The great revolution of the coming years already has a name: the metaverse. Latin America must get on the train at the right time and place so that it is not pushed to the periphery of the new map, as has happened many times in the past.
If in the field of material production the first industrial revolution can be distinguished from the second, in the field of digital production as well. It is worth distinguishing different phases: the first digitization in the 50s and 60s of the 20th century, the conception of the Internet in the 70s and 80s, massification from the 90s to the mid-2000s, and the boom of smartphones, social network and e-commerce in the last fifteen years.
In this framework, the metaverse probably inaugurates the entry into a much more transformed phase of our way of life. The metaverse is a fusion of the real world with the virtual world, far beyond what we know today. If until now we have incorporated some virtual applications into our material universe, the metaverse will consist of the opposite process: we will be the ones who will integrate into the multidimensional virtual spaces of augmented reality.
The challenges are countless, and going through some of those facing Latin America will give us an idea of the dimension of the topic and, therefore, of the dimension of the efforts that the countries of the region must make if they do not want to be relegated to the periphery of the universe.virtual.
The development of the metaverse is currently in private hands, and it seems that it will continue to be so. These are companies that will be even more powerful both in terms of their economic power and in terms of the quantity and quality of information they will deal with about citizens, other companies and the states themselves, with a great capacity to influence their governments, agencies, civil organizations and others. actors and public decision-making bodies.
It is common knowledge what happened in Latin America in the 1980s, when large transnational private conglomerates were encouraged to operate under minimal government regulation. It is known, therefore, that regulation is essential. And not only for Latin America: Europe itself is already facing the challenge of enacting laws on the metaverse. In fact, the initiative is not taken by individual countries, but by the European Union. The sooner the regional integration mechanisms of Latin America take note of this, the better.
The power of the companies that run the metaverse is just one of many areas that will require legislation. Because they are not the only ones who will be able to use and possibly abuse their advantages. And it is impossible to predict the possibilities that the metaverse will open, for example, in the field of politics: will virtual political parties be created? Will it appeal to a virtual audience? Will there be deliberative processes in multidimensional spaces? Or maybe hologram candidates, driven by algorithms? From the point of view of citizens, how will their identity be protected if their (semi)virtual character enables hacking of their own body and remote change of will? What forms of virtual citizenship will they be entitled to?
Who will be excluded from such citizenship and based on what criteria? How will questions be articulated in the virtual space, which in the material world can’t even be arranged correctly?
It is to be expected that Latin America is not (at least initially) at the forefront of innovation, due to a simple technological problem.
Consequently, they will have to import both technology and the rules governing it from leading countries, and will have to adapt these rules to their circumstances. Will European, American, Chinese or Russian principles be valid as the ethical, moral and legal basis of the Latin American virtual society?
The problem is no less: condemnation of the spiritual, ideological and intellectual colonialism of the West (as the center) in Latin America (as the periphery) has marked the regional discourse for decades. It would be bad if in the future, despite the warning, Latin America again imports and imitates foreign ethical and legal codes of those who give up after a while with a victimistic tone.
In terms of national and regional politics, the metaverse is expected to create a large number of jobs. But this will be done in the countries where the development companies choose to locate: what in the jargon are called meta countries, “meta countries”. What will be the first Latin American metastate?
Will this new opportunity generate any cooperation or competition between countries in the region? On the other hand, while these jobs are opening up, mostly for software engineers, technology is likely to eliminate traditional jobs. How are Latin American countries preparing to face it? As far as international politics is concerned, the metaverse will throw us into virtuality, but the data that gives it content circulates through physical cables.
They are huge arteries stretched over the seabed, which in the depths of the ocean reflect the geopolitical dynamics of the continent. The logic has been known since ancient times: controlling the passage of a strategic route is an invaluable source of geostrategic power. There are many examples: the Bosphorus and Dardanelles straits for the transition from the Mediterranean to the Black Sea; modern canals, such as the Suez Canal or the Panama Canal in Latin America.
The same is true for the data pipelines that carry digital information from one end of the world to the other. The competition is ongoing and multidimensional, like the metaverse itself: which private company builds them, which country is behind it, for what reasons they open or close the byte border, what capacity each country has to continue functioning if a rival country blocks the pipes in its possession . And there is more, because piracy, older than the Bosphorus, has its own adaptation to the digital context: submarine cables are geostrategically sensitive infrastructure, subject to the risk of espionage and sabotage.
Latin America has to make decisions, but it does not have the scientific, technological and economic strength to lay its own cables. Which companies will you trust to deploy fiber to keep you connected? What guarantees will you have to ensure the privacy of citizens and the state? The metaverse is approaching at full speed. There is no time to waste. What Ortega y Gasset ordered to the Argentinians, is now ordered to the rulers of the entire region: Latin Americans, things.
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