When Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced that he was rebranding his umbrella corporation to be called ‘Meta’ it was met with a lot of excitement. The name refers to a project founded by the entrepreneur and other leading technologists at Apple, Epic, Google and Microsoft called ‘Metaverse’. Their vision is to create a decentralised virtual reality that will be the true successor to the internet. During Zuckerberg’s announcement, he had this to say on the Metaverse:
“The metaverse is the next evolution of social connection. Our company’s vision is to help bring the metaverse to life, so we are changing our name to reflect our commitment to this future.”
The term ‘Metaverse’ is not a new one, it was referenced in a Neal Stephenson sci-fi book, Snow Crash, in 1992. In the book, the Metaverse is referred to as an all-encompassing digital world that exists parallel to our world. If Zuckerberg’s keynote speech where he explained what the metaverse could look like in the next 5-10 years is to be believed, then this description may not be entirely fictional and sci-fi films such as Ready Player One and Source Code won’t just be a fantastical premise.
What is the Metaverse?
As it stands today, talking about the Metaverse feels similar to what it would have been like to talk about the internet back in the 80s. It is a completely new idea that is only just having its foundations dug and speculation has already started about what it will look like and how people will use it. However we are 40 years on from when the internet was first created and the Metaverse is now expected to become an $800bn enterprise by 2024, and with technology giants like Apple, Google and Microsoft on board it’s time to discover what the term ‘Metaverse’ actually means.
From what we understand, the Metaverse is the internet in 3D. It consists of a network of virtual worlds that can be explored through a virtual reality headset; and users can navigate their character through eye movement, controllers or voice commands. Virtual reality games are not new however, and if we take a look at Second Life (a game created in 2003) as an example we can get a rough idea of the world that is being created for the Metaverse. Second Life allowed you to create your own character with customisable facial features and clothing, and let you explore the virtual world where you could do anything you could imagine. For many people Second Life was just that, another version of their life, where they had endless possibilities that weren’t limited by the technology and legal restraints of the time.
Is it just a video game?
The gaming industry has already been benefiting from the Metaverse and many companies have a rudimentary form of it already in place, Fortnite for example has hosted multiple in-game concerts for players to attend and interact with each other. However this doesn’t mean that the Metaverse is only going to be used for gaming purposes, and if we look at Second Life being the closest thing we currently have available to the Metaverse – we can see that even on there the technology has been utilised in many different ways.
In the 1990s when the internet became popular and more mainstream in households it came with virtually countless benefits, because it enabled people to access new opportunities and endless libraries of information that were once reserved for the wealthy.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic, the majority of businesses have become accustomed to using online software like Zoom and MS Teams to keep in contact and interact with team members and clients. This could all now be done in the Metaverse and you’ll be able to properly interact with your colleagues’ avatars, instead of just looking at them through a webcam. In 2007 the Crowne Plaza hotel company set up a virtual hotel in Second Life and rented out rooms for businesses to host meetings – 15 years on this is only going to get utilised more when the Metaverse is fully released and we may see a lot of businesses hosting meetings this way.
Long-distance friends/family members
Geographical barriers will become irrelevant when the Metaverse becomes more widely available to the public. Once you’re inside the virtual world, you’re longer bound by your physical location. This will make social interactions a lot more immersive and allow people to interact with their friends and family without physical proximity affecting them.
The COVID-19 pandemic hit the tourism industry the hardest, with no one able to leave their homes and travel agents were forced to close. However with the introduction of the Metaverse and VR headsets being more readily available, people could start to focus on taking trips digitally. Whilst people are unlikely to stop taking real trips altogether, this could be a useful tool to give people an idea of where they actually want to visit, being able to see the beaches and landmarks in any particular country could be a big deciding factor as opposed to just looking at magazines in a travel agents’.
The education sector is always evolving through emerging technologies, and with the introduction of the Metaverse distance learning and interactive experiences will become a lot more prevalent in the lives of people studying. The metaverse will be capable of creating an immersive learning environment which can proactively help people absorb information more effectively. In particular, the Metaverse will be able to create and expose learners to realistic scenarios; for example in the healthcare sector, trainees will be able to practise performing treatments in a more controlled and safe environment.
Once the Metaverse starts to become more adapted it will begin to evolve in two different directions.
The virtual Metaverse refers to a fully simulated world, sort of like how video games and computer programs currently are. This version of the Metaverse will instantly become more popular, and will be easily adaptable due to it not needing any advanced pieces of equipment to visit. However, it will be restricted to only short-durations; mostly used for gaming, socialising and entertainment purposes. This version of the Metaverse is what will be used in both the business and education sectors too.
On the other hand, the augmented Metaverse will essentially replace mobile phones as our gateway to digital content, in favour of augmented reality headsets and other pieces of hardware. This is still likely to still be years away from completion and current estimates say it will be finished by 2035. This implementation will essentially completely change the way we see society, and merge both the real and virtual world into one.
The Metaverse currently only refers to a single virtual world, however with more research and development there are likely to be multiple metaverses maintained by various different organisations. These platforms are being developed by focusing on either the consumer or enterprise markets. Huge companies such as Epic Games and Roblox are concentrating on consumer-end users, whereas Nvidia for example has plans to move into the enterprise market. Whilst the theory of the Metaverse is still debated and under a lot of research and development, technological advancements are being made regularly that will help it become more of a reality.
Just like any piece of new technology, the Metaverse won’t solve everyone’s problems and may create some unforeseen side effects during its adaptation. Accessibility will have to be at the forefront of development if the Metaverse is to exceed and be adapted by the masses. Consumer’s high-end devices will be able to support a more immersive world, but more cost-effective models will be able to attract users quickly due to their existing user base and relative ease of use.
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