on their successes forcing people and companies to comply with critical race theory and gender ideology, or declare support for BLM, or to strictly limit their carbon footprint. It is not unimaginable that pressure groups could start to issue electronic certificates to those who ‘take the knee’ or sign a pledge, or pass a CRT course, or buy a heat pump. Taking a religious Judeo-Christian model as inspiration, and bearing in mind the pseudo-religious nature of some of these things, they could have the sinners, the ordinary people, the priests and high priests, the scribes and pharisees, all with their assorted certifications, passes and privileges all embedded electronically in their passports. Interestingly, also taking that religious model, God is typically assumed to know everything everyone does, says and thinks, i.e a total surveillance system, and God is the source of our conscience, so that fits too. Unlike Judeo-Christianity, the exposure, the deplatforming, the cancelling, the reporting for hate crimes and general mob rule oppression associated with this new kind of conscience, it is clear they forgot to implement any kind of repentance, forgiveness or mercy.

The state implementation is clearly centralised, or at least would be if all states were acting independently, in their own time-frames, with their own systems and rules and ‘conscience’. If there was some sort of world government or treaty or even powerful enough group-think that could make a system that is truly global, then a decentralised solution could be implemented.

The activist/pressure group route already permeates most countries sufficiently to start implementation of the technological foundations for a truly distributed conscience system.

I’ve never been any kind of activist so I have to make a few guesses as to likely objectives and approaches, but looking at the technology solutions and capability I know are feasible (not least because I have designed some of them), it seems possible or even likely that one day we will have a distributed conscience system (DCS) that:

produces an agreed secular moral framework. A reference of rights and wrongs that morally upstanding people should adhere too (and presumably some well thought out commandments);

integrates rules from allied or approved ideologies into a broad scope conscience and therefore could raise members and funding from contributors across their domains;

rewards members with continuous moral affirmation, praising them for doing the right thing, and warning them when there is a likelihood of stepping over a line;

rewards members with social belonging to a group of similarly ‘good people’;

offers levels of status within the membership, hence potential self-actualisation, certificated moral superiority;

offers financial inducements such as special offers and discounts to a rapidly growing number of participating enterprises;

provides mechanisms to implement guilt, shame and punishment and to clearly label and expose the guilty so that morally upright members can avoid or look down upon them;

provides mechanisms for members to highlight and expose other members who might be deviate from the moral path;

provides mechanisms for trials and justice for the accused and mechanism for recompense if innocent;

intermediates in access to pretty much any kind of activities, services, places and facilities. The number of these would grow gradually as penalties for non-participation increase. At first, participation in the system could be entirely voluntary with small or even no required financial contributions, but enterprises would gain privileged access to members of the DCS or be able to offer exclusive services to them. As it grows, the value of being a member and gaining access to this closed market grows, while penalties for not participating would also grow, being eventually excluded from doing business with DCS members. Eventually it could become near impossible to run a profitable enterprise without participation and certification. It is a one-way membrane. The same applies of course to individuals , as the benefits attract people until critical mass, and thereafter, penalties for not belonging increase until it becomes impossible to have any kind of life without being a member.

continuously records degree of compliance or disobedience to every part of the conscience;

is capable of linking to technology embedded within the skin i.e. active skin technology, to monitor and record various aspects of the blood passing in capillaries that might indicate ailments, disease, consumption of immoral substances, or presence of antibodies, viruses, technical indicators of vaccines (such a quantum dots, chemical signatures, electronic particles) or any other introduced artifacts for whatever future purposes may arise;

using its location within the skin and proximity to the peripheral nervous system, the system could monitor and record nerve impulses. It could also reproduce these same impulses into the same nerve fibres by recreating the same voltages, thus recreating the same sensation as was recorded. This offers the potential to provide extra benefits such as enhancing the degree of multi-sensory immersion for AR, VR, computer games or distance communication;

as work from home and distance socializing become more important to achieve low carbon living for example, such ability to recreate the feeling of a handshake or remote physical interaction with objects would prove a major benefit – for those wise enough to become members of the DCS;

once critical mass of the DCS has been achieved it will become possible to activate the second purpose of this technology, which is to create discomfort or pain. Having already accepted the implants as part of initial compliance, people would not then be able to remove it. The benefits of joining after critical mass together with the high penalties for not being a member would make it entirely possibly to still demand the implants for new members;

consequently, every member of the DCS, eventually almost everyone, would have the inbuilt means for the DCS to warn them via discomfort any time they may be approaching the line between right and wrong. This might be an activity, their language, their words, social media engagement, approaching a forbidden geographic location, straying too far from their proper location, or obviously associating with a non-member. The degree of discomfort could vary appropriately between mild vibration or sensation of hot or cold for simple warning purposes, through to extreme pain if someone violated the moral code, or tried to go somewhere they shouldn’t be, or questioned or criticised the DCS or a favoured affiliate, or worst of all, refused to accept a new implant or force their new baby to have one. It could also easily detect if someone tried to shield their active skin from the system by means of a Faraday cage or just a foil armband, that would be easily detectable and immediately punishable. Avoidance of pain would mean continuous reception of the system signal, obvious appropriately timestamped, signed and encrypted to avoid counterfeiting;

the DCS hardware resident within the body would be powered using the body’s own energy supply, either directly using glucose or indirectly using thermal gradients. Even if external hardware were somehow deactivated everywhere at once, this would be able to carry on the core working of the system, inducing severe pain until the external kits is returned to normal function.

is tamper-proof. Once the moral framework, moral principles and commandments are agreed by the moral elite, and are ascertained to represent the pinnacle of human moral development, there should be no need to change that, and indeed the system should be implemented in such a way that those morals cannot be changed by people in the future who may drift astray. Obviously we are very quickly approaching that point thanks the dedication of our younger generations. Thankfully, approaches such as the Autonomous Network Telepher System (ANTS) designed in the early 1990s based on natural immune systems provide a potential basis to implement a robust, totally decentralized system that prevents any modification of the system components once initiated, barring any rogue codes from being executed, and continuously seeking out and removing any attempted infiltration. It managed to address quite complex system management and AI capability using the most simple of mechanisms, often using basic physics in place of megabytes of code. It ought to be possible to design updated version of this system given 30 years of technology progress since invention;

in alignment with the moral principle of being environmentally low impact, the system should also use an ultra-simple, low cost, tamper-proof operating system based on read-only memory, with no use of ‘firmware that can be edited or rewritten. Sensor and processing electronics would be forever restrained in instruction sets by the ANTS-style vocabulary and functionality determined by the elite prior to DCS initiation, preventing any bypass of the moral foundations. Any appearance of ‘higher layer’ code or language that could potentially be attempting to bypass or subvert that layer would result in the system automatically identifying and isolating it using immune system principles, immediately preventing it from functioning or in any way influencing the upright morality of the rest of the system. Similarly, embedded electronics must be specified to the same principles, unchangeable and guaranteed to continue upholding moral compliance. As a sound, fixed foundation layer for the DCS, the entire system instruction set, operating system and its moral framework and content again should thus be fully agreed prior to initiation. Since morals cannot change in future, there is simply no reason to allow for the hardware and OS needing to be changed;

with no central point or points to attack, the entire ANTS-based system would stand as one single globally distributed entity, hopefully eventually reaching every individual and enterprise. Every part of it would defend the whole against any attempt to modify, bypass or deactivate it. It could never be switched off, never modified, and any attempt to try could be met by prolonged extreme pain for all those involved, their friends, families and neighbours;

The ANTS system and ultra-simple OS provide for ground-up intelligence from sensor arrays, which could be spread everywhere. Some sensors would be in smart homes and appliances, some would be built in to infrastructure, some on mobile devices such as drones, some could even be so light that they stay in the air, monitoring everywhere in great detail. These sensors and processors, data stores and communications devices could self-organize into highly efficient ground-up intelligence systems, seeing what is going on locally and extracting knowledge from that, passing on anything relevant to others. Of course everyone’s active skin implants could also have some sensory capability embedded to monitor local activity such as voice, temperature, radio traffic etc. This gives the system broad capability to pick up larger scale patterns of activity that might indicate moral non-compliance. Immoral demonstrations, gatherings, celebrations or leisure activities could be easily detected and participants punished.

I think that’s enough; I’ve made my point. We could make a very capable, very resilient distributed conscience system. It could start off with all the best motivation, just a simple electronic passport ensuring compliance with vaccines mask wearing or low-carbon living. As people got used to it, and expected or even welcomed additional functionality, extra system components and hence greater scope and capability could gradually be introduced over time for seemingly innocent purposes, but designed to be part of the full DCS system. Once fully agreed and implemented, and the DCS initiated, it could not be switched off. A DCS such as I described is technologically feasible and could really be implemented in the next 15 years. It would be the very worst kind of oppressor, forcing everyone under threat of extreme pain to live lives to a strict, extensive and unchangeable moral code, with no appeal, no forgiveness, no mercy, an unfeeling god-like all-aware, all-knowing presence with the capability to punish, perhaps realising the old adage that god is simply ourselves. It could be Hell of our own creation, and we would not be able to escape it or switch it off.

At the moment, we do already have a global tribe that considers itself morally superior and there is a good deal of agreement on morality across many large areas. There could already be the critical mass of people needed to start off such a system, and the technology is feasible, already or over the next 10-15 years. The other route of course was via government, and here we get back to that terrifying phrase ‘The Great Reset’. I’ve never really been drawn to conspiracy theories. They need far too much faith in the ability of our leaders to design and coordinate execution of something complex, globally that would be far more demanding than anything they ever actually manage to do in other fields. We’ve just seen another spectacular failure of a climate summit. I simply don’t believe our politicians are capable of deliberately implementing a common DCS or anything like it. In explaining things, given the choice between conspiracy, group-think or incompetence, I’d always go for incompetence or group-think, or a mixture. However, governments everywhere are being lobbied very successfully by the pressure groups and activists and the successes are mounting. We saw a common system design emerging for test and trace apps, initial competition quickly weeding out weaker solutions and converging on a single approach. In the UK, we’re seeing deliberate design of the NHS app to allow its extension to other health purposes and beyond. It would be fairly easy for our government to extend it include any other certificates and access to records. They might argue that is needed to reduce crime, police access to benefits, control large sports events etc. Whether the intent is there or not I can’t say. The capability is. If we add in the very frequent use of the phrases ‘Build Back Better’ or the Great Reset, which originated from the WEF, it is certainly a possibility that that group-think has become globally pervasive and even without deliberate coordination or conspiring, our governments are therefore all heading down the same road to the same destination. They will also have access at the same times to the same technologies.

They won’t call it a Distribute Conscience System, but a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.