Virtual spaces offer great promise, but also present potential risks

The use of virtual online spaces known as the metaverse is expected to rapidly expand. It is important to examine the impact on society and aim to create an environment in which people can use the virtual spaces with peace of mind.

Users may enter the metaverse by, for example, wearing special goggles. A 3D-like environment appears before the eyes of users and the things that they see and hear give them a sense of being present in the space.

Another feature is that users can freely move their metaverse avatars — digital depictions of themselves — talk with other users and participate in events.

It is envisaged that users will wander through spaces that faithfully recreate urban streets and enjoy shopping and live music events, among other activities. Companies can display advertising billboards there, and even offer a variety of services.

The related global market is estimated to grow rapidly to about ¥90 trillion in 2030, about 17 times as much as in 2021.

Rapid advances in digital technology, however, have also created problems, such as gaming and internet addictions among young people. It is hard to say that the harmful effects of the metaverse have been sufficiently verified.

The Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry has launched an expert study panel to examine challenges associated with the metaverse. Many Japanese companies, including those in transportation, distribution and finance, as well as tech companies, see the metaverse as a business opportunity. The ministry’s move is aimed at identifying business problems in this regard.

The ministry said that the panel will discuss how to manage data, including users’ personal information, as well as how to combat defamation and harassment, among other issues, and will compile a report next summer.

However, isn’t it necessary to scrutinize the health effects and the social problems the metaverse may bring about before trying to expand businesses?

It is said that the realistic sensations in the metaverse go far beyond those of existing games and the internet. It is essential to conduct a scientific study to see, for example, if there are any adverse effects on children’s brain development.

There is also concern that more and more people will become immersed in the virtual spaces and lose their connection to the real world. In particular, it should be used carefully for entertainment services for young people.

On the other hand, there is a possibility that it could help make economic activities more efficient.

A service has been launched to create a housing exhibition hall in a virtual space. Visitors can tour the hall and be briefed at the same time. Office applications, such as online meetings, are also promising. There reportedly are also attempts to replicate construction sites in virtual spaces to improve productivity and safety.

It can be said that the utilization of the metaverse is still in the exploratory stage. It is hoped that the government and related companies will determine the scope and target of appropriate use.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Aug. 12, 2022)