The next big thing
6 min read
The metaverse is a hypothesized iteration of the Internet, supporting persistent online 3-D virtual environments through conventional personal computing, as well as virtual and augmented reality headsets. Metaverses, in some limited form, have already been implemented in video games such as Second Life.
Current metaverse ambitions are centered on addressing technological limitations with modern virtual and augmented reality devices, as well as expanding the use of metaverse spaces to business, education, and retail applications.Numerous entertainment and social media companies have invested in metaverse-related research and development.
The metaverse has come to be criticised as a method of public relations building using a purely speculative, "over-hyped" concept based on existing technology. Information privacy and user addiction are concerns within the metaverse, stemming from current challenges facing the social media and video game industries as a whole
The metaverse is described as a means of manufacturing immersive digital spaces for a range of human activity. To achieve this, some iterations of the metaverse involve integration between virtual and physical spaces and virtual economies. Additional qualities include digital persistence and synchronicity in order to better establish a sense of presence in a realistic environment, along with implementing existing social media elements such as avatar identity, content creation, and social acceptability
Several components of metaverse technologies have already been developed within modern internet-enabled video games. The 2003 video game Second Life is often described as the first metaverse, as it incorporated many aspects of social media into a persistent virtual world. Social functions are often an integral feature in many massively multiplayer online games. Technology journalist Clive Thompson has argued that the emergent, social-based gameplay of Minecraft represents an advanced implementation of the metaverse. Similar statements were made for the game Roblox, which has since employed significant usage of the term in marketing. Other claims of developing a metaverse include the games Active Worlds, Decentraland, and Fortnite in addition to a few early MUD games.
Metaverse development has often focused on bettering virtual reality technologies due to benefits in establishing immersion in virtual environments. In 2019, the social network company Facebook launched a social VR world called Facebook Horizon. Facebook would later be renamed "Meta Platforms" in 2021. Its chairman Mark Zuckerberg declared a company commitment to developing a metaverse ecosystem. Much of the underlying virtual reality technology that Meta Platforms advertised remains to be developed. Microsoft acquired the VR company AltspaceVR in 2017, and is planning on integrating metaverse features into Microsoft Teams.
Some developers have proposed using metaverse technology for improvements in work productivity.
Within the education sector, metaverse technologies have been proposed as a way to allow for interactive environments for learning. The metaverse could also host virtual reality home tours in the real estate sector.
The metaverse is a proposed expansion to existing internet technologies. Access points for the metaverse include general-purpose computers and smartphones, in addition to augmented reality (AR), mixed reality, virtual reality (VR), and virtual world technologies.
Business and commercial interest in metaverse-related research and technology include Facebook, which bought VR company Oculus in 2014, and has announced plans to build a 3-D social space to connect varying services.
The metaverse's dependency on VR technology places limitations on its development and wide-scale adoption. Limitations stemming from the balance between cost and design include the lack of high quality graphics and a lack of mobility. Lightweight wireless headsets lack image quality, which is optimized for bulky, wired VR goggle systems. Another issue for wide-scale adoption of the technology is the cost, with the HTC Vive Pro 2 headset costing US$799 plus controllers in 2021.
In 2021, the South Korean government announced the creation of a national metaverse alliance with the goal to build a unified national VR and AR platform.
Common standards, interfaces, and communication protocols among virtual environments are in development. Collaborations and working groups are attempting to create standards and protocols to support interoperability between virtual environments, including:
OpenXR, application programming interfaces (APIs) for interfacing with VR and AR devices, Khronos Group (2019–present) Virtual Worlds—Standard for Systems Virtual Components Working Group (P1828), IEEE (2010–Present) Information technology—Media context and control—Part 4: Virtual world object characteristics (ISO/IEC 23005-4:2011), ISO (2008–Present) Immersive Education Technology Group (IETG), Media Grid (2008–Present) Virtual World Region Agent Protocol (VWRAP), IETF (2009–2011) The Metaverse Roadmap, Acceleration Studies Foundation (2006–2007) The Open Source Metaverse Project (2004–2008) X3D, the successor to the Virtual Reality Modeling Language (VRML) as the open standard for interactive real-time 3D (web3D). X3D is an accepted standard for integrating virtual and augmented realities with the web
Criticism and Concerns
The term arose in the early 1990s, and has come to be criticised as a method of public relations building using a purely speculative, "over-hyped" concept based on existing technology.
Information privacy in the metaverse is an area of concern because the companies involved will likely collect users' personal information through wearable devices and user interactions. Facebook is planning on persisting targeted advertising within the metaverse, raising further worries related to the spread of misinformation and loss of personal privacy. AR pioneer Louis Rosenberg warned that the metaverse could be more polarizing than social media, driving people from their information bubbles to their "own custom realities” and that users could selectively “reality block” the parts of society they don’t like.
User addiction and problematic social media use is another concern for the development of the metaverse. Internet addiction disorder, social media, and video game addiction can have mental and physical repercussions over a prolonged period of time, such as depression, anxiety, and obesity. Experts are also concerned that the metaverse could be used as an 'escape' from reality in a similar fashion to existing internet technologies.
The metaverse may magnify the social impacts of online echo chambers and digitally alienating spaces. Since metaverse developments may be made to algorithmically tailor virtual worlds based on each person's beliefs, the metaverse may further distort users' perceptions of reality with biased content to maintain or increase engagement.
The term metaverse was coined in Neal Stephenson's 1992 science fiction novel Snow Crash, where humans, as avatars, interact with each other and software agents, in a three-dimensional virtual space that uses the metaphor of the real world. Stephenson used the term to describe a virtual reality-based successor to the internet.
Neal Stephenson's metaverse appears to its users as an urban environment developed along a 100-meter-wide road, called the Street, which spans the entire 65536 km (216 km) circumference of a featureless, black, perfectly spherical planet. The virtual real estate is owned by the Global Multimedia Protocol Group, a fictional part of the real Association for Computing Machinery, and is available to be bought and buildings developed thereupon.
Users of the metaverse access it through personal terminals that project a high-quality virtual reality display onto goggles worn by the user, or from grainy black and white public terminals in booths. The users experience it from a first-person perspective. Stephenson describes a sub-culture of people choosing to remain continuously connected to the metaverse; they are given the sobriquet "gargoyles" due to their grotesque appearance.
Within the metaverse, individual users appear as avatars of any form, with the sole restriction of height, "to prevent people from walking around a mile high". Transport within the metaverse is limited to analogs of reality by foot or vehicle, such as the monorail that runs the entire length of the Street, stopping at 256 Express Ports, located evenly at 256 km intervals, and Local Ports, one kilometer apart.
Ready Player One
Ready Player One is a 2011 dystopian science fiction novel by Ernest Cline, depicting the world in the year 2045 as being gripped by an energy crisis and global warming, causing widespread social problems and economic stagnation. The primary escape for people is a metaverse called the OASIS, which is accessed with a VR headset and wired gloves. It functions both as an MMORPG and as a virtual society. A film adaptation was released in 2018