The phrase “metaverse” has been in use for many years; it was first used by writer Neal Stephenson in his science fiction book Snow Crash in 1992. However, Mark Zuckerberg’s decision to rename Facebook as Meta has contributed to the recent rise in popularity of the metaverse. Since then, the term “metaverse” has gained popularity and is commonly used by the media to drive traffic to articles, grab readers’ attention, and provide a forum for discussing hot tech companies.
What exactly is a metaverse?
The metaverse is generally understood to be a virtual environment or a technological extension of the real world.
Virtual reality (VR) headsets are used to enter the metaverse in Stephenson’s Snow Crash and other works of fiction like Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One (which was converted into the 2018 Stephen Spielberg film of the same name). They are essentially sophisticated computers that immerse a user in the experience rather than displaying it on a standard computer, smartphone, or monitor.
In other words, the metaverse is envisioned as enabling us to be more active participants in a virtual experience as opposed to merely observing anything (a live broadcast, webpage, work document, etc.) on a display.
In virtual worlds, a person’s presence is represented by an avatar that may communicate with users and other avatars. “One definition of this is [the metaverse] is about a time when immersive digital worlds become the main way that we live our lives and spend our time,” said Zuckerberg in an interview on the Lex Fridman show.
The metaverse’s components
Does that imply that the metaverse won’t exist until everyone is confined to this digital fantasy world? Not quite. Some definitions claim that using VR is not necessary to reach the metaverse. Worlds in three dimensions already exist and may be used without VR. Although some could argue that they aren’t immersive enough—that is, we shouldn’t only feel as though we are seeing the virtual space on a two-dimensional screen—to be referred to as a component of “the metaverse,” early iterations of this nebulous technological phrase exist here.
1. Computer games
The metaverse was first used in the video game industry. Consider well-known video games like Minecraft from Microsoft, the global smash Fortnite from Epic Games, or the kid-friendly online game and creative tool Roblox.
Although the majority of people still use a computer, smartphone, or gaming console to play video games, certain games have all the necessary elements for an immersive experience: There is a social aspect with other users, a customizable avatar that represents the player, the ability to interact with the virtual environment, and an economy where digital commodities can be purchased and sold.
Regarding the element of the digital economy, goods can be bought using real money like dollars, game-specific currency (like Robux on the Roblox platform), or even cryptocurrencies (some blockchain projects are even offering virtual real estate in the form of NFTs). Some cryptocurrencies, like Bitcoin, were created with the idea of the economy expanding into a virtual environment (or onto the internet itself).
Even though most of today’s games are primitive in comparison to how some see the metaverse economy developing in the future, this digital trade in in-game cash for virtual goods gives players a broad notion of how it may operate.
2. Interaction with others
The metaverse is being created for purposes other than just gaming. The capacity to engage with people in an environment that is very realistic was a key component of the metaverse in Stephenson’s Snow Crash. This makes it possible for individuals who may be geographically far from one another to interact, communicate, and share experiences face-to-face (avatar-to-avatar?).
An immersive virtual environment makes a lot of sense from this angle. During the COVID-19 outbreak, Zoom Video Communications gained widespread recognition. However, using two-dimensional video to communicate has its limits. It turns out that before “Zooming” became popular, non-verbal indicators like posture and eye contact were taken for granted.
Social apps like Meta’s Horizon Venues, which is still in the very early stages of development, attempt to address some of these problems. 3D avatars, which are accessible through a Quest 2 VR headset, may provide a sense of presence while communicating with friends and family. Using the software, a group of people can even attend live events. For instance, the NBA has made certain of its games accessible on Horizon Venues, providing Quest 2 players with an immersive method to watch basketball matches that also allows for fan participation. Sound like a foolish plan? Maybe. However, when television first came out, some people could have also believed that watching a live event on TV rather than in person was a stupid notion.
3. Use in business
The metaverse can be used for additional useful purposes by bridging social interaction. The majority of the workforce already uses impersonal digital technologies (email, papers, Zoom meetings, etc.) to complete their task. Therefore, the question of when these digital encounters will become more immersive, collaborative, and human is the metaverse for work.
Top chip designer Nvidia’s CEO Jensen Huang defined the metaverse as a collection of online virtual worlds that are linked together by the web and accessible at any time of the day. Each virtual world was developed by a separate firm. The capacity to communicate with a bot (through an avatar) that may be utilized to retrieve information is just one example of how Nvidia sees the metaverse spreading into the real world.
Making “digital twins” of actual spaces, whether they already exist or are still being developed, is another example of a use case. It is extremely valuable to be able to watch and interact with a virtual depiction of the real environment. For instance, a factory can be digitally constructed first to assist in building planning, test out various manufacturing line layouts, and simulate production under various scenarios. It is impossible to overestimate the cost savings and greater efficiency provided by such capabilities.
The implication of the metaverse for you
The metaverse isn’t being created by a single corporation, just like the internet isn’t a single entity (it’s made up of multiple websites, applications, and cloud services). Even Meta, which with its name change has staked a claim to the entire technology idea, admits on its website that “the metaverse isn’t a single product one company can build alone.”
This is the reason why so many businesses have begun discussing or creating a piece of what may one day be the metaverse. The internet has ingrained itself into daily life to the point that the metaverse may just be an extension of it. Many businesses perceive the usage of the internet and computer technologies as being more meaningful and natural than some great scheme to ensnare us in a dismal future. In reality, several businesses, like Meta, Nvidia, Roblox, and 3D development platforms like Unity Software, are already making money off the metaverse.
There will undoubtedly be issues that need to be resolved. How will users be able to confirm that an avatar they are engaging with in the metaverse is indeed who they claim to be? Security and trust are major concerns. However, as noted by Zuckerberg and other proponents of the metaverse, many of the problems that develop in immersive virtual environments are inherently human ones that go back before the internet and even computer technology.
The question that remains is when the metaverse will occur. The answer will vary depending on if and when utilising an immersive 3D environment—possibly using a virtual reality headset or glasses—becomes superior to using a conventional computer, smartphone, TV, etc. However, there is no question that some early adopters of technology are already using early versions of the metaverse.