“Espionage and the Metaverse” – with Cathy Hackl
Erin Dietrick: Welcome to "SpyCast," the official podcast of the International Spy Museum. I'm Erin Dietrick, your host, Dr. Andrew Hammond's content partner. Coming up next on "SpyCast."
Cathy Hackl: I get a chance to talk to a lot of folks in government. I've been asked to speak, for example, to the Secret Service about, what does the metaverse mean for them as they think about the future? In one question that came up that I thought was fascinating, I had someone asked me, well, will we have to guard the president's avatar?
Erin Dietrick: Cathy Hackl has been dubbed the godmother of the metaverse. She's one of the industry's leading tech futurists and one of the world's first-ever chief metaverse officers. She's the host of the podcast "Marketing the Metaverse" and author of the new book "Into the Metaverse: The Essential Guide to the Business Opportunities of the Web3 Era." Cathy joins Andrew this week to break down what the metaverse is and what the metaverse means for the future of intelligence operations. If you enjoy the show, please tell your friends and loved ones. Please also consider leaving us a five-star review on Apple Podcasts. The original podcast on intelligence since 2006, we are 17 years strong. We are "SpyCast." Now sit back, relax and enjoy the show.
Andrew Hammond: One of the things that I want to try to do today is with your help try to explain to our listeners what the metaverse is and, more importantly for our listeners, how is it going to affect the world of intelligence and espionage? In the research I've done for this interview this morning, it seems like probably in quite profound ways. So I think it would be interesting just to start off, can you just tell us a little bit more about the metaverse? I came across a bunch of different definitions, but there's a good reason why there's not a clear-cut definition. Can you just tell the listeners a little bit more about what you take it to be?
Cathy Hackl: Yeah. So the metaverse right now - it kind of defies definition, right? If you had 10 metaverse experts around the table, each one of them is going to give you a different opinion or a different definition, right? I've been working in metaverse-related industries for almost 10 years. What I'll tell you - what I believe it is, and I think the big consensus around the concept of the metaverse, is that it is the successor state to today's mobile internet - so an internet that is more immersive, more 3D, potentially more social. It is kind of a future that's ahead of us that we're building towards. So the metaverse as an idea and a concept is not here yet.
Cathy Hackl: I think a lot of people - their definition tends to be based on sci fi and based on - they watched "Ready Player One," or they read "Snow Crash." And while the word metaverse does have those origins, of course, from sci fi, it's not really that dystopic future that a lot of people think. And it's not life within a headset. So it's not one specific technology or one specific company. It is the successor state to today's mobile internet. It is enabled by many different technologies, including AI, and I'm sure we can get into that. It's the future of the internet in some ways. That's the easiest way to explain it. And it is really what comes next.
Andrew Hammond: And if you just bear with me for a few questions, Cathy. The people that listen to our podcast vary from people that work on these issues inside the intelligence community through to just the average person on the street that loves a good spy story. So no matter who the listeners are, I like to give them a bridge so that they don't feel like they're being left behind. So can you just tell us the difference between Web 2.0 and Web 3.0? As I understand, it's moving from 2D to 3D. But - there's other things involved, but that's one of the main shifts.
Cathy Hackl: Yeah. So I think it's important to level set in that in that way, too, and take people through the past to understand where we're going in the future. So in Web 1.0 - that's the beginning of the internet - we connected information, and that gave us the internet, right? That changed a lot of things for a lot of people and a lot of companies. What happened next is Web 2.0, where we connected people, right? So that gave us - yeah, it gave us social media, but it also gave us the sharing economy and e-commerce and, really, the tech juggernauts of today.
Cathy Hackl: And we're in this moment right now, this change where we're moving from Web 2.0 to Web3. We're really in, like, Web 2.5, kind of heading towards Web3. But in Web3, you connect people, places and things or people, spaces and assets, and those people, spaces and assets can be in virtual environments, which is where most people believe - where most people think about when they think about the metaverse. But they will also be in the physical world, right? That part hasn't been fully enabled.
Cathy Hackl: So when you think about this way that we're connecting different parts, whether it was information, whether it was people and now people, spaces and things, that's kind of where we're heading. And when you head into this Web3 future - and there is a blockchain component to a Web3 future, in that sense - you start to get into this more immersive internet, right? You can still have the metaverse as the successor state to today's mobile internet. You could still have it without a blockchain component. But they're kind of linked, right? They're very, very linked, especially when we talk about virtual assets. A lot of people use them interchangeably. I do not. I believe they're separate things. They could possibly exist together, but it doesn't mean that they will both - you know, that they both mean the same thing.
Andrew Hammond: I'd like to put a pin in blockchain and come back to that just to explain it a little bit more. But it's quite fascinating to me that the word the metaverse comes from this novel "Snow Crash" by Neil Stephenson in 1992. And it's quite interesting to me that also the word cyberspace, which people are maybe more familiar with, also comes from a novel by William Gibson in the '80 called "Neuromancer." So I just think it's quite interesting the way that fiction is almost anticipating reality. Have you thought about that connection?
Cathy Hackl: Definitely. I am a professionally trained futurist, right? So one of the things I do is think about the future. I did work at Magic Leap, which was a company that - is still around, but at some point many thought it was going to be the next Apple. And when I was there, our chief futurist was Neil Stephenson, who wrote "Snow Crash" and coined the term metaverse.
Cathy Hackl: So definitely it's been - I think sci fi has informed a lot of the tech that Silicon Valley has created in some ways, right? They've had that vision. Sci fi authors had a license to dream in some ways, right? A lot of it is pretty dystopic, but it definitely inspired a lot of the tech founders - right? - that have gone on to create the mobile phone or, you know, AR glasses or whatever it is that they're creating. So definitely think a lot about that and about how science fiction in general has impacted technology today and how it will continue to impact it.
Andrew Hammond: It's quite interesting to me - like, with Web 1.0 and 2.0, what you see is this transformation in the information landscape. The volume and persistence of information just increases exponentially. And the intelligence services have had to deal with that. Some people have said to me that the problem used to be finding the information. Now the problem is not drowning in the information. Help us understand, like, from what you know about, say, just the American intelligence community, what are some of the implications of the metaverse going to be for them? Is it going to be more information, or is it just going to be another plane, another dimension? So we're moving from 2D to 3D - the avatars. Lots of things can take place in these virtual worlds. If at all, how do you see it revolutionizing the way intelligence is gathered?
Cathy Hackl: It's going to have a massive impact. Like, I think the people don't realize that 'cause they - right now they think metaverse, and they think it's a video game, (laughter) right? And the reality is that it's going to be much more than that. And when you hear - when you heard me talk, I talked about the physical-side component of the metaverse, right? That is going to - that hasn't been fully enabled 'cause right now we're still using our mobile phones. But eventually, when the mobile phone is replaced by some other wearable - right? - and it'll potentially be glasses - then you kind of activate the physical-world side of the metaverse. And that's where everyone - someone asked me like, is the metaverse for everyone? It's like, well, yeah, the physical world is for everyone, so the metaverse will be for everyone. So it'll impact lots of folks.
Cathy Hackl: You know, I'm actually based in DC, and I - you know, I get a chance to talk to a lot of folks in government. I've been asked to speak, for example, to the Secret Service about, what does the metaverse mean for them as they think about the future? In one question that came up that I thought was fascinating, I had someone asked me, well, will we have to guard the president's avatar?
Andrew Hammond: (Laughter) I never thought of that.
Cathy Hackl: And I said, absolutely yes. Absolutely yes. I said, you know, just like people right now leave a trail of data on their social media - right? - of where they were, what they did, who they were with, they're creating these identities in these personalities on Roblox, in Fortnite or whatever - whichever game it is that they're playing, right? The president in 30 years is currently playing Fortnite or Roblox. They're going to leave an amount of data of identity, of who they - how they showcase themselves, who they are, right? So, yeah, I said, absolutely yes. You will have to guard their avatar. You will have to guard, for example, their hologram or their volumetric scan.
Cathy Hackl: And I'll give you, like, a real-life use - like, a real-life experience with this. I was very lucky to do a small project with the former chief futurist at the Air Force. And we did a volumetric scan, so a hologram - there's no real light field there - but a hologram of him for this experience that we did where we took a report - a futures report that he had done, and we kind of did a hologram of him and then did virtual reality to showcase four potential futures that obviously haven't happened - right? - because they're potential futures, but we did a hologram of him.
Cathy Hackl: And one of the questions was, like, how do we safeguard this file? How do we protect this file? - because if this file - first of all, this file cannot leave the U.S. And then if it falls into the wrong hands, like, that could be very negative. We'll be - I think lawyers, personally, (laughter) are going to be very busy with anything, you know, regarding everything from deepfake to hologram law to everything. So, yeah, I think deception is going to take a kind of - a totally new direction and new disguise as we head into the future.
Andrew Hammond: You mentioned the Air Force's chief futurist there. Do you know if the intelligence agencies also have futurists?
Cathy Hackl: Yeah. I think most of them do. I think most of them do employ or work with futurists on some shape or form, especially to look at five to 10 years into the future, what are the potential futures? What are the second- and third-order effects, right? What could be the second- and third-order effects of the way generative AI is currently, you know, accelerating at a crazy pace. So, yeah, I think they definitely - they might not have them on staff necessarily, but I think they definitely do work with futurists from time to time to do strategic foresight.
Andrew Hammond: And by second- and third-order effects, you just mean consequences that we can't see just now that are going to come down the line?
Cathy Hackl: Yeah, or connecting the dots - right? - of if this happens, then this - these could be the potential second- or third-order effects, you know? If generative AI does X and becomes - it becomes the - you know, a way of life. So, for example, I read something the other day that said Gen Alpha, which - my kids are all 12 and under - that's called Generation Alpha - so Gen Alpha will probably grow up in a world where generative AI is something that will always, you know - they're not going to remember a world without generative AI, possibly, right? So if you take that as a premise and you say, if this were to be true, what are the second- and third-order effects of that? Potentially, you know, the education system is going to have to change it - so many different things that could potentially happen. What are the effects on the jobs they're going to do? - you know, those sorts of things. So, yeah, it's about looking at all these different things that are happening and trying to connect the dots and make sense and think about, well, if this were to happen, what other ways will it affect things that - the current landscape or the future landscape, especially?
Andrew Hammond: I always try to be patient with people that are older than me when it comes to technology because I realize that at some point people are going...
Andrew Hammond: ...Have to be patient with me when I'm living in this crazy new future that's coming down the line.
Cathy Hackl: I think so - even me. I'm pretty, like, tech savvy, but every once in a while, I will ask my kids for something. And they'll be like, Mom, how do you not know how to do this? So, you know, one day - one day we'll be our grandparents - and, yeah.
Andrew Hammond: And just on the topic of Gen Alpha - actually, I came across Roblox maybe four years ago or so. And I have a niece. And basically, me and her, like - we got on really well, and I missed her and she missed me. I was living in a different part of the country when I was back in the United Kingdom. And she said to me, let's play Roblox. And I was like, what's this thing called Roblox? So I download it on my iPad. She's in Glasgow. I'm in Birmingham in England. We're both inside Roblox, like, following each other around and playing and stuff. So on the one hand, that was amazing because it was like, well, we're having this shared experience inside this virtual world. And that was great.
Andrew Hammond: But I guess - this is always the case for technology, right? - there's always pros and cons that come along with them. But then on the other side, I felt like there were quite a few people in there that were posing to be young kids with an avatar who were actually people that had bad intentions, and they weren't who they were posing to be. And that made me really worried. I remember some of them were coming over to my niece, and I was, like, doing as much as I could as an avatar to try to get them the hell away from her. So there's two sides to the technology. So I just wondered if you could speak a little bit about that, please.
Cathy Hackl: Yeah. I mean, there's the positive side - right? - of, like - especially during the pandemic - that's where kids were socializing. They couldn't see their friends, so they were in the games. Like, gaming has become their new social network. That is where they spend a lot of time. That being said, there definitely are a lot of bad actors. Like that's the reality of the situation. I always tell my kids, who are avid gamers - I said, don't make friends with anyone you don't really know and you don't know from school or physical life that I know. And I always tell them, you don't know because they could be a 50-year-old man in the basement. And so they always think about, like, a 50-year-old (laughter) man in the basement. That's their image of what these strangers could be.
Cathy Hackl: But I think there is that dark side - right? - of people. The fact that you can be, quote-unquote, "anonymous" in some ways and the fact that you can use your avatar to portray a different identity - obviously an adult male can't look like a child in the physical world, but they can dress up as an avatar - you know, pretend to be a child in these spaces does lead to issues and problems - right? - of things being said or harassment or grooming that can happen in these spaces. That's where something you mentioned, I think, is interesting. You got in and played with her.
Cathy Hackl: So what a lot of parents I don't see doing is getting into the game and playing with their children so they understand the potential issues and then get a better understanding of how to protect their kids, right? And I think that's very important. You know, for me, like, I try to keep - I try to go into those spaces, play with them. I know these spaces really well. So I'm trying to protect them, seeing, you know, what kind of safeguards can I set up, right? How much can I protect them in this space without taking away all their - like, freedom within the gaming space? But, yeah, I think it's important for parents to actually not just give them an iPad or Nintendo Switch and let them play. Parents should at some point get in there, play with their kids to better understand what they're doing - right? - what they're seeing.
Cathy Hackl: And like I said, deception is going to take on a different dimension now as we head into this this new space, when people can pretend to be something else. That being said, the positive side - right? - 'cause I always try to measure negative with positive - is that it also does allow people to - people that might need to - to represent themselves in different ways, to protect themselves in different ways. You know, I've done this, where I've gone in and played as a man, right? Because as a woman gamer, like sometimes I get a lot of hate. So going in and having a different identity and pretending to be someone else can sometimes be something cathartic, but if it's done for the right reasons.
Andrew Hammond: You heard Cathy mentioned generative AI a couple of times - something that will be important for the metaverse. If you're unfamiliar with the term, don't worry. We've got you. Put simply, generative AI is a machine - think computer - that can create, produce or generate something new, such as text like a poem or an image like a painting. In the research for the previous episode, I asked the generative AI chatbot that has been in the news recently called ChatGPT to write a sonnet, or 14-line poem, on espionage. Erin, on the other hand, asked another generative AI platform called DALL-E - D-A-L-L-dash-E - to paint a picture of Mickey Mouse climbing the Himalayas in an impressionist style. Traditional AI doesn't do this. It analyze and classifies data you already have, like a thousand sonnets or a thousand paintings.
Andrew Hammond: But what the heck is AI? - you may ask. Put simply, it's a machine doing something that normally requires human intelligence. These machines are, A, made by humans and, B, don't occur naturally, therefore, they are artificial. If you want to see the fruit of Erin and I's generative AI labors, go to the show notes for the episode at cyberwire.com/podcasts/spycast.
Andrew Hammond: I find that really fascinating. There's almost liberatory potentials in there because with our own identity, we're shaped and constrained by social norms, cultural norms and so forth, but in the metaverse, we could potentially express ourselves in different ways that aren't socially acceptable, where we live and so forth. And, of course, sometimes that can be great. It can be a celebration of the diversity of the human experience. But then on the other hand, it can, of course, be - well, this is something I wouldn't do in the real world, but I'm going to try to do it in the metaverse because I'm not me. I'm someone else. I'm - my avatar is completely disconnected from me.
Andrew Hammond: So the question I wanted to ask is how disconnected can avatars be? Like, can I have an avatar in there that can be untraceable back to me, where I can just do whatever I want and no one knows? Or is the avatar - there's always going to be some digital exhaust fumes that connect me to the avatar. I'm just thinking about this because for intelligence, so much of it is about deception. It's about one thing appearing to be something else. It's about a fake army trying to mislead the Germans for D-Day. It's about a case officer posing as a diplomat overseas, but actually, he's trying to recruit spies in a foreign government. So it just seems to me that the implications, as you mentioned earlier, for deception, are quite profound. So I was just wondering, how closely can an avatar be connected to you or disconnected from you?
Cathy Hackl: I think it depends on the platform and depends how savvy you are.
Andrew Hammond: OK.
Cathy Hackl: Right? In that sense - right? - if you're a hacker, you're going to know how to hack the system and create an avatar. Even in a platform that can trace certain things, you can create someone that might not be trackable or traceable. So it's going to really depend on the platform. It's interesting because - and you said to put a pin on blockchain, but I think there is an element of blockchain in my perspective that might allow us to track identity in a way where it's not intrusive - right? - where - you know, where it doesn't have to be, like, me giving away my data and being tracked by a Web 2 company. It's more like I use the blockchain, and my identity is verified on the blockchain, but you don't necessarily need to know who I am, right? You don't need to have my email or have, you know, whether I'm a male or a female or what age I am or where I live, right? So I think that there is going to be an element of blockchain that comes to - into managing digital identity that I think will be critical.
Cathy Hackl: That being said, I love the blockchain side, but there is - you know, when it comes to identity, there are issues there in the sense that, for the blockchain, whoever has that asset in their crypto wallet, in their wallet, is who owns that asset, right? So there's - I always joke, and I say there's no customer service in the Web3 world. If we do fully decentralized - right? - and everything is verified on the blockchain, then the blockchain is only going to care about who has that asset in their wallet and who - you know, how do you trace that asset? So there is an element there, and I think we're going down an interesting rabbit hole here when it comes to, like, proof of identity, right? How do you prove who you say you are when so many things can change? What if someone steals your crypto wallet? I mean, there's so many elements there. But that being said, going back to your original question, yes, there are ways to potentially create avatars that are potentially nontraceable or cannot be traced back to you, depending on how savvy you are. My hope is that a lot of people don't do that.
Andrew Hammond: Me, too.
Andrew Hammond: Let's deal with blockchain now, then...
Cathy Hackl: Yeah.
Andrew Hammond: ...Just so our listeners can understand it. So give us the setting-out-the-Thanksgiving-dinner, trying-to-explain-it-to-your-relatives version.
Cathy Hackl: It's pretty much - I mean, the blockchain is - it's pretty much a ledger of transactions, right? So in a very, very rudimentary way, it's like, Mary paid John $1, so it's put in the ledger, but then Mary gave that dollar to someone else. Like, it's all traced in this public ledger - right? - where you can see every one of the transactions and who did what, where did it go, how much did they pay, right? But it's a public ledger - right? - where you can see all this. It's a lot more complicated than that, right? But that's the essence of that. There's all these different transactions that you can actually view publicly. So that's a very basic description of what the blockchain is, right? And within the blockchain, there's not one single blockchain, there's multiple blockchains. And then within those blockchains, there's multiple currencies. So most people, when they think blockchain, they've heard of bitcoin, right? I think most of the transactions in the Web3 space are happening on Ethereum, which is a different blockchain that uses a cryptocurrency called ETH, right? And there's other blockchains that have been built on top of the Ethereum blockchain. So it starts to get really complicated really fast, as you see. But yeah, it's pretty much a public ledger.
Cathy Hackl: So when I say, for example, that for the blockchain, the owner of an asset is who has that in their wallet, it specifically means that. There is a public ledger where you can see who owns that asset, and that is the rightful owner according to the blockchain, right? Most of the scams that you do hear about in the Web3 world are actually social engineering, right? Hacking the blockchain or hacking someone's wallet, just by pure fact of hacking it, is extremely difficult, right? That would be extremely difficult to hack a blockchain or hack someone's wallet. What you're seeing with a lot of these scams is social engineering, where there's - someone's in Discord, which is a preferred platform for gamers. Some of you might be in Discord; some of you might not. But it's like - it's a new social - not a new social network. It's been a while, but it's very favored by gamers and people in Web3, you know, and someone might send you a private message there with a link and - the same thing that happens in many other social networks. You'll click on it, give them access to your crypto wallet, and then, they can get in there and take everything you've got, right?
Cathy Hackl: So a lot of the scams that you hear about when it comes to someone losing their NFTs, non-fungible tokens, or some of these virtual assets are social engineering, right? Yeah. So I'm not saying the blockchain isn't hackable. It could potentially be. It's just extremely hard to hack a public ledger. So, yeah, I hope that provides some clarity on some of the things I've been saying.
Andrew Hammond: And how hackable is it? So if it's just an individual trying to hack it, it's very difficult. But I'm assuming it's going to be less difficult if you're an advanced persistent threat. So a nation-state actor who can put money and people at this over the long term - because it's public, does that mean it's more difficult to do it? Or is there a way that they can do it and people don't know that it's happened?
Cathy Hackl: I think it'd be really hard, even for a nation state, to hack a blockchain. The one thing - and, gosh, I'm going really futuristic here. But the one thing that is game over for encryption or anything blockchain in the future is quantum computing. And I am not a quantum expert. But, you know, quantum, per se, could really change a lot of things when it comes to (laughter) - to encryption, obviously, and then to anything related to blockchain and identity. But I'm - because I'm not a quantum expert, so I don't dare go down that path. I just know that there is a significant potential for huge change there.
Andrew Hammond: And I think that quantum's probably a topic for a future...
Cathy Hackl: Yeah.
Andrew Hammond: ...Spycast spot. Just briefly, it's - basically, the implications would be that if quantum computing comes to be in a mature form, that all existing forms of cryptography - the blockchain, NFTs, all of that - gets thrown back up in the air and we're going to see - have to wait to see where it lands. Is that a decent approximation?
Cathy Hackl: It's something like that, yeah. I mean, encryption is going to be put on its head, and then, anything related to cryptography, like quantum, is going to be able to solve those (laughter) - you know, solve those "puzzles," quote-unquote, pretty, pretty quickly. So, yeah, it's - I definitely think you should have a quantum expert in the future to talk about - yeah - 'cause that's going to be even another layer, right?
Andrew Hammond: Yeah. And last month, first episode of the month was on artificial intelligence and espionage. And this month, it's on the metaverse. So I think quantum may be for some point down the line. But one of the things I was going to ask, Cathy, about the metaverse - is this a certainty? You mentioned Web 2.5. So just for our listeners, this is actually coming in? Because futurism, of course, there's - sometimes it ends up being what people think it's going to be. And other times, it's really different, and very smart people get it spectacularly wrong and vice versa. So I was just wondering, the metaverse, for our listeners, this is here and it's just going to accelerate? Or is this a it may come but something else may change it?
Cathy Hackl: No, so the metaverse will come. It's just being built today, right? It's not here yet, per se. So that's why it's really hard for people to kind of wrap their heads around it especially with the hype around the word metaverse and everything that's been happening and the confusion as to what it is or saying, it's only crypto; it's only VR. Right? It is being built. And you don't have to take it from me necessarily, right? You - if you look at where a lot of these companies are investing their billions of dollars and what their future visions of business are and etc., there is a way forward where they're pointing towards the metaverse whether they use the word or not, right?
Cathy Hackl: Something you see right now is, for example, the metaverse hype lowering because right now everyone wants generative AI. Like, AI is the hot topic. That's where the VCs are putting their money right now. That's where everyone is thinking about. But to me, AI is part of the metaverse, right? So the metaverse is, in my perspective, you know, enabled by many different technologies - VR, AR, AI, spatial computing, cloud computing, edge computing, 5G, 6G, you name it. They're all enabling this future state of the internet, right? So, yeah. And reality is, are we going to use the term metaverse in 10 years? I don't think so, right? I don't think we're going to call it the metaverse in 10 years. I think we're just going to call it the internet or whatever it is that we do.
Cathy Hackl: Yeah. I think, for me, the moment that people need to pay attention to, to say OK, this is really happening, is whenever Apple does come to market with whatever comes up through the mobile phone. Like I said, it's a wearable - potentially glasses, right? Not a VR headset, I'm not talking about VR headset. I'm talking about glasses, right? So whenever Apple does decide to come to market with their augmented reality product, whatever that looks like, that is the moment where I think a lot of people are going to be like, OK, let me pay attention; this is actually going to happen, and this is - you know, this is what's potentially going to replace the mobile phone. Something will replace the mobile phone, right?
Andrew Hammond: Mmm hmm.
Cathy Hackl: So I think that'll be the moment where people will be like, OK, this is actually going to happen.
Andrew Hammond: So with the intelligence community, with the metaverse or an immersive three-dimensional reality, does that mean that they are going to have to start having analysts, investigators, case officers all being familiar with that world? I'm just thinking, if you can go into the metaverse and recruit someone - so for case officers, they spot, assess, develop, recruit and then run assets to get secrets for them. So if I can do that in the metaverse, it means that I don't physically have to put myself in as much danger, and I can - there's also another stage of physical removal from the people that you're trying to recruit. So there's potential ways in which you can recruit assets within the metaverse. But on the other side of the coin, for the FBI, on their counterintelligence function, they're going to have to be able to go into the metaverse and figure out what's real and what's not and who's who and who's someone else. I just wondered if you could help me crystallize that thought in terms of the metaverse.
Cathy Hackl: I think it is a challenge, right? It's going to be a challenge for the intelligence community, especially - you know, I don't know the demographics, but I'm going to guess that a lot of them are a little bit older. That is going to be a challenge. So I think it's - they're going to have to recruit young. The Gen Zers that are starting to go into the workforce are - you know, I'm not saying all of them are gamers, but a lot of them will be gamers and will have experience in these virtual worlds. So sometimes the older agents are going to have to rely on the younger ones - right? - for some of this - for some of the things that they're going to have to do in these virtual spaces to recruit folks, to meet folks and those sorts of things.
Cathy Hackl: It's interesting because that's kind of on the gaming side and the virtual world side, like when we're talking about virtual worlds. What I find really interesting is when the physical world is enabled with whatever replaces the mobile phone, potentially glasses, then that's going to add a digital layer over the physical world, right? So that's where I think intelligence gets really interesting and really high tech, more so than ever, because you trust what you see, right? And that's one of the premises - right? - of spycraft is being able to trick what people are seeing. But now you haven't added an outer layer of - you're wearing glasses, and you're seeing digital content. You know, what does the spy of the future have to do if they're wearing glasses and they're able to showcase - you know, show themselves as someone different, not only through disguises but through, you know, augmented reality? So I think that there's an added layer there of craft that is going to have to be developed, where they're going to have to be very tech savvy when it comes to these wearables and how to trick them or how to trick the wearables of other people that are seeing you. So that'll be interesting.
Cathy Hackl: One thing that is aligned to that - right? - is the concept of what I call virtual air rights, right? Some people ask me, like, what keeps me up at night? Many things do, but one of them is virtual air rights. So who owns the air around me and what I can see? 'Cause right now, if I'm using augmented reality, I'm seeing it through my phone, which is - you know, it's not the best experience. But eventually, like I said, if we move from phones into wearables and I'm seeing things through my eyes - right? - and eventually it'll be contact lenses, potentially - who owns what's around me, the air around me? Who has a right to show me things in the air around me? So I think that there's a level there of complexity. I haven't really done - gone deep into what it means for intelligence. But when someone can control someone's eyesight and earshot, like what I hear and what I see in the physical world, in that sense, that has massive impact for the intelligence community and for spycraft. It's going to take it to a totally different level. So I'm not sure if I'm - if you understand what I'm saying. But...
Andrew Hammond: I do, yeah. I think I do.
Cathy Hackl: ...Yeah, there's going to be another level.
Andrew Hammond: Just to go back to what you were saying at the beginning there. So there's one sense in which the metaverse can be an extension of physical reality or an overlay onto physical reality, but then there's another one where it's a completely created world where you're - and they're in an immersive experience. There's almost a spectrum of metaverse. Is that right?
Cathy Hackl: There is a spectrum. It's a continuum.
Andrew Hammond: OK.
Cathy Hackl: It's really a continuum, yeah, where you can be in a fully, fully immersive virtual experience, or you're going to be in the physical world with augmented reality, right? And I really think we're going to be spending - more and more of the time will be in the physical world with augmented reality more so than in fully virtual immersive experiences. We're still going to do, you know, immersive experiences for fun or work or whatever it is.
Andrew Hammond: Wow. That's really, really helpful, actually. And I'm just thinking about Web 1.0 and 2.0. Even the way that people say search on Google, they're - to some extent, they're in an epistemic bubble, or when they're on social media, they're in an epistemic bubble because they are connecting with people that think the same as them or family or friends. And when they're on Google, they're not getting just some neutral list of things that are related to the search term. There's an algorithm. They're shaping their reality. And sometimes, like, the odds the searches are fed by - and correct me if I'm wrong on any of this - they're fed by what you've done before. So you end up becoming a self-licking ice cream cone where your reality is reconfirmed over and over again in social media, when you're on the internet, which people spend a lot of time on. And now in the metaverse, it's going to be compounded even more.
Cathy Hackl: Potentially. And I hope it's not.
Andrew Hammond: OK.
Cathy Hackl: I really hope it's not. I really hope it doesn't become that. And I have to remain an optimist 'cause I have kids. But yeah, I think that the power of the algorithm, especially as we've seen in the - you know, the last couple years with social media and some of the new platforms especially, just make people into these - I don't know. Just they consume content at a very fast pace without thinking about it, right? And I think that that makes us a little mindless, and it's very scary, right? I will say, to that point, some of the advice I have for parents when they think about their kids and them spending so much time playing video games is that they should, in my perspective, divide the kids' time between gameplay and build time, right? I think the big opportunity is in world building and the opportunity that comes for kids in the gaming space to create their own worlds. So not just giving, like I said, a Nintendo Switch or an iPad and letting them play. Give that to them, but give them the tools also to build their own worlds, right? And I think that that is actually a very powerful tool for children to remain creative and to explore world building and kind of, yeah, just create experiences.
Andrew Hammond: This is really, really fascinating. And one of the things that I wanted to ask as well, Cathy, was - I'm trying to understand the connection between, say, the immersive reality - so what's the connection between you and the immersive reality as an avatar and your physical body? Because I read as well that the attack surface for the metaverse is now our brain. It's not the same as it was for 2D digital platforms. Help me understand that connection between you as an avatar and an immersive experience and then the physical personage of you.
Cathy Hackl: So I'll explain two things here, I think, for the audience especially is that for the younger generations, what happens in the virtual space is real. Like, to them, it's not the real world and the virtual world; it's the physical world and the virtual world, right? The way they show up as an avatar is equally as important to them as the way they show up at school. They fight with their friends in the game. They're not going to talk to them in school, right? So those sorts of things. I always say my son's first concert was Lil Nas X in Roblox during the pandemic. And everyone's like, what? I'm like, well, yeah, it was in Roblox. And he says, I was there. I saw Nas. Like, for him, it's a first-person experience.
Cathy Hackl: So that's stating the concept of presence, right? Presence, right? A lot of the presence that's happening is in 2D spaces, right? So it doesn't feel as personal, right? It does feel personal. I mean, they talk in the chat, and you engage and stuff. I think where it takes a turn, a very personal turn, is when you are in a fully immersive experience. So in, let's say, virtual reality, where I'm fully immersed - that's all I'm seeing is this virtual space. And I've had those experiences, where I've put on the headset, and I've gone into a virtual concert, and I've had someone come up and harass me. And it felt intrusive. It felt as an attack, right? I didn't feel it in my body, but I felt it in the sense of that I am present in that experience and that someone invaded my space and did something I did not give them license - give them permission to do, right? And when you start to become more immersive and have that idea of presence, which is really important, that's where it starts to get - like, it starts to - it feels real in that sense, right?
Cathy Hackl: So I think that that is where the difference is, is, like, a lot of it is in 2D right now. So we can pass it off as like, ah, you know, whatever. But once you start going into these more immersive spaces, it is - you know, you feel it. You kind of - you have an experience that is first person, and it becomes very personal, right? So there's many stories out there of women going into VR experiences and being harassed. And it is - and someone would say, oh, that's silly. No, it's not. You are there. It's - you're there with other humans in a state of avatars. But there is true presence. You are present in that moment, right? So yeah, I definitely want to mention that for your audience because it's really easy for people to be like, ah, whatever, it's an avatar. Why are people complaining? There is a state of presence. And especially for the younger generations, this virtual - their virtual lives are very real to them.
Andrew Hammond: You've probably heard of the dark web. Well, guess what? There will also be a dark side to the metaverse - the darkverse. I'm literally not making this up. In some ways, it will be more dangerous than the dark web because of the very nature of the metaverse. Think about immersive experiences - human-computer interface, virtual and augmented reality, three dimensions, a parallel and overlapping world. It is necessary to clear up a couple of terms with regards to the web first so that we can better understand the darkverse.
Andrew Hammond: Broadly speaking, we have the surface web, which is public. This is the 5% of the internet that is indexed by search engines, and it's what shows up when you Google something. We also have the deep web, which is private. This is the 90% that doesn't show up on search engines, often involving things that require credentials. Think your Gmail account, your health records or your bank statements. Finally, we also have the dark web, which is secret, the 5% of the internet that is encrypted and also doesn't show up in search engines. It's technically part of the deep web, then, but is only accessible by using a special browser like Tor, the Onion Router. As the home of a variety of illegal and legal activities - for example, buying stolen credit card details, but conversely, communicating freely if your state doesn't protect your right to free speech - the darkverse then will be like the dark web doing squats and drinking protein shakes.
Andrew Hammond: Yeah. I think even with Web 2.0, we know that people will do things online that they wouldn't do in real life. They feel somehow more disconnected and more able to say things that, normally, because of social conventions and cultural norms, wouldn't see the light of day. So I was just wondering if you had thought that this could also compound some of the social polarization that we've seen. I don't want to make this all negative. I think, though, that the intelligence community, they're always looking at the dark side, usually.
Cathy Hackl: Yeah, so there is a potential - right? - to make us even more divided. My hope is that it goes a different way. My hope is that there might be an element of blockchain that will potentially allow us to own our data. I think owning our data is a game-changer for humanity, if we're able to own our data and say, I want to benefit from lending my data for this. Not just a free app and a free service, right? Actually owning your data and saying, OK, I'm going to give my data to this company, but I'm going to receive this in return, or I choose not to use my data for this, right? So I think that we're moving towards a little bit of that, potentially owning our own data. So yeah, I mean, on a positive side, I think that there is an element of blockchain that could potentially be very beneficial to humanity.
Cathy Hackl: On the other front, there are many things that could go wrong. That is why having these conversations like the one you and I are having right now are important because we're building the metaverse. It is not here yet. So we have a chance to maybe prepare, you know, some safeguards for potential issues. There are going to be things that we don't even know are going to pop up and are going to happen that no one could have guessed or imagined. But having these conversations is important. One thing that I personally try to do - because I am based in D.C. - is I try to go to Capitol Hill and educate lawmakers and educate different parts of government on what this is and, you know, how to prepare because this is coming fast and furious. It's advancing. And if the internet changed anything for all of us, which it did for most of us, then the metaverse, the successor state of the mobile internet, will change things again.
Andrew Hammond: And if you're able to tell us, have you done any consulting or work with the intelligence community? Have you given any talks to them, or have any of them reached out to you for some input?
Cathy Hackl: I have chatted with some of them (laughter). I've participated in a few events and things like that. But, yeah, I definitely talked to - I think there is a lot of interest, I think, from the intelligence community in understanding what does this mean for them. How do they start to prepare? What is the type of workforce they need to look at? What kind of skills?
Cathy Hackl: I will say - and this is not to defend the intelligence community, but the defense community - I think people need to look at the Space Force. And I know people make jokes about the Space Force, but if you look at the Space Force and there - who a guardian - like, the guardian population, there are 70 - I think it's 75% of guardians - of Space Force guardians are gamers. That's massive. They have their own esports team. Like, I look at this branch of the armed forces as kind of a vision towards the future what this potentially is going to look like because it's - yeah. Like, their demographics are amazing to look at. And like I said, it's like 75% of them identify themselves as gamers. That's massive.
Andrew Hammond: Wow. Wow. That's fascinating. I never knew that. And you mentioned the leadership a moment or two ago. I find that really interesting as well because the pace of change with Web 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0 - it seems to me that the intelligence community - you know, if you're a leader, by the time you join up and you become one of the people at the top, the technology's is probably changed but probably not to the extent that it has now. So is it going to be a case of the people that are at the top in 20 years' time - they're just kind of not really going to get this because technology just changed so much?
Andrew Hammond: So if you look at the structure of Silicon Valley and so forth, it's, like, a bit flatter, and it's a bit different. But the intelligence community to some extent is still working on our industrial age model of organization. So I was just wondering if you'd thought about the organizational dynamics of the intelligence community and how the metaverse could change that. People that are metaverse natives - are they going to think to themselves, why the heck don't these people get it? You know? Yeah, I mean, there's always a degree of that in society, right? But is this going to be even more profound?
Cathy Hackl: Possibly. I think the great leaders of the future are the ones that are going to be able to kind of stay abreast of everything that's happening, which in itself is a challenge - right? - staying on top of everything or at least advising - like, having the right people around you that are telling you, this is the latest that's happening in generative AI, or, this is the latest that's happening in AR and VR, or, these are things that we're seeing, right? That in turn - they also have to do all the day to day of running the agency. So it's a lot. It's going to be a lot. Like I said, it's going to add - it's a new dimension. You know, like I said, this is definitely going to take on a new dimension. It's a new era, and it's going to get very technical. And it's going to be an added layer of what the - you know, what spycraft has to do. So, yeah, so good luck.
Andrew Hammond: And just to go back to that link between the physical self and being inside the metaverse or having the digital overlay, one of the things that I'm trying to understand is, does there always have to be some physical link? Like, for example, I've consigned myself to the fact that I'm never going to go to the moon in my lifetime. Is it possible for me to go to the moon in the metaverse? Would there have to be someone physically there that a bunch of people could wear a headset and be there with that person and be experiencing what they're experiencing? Or...
Cathy Hackl: Yeah.
Andrew Hammond: I know this is completely theoretical, but...
Cathy Hackl: You can go anywhere.
Andrew Hammond: I'm just trying to get my head around it.
Cathy Hackl: No, no. I think you can go anywhere in the metaverse. Like, you can recreate these worlds. Or, you know, whatever video potentially we could get from the moon, you could access it - right? - and be in - be on the moon without having to go. The sky's the limit, really. And some of the things that the worlds - quote-unquote "worlds" that I'm seeing being built are highly creative and beautiful and stunning and things people can't even imagine. So, yeah, I mean, the sky's the limit here when it comes to that, to the level of creativity and the places we're going to be able to experience - right? - because now we're builders. We have these - you know, we have these tools to create these virtual worlds and virtual experiences. So, yeah, I think we're going to see some crazy creativity definitely come from that that will allow us to go, you know, visit the moon virtually or visit wherever it is that we want to go. Maybe it's 1920s New York or what have you. But, yeah, I think we're going to see a lot of amazing things happening.
Andrew Hammond: Wow. One of the other things that I was wondering about was - so here at the museum, we have an exhibit on cyber and on some of the implications cyber has had on the intelligence community. And we have this artifact. It's a shard from this generator test that they had in 2007. Basically, the idea was, can we use the - can we use zeros and ones? Can we use cyber to affect the physical world? So basically, I think it was 13 lines of code. They hacked into this generator. They started throwing the generator's electrical loops and currents out of whack, and it eventually explodes. And we have a piece of the generator from the explosion. So this is a crossing the Rubicon moment where this is not just intangible stuff. We can use code to blow things up, to cause violence in the real world. But can you see something similar taking place with the metaverse?
Cathy Hackl: There is that link between virtual and physical and how things that you might do in the virtual space impact your physical persona or your physical life and vice versa, right? And we're already seeing that, like you said, on cyber. I think if you look towards the future and potentially look at, like I said, a wearable - right? - that you put on in top of your, you know, eyes, in front of your eyes. Or it might be on your eyes and eventually connected to your brain. Like, that in itself is going to be potentially a big issue - right? - for taking that that that tangible moment - right? - to a totally different level. I don't want to say mind control, but potentially, who knows? I do think, you know, for future, you should definitely have someone that does brain computer interface, if you haven't had someone, come and talk about that because I find that brilliant. I've demoed - and brain computer interface devices are pretty much devices that you put on your head, and you're able to kind of control things with your mind. I've demoed about maybe three of the devices out there, the external ones and obviously not internal ones 'cause that would be insane. But yeah, the external ones. And when you put them on, it kind of is reading your brainwaves. And, you know, I've had - I've been able to scroll my iPad using just my thoughts. I've been able to...
Andrew Hammond: Wow.
Cathy Hackl: ...Change channels just by thinking about it. And I think...
Andrew Hammond: Really?
Cathy Hackl: Yeah, yeah.
Andrew Hammond: Wow.
Cathy Hackl: That's incredibly powerful technology. So take what you just talked about making something tangible - zeros - and take it to a different level once it's connected to our brains. Like that is, like, another level - right? - of where this could go. When I've tried these brain-computer interface devices that are external, my brain actually loves the workout, which is weird. It love - like, just thinking about it, something lights up in my brain. And I always, like, sit with that. I'm like, is this a good thing or a bad thing that my brain thinks this is a fantastic piece of hardware? Do we really need to connect our brains to the internet? I don't know. But yeah, I do think that there's another level taking something tangible - intangible, and making it tangible if we connect our brains. But that's for another episode, I think.
Andrew Hammond: And just to close out, where should our listeners go to if they want to learn more about this, if they want to learn more about the metaverse or if they want to become futurists? Or what the futurist reads - what's their diet of media? Or is there a magazine or - yeah, help our listeners understand how to get educated on this.
Cathy Hackl: Yeah, so from a metaverse Web3 perspective, definitely I have a new book that came out called "Into The Metaverse: The Essential Guide to the Business Opportunities of the Web3 Era." If you go to metaversebook.com, you can find it there. I'm also sharing always a lot of content related to emerging tech. LinkedIn is my biggest channel, so you can find me there. I definitely recommend for people that want to become trained strategic - do trains - you know, become trained futurists and do strategic foresight, the University of Houston has a fantastic program. They've been teaching it for more than 25 years. And then, you know, there's amazing folks, you know, in the futurist side of the house. Like, Amy Webb is a fantastic resource. Faith Popcorn, Sinead Bovel - she does a lot of things around generative AI. So yeah, there's a lot of amazing futurists out there doing amazing work. So yeah.
Andrew Hammond: Wow. Wow. That's really fascinating. And I should say for our listeners that you have been called the godmother of the metaverse.
Cathy Hackl: Yep.
Cathy Hackl: Yeah. I've been at this for almost 10 years, and people are like, what? The metaverse has been around? I'm like, well, metaverse-related industries have. I worked at HTC Vive Magic Leap, AWS. I have helped Walmart, Ralph Lauren, click into the Metaverse. I do a lot of work in this space. So someone from Nike's - Nike's ahead of the game when it comes to Metaverse. Someone from Nike's metaverse team, Andrew Schwartz, is the one that gave me that name. So yeah.
Andrew Hammond: Well, thanks ever so much for sharing your expertise. And this has been a lot of fun and very informative. But I have to admit I do feel like my brain may explode when I hang up.
Cathy Hackl: Awesome. Well, I think my job here is done then.
Andrew Hammond: Thank you.
Cathy Hackl: Awesome. Thank you so much.
Andrew Hammond: Thank you so much.
Erin Dietrick: Thanks for listening to this episode of "SpyCast." Please follow us on Apple, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts. If you have feedback, you can reach us by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @INTLSpyCast. Coming up in next week's show...
Unidentified Person: This is a completely different sort of concept in military strategy, but it was also completely dependent on really good intelligence. So when you look back at 1940 and you see that Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium and France were occupied in an astonishing speed - so the Germans were ruthless. They had really good intelligence on all the bridges. They knew exactly what had to be captured in advance.
Erin Dietrick: If you go to our page, thecyberwire.com/podcasts/spycast, you can find links to further resources, detailed show notes and full transcripts. Your host is Dr. Andrew Hammond. And I'm Erin Dietrick, Andrew's podcast content partner. The rest of the team involved in the show is Mike Mincey, Memphis Vaughn III, Jo Zhu (ph), Emily Coletta, Afua Anakwa, Elliott Peltzman, Tre Hester and Jen Eiben. This show is brought to you from the home of the world's preeminent collection of intelligence and espionage-related artifacts, the International Spy Museum.