The Metaverse Is Already a Geopolitical Challenge

The Metaverse Is Already a Geopolitical Challenge
A visitor wearing a face mask walks past a sign for the Beijing E-Town Metaverse Experience display at the CIFTIS trade fair in Beijing, Sept. 3, 2022 (AP photo by Mark Schiefelbein).

The concept of the metaverse—an interoperable network of 3D virtual worlds where users can interact with each other—continues to gain momentum. There are currently an estimated 400 million active monthly users, with some anticipating that number to shoot up to 1.4 billion this year alone.

Since it caught the world’s attention several years ago, the metaverse has been driving technology developments, corporate rebranding and a search for killer applications that facilitate access to virtual worlds. Facebook’s rebranding to Meta in 2021 is emblematic of this trend, with CEO Mark Zuckerberg recasting the firm’s business strategy toward developing technology and applications that can support different versions of the metaverse.

The hype around the metaverse’s potential to re-imagine daily life and transform entire industries is propelled by several factors: the merging of gaming tech with Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality, or VR/AR; the tokenization of identity, objects and money, allowing something in the physical world to be traded digitally; and the evolution of key enabling technologies, such as blockchain and smart contracts. Against this backdrop, technology giants and venture capitalists have poured billions of dollars into developing virtual ecosystems and their associated applications, in a bid to move away from the standard non-participatory approach to online interactions and capitalize on the enormous revenue opportunities presented by virtual worlds.

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