To avoid virtual anarchy, we must act with caution and make things right.

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Meta CEO Mark ZuckerbergMark Zuckerberg Remote control: Who is in charge of your media life? Bernie Sanders “Friends” Big Tech’s Efforts to Import Cheaper Foreign Labor The Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by ExxonMobil – Political earthquake shakes Virginia; New Jersey too close to call MOREThe oft-cited mantra of “move fast and break things” has proven to be a dangerous strategy when it comes to the evolution of virtuality. It takes advantage of people’s propensity to jump off virtual cliffs in exchange for the transient spike delivered by the next tech hit.

Zuckerberg wants us to step into the Metaverse – the next virtual chamber of pleasures and horrors. Proceed with caution, as the stakes are rising as each new wave of technology increasingly subsumes our lives with no apparent sense of user order or control.

It’s ironic since people work mightily to ensure the security and stability of their analog worlds through the establishment of rules, police, borders and armies. No one voluntarily invites strangers to their home and does not share personal, medical, financial, and other sensitive information with them. But so many of us do it every day online, often on purpose, fostering a virtual wild west of insecurity, unwanted surveillance and anonymous lawlessness.

I have been engaged in FinTech development as a regulator and private lawyer since the 1970s. I understand the underlying sciences that support cryptography, blockchains, payment systems, cryptocurrencies, and quantum computing. But my years of euphoria with each new development turned into worry as I came to understand how artificial intelligence, facial recognition, quantum computing, nanoscience, brain-computer interfaces, biology synthetic and self-replicating neurons can be used to disadvantage people and blur the lines between biological and non-biological existence.

Every day it becomes more evident that the dark underbelly of technology is creating parallel universes where crime is often undetectable and where supremacy rests with anyone with the most advanced computers and skills. Indeed, hackers are now collecting sensitive and encrypted data in the hopes of being able to unlock it using quantum computing within a decade.

A report released by the US Cyberspace Solarium Commission in March 2020, almost screams for leaders to go ahead and secure or rebuild cyberspace.

Unfortunately, cyber attacks continue to be explained as the downside to progress that we simply have to face. This sense of “inevitable breach” protects businesses and governments from harsh criticism and economic sanctions that could otherwise force them to demand more heavily coded software, more resilient hardware, and fewer cyber attacks from vendors or employees. The “apologize, rinse and repeat” approach should not be an excuse for substandard products or processes.

I have come to believe that the internet is down and we need a new one. Today’s internet has evolved into a form of virtual chaos where data is up for grabs, innovation is rewarded, and insecurity rarely punished. Unlike the analog world, every person and business in cyberspace has essentially been delegated to be responsible for its own defense. It is as if the Secretary of Defense ordered 7-Eleven to purchase ballistic missiles to defend each of its stores against attacks from nation states. It’s no wonder that vulnerabilities are growing at an exponential rate like breathless cyber canaries in virtual coal mines.

The Metaverse is touted as the next generation of the Internet – a virtual quilt of interconnected online video games, the World Wide Web, social media, online shopping, and cryptocurrency. The rules there will be again set by innovators driven by “progress” and the billions of dollars that can be earned by selling tech snake oil and collecting even more data about us. How can it make sense to dive headlong into this world and give up even more personal space to progress when we have barely figured out how to manage our safety and security in the virtual world we already have?

We have failed to secure virtual spaces and educate users about the risks. And no one has been confronted with the fundamental question that virtual reality raises: who should make decisions about what virtual governance should look like and how it should work? We all want to believe that the government is on this issue and that we are somehow protected. It is not, and we are not.

The challenge is complex. Nation states, criminal cartels, and terrorists are working overtime to achieve the functional equivalence of geopolitical superiority they could never have achieved in the analog world. If one government takes on the task of regulating VR, bureaucracies will halt progress in that country while others will continue to move forward. If we ignore governance or leave it to the technologists, we will continue to have a growing virtual anarchy. Society faces two bad choices, which means we will have to find the best worst option, a tall order indeed.

Global partnerships between the public and private sectors must begin to orchestrate the future of technology and the security of virtuality to ensure that order prevails in cyberspace, the metaverse or whatever technological nirvana that follows them. This should include stronger authentication, increased governance, consumer transparency, the imposition of security standards and rating systems, more secure software, more resilient hardware, and the establishment of enforcement mechanisms.

Identifying the problem is the easy part. Finding and balancing potential solutions is perhaps the greatest existential challenge facing humanity. But given the alternative, solutions must be found. Governments cannot do it alone, and the private sector will not. We are in a crisis that requires global leadership, if at all possible.

With our apologies to Zuckerberg, it is time to act with caution and hope that we no longer shatter the worlds we live in.

Thomas P. Vartanian is the author of “200 Years of American Financial Panic: Crashes, Recessions, Depressions, and the Technology That Will Change Everything.”


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