The Metaverse Explained - Where physical and digital worlds meet
In October, when the Facebook and Instagram application was launched on smart devices, a small icon appeared on the bottom of the screen, “From Meta”. This is because Facebook has reinvented itself as Meta and Zuckerberg is betting the future of Facebook and social media on the Metaverse. However, Facebook does not own the Metaverse, and it does not fully exist yet. Though it has become widely accepted that the Metaverse is the future, it is widely debated whether this will be a positive or dystopian future for humanity.
The Metaverse is to be the new generation of social media and is composed of virtual reality, augmented reality, and a digital universe. The word 'meta' means after or beyond in Greek and ‘verse’ is the prefix for “universe”. Within it are promises of combining our physical and digital lives in regards to entertainment, a digital efficient workspace, and companionship, meaning essentially that we will have the ability to be with anyone anywhere to do anything.
Another interesting factor within the Facebook Metaverse is the electromyographic (EMG) technology that is in development. EMG can detect a person's thoughts and write them down, or even send a message to someone, and can go to further lengths of controlling our characters in the Metaverse. Everyone on the Metaverse is to have a home space and an avatar. Your character can be modified to look exactly like you, be a cartoon version of you, or even be an animal of your choosing.
In 2022, the Facebook Metaverse is coming out with the project Cambria, which is an oculus headset that is designed specifically to mimic the resolution of the human eye, and even track your facial reactions so that your avatar has the same facial reactions in real-time. This will contribute to making the virtual reality experience further indistinguishable from real life in addition to complex coding that tailors to perfect the oculus environment.
Meta describes the metaverse as “A set of virtual spaces where you can create and explore with other people who aren’t in the same physical space as you. You’ll be able to hang out with friends, work, play, learn, shop, create, and more”.
This all may sound extremely appealing as one could look in any way they want, be in any reality they want, and do anything they want within the Metaverse. However, there are certain worries when it comes to the entire concept such as giving Facebook access to your thoughts, how it is dystopian, and how it can greatly distance people from real life.
The term metaverse was first referenced in Neal Stephenson’s science fiction novel Snow Crash in 1992. The plot of the novel includes the main characters entering the metaverse through their avatars to discover a dystopian world full of corporate greed. Others have referenced the term to describe future digital connectivity.
Virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), omniverse, gaming multiverse, Metaverse..?
In April 2020, Travis Scott came out with a full production concert in Fortnite, and in August 2021, Ariana Grande did an in-game live music event as well. Perhaps one of the most frequent questions when it comes to the Metaverse is its distinction from VR, and AR. The concept of the metaverse is defined as a virtual-reality space where users interact with a computer-generated environment and other users via an avatar.
As a result of the pandemic, many events have been held on the gaming multiverse including concerts, birthday parties, and other virtual social gatherings. The multiverse in this context is high production video games that are online and multiplayer. Augmented reality is the enhancement of the user experience in games such as Grand Theft Auto where auditory, and overlaying visuals are used. The high-end universe of the often large and complex games compose of many sub-games and activities that can be enjoyed among players. Examples of this include Roblox, Minecraft, and Fortnite Creative.
Roblox made an official statement regarding their visions for the metaverse as a space where "people can come together within millions of 3D experiences to learn, work, play, create and socialize."
For now, the earliest assemblies of the metaverse exist within interactive video games, and alongside Roblox, NFT Games, and Fortnite of Epic Games Inc. CEO Tim Sweeny of Epic believes that the metaverse should be a participatory, common space. In addition to Fortnite, Epic Games also owns the gaming engine Unreal which also makes visual effects.
As for the omniverse, it is a scientific term referring to a four-dimensional universe. Nvidia Corporation currently owns and operates the closest thing to the Metaverse. In layman's terms, it is the Metaverse that exists today. According to their website, “NVIDIA Omniverse is a scalable, multi-GPU real-time reference development platform for 3D simulation and design collaboration,” In early October, Nvidia announced that they are releasing a ‘metaverse’ for engineers, an open beta for the Omniverse.
The Nvidia Omniverse was also inspired by the concept of the metaverse that features in science fiction. Yet, they do not see themselves as competition to the other companies building the metaverse. Rather they believe that the Metaverse’s different companies will be created with the omniverse. CEO Jensen Huang told the Venture Beat “what we would like to do is to connect all of those worlds, for the various workgroups, the various studios, and they can work on one giant world, one giant piece of content,”.
Building blocks of the Metaverse
One of the most common misconceptions about the Metaverse is that many people think Facebook owns it. Aside from Facebook, there are other American and Chinese tech giants building at the pieces of the Metaverse including Microsoft, Snap Inc (Snapchat owner), Tencent, Epic Games, Roblox, Nvidia, Auto Desk, and Unity. Each has its unique specialty, and visions for its metaverse. For instance, Microsoft made a statement saying they are building an “enterprise metaverse”. This is a smart move as there are already over 250 million people across the world who use Microsoft Teams.
The key difference between Facebook’s and Microsoft’s metaverse seems to be that Microsoft is opting for one that is accessible via all devices instead of just the headset.
Microsoft’s virtual workplace environment Accenture is already up and running. Though their primary objective is for the workspace, and primary users are to be enterprise users, Microsoft, being the owner of the popular gaming console Xbox, will develop a gaming metaverse as well.
The world’s largest video gaming firm Chinese Tencent Holdings Ltd. also plans to be present within the metaverse. Tencent QQ, the social site, was initially known as the Chinese version of Facebook. This year, they registered trademarks relating to the metaverse for QQ. Now, they are much bigger than Facebook and are the world’s biggest gaming company, and indirectly own other popular games such as Call of Duty, PUBG, and Pokemon Go. The Chinese-owned tech giant also has stakes in Epic Games, Activision Blizzard, and owns 49 percent of Roblox among others. Tencent’s involvement in the metaverse will surely be a force to be reckoned with.
Furthermore, companies like Snap Inc, Autodesk, Nvidia Corp, Unity, and others are developing many of the technologies, elementary units, and pieces of the Metaverse. Snapchat has released its new AR glasses this year, and in regards to the Metaverse, many argue that Snap is way ahead of Facebook. The cloud software firm Autodesk, and Unity Software inc use their programs to make virtual worlds for gaming and entertainment. Ultimately, Nvidia Corp’s Omniverse and it could also be used as the blueprint to the Metaverse.
Making money on the Metaverse and Web 3.0
The term Web 3.0 is thrown across the blockchain community frequently. In different contexts, it has different definitions. Sometimes it is called the ‘semantic web', it is the third generation of internet services and usage. This means that the web evolution brings more intelligence, openness, and connectivity. At the core of Web 3.0 is decentralization where central authorities do not have control over the internet and where users can own parts of the internet.
Apart from the entertainment, and social media experience, the Facebook Metaverse will have its virtual economy most likely operating through blockchain technology. It is to be called the horizon marketplace.
Since there are new opportunities to earn, brands are launching their virtual stores in the Metaverse. On the Roblox Metaverse, Nike released its virtual world named Nikeland. In addition to outfits for avatars, they have minigames where players can compete against one another. Gucci also made a statement that it is only a matter of time until major fashion brands start selling digital fashion and NFTs. Following the end of October, many brands such as D&G, Balenciaga, and Charli Cohen made their debuts in NFTs and the Metaverse. The making and selling of digital apparel are likely to become just as important to people as physical garments. One of the benefits of this will be that the authenticity of the virtual goods will be verifiable through blockchain technology.
Another way people are making money through the metaverse is virtual real estate. On November 24, the virtual destination for digital assets, Decentraland, a plot of digital land sold for 2.4 million USD worth of cryptocurrency. The famed American inventor and futurist Ray Kurzweil believes that within a matter of a few years, virtual workplaces will replace physical ones for almost all people. Decentraland’s top competitors are EXMO, Input-Output, Vega Protocol, and Bloktopia. There are also video games where you can buy land and the buyer becomes the actual owner of that plot of the digital asset through the blockchain.
The attention of big tech companies is on the virtual real estate business as in the future, buying, selling, and renting digital real estate will be a common phenomenon. "Do not wait to buy real estate, buy real estate and wait." - Will Rogers
In summation, with AI growing more perceptive, there is big money to be made for creative types in the Metaverse, whether it be in creating, designing, or even coding.
Digitalization and the internet have progressed global connectivity greatly. Yet the Metaverse will deepen the digital divide and inequality. There is already an ever-growing difference in the quality of life between the rich and the poor. Even though the global economy has been hit extremely hard, the purchase of digital infrastructure and digital assets are high in demand. Amid the digital divide in the world, the Metaverse will require a high internet speed and an Oculus headset. Through the virtual economy of the Metaverse, many new jobs will be created, and those without access to the technology will be at the risk of being further left behind by digitalization.
Being the crossroad between the digital and the physical world is the whole pitch of the Metaverse. Through the use of VR, AR, and the Cabria oculus that even mimics the resolution of the human eye, it is clear that virtual experiences on the Metaverse will become indistinguishable from real physical ones. One of the concerns in this regard is the possibility of users losing touch with reality. Much like the Snow Crash, it is clear that this Metaverse too will be used by many as an escape from the real world.
French Philosopher Jean Baudrillard introduced the term ‘hyperreality’, a concept where reality and simulation are indistinguishable so much so that the stimulation becomes more important than the real world it stemmed from.
It is coherent that when the Metaverse is to evolve into a tailored fantasy world of your own, reality will be disappointing, and the virtual world will be preferred.
One of the core problems people have with Facebook’s Metaverse is how the company misused the personal data of their users before and had numerous security breaches. Largest of which is the Cambridge Analytica data scandal. This becomes especially significant when it comes to complex technology like their EMG, meaning that they can directly measure and collect data from brain activity. Recent surveys conducted by Facebook to its users include questions regarding how they feel about Meta, their privacy, and the usefulness of the app.
There is speculation that perhaps Facebook changed their company name from Facebook to Meta for the same reason, to escape from the public’s negative perception of Facebook. However, the official statement from Meta explained that the name change is to incorporate everything else the company does, not just Facebook. Since Meta is investing huge amounts of resources to develop their Metaverse, they will most likely steadily prioritize regaining their users’ trust in the coming years. After all, Meta has made it clear that they want to be leading Web 3.0, and the next generation of the internet, and social media. For Meta to be successful in this regard, transparency with its users must be achieved.
The golden age of information access
It will take the next decade to develop the Metaverse and Web 3.0. Perhaps and then some. As Mark Zuckerberg said in an interview with The Verge “In the future, instead of just doing this over a phone call, you’ll be able to sit as a hologram on my couch, or I’ll be able to sit as a hologram on your couch, and it’ll feel like we’re in the same place, even if we’re in different states or hundreds of miles apart.” Until hologram technology is used by the masses, the next big technological evolution to look forward to is the Metaverse.
Many experts say that the Metaverse to us now is what the internet was when it first came out for public use in the 90s. The world will tune in to Web 3.0 and the Metaverse regardless as the new technology becomes more mainstream and the virtual economy grows more powerful. Users will be able to teleport to different virtual worlds and it would become a common practice. In our series of articles Covid & Lasting Changes, how the world will be better prepared for another pandemic was discussed. The Metaverse will change our lives so that our work, lives, and entertainment may not change as much in the future in case of another pandemic.