Although this is not the usual view, the world can be seen as three spheres that compete with each other. We revolve around the United States (this includes Europe and others). Another revolves around China. And a third revolves around everything digital.
The control and domination of the latter sphere is subject to a major struggle, both from within – for example, big business against political power, even in China – and from outside in the major rivalry between the great superpowers or civilizations.
In other words, there are two physical spheres or worlds, made up of atoms and geography (including outer space) plus a virtual one – although, to paraphrase Hegel, the virtual does not cancel out the real. . This is a view that is gaining ground and is championed, for example, by the Center for the Study of Digital Life (CSDL), led by technology guru Mark Stahlman.
According to Stahlman, we are not so much âcitizens of the worldâ as inhabitants of potentially conflicting spheres, all of which are global in scope.
This is something completely new in the history of mankind, because the different civilizations will have to clash not only but also a sphere, the digital sphere, which has penetrated the others.
These spheres are not immune to reciprocal influences. They are and will remain interdependent, certainly in economic and financial terms. This is evidenced by the crises that hit the Chinese real estate giant Evergrande and the supply of natural gas with global fallout.
The competition between the two physical spheres wrongly follows a partly military logic. This has become very evident with the AUKUS partnership to provide Australia with nuclear-powered submarines extending to cybersecurity, artificial intelligence and quantum communication. This strengthens cooperation between the three English-speaking allies (perhaps an English-speaking sub-sphere?).
Openly military cooperation should not, however, predominate, as demonstrated by the recent Quad country meeting involving the United States, Japan, Australia and India, another manifestation of a sub-sphere.
The digital sphere
The third sphere, that of digital (which can extend to other fields, for example biology with the passage of genetic engineering from large companies to private garages) is probably better understood not so much in liquid as in gaseous form.
Basically, we are witnessing the birth of a so-called metaverse, in which almost all of us are going to be involved and can come to concern almost anything human. Metaverse (“meta-universe”) is a phrase that has found currency in Silicon Valley.
It has been around for quite some time, having been invented in 1992 (before the explosion of the Internet and the mobiles connected to it) by Neal Stephenson in his sci-fi novel Snow Crash.
It designates a confluence or convergence between physical reality, virtual reality and augmented reality, all sprinkled with artificial intelligence.
The growing influence of the metaverse
Virtual reality is one that is created only in the digital world, like the Fortnite video game, with its global reach. Augmented reality is about adding digital elements to physical reality, although visualized on a screen. Examples include the worldwide game of PokÃ©mon and the use of helmets.
In 2020, Matthew Ball, a venture capitalist, identified some characteristics of the metaverse. It must encompass the physical and virtual worlds, contain a fully functional economy and offer “unprecedented interoperability”
Users should be able to transfer their avatars and resources from one part of the metaverse to another, regardless of who controls which particular part.
Indeed, many large companies – and not just the big American tech companies but also the Japanese company Sony – for example, are investing heavily in building this metaverse. They must be on to something.
A big tech heavyweight like Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook who wanted to turn the world into a vast community under his social network, now sees the metaverse as a universal alternate reality, a “holy grail of social interactions”, who, according to him, become a reality by 2025.
Possible futures for Internet 2.0 are thus outlined, a convergence of physical, augmented and virtual reality in a shared online space. According to Zuckerberg, no company will control the metaverse. On the contrary, it will be managed by many in a decentralized manner. Will those who run the other two spheres allow it?
The question is not only whether the metaverse is controllable but whether it is governable. Or if we are moving towards a digital sphere that permeates everything but no political power is able to dominate and where companies and multiple actors resist attempts to cut their wings.
China is trying to do just that with a series of measures aimed at using political power to control the nascent metaverse, from which it will not be immune.
But even the Chinese regime, with all its levers, cannot be sure that it will not be overwhelmed by an anarchic and ungovernable metaverse by the public authorities, or, in a broader sense, by a lawless digital sphere.
The two physical, geographic and cultural spheres, East and West, are heading towards a conflict that is not necessarily military. It presents a new type of war quite distinct from the classical war and the so-called cold war between the West and the Soviet Union.
In any event, without in-depth knowledge of the impact of the third sphere on the other two, that of digital on those of civilizations – Eastern and Western – and without reciprocal knowledge between these civilizations (which are joined by more spheres small, less self-sufficient ones like the EU, India and Russia, to name just three), we will be unable to navigate in the future, warns Stahlman.
In this respect, the East knows the West much better than the reverse. And the Metaverse will know us all.