In the last few days metaverse has become a center of almost all the conversations. CEOs like Mark Zuckerberg or Satya Nadella are talking about it… The metaverse is the future of the internet! But, what is this new phenomenon and how will it affect our lives?
Even though this term is not already really clear, we can understand a little more about the metaverse and what it involves. In this post, we are going to explore basic aspects of the metaverse, so let’s start!
What does “metaverse” mean?
Author Neal Stephenson is credited with coining the term “metaverse” in his 1992 science fiction novel “Snow Crash,” in which he envisioned lifelike avatars who met in realistic 3D buildings and other virtual reality environments. Since then, various technology advances have made mileposts on the way toward a “real metaverse”, an online virtual world which incorporates augmented reality, virtual reality, 3D holographic avatars, video and other means of communication.
Nowadays, the term “the metaverse” doesn’t really refer to any one specific type of technology, but rather a broad shift in how we interact with technology. On the other hand, it is not a competitor to the internet but rather a virtual universe accessed through the internet. Broadly speaking, it’s a combination of multiple elements of technology, including virtual reality, augmented reality and video where users, once inside, interact with other people and things as digital avatars in a highly immersive world, buying land, playing games or socializing with users across other online platforms.
Maybe you are thinking right now… “Doesn’t that exist already?”. World of Warcraft is a virtual world where players can buy and sell goods. Fortnite has virtual experiences like concerts. Also, you can strap on Oculus glasses and be in your own personal virtual home… so, what is the difference? Just as Google builds parts of the internet, from physical data centers to security layers, Fortnite creator Epic Games is building parts of the metaverse. And also Microsoft, Meta (formerly Facebook), Nvidia, Unity, Roblox, Snap, and even us with VirtualXpanse. All these companies are working on building the infrastructure that might become the metaverse.
The metaverse… a dream or reality?
The problem with the metaverse is that we still don’t know exactly what it will be. We have a vague sense of what things currently exist that we could kind of call the metaverse, and we know which companies are investing in the idea, but it is impossible to predict exactly how the metaverse will be.
For example, at one point during Meta’s presentation on the metaverse, the company showed a scenario in which a young woman is sitting on her couch scrolling through Instagram when she sees a video a friend posted of a concert that’s happening halfway across the world. The video then cuts to the concert, where the woman appears in an hologram. She’s able to make eye contact with her friend who is physically there, they’re both able to hear the concert, and they can see floating text hovering above the stage. This seems amazing, but it’s not really advertising a real product, or even a possible future one. What is the problem? A holographic person is simply not possible with even very advanced versions of existing technology. Unlike motion-tracked digital avatars, there’s no any version of making a three-dimensional picture appear in midair without tightly controlled circumstances. This kind of things over the metaverse is frequently present in video demos of how the metaverse could work. But right now it is only marketing.
This kind of wishful-thinking-as-tech-demo leaves us in a place where it’s hard to pinpoint which aspects of the various visions of the metaverse will actually be real one day
When can we expect to see it?
Mark Zuckerberg estimates it could take five to 10 years before the key features of the metaverse become mainstream. But some aspects of the metaverse currently exist.
On one hand, The infrastructure behind today’s internet allows massive quantities of people to gather in virtual environments, like when more than 12.3 million players tuned in for a VR concert in Fortnite featuring Travis Scott. This current infrastructure is very impressive, yet it will likely need to evolve further to support the metaverse industry experts envision.
We also have the hardware to render realistic virtual environments and avatars in 3D. Respect VR devices, Meta owns the leading producer of virtual reality headsets Oculus, Microsoft has been supporting various enterprise use cases with its HoloLens mixed reality smart glasses and Apple is rumored to release its AR and VR headsets this year.
Finally, the same innovative technologies that have been disrupting the financial services industry since the Bitcoin network came into existence in January 2009 can be used to enable the continuity of data in the metaverse. NFTs, or nonfungible tokens, are an excellent example of how blockchain technology can be used to verify the ownership of digital assets, and there are already 3D virtual reality platforms that take advantage of them.
To sum up
The metaverse, in a nutshell, is the digital world, where anything we can imagine can exist. Eventually, we’ll be maybe connected to the metaverse all the time, extending our senses of sight, sound, even touch, blending digital items into the physical world, or popping into fully immersive 3D environments whenever we want. The metaverse will one day be probably a huge economy, representing up to 10x the total value of the entire current global economy.
Today, we’re only seeing a little bit of what the metaverse may soon become.