- 10:56 - Second big use case is education, and so I’m doing a lot of work with school principals at the moment, who are so important in this story, Joe, because it’s the young ones who are the predominant users of [the metaverse]. The parents have got no idea that it even exists.
- 13:10 - We’ve already seen some of the hugely controversial problems that the tech giants have around social media and their, in my view, irresponsibility around keeping people safe in Web 2.0. Put that in a fully immersive way at scale with no policing, no rules, no regulations and governance, and there are going to be some very, very dangerous and risky things happening in the metaverse.
- 20:17 - So, we might see the bifurcation of humanity […] And I’m going to predict now this is a bifurcation into those who are interested in and want transhumanism, where we become enmeshed with our digital selves, and then the others that I call organic experiences.
In this VISION by Protiviti podcast, Joe Kornik, Editor-in-Chief of VISION by Protiviti, is joined by Dr. Catriona Wallace, Founder of the Responsible Metaverse Alliance and a specialist in the fields of AI, the metaverse and the responsible use of technology. Dr. Wallace, author of the 2022 book Checkmate Humanity: The how and why of responsible AI, has been recognized by The Australian Financial Review as the most influential woman in business and entrepreneurship. She is also an international advisor on Interpol’s Metaverse Expert Group focused on policing in the metaverse, an adjunct professor at the University of New South Wales and co-author of the newly published whitepaper The Metaverse and Standards.
Checkmate humanity: Responsible Metaverse Alliance founder talks ethics, safety and governance
Joe Kornik: Welcome to the VISION by Protiviti podcast, where we explore big themes that will impact the C-suite and executive boardrooms worldwide, and today, we’re going into the metaverse. I’m Joe Kornik, Editor-in-Chief of VISION by Protiviti and I’m happy to be joined by Dr. Catriona Wallace, founder of the Responsible Metaverse Alliance. Dr. Wallace is a specialist in the fields of AI, the metaverse, and the responsible use of technology and has been recognized by the Australian Financial Review as the most influential woman in business and entrepreneurship. She is an international advisor on Interpol’s metaverse expert group, focused on policing in the metaverse, and also an adjunct professor at the University of New South Wales and co-author of the 2022 book “Checkmate Humanity: The How and Why of Responsible AI.” Dr. Wallace, thank you so much for joining me today.
Catriona Wallace: It’s such a pleasure, Joe.
Kornik: So, Catriona, why don’t you start by telling us a little bit about you, your background, and what led you to sort of founding the Responsible Metaverse Alliance?
Wallace: Yes. Well, there’s a couple of streams to the work I do. So, one is as an entrepreneur and I have built a number of companies, but specifically in the artificial intelligence field. So, I was one of Australia’s first AI startup founders, but ended up running the business I head, a machine learning company out of New York for four or five years, and then sold that business in 2020. At that stage, I had experienced selling to large multinational companies, selling AI to them, and recognized that they were not particularly aware of ethics and responsible technology strategy. So, I started to work in responsible AI and just published a book called “Checkmate Humanity: The How and Why of Responsible AI,” and then the world changed. The world’s changed for us, I think, twice, Joe, in the last year. Once was when Zuckerberg announced that Meta was investing $10 billion in building the metaverse, and the second time was the OpenAI’s announcement of ChatGPT. And so at the time when Zuckerberg announced Meta was changing their name and he was investing in building the metaverse was the time I knew I needed to switch out of AI into metaverse and build an alliance that was an international movement to hold the tech giants accountable for doing responsible tech rather than… and the pretty difficult experiences we’ve had with Web 2.0.
Kornik: Why don’t you talk to us a little bit about the Responsible Metaverse Alliance, what it does, what its goals are, why you sort of founded it? I think you’ve touched on it a little bit there, but if you could expand on sort of its main goals and why it exists.
Wallace: Yes. So, our focus is to work with policymakers around the world. So, this would be politicians, government leaders, regulators, legislators, to get ahead of the metaverse coming when it’s mainstream. So, we think in three to five years, the metaverse will be a very predominant way that we are interacting as humans in work and life, and then within 10 years it will be a mainstream way that humans do things. So, we’ve learned a lot from Web 2.0 and social media that regulation and legislation was way behind this era of technology, which is from 2004 to now is Web 2.0, and now with Web 3 and metaverse coming, there’s a number of us around the world who experienced that first big move into Web 2.0 and saw all of the pretty atrocious things that that technology brought with this. Also acknowledging the very good things it brought, but we know that there’s been a lot of dangers and harm caused to, particularly women, children, and the vulnerable. So, this time, we want to be ahead of the game and educate policymakers, because we do know, Joe, that most government people are not really super technology-oriented and government tends to be about five years behind where the tech companies are.
Kornik: Right, and you had mentioned early on that you’ve got your background in AI, but you sort of used Facebook’s name change, right, Meta, as a way to sort of leap into, essentially move over to the metaverse. So, how do you sort of see the role of AI in the metaverse and do you sort of see them as intertwined so tightly to the point where they’re essentially one and the same?
Wallace: So, AI is one of the foundational components of metaverse. So, let’s look at what we describe the metaverse as. So, the metaverse is actually a construct. It’s a concept. It’s actually not a thing itself, and the metaverse was coined, the term, from the 1990’s when Neal Stephenson wrote a book called “Snow Crash” and talked about the concept of metaverse. So, there are different definitions of metaverse, but our definition is that it’s a construct that describes the existence of immersive technologies creating virtual worlds where people come for social interaction, and so that means it includes augmented reality, virtual reality, mixed reality, extended reality, and the core technology sitting underneath that is probably the infrastructure, one of the core technologies is AI. And importantly, now that we’ve had generative AI released to the world, the world literally changed last November again, then we’re going to see a strong use of metaverse-related technology, such as avatars, in augmented or virtual reality pulling or interfacing into ChatGPT with their automated avatars generated from this powerful AI technology.
Kornik: So, you had mentioned earlier that you thought that—you gave us some sort of a timeframe, some three to five years before you think it’s sort of mainstream, and I think it was a decade before you think the metaverse will be really embedded into our daily lives. What does that look like? What does that mean to you as far as our personal lives, our work lives? How ubiquitous will the metaverse be? Let’s start with five years, and then move out to maybe 10 years.
Wallace: Yes. So, the best way to think about it is that we now currently have three worlds. So, there is the physical world that we’re in, which is our face-to-face experiences; the digital world that we’re in. So, you and I are in the digital world now and your listeners to this podcast are listening through digital means, but we now have a virtual, the third world. The trick is with this virtual world, people don’t really know it exists, because you need to have some sort of equipment normally to access it. So, that would be a virtual reality or augmented reality headset to get into the fully immersive experience, but if you do have a headset, then you know that this world is extremely well-developed. So, there are—if we think of even the children, so Roblox is an early metaverse for children. Now, it is 50 million users of children under the age of 16 on a monthly basis of that platform. The metaverse itself across all the virtual worlds—and we believe there’s something like 160 virtual worlds now that we would put in the metaverse construct—is around 470 million users is the estimate of that. So, it’s here. We’ve got big brands.
So, a lot of the big fashion labels—Gucci, Prada, Ralph Lauren, a number of… Nike—like all of these brands are now positioning in the metaverse in what we call a “phygital” way, which is physical and digital, or that probably should be “phyrtual,” physical and virtual, but that actually sounds terrible, where they are partnering with organizations like, I think, Gucci has a partnership with Roblox, selling their NFT-related products in the virtual world. Huge opportunities for businesses to rebrand and position. Huge opportunities for brands to be selling NFT, non-fungible tokens. So, again non-fungible token, fungible means replaceable, non-fungible means it’s not replaceable. So, they’re unique digital assets. So, I know that Nike at the moment can sell a physical shoe and then an NFT shoe that a person can wear in the metaverse. So, we expect within three years that most of the big brands will have a presence in the metaverse, and within 10 years, you and I won’t be doing the podcasts in a digital form, we’ll be doing it in a virtual form. In fact, I’m already doing a podcast in the metaverse, which is called “Metaverse: What Matters?” about a woman out of London. So, I’m assuming she’s in London in the metaverse, and we’re doing this podcast. So, it will be invasive and I believe things will change in the next 12 months when Apple—we expect them to release their augmented reality software and hardware, and then things will shift again.
Kornik: Right, and what is your sort of ultimate vision of what the metaverse could become or what it should be when you think about it through the lens of the Responsible Metaverse Alliance?
Wallace: Yes. So, the happy part of the metaverse would be that it is a highly accessible place, and this is the thing that I love about the metaverse, even though that I’m always kind of like checking on what will go wrong with it, I’m also like a big fan, a huge fan of what is right about it. So, accessibility, Joe. So, if you are able to access a headset, and a headset now in US dollars is as low as $300, so if you can get a headset, then you have access to all sorts of services, and this is what I love for people that perhaps have not been able to buy physical land in the physical world, then you can buy virtual land. And last year, 2022, $1 billion of virtual real estate was sold in the metaverse. So, you can buy virtual land. You can have a virtual home. I also think for people with disability, then this is also an accessible form where they can potentially go and be able-bodied in the metaverse, because they can present as whatever avatar they like. So, we know the top use cases for metaverse are entertainment, and we have examples like Travis Scott, regardless of what we like think about him, did a metaverse concept and had 12.5 million people attend his concert, just sitting with their headsets in their own lounge room, vibing away. Those people would not have been able to access that if it was a physical concept. So, entertainment.<>
Second big use case is education, and so I’m doing a lot of work with school principals at the moment, who are so important in this story, Joe, because it’s the young ones who are the predominant users of it. The parents have got no idea that it even exists. So, the teachers are going to play an important role, and a lot of the schools are now looking to bring virtual reality in as a way to educate the children. So, imagine putting a headset on and walking through the streets of ancient Greece or looking at the stars and understanding the movement of the planets, all in a 3-D immersive environment. Fantastic. Then the third one is about virtual health. So, we’re seeing extraordinary leaps in using virtual and augmented reality for healthcare.
Kornik: Right, and some of those possibilities are being echoed by other experts that we’ve talked to. Education has come up time and time again as we’ve explored this theme with some of the metaverse experts and big thinkers. Really exciting things on the horizon, I think, in that space and others, as you’ve mentioned, healthcare has come up quite a bit. The metaverse sort of in its current state—and you kind of touched on this a little bit, right? So, the metaverse for all, or equity is a big sort of—I know it’s a big, key pillar of the metaverse and sort of the platform. In its current state, it transcends borders, countries, and governments—I mean, sort of—and regulators. So, I guess I’d ask you, is that a good thing? Do you think that we need more oversight and regulation in the metaverse?
Wallace: So, I think the fact that you’re absolutely right, that there are no state boundaries, national boundaries, international boundaries in the metaverse, because it’s a completely different jurisdictional concept, is extremely worrying, because let’s think about it, Joe. Who is building the metaverse worlds, the virtual worlds? It’s predominantly the tech giants, or young startups who are building various types of applications with the metaverse. So, we have now a new world that is essentially ungoverned, no rules, no regulations, very few standards, and I think that’s an extremely dangerous place for humans to be in. We’ve already seen some of the hugely controversial problems that the tech giants have around social media and their, in my view, irresponsibility around keeping people safe in Web 2.0. Put that in a fully immersive way at scale with no policing, no rules, no regulations and governance, and there are going to be some very, very dangerous and risky things happening in the metaverse.
Kornik: It’s interesting that you mentioned policing. I understand that you were asked to sort of be an international advisor on Interpol’s metaverse expert group, which will be handling sort of international policing in the metaverse, which I think is a fascinating topic. Can you talk to us a little bit about that and tell us a little bit about that role that you’re undertaking?
Wallace: Yes. So, it’s a very brand-new initiative from Interpol, which I think is fantastic. So, it’s the Interpol metaverse experts group, so bringing here the international experts to sit on a group to acknowledge that the metaverse is the next big shift in technology and how will it be policed? So, I’ve just started on that path with Interpol, but also I’m working very closely in Australia with the Australian federal police, and also with New Zealand. So, we’re about to launch a policing think tank. So, we’ll do two think tanks which will be—first one will be let’s identify the crimes in the metaverse that can occur, because, I don’t know, who has a comprehensive list of these? And what we’ll see is the crimes that are in the physical world and the digital world will also probably exist in the virtual world, but then there’ll be new potential crimes that we haven't even thought about, and I’ll give you an example of this.
So, in talking to the federal police, they’re aware now that on the dark web, there are bad actors who are using avatars, potentially pulling from AI generated content, to groom children to get children to perform explicit sexual acts that are then recorded, and then these bad actors extort money from the children, and so the metaverse-related technology is very powerful in the hands of bad actors, and particularly for the vulnerable, which, at this stage, are children mostly. So, these are some important things. We also see the virtual world as a place for potential organized crime and organized terrorism when those groups have been counted in the physical and the digital world, but here’s a whole new environment and world for organized crime and terrorism, and extremist rightwing groups, for example, to set up again. The New Zealand Government is right on this in educating all their policymakers around metaverse, because of course, they have a group called “Christchurch Call,” which is put together after the Christchurch massacre, and if you remember the terrible massacre that happened in Christchurch was livestreamed through social media platforms and so New Zealand is right on that that that never happened again; so brought through this extreme violence. So, that’s kind of the worst-case scenario and with no—as we’ve mentioned before, no governance, no policing, then this could be an area where all of this happens.
We do know the worst that we could possibly imagine, including, as I’ve mentioned, extortion of children can and possibly will happen in the metaverse. So, in order to counter that, we actually have to hold the tech giants to account, and that is my life purpose at the moment, Joe, to call out all of the big tech giants and the startups who are in the space that they must be building this in a responsible and a safe way, and at the moment, their business models do not have ethics in them; they’re not driven on that. So, this is a big problem and, yes, we do need regulation—and look, I’m an entrepreneur. I would’ve not wanted regulation when I was a startup entrepreneur. Now, I’ve learned it’s absolutely imperative that this new world is regulated.
Kornik: So, what steps is the Responsible Metaverse Alliance taking? Are you making inroads? Have you had much success with governments or politicians or business leaders on this? Is there some consensus? Are we reaching a consensus of opinion about this?
Wallace: Yes, we are. So, what I’ve been very, very impressed with is that there are a number, and particularly in this part of the world that I’m in, human rights commissioner, e-safety commissioner, information commissioner, intellectual property commissioners, all the police—the federal police, state police, Department of Home Affairs, Department of Internal Affairs across New Zealand and Australia are very, very active in this space. So, they get it and now they want to do something about it, agitating for regulation. But what is really interesting, Joe, it has been more those who are interested in serious crime who’ve come out to say, “We need to get onto this.” I’m very impressed with that.
And so we’ll be running these policing think tanks with the view that later in the year we hold a global think tank on policing in the metaverse. We’re also going to hold educators in the metaverse, and we’ll do that again. We’ll do it locally in this part of the world, then we’ll set it up into international, because I think that the teachers and principals of schools are going to be big participants and hugely influential. We’ve also partnered with a company called the Gradient Institute to write the New South Wales Government’s metaverse strategy. So, we’ve got governments actually starting to write strategy and build their capability. And I think that’s an important note, Joe. In this government strategy we wrote, we recommended services for the government to put in the metaverse, but mostly we talked about governments need to become metaverse-ready. They need to get their capabilities built, so that in three to five years’ time, they’re not caught by surprise at this massive virtual world that everyone’s in and they’re even further behind than they already are.
Kornik: I have one more question. You’ve been very generous with your time, and you’ve kind of touched on this throughout the course of our conversation, but I just was curious if you could sort of take a look out to like 2035, let’s say, that’s quite even more than a decade, and just talk to me about what you see, where the metaverse will be, and really what I’m trying to get at is will we be better off? Will we live in a better world in 2035 because of the metaverse?
Wallace: Yes. Well, the truth is, Joe, we don’t know. We really don’t know. But let’s look at sort of if it all went well and there was good regulation and the tech giants were held to account, and it all went well. Then I think we’re living in a fabulous time. So, the metaverse would be just the way that you and I get up in the morning. We put on our goggles. We do a yoga app. We do an exercise app. The children may not need to physically go to school, like, they go into their virtual worlds and be learning virtually. Your child is six, so you get a virtual consultation from the doctor, and this is all rich and really, really good for humans. So all of the things we talked about—accessibility, convenience, all of those things come with new beautiful services that really help humanity. So, that in 2035 would be the best-case scenario and that we—and also like the headsets and stuff are really cumbersome, heavy, and uncomfortable now, but we’ll have contact lenses that we just pop in our eye that have the mixed reality on it, and we will have—it’s most likely mixed reality is what's going to come, which is when there’s just a layer of the virtual augmented reality over our physical world, and our physical world mixed with the virtual world become really, really intertwined and in a beautiful and constructive way. And hopefully, we use this technology to help solve environmental crises, to help solve issues with humans, help solve war, all of these things are possible. So, that’s my hope, but I’m not sure that we’ve got the foundations yet in place.
So, also in 2035, what we’ve got to realize now is that we’re in the first stages of what we call “transhumanism.” So, transhumanism, to me, is the next real evolution of humanity, and that’s when we start to see technology embedded in our bodies, and so the metaverse, if we think about it, it’s wearing potentially haptic suit, which is a physical suit that you wear that gives you the sensations of what you’re experiencing, the augmented reality, virtual reality, contact lens with augmented reality in it, very soon then we’ll have this technology embedded in our bodies. So, Elon Musk is working on Neuralink, which is a brain chip, which essentially then communicates with your computer. We have prosthetics that are now 3-D printed and AI-driven. We’ve got a lot of things where we now are going to see the software embedded in our bodies. For me, Joe, I’m actually super excited about it. I would love an ear piece for my mobile friends. They’re not fussing around with them headsets all the time. I would tomorrow, if I could, have an earpiece embedded in my ear, like I’m all for that.
So, we might see the bifurcation of humanity, because we know that as species, we would go extinct if it doesn’t bifurcate, right? And I’m going to predict now this is a bifurcation into those who are interested in and want transhumanism where we become inmeshed with our digital selves, and then the others that I call organic experiences. So, I live half my time in Byron Bay, which is like the consciousness community of Australia, and they would go, “No way. Like, no, we don’t want anything to do with technology.” So, I think there’ll be these two paths that emerge and both paths need to support each other, but again by 2035, we will be willing to trans—being transhumans.
Kornik: Wow. Well, that’s a bold prediction and certainly thank you for that. I asked you to think big and you certainly delivered. So, thank you so much, Dr. Catriona Wallace and thank you for your time today on the podcast.
Wallace: Thank you, Joe.
Kornik: Thank you for listening to the VISION by Protiviti podcast. Please rate and subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts and please check out our metaverse content at vision.protiviti.com. On behalf of Dr. Catriona Wallace, I’m Joe Kornik. Thanks for listening. We’ll see you next time.
Dr. Catriona Wallace is an entrepreneur and specialist in the fields of artificial intelligence, the metaverse and the responsible use of technology. Catriona has been recognized by The Australian Financial Review as the most influential woman in business and entrepreneurship, and by the Royal Institution of Australia as a pre-eminent scientist. Dr. Wallace is the Founder of the Responsible Metaverse Alliance, a Director of the Gradient Institute, Chair of VC fund Boab AI, and a Co-Chair of Sir Richard Branson’s B Team’s AI Coalition. Dr Wallace is also ddjunct professor at University of New South Wales and co-author of the 2022 book, Checkmate Humanity: The how and why of responsible AI.