Are we ready for crime in the metaverse?

Photo by Belinda Fewings on Unsplash

Grog slowly creeped through the heavy underbrush. The embers of the dying fire just enough to see the outline of Gork sleeping soundly, a low snore. It was the dead of night and Grog had planned this feat for days. He needed that stone axe. Besides, Gork was mean when he weilded it. As he closed in on Gork, he saw the axe lying by the fire. Gork had been lazy thought Grog. With a swift movement, his arm quick as striking cobra, he snatched the stone axe and slithered, grinning, into the dark of the night.

This may or may not have happened. There was no speedy crime report coming out via tweet from the local sheriffs office a few hundred thousand years ago. But there was undoubtedly theft of personal items. Crime has been a part of our human existence for a very long time indeed.

It is already a significant part of our digital world today. From ransomware attacks on individuals, governments, hopsitals, large corporations and even faith organisations. No one it seems, is immune. So one can logically think that there will be crime in the multiverse or multiverses.

Will we have a multiverse police force that can move between worlds, investigating and fighting crime? One can assume that some people will form their own worlds within the multiverse and establish their own rules. Perhaps there will be multiverse pirates who’ll create their own “islands” like the pirates and buccaneers of the 16th and 17th centuries where they hide away and scheme, maybe run by a Johnny Depp avatar?

While I jest somewhat, it is a likely reality. Human behaviours are fairly predictable and established. Cultures may shift and change, but behaviours are behaviours, varying in degrees and by culture. There are real risks that fraud, theft and abusive behaviours will be present. Cryptocurrency may be stolen, perhaps there will be art thieves who steal NFT’s and creative works? Some may game Social Tokens for their own selfish and greedy desires.

While there is hopeful talk of a fully decentralized multiverse, this is only partly possible. The multiverses require a lot of processing power and energy in real-world data centres. Those must operate at scale and will be owned by existing centralized providers like Amazon, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft etc. Then there are the infrastructure companies such as Verizon, AT&T, Bell and others that must run and manage the cables, routers, switches and other boring stuff that makes things connect and work. So decentralization is only possible to a degree. Will it be the responsibility of these companies to police the metaverse? They’re struggling to do so today with cybercrime. Will government regulations need to be put in place? How will privacy be managed?

These are not impossible, but we know enough about digital technologies today to know that there is good and bad. Always. Perhaps the cybersecurity firms of today will offer metaverse-specific crime fighting services? If something is stolen in the metaverse, how can punishment be sought? Those committing the crimes may and likely will be, located in foreign countries. That’s if they can be caught.

It is hopeful to think of the metaverse as a place where only good humans will go. That is nieve at best. Such hopes have never been realized throughout the history of humanity. Some forethought and planning ahead of time may find some interesting answers and solutions. But if history is our guide to how we launch new technologies into society, it is unlikely.

As Mark Twain purportedly said, “history doesn’t repeat, but it often rhymes.”

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Giles Crouch | Digital Anthropologist

Giles Crouch | Digital Anthropologist

Digital / Cultural Anthropologist | Featured in Wired, National Geographic & Forbes | Celt | Explorer | Intensely Curious