Art,  Metaverse

Meet Me In The Metaverse, Anatomy of WEB 3.0

Being is not what it seems – Nor non-being – The world’s existence is not in the world

Rumi Illuminated

What is the Metaverse?

  • The metaverse is the next version of the future of computing. It is a story of how we imagine the world
  • The metaverse is a story we are telling of what the future of technical infrastructures might look like where you combine reality and virtual reality, high speed internet, 5G, 6G and some kind of virtual space you might occupy with other people.

Facebook has very little to do with the metaverse.

The most prevalent myth about the metaverse is that it is about Facebook. However, the metaverse is a reality born through gaming, and to be more precise Second Life and Roblox and has evolved without any kind of Facebook input, so far. Although Facebook now calls itself Meta Platforms, the company is a latecomer in the metaverse and an unlikely leader in the field.

  • In a letter to shareholders, the company defines the metaverse as a set of virtual spaces where people can have immersive experiences beyond two-dimensional screens, such as creating and exploring with other people who are not in the same physical space. People can participate such as being able to hang out with friends, work, play, learn, shop, create, and more, using technology such as augmented and virtual reality devices, phones and computers.[1]
  • “The metaverse will feel like a hybrid of today’s online social experience, sometimes expanded into three dimensions, or projected into the physical world. It will let Internet users share immersive experience with other people, even when they cannot be together–and do things together they could not do in the physical world”[2].
  • We note an established precedent that the addition of the descriptive term ‘meta‘ is insufficient to meaningfully distinguish between disputed domain names[3]. By analogy, the branding of Facebook as Meta appears desperate.
  • Other domain fights over the word “meta” include Disneymetaverse[4] and Gameloft[5]

The metaverse will run on 6G

For all the talk of the “metaverse,” 6G may be the first wireless technology that could deliver fully immersive extended reality, including realistic touch or “haptic” experiences[6].

Where is the metaverse?

Originating from science fiction,[7] the term metaverse simply designates the sum of all shared virtual spaces or one particular virtual space. The internet 2.0 already features endless interconnected virtual communities, allowing us to interact through email, online banking, streaming, surfing, mobile shopping, remote working, socializing and generally living life in the cloud[8]. By significantly restricting physical reality, the pandemic definitely acted as a catalyst to shift many industries, including the legal trade, further into the digital realm.

How is the metaverse different from living in the cloud 2.0

In 2022, the term metaverse is used interchangeably to designate Web 3.0 or Mixed Reality. On Internet 2.0, the delivery of the vast majority our virtual experiences has been limited to 2 dimensional representations on a screen and experienced through users’ real personas (i.e. talking heads). Web 3.0, the engine of the metaverse and mixed reality, aims to deconfine users from screen-bound experiences and seamlessly connect the physical and virtual worlds and operate a transition from 2D to 3D. The limitations of physical realities can be augmented or fully bypassed.

In 2D, depth is “faked” through perspective. 3D representations add spatial depth. If the virtual space completely blocks out your real physical environment, it is a case of virtual reality (VR). If the virtual space is overlayed on your physical space, then it is augmented reality (AR). The closest example of an immersive 3D model everyone has experienced is Google Street View that can be entered with a little yellow man avatar. When you leave Google Maps, Street View doesn’t disappear, it is still there for anyone else to explore.

Still, it may feel rather lonely to be the only avatar on the entire planet Earth. What if you could embody any avatar to enter StreetView and meet other avatars who happen to be in the same space as you. You could socialize with them, ask them about their favorite spaces, walk or briskly float together, share photos and tips. In the same vein, what if instead of showing you the results on a screen, Street View materialized around you as a 3D hologram projection. This is the closest example I can think of of where the metaverse is headed.

Augmented Reality Solutions

Akin to NFTs, mobile AR filters and objects are now a seamless part of user-generated content and mainstream mixed reality consumption. For example, the 2017 IKEA app allowing users to overlay real size furniture in their living space addressed a problem every consumer has when purchasing furniture: Will it fit in my living-room and if so, how will it look? On Instagram, the absence of filters in photos and videos needs to be signaled through the #nofilter hashtag, because the general presumption is that great-looking photos come with reality-altering filters, among which face-morphing algorithms. Another common way to signal that a piece of content is spontaneous not tampered with through AR or artificial intelligence (AI) input, users normally film it vertically on their phones with low light, random shakes, and in the worst quality possible. Bad quality unedited footage that was considered not-presentable in past decades, has now acquired a significant value of being perceived as more “real”.

Every day, artificial Intelligence creator tools give rise to countless new works, unrecognizable from the originals. One example is the Russian AI-enabled mobile application, FaceApp that can remodel your selfies to look older or younger, change your gender, do your hair and make-up, add tattoos, backgrounds and color filters. In spite of warnings from the FBI about privacy issues[9] and potential endangerment of national security, FaceApp user uptake is far from slowing in 2022 with some 3.58 billion monthly users[10].

There was a similar national security warning with respect to the Chinese app Tiktok forming a mixed reality universe in its own right through a highly efficient engagement algorithm and unlimited possibilities of AR overlay. In 2022, TikTok continues to boast a billion monthly users and in March 2022 TikTok has become the official partner of the Cannes Film Festival to host the first ever global in-app competition of vertical shorts, #TikTokShortFilm[11] for scripted film submissions between 30 seconds and 3 minutes from select countries excluding Canada and the USA. The winners were flown to Cannes to attend the prestigious festival in May 2022[12] and be honored with monetary awards. Although selected films are very different from the vast majority of TikTok content, in that all rights in the content must be precleared with proof in writing in order to be admissible at Cannes, this competition shows an unprecedented recognition by the entertainment industry of the artistic value and potential in user-generated content, even though the curated content must exit the user-generated category, in order to become economically exploitable.

AR filters do present palpable issues with apparent AI authorship which seems to obsess legal scholars since the 1990s[13] and now also preoccupies IP regulators in the 2020s. This question however, doesn’t need any particular changes to current legislation, as it is resolved by simply attributing co-authorship to both the user and the copyright holder of the AR filter.

“Singularity” or the moment in science fiction literature when human creations will begin to exert their own free will, independent of human input, was predicted to have occurred by now[14]. However Just like the Orwellian novel “1984”, missing the temporal mark doesn’t mean the prophecy will completely fail. It just means that for the time being, in spite of many attempts to attribute copyright to a machine, enforcement mechanisms in copyright legislation worldwide still require a natural person to claim ownership of IP.

To take an everyday example, how do we determine who owns the copyright to a FaceApp augmented selfie between the photographer (selfie-taker) or FaceApp. We know that the human user is doing all the work on FaceApp, but the most substantial input with regard to the final product comes from the AI and the unique way in which it modifies portraits. In other words, you could never create the same results without the app, and even if you could, doing so through ordinary means like Photoshop would take you a tremendous amount of time and effort.

In this scenario, the creator and owner of Faceapp is a co-author of the doctored selfie to the degree of transformation achieved when compared to the original. Co-creator rights would go to the owner of the algorithm, Yaroslav Goncharov, and so far he hasn’t sued anyone, mainly because of the protected category of user-generated content that covers this type of non-commercial content.

The day when an AI algorithm begins suing people for copyright infringement, we will know that machines have finally acquired free will, and we will begin asking them for their consent. It will be interesting to see whether machines will listen at all. We can also reasonably expect that when this particular day arrives, machines will very likely reject our imperfect and slow justice mechanisms, they will write their own IP statutes and form their own courts somewhere on the blockchain where whole cases are litigated in a fraction of a second, precedents are tokenized, and judgments instantly enforced. Until then, we will have to work under current legal frameworks and enjoy the slowness of being human.

From gaming to serious business, a brief history of mixed reality

Some 12 years ago, Microsoft introduced artificial intelligence sensors (Kinect Technology) into Xbox gaming consoles coming short of revolutionizing the gaming industry. AI sensors could track and detect gamers’ physical movements, facial expressions, and physical performance to deliver immersive interactive gaming experience. Unfortunately, due to underwhelming development of the Kinect’s potential, the Kinect didn’t stick with the majority of gamers. The need for speed in some games could not be achieved by hand movement, a handheld controller would still be needed in most games.  Other than a few niche sectors, such as dance games and e-sports, the Kinect technology didn’t capture gamers attention. By 2018, the Kinect was discontinued and replaced by smart phones that came equipped with identical sensors filling the same function. In the meantime, Microsoft’s Mixed Reality project[15] has been consistently repurposing VR gaming gear, goggles and headphones, to deliver fully immersive virtual collaborative workspaces for solutions in interior design, landscaping, and architecture, industries where spatial data matters.

Fast forward to 2022, the shunned AI sensor of yesteryear, Kinect quietly returns as a highly sophisticated version of its original self, now the Azure Kinect DK, a spatial computing device built for mixed reality using advanced AI sensors, computer vision and speech models, and pairing of real-time depth sensor data with cognitive services, to leverage spatial data and context. You can think of the new Kinect as an intelligent device able to capture high-quality volumetric video for the use of 3D environments delivered through interactive XR experiences. Developer Kits are no longer intended for gaming but rather for the improvement of many essential industries, including healthcare, retail, manufacturing, and media enterprises. New applications in development aim to improve safety in workspaces, increase performance and outcomes, and revolutionize user experiences[16].

Some examples of Azur Kinect DK solutions in the healthcare sector include smart gyms, injury prevention and virtual rehabilitation. In the manufacturing industry, reduction of work hazards and designing of safer and more ergonomic work stations is achieved through advanced body tracking monitoring and analytics of worker movement and behavior. For media enterprises, production studios, and content creators, the benefits of mixed reality are obvious and range from augmented news and events coverage to immersive storytelling and user generated 3D content.

Non Fungible Couture Due To Covid

Before the Covid-19 pandemic, Roblox used to be a gamer platform predominantly visited by teenage-users under the age 16. A year into the pandemic, the virtual exhibition Gucci Garden by Gucci landed on Roblox and was accessible via IMVU avatars [17]. This is when we witnessed a tipping-point, or the moment when Big Tech’s attention almost instantly and irreversibly shifted to the metaverse and Web3.0 as “something that isn’t a cyclical repetition of the past, but is focused on the future that’s hopeful and beautiful”[18].

This utopian vision of the metaverse came in sharp contrast with our global reality characterized by confusing media narratives, soviet-style decrees, and tyrannical enforcement of health restrictions. To escape the dystopian nightmare chaos our world had turned into, users began spending more and more time in virtual realities to compensate for the loss of basic freedoms in their everyday life. Demand for beauty, unity, fantasy, in dream-like immersive experiences increased exponentially in direct proportion to the loss of quality of life in the real world. At the exact opposite of the spectrum to previous game design that focused on military scenarios and bloodshed, the new version of metaverse is oriented to recreate prepandemic normalcy and peaceful and convivial human interactions within colorful, awe-inspiring fantasy worlds away from war, division, and cyberbullying prevalent on Web2.0.

Demand for NFT wearables rose exponentially in 2021. The first Metaverse Fashion Week was held in Decentraland Luxury Fashion District[19] in March 2022 and featured virtual runway, stores, NFT wearables, and after-show parties by some 70 brands. Setting a precedent for the democratization of high-fashion, this event presented users with the opportunity to try and buy designer clothes, and experience not just with style, but also body type, gender, and new identities.

  • Some post-human cyber designs were presented by fore-runner in the tech fashion house creating celestial cyber couture, AUROBOROS’ whose digital designs are inspired by plant structures, human anatomy, and supernatural entities from sci-films like Avatar or Annihilation: tops embellished with tendrils, suits decorated with elements of the lymphatic system, or coats built out of seedlings that have a life of their own” [20]
  • In contrast, Second Life had the most realistic runway platform allowing fashion bloggers to feel right at home.
  • Dolce Gabbana “stole the show” so to speak at MVFW. Here is our coverage.

[1] Meta Platforms, Inc., 2022 WL 192888 (S.E.C. No – Action Letter), January 18, 2022

[2] Meta Platforms, Inc v. Ibsam Shahzad, 2021 WL 6203129 (UDRP-ARB Dec.)

[3] Tommy Bahama Group, Inc. V. David K Austreng, It Labs, Inc.2022 WL 596446 (UDRP-ARB Dec.)

[4] Arbitration decision 2021 WL 6424110 (UDRP-ARB Dec.)

[5] Gameloft S.E. V. Privacy Service Provided By Withheld For Privacy Ehf/Edward Jarman, Monsoon Blockchain, 2022 WL 445613 (UDRP-ARB Dec.)

[6] Federal Communications Commission (F.C.C.) Letter; Remarks Of Commissioner Geoffrey Starks Atis’ Next G Alliance: The Roadmap To 6g, February 17, 20222022 WL 544910 (F.C.C.)

[7] Coined by the writer Neal Stephenson in his 1992 novel “Snow Crash” to describe a virtual space that emulates a physical one, the term has also been explored in the Matrix movies and more recently Ready Player One; Matt O’BRIEN and Kelvin CHAN, Explainer: What is the Metaverse and how will it work, ABC News through Associated Press, 28 October 2021 https://abcnews.go.com/Business/wireStory/explainer-metaverse-work-80842516;

[8] Doug ANTIN, The Technology of the Metaverse, It’s Not Just VR, Medium.com, May 5, 2020. “As of April 2020, there are 4.5 billion people with internet access and 4.2 billion of those people are mobile internet users. That means, over half the world’s population is interacting with the Metaverse on a daily basis. Most don’t even know it.

[9] Will FaceApp steal your face?

[10] https://javascript.plainenglish.io/everything-you-need-to-know-about-face-changing-app-and-how-much-will-it-cost-you-49054c5f3f7c

[11] Rithy Panh, the BAFTA-nominated Cambodian filmmaker of “The Missing Picture,” will preside over the international jury, which comprises Basma Khalifa, the Sudanese multi-disciplinary creative, Camille Ducellier, the artist and filmmaker of “Bachi-Bouzouk,” Angele Diabang, the screenwriter and producer of “Un air de kora,” as well as Khaby Lame, the Senegalese-born TikToker and content creator (source Variety)

[12] TikTokShorts terms of participation

[13] Lawrence B. SOLUM, Legal Personhood for Artificial Intelligences, 70 N.C. L. Rev. 1231, 1255 (1992); F. Patrick HUBBARD Do Androids Dream?”: Personhood and Intelligent Artifacts, 83 Temp. L. Rev. 405, 417 (2011). Kate DARLING, Extending Legal Rights to Social Robots (Apr. 23, 2013), at 2 (paper presented at the We Robot Conference, University of Miami, Fla.), available at http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstractJd=2044797

[14] Ray KURZWEIL, The Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology 25 (2005).Vernor VINGE, The Coming Technological Singularity: How to Survive in the Post-Human Era, in NASA, Vision-21: Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering in the Era of Cyberspace 11 (1993), http:// ntrs.nasa.gov/archive/nasa/casi.ntrs.nasa.gov/19940022855.pdf; also available at http://www-rohan.sdsu.edu/faculty/vinge/misc/singularity.html.

[15] WINDOWS, Envisioning the future with Mixed Reality, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2MqGrF6JaOM

[16] https://azure.microsoft.com/en-us/services/kinect-dk/#overview

[17] The world’s largest avatar-based social network, where shared experiences build deeper friendships, creativity counts, and all relationships matter it is now

[18] Dazed Magazine (exact url to follow)

[19] https://www.elle.com/fashion/a39093092/metaverse-virtual-fashion-events/

[20] https://www.dazeddigital.com/fashion/article/51913/1/auroboros-celestial-couture-alexander-mcqueen-vr-technology-digital-fashion