Here’s who should govern the virtual web

As more of us step into virtual worlds, will human problems follow? Author and investor Matthew Ball discusses how we might regulate the metaverse.

Here’s who should govern the virtual web
The author(s)
  • Matt Carmichael What the Future editor and head of the Ipsos Trends & Foresight Lab
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Investor Matthew Ball’s essays on the metaverse are about as influential as any writing on the topic. As managing partner of EpyllionCo, he’s invested in a lot of winners: Genvid Technologies, The Athletic, Dapper Labs, Dave’s Hot Chicken, Pushkin Industries and more. His new book “The Metaverse” takes his thinking even further by asking how will the virtual web evolve, what players will shape that evolution, who will govern these spaces and how?

Matt Carmichael: In the book you say it's important to track consumer trends and habits. Why?

Matthew Ball: The timing for the metaverse is its cultural significance. The nature of its services is dependent upon, informed and causally impacted by consumers.

In some regards, that’s what they respond to and how; in other regards, it's about generational change. It’s also about what they tell the leaders they do and do not want the next era to look like. This is a key intersection point for the decentralization and Web3 movement, which is partly a response to how consumers feel about the last 15 years.

Carmichael: You also talk about the role of uncertainty in the evolution of the metaverse. Why is that so important to keep in mind?

Ball: Uncertainty is a prerequisite for disruption. A certain and consensus future tends not to lead to much change. The uncertainty that we face today on all key metaverse questions is what enables the future to be so different. The uncertainty is not just the prerequisite for products and companies, but for the future for society by the companies that lead us. It gives us agency.

Carmichael: How much tech do people need to understand for the metaverse to take off?

Ball: Arthur C. Clarke said that the best technology is indistinguishable from magic. It’s usually at that point in which we see mass adoption. When you ask how important is it for the average person to know, the answer is: not very. But for those who are building the metaverse, the questions of what will be possible, when and why, are extraordinarily relevant. If the best technology is indistinguishable from magic, it doesn’t magically appear. It just magically appears to have been solved. For those who want to positively affect the future, which is develop new products that come into place, understanding those technical considerations is going be key. They’re the ones that will mainstream the metaverse.

Carmichael: Which are the most important tech barriers for us to overcome?

Ball: When you look towards the metaverse, the dominant theory is that improving the tools which enable creation is the foremost required. Why? Because yes, higher bandwidth speed enables more dynamic experiences; greater processing power enables, better graphics. Semantic recognition allows for more complex, real time translation. But at the end of the day, most of the virtual world has grown with creativity. Creativity is to some extent the number of inputs into the system. When you look at the success of a platform like Roblox, ostensibly created for children, but which now has over 150 million users over the age of 16 each month, or the focus of Epic Games and Unity, it's all on how we can allow people to create better, faster, easier, cheaper virtual experiences.

Carmichael: What can we learn from the early days of the internet about regulation and the role of governments and NGOs and standards bodies?

Ball: It’s easy to take for granted how important the quirky origination of the internet was. Since the future is uncertain, there are relatively few things that we can say must be in place from a regulatory or legal perspective. The fact that we can’t yet positively determine which devices, which technologies, when and for whom and why precludes really specific legislation. But as a result, the only way to be prepared for that is to have as nuanced as possible an understanding of the particulars: which technologies, when, where, why and how they interconnect.

Carmichael: Can we make a metaverse a place where everyone feels safe and comfortable, or is this another human issue?

Ball: I think we can. If one believes in the premise of the metaverse, they believe that more of human existence in society is going to move into virtual spaces. As more of those occur more of the typical human problems that we encounter in the physical world will shift online. We don’t have good answers for them in the real world, and we don’t have great answers for them in the virtual or online world. I believe that the role of government and the state must be fairly strong, especially in these early years.

Carmichael: You finished the book in January. What would you already update?

Ball: Over the past six months, we’ve gotten a better appreciation for the slowness of macro changes.

The author(s)
  • Matt Carmichael What the Future editor and head of the Ipsos Trends & Foresight Lab