Metaverse is coming, but what does it really mean for the world?
The concept of the Metaverse has intrigued many for well over a century. Its inception can be traced to a 1992 novel “Snow Crash” by Neal Stephenson. Almost two decades later, the terminology has found a new meaning after the development of an actual product based on this idea- Metaverse Reality. Also, tech giants like Facebook and Microsoft are staking claims. Facebook even renamed itself as Meta and is working aggressively on the Metaverse.
It is time now to take a look at what the big idea behind the concept is all about and to understand what it represents- virtual reality, augmented reality, or this brave, new world that offers a different paradigm in the way we perceive just about everything.
What is the metaverse?
Neal Stephenson used ‘metaverse’ to define life-like avatars who meet in realistic, 3D building/virtual reality environments.
To put it simply, a metaverse is a persistent, online 3D community that users can interact with. It is basically Second Life for VR, with immersive virtual environments that allow communication and interaction from all over the world. When you walk into your favourite VR titles as they are now, you’re taking part in a minor metaverse experience. In the future, as the VR industry progresses across all major platforms, we’ll have a fully developed immersive metaverse everywhere we go.
When can we expect to experience it?
The Metaverse might sound futuristic, but real Metaverse-like platforms have been around for decades. Let’s look back to In 2003 when a company called Linden Lab launched a virtual world called Second Life.
Second Life had lots of features people associated with the metaverse, and in fact, new stories used that exact word to describe it. Second Life users could make virtual items and buy themselves virtual land using an in-game currency called the Linden Dollar that they could exchange for real money.
Second life also has a millionaire. Anshe Chung, who was referred to as Second Life’s first millionaire in 2006. Furthermore offline businesses were taking notice when American Apparel briefly opened a store inside Second Life. IBM had a virtual office where people could meet up as avatars. Second Life had some real hurdles to adoption. But almost 20 years later, it’s still going strong, with an estimated half-million active monthly users living virtual lives. It has made a huge investment in VR and AR hardware that has pushed it a lot further into VR and AR consumer hardware. Whether that’s the meta quest headset, a pair of camera-equipped ravens smart glasses, or high-tech prototypes, like a high-resolution headset and a haptic glove.
With the development of the metaverse, we can offer more than just a virtual world. With augmented and virtual reality, 3D holographic avatars and other means of communication such as video, you can experience a more hyper-real alternative world where you can coexist. The borders between the real and virtual worlds merge amazingly to offer a literally out-of-the world experience!
Some people see the name change to “Meta” as an indication that it will take years before the key features of this new semi-transparent world become mainstream. For example, former Facebook (now “Meta”) founder Mark Zuckerberg said five to ten years before any major changes would be implemented. The marketplace is still emerging, with many features not offered to everyone yet. Ultra-fast broadband speeds, virtual reality headsets, and other programmes are still in the early stages.
Who is the governing body of the metaverse?
The concept of the metaverse offers more questions than answers when it comes to international tech regulation and usage and how it would affect international personal data protection. As device makers cannot provide what amounts to useful regulations on their own, legislators across the world have been left with a tough choice. In a virtual world, who is the governing body of the metaverse? How do companies protect the privacy, facial recognition, and personal data of metaverse users?
Open-source virtual worlds such as the metaverse would need to be regulated in order to provide safety and protection for their users, but it is unclear how they will enforce this for user privacy and freedom.
With our time online being all but inevitable today, it is hard not to speculate about the potential consequences of virtual environments on traditional discourse. The issues are not limited simply to social media use, or any one subject either.
In November 2021, Meta announced partnerships with organisations such as the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation in Israel that emphasise responsible ways to build the metaverse.
How can we access the metaverse?
Ready to jump into this exciting new world? Not so fast- the metaverse, as envisioned by Zuckerberg, is still over 10–15 years away. But when (or if) it comes to fruition, how will we access it?
Access to the metaverse will rely mostly on hardware, with users purchasing virtual reality headsets to transport themselves from their real world environment into the metaverse. Companies such as Facebook and Samsung offer VR headsets, as do HP and Oculus, which recently updated their newest headsets for 2022.
Users with a high-priced headset kit can enter the metaverse by putting on their headset whenever they want to have an immersive experience.There may be less immersive ways to enter the metaverse for those who do not have the expensive headset kits.
In the metaverse, you will be your avatar. Users can custom design their avatar in every possible way, including height, weight, skin color, head coverings, outfit type, and even facial hair. There are sure to be plenty of shopping opportunities too; users can purchase clothing and accessories for their avatars.
Although the metaverse will involve complex virtual world logic, security measures need to be paramount in helping users access their own account. Photo ID, retina scans, and multimodal password authentication are examples of current practises that the new world should include.
What are the metaverse’s implications for humanity?
Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg shares thoughts about the future, “In this future, you will be able to teleport instantly as a hologram to be at the office without a commute, at a concert with friends, or in your parents’ living room to catch up. Think about how many physical things you have today that could just be holograms in the future. “
The future of the metaverse looks intriguing. It very much can be a digital utopia where we can connect with friends from all over the world instantly, watching concerts and playing board games, just like we see in sci-movies.
To be honest, metaverse is still at the nascent stage for concrete answers. So far, the possibilities for the metaverse have been revealed mostly as games or social media. Imagine a world where you chat with friends and, instead of just one frame of conversation, you can see your friend as they walk through the 2D level with you — put yourself into the world of the game.
Studies show that the metaverse would revolutionise socialisation and dating. However, not everyone is willing to put themselves out there as such. The barrier for entry due to high-tech requirements renders the technology limited.
The implications of AI on humankind are many. It affects the way we socialise and work. But will a virtual coffee ever compare to a physical one? Time will tell.
Most companies see the potential in opening their own environment to customers and are therefore investing time and money in developing it.
Technology is accelerating towards a future where virtual reality and augmented reality merge seamlessly with the physical world. The Verge calls this one of the decade’s most exciting ideas. Companies such as Fortnite, Minecraft, and Roblox are planning to be a part of this evolution.
Technology is moving at a rapid pace and so are the innovations in the field. The Metaverse will be coming to us sooner than we expect, and startups are spearheading the transition. Yes we are excited for the awesomeness it brings in the tech industry, and we should be prepared to tap into the opportunity it brings.