Jerry Eitel

The metaverse is a fascinating space, and the developments over the past few years have been extraordinary to behold. I spoke with Jerry Eitel, Chief Metaverse Officer at Prager Metis, to talk about some of the ways the metaverse is changing the world.

In 1992 Neal Stephenson published Snow Crash, which is the book largely credited with coining the word “metaverse”.

The trend towards a more digital world has accelerated over the past few years, due to both a variety of political and macroeconomic circumstances, as well as technological innovations.

In the crypto space, the rise of NFTs has complemented online personas with communities being built around collectible “artworks”.

In the space of decentralised finance (DeFi), smart contracts are empowering individuals with the ability to permissionlessly and transparently manage entire asset portfolios, and to do all sorts of things with them (lending, liquidity provision, yield generation, collateralisation…).

One could argue that these are all components of the metaverse; it depends how one defines the word.

Jerry Eitel, Chief Metaverse Officer at Prager Metis

I sat down with Jerry Eitel, Partner Emeritus in the tax department of US law firm Prager Metis and Chief Metaverse Officer, to discuss the commercial opportunities for the metaverse and why we should be optimistic – I also asked him some questions about the potential limitations and risks of the metaverse, and aired some concerns that I had about the metaverse.

This was a fascinating interview with a true expert on the subject, and we covered all manner of topics ranging from regulation, disparity, consciousness, remote work, and more…

Below are excerpts from the interview, which has been redacted for brevity:

Q:

Before we start, I’d like to ask how you first came into the Metaverse space?

A:

I am a Partner Emeritus. I was a tax partner and was going into semi-retirement when a lot of the clients that we had at the firm, who were focused on the entertainment industry, began making music NFTs. There were a lot of people building digital businesses.

The best way to learn is to do, so the managing partner and I decided to open an office in the metaverse to learn how to do this. I was open to the prospect, and we opened an office in Decentraland.

Q:

I saw that, during the lockdown, there were some lecturers in the UK that conducted their lessons at universities in Decentraland. But how does that work functionally? Is your team all wearing headsets and sitting on an AR volcano, or something?

A:

No, we’re not quite at that stage yet. We have an office and we have some NFTs hanging

Q:

What does the role of a Chief Metaverse Officer entail?

A:

There are many things that I do, but basically my role is to bring the firm into the metaverse. A lot of our clients come to us for advice and support, and my role is as the “point man” – I explain the metaverse to them to help them understand what they are buying and how to get involved. Some of our clients are in the entertainment field.

First and foremost, I am a tax specialist. I have 40 years of experience in real estate taxation, and it’s really useful knowledge because there are huge similarities in the digital space, the regulation is just more unclear.

Q:

Is it worth building one’s own metaverse? How scarce is digital real estate?

A:

To go out and build your own metaverse is insanity, unless you have a lot of money.

I think there is scarcity, even if it sounds absurd, because it is really hard to go out and do this. Decentraland has been around forever and established themselves with a strong community. Sandbox has its own community – Snoop Dogg is there. It’s extremely difficult to replicate.

We’ve been approached by a group of producers in the music industry and they were thinking about going out and building a metaverse for specific musicians but it’s a pretty big undertaking. Digital land is scarcer than you think.

Q:

Does location matter in the metaverse?

A:

Generally, you can choose to go wherever you want at the click of a button, but aside from that you can build your own neighbourhood. We built an area called The Drip Society – a virtual sneakers store. I think we have 14 parcels there. You can almost gentrify your own neighbourhood, so the land around you become a little more valuable. It’s very similar to real estate.

Q:

What is the limit of human experience in this?

A:

Decentraland opened the world’s first ATM machine in the metaverse – you can go and buy crypto there. I think we’ll end up with a combination of the real world and digital commerce. People can join clubs and build communities.

I like to say that Decentraland is a community of communities. There’s a lot of good social stuff going on, the metaverse can be very empowering for people.

There’s also bad, but I think in terms of the commerce and decentralisation, it’s pretty healthy – DAOs are becoming far more popular and that’s fascinating to see.

Q:

Is society ready for this sort of technology? With lockdowns and remote work it seems that people are becoming more detached from one another. Could the metaverse be a catalyst for making people less empathetic?

A:

I definitely think it could. Even in terms of real estate you have digital twins of cities. You can theoretically create another version of yourself, it would all depend on the integration of AI and how powerful the AI is.

What happens if we’re holograms and the technology is super good?

Q:

I suppose even in that instance we’d know that there’d be a reduced threat of physical violence, so people may still be inclined to push the boundaries more.

A:

Theoretically, you could have a dystopian society where people have a device on their bodies where they can experience pain.

I do agree that there’s a certain degree of detachment that comes with lockdowns, but I’m a natural optimist. It seems to me that connection and intimate conversations have become even more important.

Q:

How does the metaverse affect different countries in different stages of development?

A:

It’s interesting. Some of the less developed countries are more into this than the developed. Play-to-earn gaming shows how much more important the digital world is becoming.

You could even be playing for real estate, and that could become valuable. Younger people are much more into this than older people, and in less developed countries you have a lot more young people.

Q:

Are we already in the metaverse?

A:

We’re already there. We could all be on the beach somewhere or on another planet in the metaverse if this is done correctly, but the technology is not even close to being there yet.

Metaverse

Q:

Some of the original patents for virtual reality headsets are over 50 years old. Why has the technology still not taken off?

A:

Because it sucks! You have to put a headset on. The technology and the user experience have a long way to go. When you wear it you get nauseous, have headaches, etc.

We won’t reach the full potential of the metaverse until the technology is completely seamless. Still, it’s pretty amazing what you can do with it in terms of medicine and education.

Q:

How big could the metaverse become?

A:

This is all about society. If your brain is on some digital file you might not die – you might not have a choice. There was some news the other day that Google made a computer that’s sentient.

I don’t even think I’m sentient sometimes! Consciousness is crazy, really.

Q:

There are scientists at Cambridge who are mapping consciousness. I suppose if you could do that and somehow store it on a blockchain you could be immortal?

A:

I think it all depends on the amount of data that can be stored. Once they start mapping everything, there aren’t many limits to what can be achieved.

Q:

One of the core ideas of Web3 is that you own your own digital assets. Stani Kulechov from Aave is developing Lens Protocol now, and the idea is that you can own your own data. Do you think that there is hope for this sort of thing, or does it always run the risk of being too centralised?

A:

It’s difficult because there’s so many strong egos floating around and there’s too many sheep. Honestly, I’m a very optimistic person, but at the same time you just need to look at what’s going on.

Q:

How is government regulation affecting the space right now?

A:

There’s definitely going to be regulation, but at the same time they might screw it up. Not just with coins, but also about how to classify an entity and whether or not something is a security.

They complicated it by not being clear enough.

For example, there are some NFTs that promise returns and those are being deemed as securities and delisted from marketplaces like Opensea.

Q:

If the government does crack the whip, can they bring the industry to heel?

A:

Whatever they try to do, they botch it. Nothing is going away because it’s too large now. Are they going to create problems? They’ve been looking the other way, but the cat is now out of the bag.

It’s just too big to stop.

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