Elon University

One of 24 Metaverse Summit question-answer sets: Sibley Verbeck shares his thoughts on the networked future

This page contains one of a set of 24 transcripts including remarks made by interview participants at the Metaverse Roadmap Summit at Stanford Research Institute in May 2006. Each person was asked a series of five questions regarding the future; only the most “telling” responses were transferred from the recordings into these transcripts, thus, some of these interviews will include five question-answer sets, some will have four or fewer.

To jump to another interviewee’s set of answers, click on the person’s name below.

Bridget Agabra Randy Farmer Jerry Paffendorf
Betsy Book Guy Garnett Marty Poulin
Corey Bridges Will Harvey Robert Scoble
Iveta Brigis Daniel James John Smart
Jamais Cascio Raph Koster David Smith
Helen Cheng Mike Liebhold Sibley Verbeck
Esther Dyson Julian Lombardi Malcolm Williamson
Doug Engelbart Bob Moore Ethan Zuckerman

  >> Return to Metaverse interviews lead page for links to recordings of these comments

Verbeck HeadshotSibley Verbeck is founder and CEO of The Electric Sheep Company. A former chief scientist of StreamSage Inc. and Comcast Online, he is a leading researcher in advanced computational linguistic and statistical techniques for analyzing audio, video, and text. In 2003 he was selected as one of MIT Technology Review’s top 100 technology innovators worldwide under the age of 35. He has been an invited presenter at conferences ranging across Internet infrastructure, digital television, scientific publication, and undergraduate science education.

What is your most fervent hope for the future of networked technologies? I think the great opportunity is that this technology really makes globalization small-business-friendly. The world of Thomas Friedman looks like the Himalayas compared to the metaverse. That’s when the world really gets flat – when you’re an individual who can provide a service or a creative good instantly for anyone else in the rest of the world with the income or the need or the disposable income to pay for it and you don’t have to through large corporations to participate in the globally interdependent economy. So this is going to be the first digital divide that I think really matters where people who do not have access are really almost going to be on a separate planet from those who do. That’s a scary thought and incredibly important.

What technology will have the greatest impact on our everyday lives the next 10 years? If you take the rate of technological growth in the year 2000, then this century will see 20,000 years worth of progress at that rate. You first have to blow someone’s mind with the degree of change before then you can come back and say here are some of the changes coming or else you immediately get the flying car argument. Which is true, right? We thought 50 years ago we’d have flying cars now, we’re not that close to it. Individual predictions can be wildly wrong, but we really understand the pace of change and we think a lot of things have changed the last 20 years, but that’s nothing compared to what’s going to happen.

What do you think policymakers should do to ensure a positive future for networked technologies? The first thing is this has to be open – the metaverse in general has to be open – in the way that we have successfully been very open about a lot of the internet technologies, so that we haven’t taxed them in certain ways or have discouraged the pay-per-use model … I can’t imagine policies that would prevent that, almost, in this metaverse, but here’s what I would say: Obviously our institutions tracking ownership, for example, in the western world is very important for economies, and one of the reasons it’s hard to start free-market economies successfully very quickly in other parts of the world that don’t have them. And so somehow when individual people are working for employers who are in another nation-state that has employees all around the world and their income is coming to them in a virtual currency that is not tied to a particular government or nation-state, and they are creating intellectual property that exists within a virtual world – again, not uniquely hosted in a given country – because of this whole awesome all-geographical and, to some degree geopolitical control – it’s going to be very important that we do establish owership of IP rights of anything but also ways to have taxation and participation and the other structures of our economy in a way that is very cross-national. That seems extraordinarily difficult, but it’s going to have to happen. The only alternative – because all of these cross-national dynamics are going to happen – is that everything sinks to the lowest common denominator so you’re not able to track much or tax much and things like that. That’s the quandary.

Looking out more than 10 years, what development will have the greatest impact on society? It’s very easy to point to human-like AI. Obviously science fiction writers have been writing about it for decades if not far longer, so it’s almost cheesy to say that. But we are at least getting to the point where we can see the path for computing technology to – it may not act like humans per se, but – to have many, many of the hard and soft skills that humans have. If you had to pick one technology that represents the Singularity – the boundary after which we can’t really see what human civilization is going to be like – you’d almost surely pick that one over others. It’s a cloud; it’s opaque; it’s hard to see how that’s going to transform us, and the reality is it’s only two or three at most decades off – it’s not 70 years off.

[Return to top of this page]