The promise and pitfalls of the metaverse for science

Paper by Diego Gómez-Zará, Peter Schiffer & Dashun Wang: “The future of the metaverse remains uncertain and continues to evolve, as was the case for many technological advances of the past. Now is the time for scientists, policymakers and research institutions to start considering actions to capture the potential of the metaverse and take concrete steps to avoid its pitfalls. Proactive investments in the form of competitive grants, internal agency efforts and infrastructure building should be considered, supporting innovation and adaptation to the future in which the metaverse may be more pervasive in society.

Government agencies and other research funders could also have a critical role in funding and promoting interoperability and shared protocols among different metaverse technologies and environments. These aspects will help the scientific research community to ensure broad adoption and reproducibility. For example, government research agencies may create an open and publicly accessible metaverse platform with open-source code and standard protocols that can be translated to commercial platforms as needed. In the USA, an agency such as the National Institute of Standards and Technology could set standards for protocols that are suitable for the research enterprise or, alternatively, an international convention could set global standards. Similarly, an agency such as the National Institutes of Health could leverage its extensive portfolio of behavioural research and build and maintain a metaverse for human subjects studies. Within such an ecosystem, researchers could develop and implement their own research protocols with appropriate protections, standardized and reproducible conditions, and secure data management. A publicly sponsored research-focused metaverse — which could be cross-compatible with commercial platforms — may create and capture substantial value for science, from augmenting scientific productivity to protecting research integrity.

There are important precedents for this sort of action in that governments and universities have built open repositories for data in fields such as astronomy and crystallography, and both the US National Science Foundation and the US Department of Energy have built and maintained high-performance computing environments that are available to the broader research community. Such efforts could be replicated and adapted for emerging metaverse technologies, which would be especially beneficial for under-resourced institutions to access and leverage common resources. Critically, the encouragement of private sector innovation and the development of public–private alliances must be balanced with the need for interoperability, openness and accessibility to the broader research community…(More)”.