Tristan GreeneEditor, Neural by TNW
Tristan is a futurist covering human-centric artificial intelligence advances, quantum computing, STEM, physics, and space stuff. Pronouns: Tristan is a futurist covering human-centric artificial intelligence advances, quantum computing, STEM, physics, and space stuff. Pronouns: He/him
Facebook blew it. It doesn’t matter how you feel about the name change or the whole… metaverse thing. Any way you slice it, Meta’s rebranding has been a public disaster. And it’s because hardly anyone can explain just what the hell the metaverse is.
Nearly everyone on the planet knows what Facebook did, but almost nobody has a clue what “Meta” is all about. You can blame Mark Zuckerberg, Meta’s marketing team, or the nihilistic nature of social media (of which, ironically, you can also blame on Mark Zuckerberg et al.,).
But the simple fact of the matter is that trying to explain the metaverse is a bigger challenge than even the most visionary of technologists could have envisioned.
Further reading: The metaverse isn’t a place – it’s a mandatory upgrade for reality
If you ask futurist Jason Silva, the metaverse is the question for which we exist to answer. It’s the Caterpillar from Alice in Wonderland that asks “who are you?” His talk at TNW Conference 2022 was a tour de force speech that laid bare exactly what the “future of us” entails.
His big idea involves what he describes as the entry of humanity into the “Cyberdelic Age.” This era of social and technological change is defined by the concepts of virtual and digital technology merging with psychedelic technology.
It sounds a little wacky from the outside looking in. But these aren’t metaphors. Silva’s meaning is literal: there’s a glut of research indicating that psychedelic substances can have a hugely positive impact on humans experiencing mental health crisis.
So where does the metaverse fit in? It depends on how you look at it. If you see the future as a place where human drones spend their lives in existential dread of reality, you might envision a world where we lose our humanity.
It’s easy to picture a paradigm where we waste our lives away inside of goofy-looking face helmets made by the same company that propelled Candy Crush and Farmville into billions of people’s lives.
That future is so close you can taste it. It’s just a few steps away from where we are right now. But, as Silva told the TNW audience, we tend to view the future through the frame of our past:
Human beings, our brains, evolved in a world that was linear and that was local and now we live in a world that is global and exponential.
He explained how just 25 years ago the idea of having a computer in your pocket that was slimmer than a deck of cards and more powerful than a $60 million mainframe from the 1970s would have seemed incredible.
And, in another 25 years, it’s likely we’ll reach incredible new planes of technology in the fields of virtual reality, nanotechnology, and artificial intelligence.
When you combine those things — future technology and psychedelics — you get the Cyberdelic Age.
That sounds catchy, but what’s the reality? According to Silva, it’s “seeing yourself inside out.”
And that’s the answer to the question “where does the metaverse come in?” Silva treated the audience to a series of videos which did an amazing job describing the concepts in play — you should check out his YouTube channel to see what I’m talking about.
But the gist is this: the metaverse is a new layer for reality that will allow us to interact with each other in a much clearer and intimate way.
Silva asked the audience to “imagine the world before language was invented,” in hopes it would shine some light on how vastly different the future could be — perhaps even the near-future, thanks to the exponential nature of technological advancements.
Today, modern communication involves video chats, text messages, and phone calls. In the metaverse all those things will still exist, but the additional layer will be our ability to invite others into our thoughts.
How do you explain to your therapist why a nightmare that seems innocuous to everyone else is so scary to you? How do you describe PTSD to someone without reliving the stories that caused it?
And, just as importantly, how do you describe to someone else how beautiful they are to you? How do you explain the way that sunshine makes you feel? How do you share your most treasured thoughts, the memories that define where you came from and how you became the person you are, to those who cannot see them as they are inside your head?
Today, people believe that AI is on the verge of sentience. We’ve seen the human genome cracked and, as Silva pointed out to the crowd, modern vaccines literally work like “a code that tells the human body how to fight disease.”
The metaverse is a place where AI will be able to show other people exactly what we see and feel inside of our brains. It’s a place where we can finally invite others to see things from our point of view.
It is a place where, as Silva puts it, “we can go from making art to being art.”
And if we can picture a Black Mirror future where humans exchange the spark of “us” that makes us special for a dystopian nightmare where physical contact is replaced by mindless consumerism, then we can also imagine a better one.
Jason Silva paints the believable and achievable notion that all of this technology, combined with a global social paradigm shift towards the most efficacious treatments for the catastrophic mental health pandemic, could result in a transhuman society where everyone of us has the opportunity to thrive.
It isn’t every day a futurist explains how Moore’s Law, Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, virtual reality and psychedelic substances will one day combine to form the culmination of humanity’s endeavors toward… happiness.
But, then again, the TNW Conference doesn’t happen every day either. Click here to get ready for TNW 2023.
Get the TNW newsletter
Get the most important tech news in your inbox each week.