Metaverse comes from the prefix meta, which means transcendent, and verse, from the universe: transcendent universe, which describes a virtual world interconnected with the physical world. The word appeared in Neal Stephenson’s 1992 book Snowcrash. Nevertheless, the idea of virtual worlds we can live in has always existed in human culture and fantasies. It was featured, for example, in 1982, in the movie Tron, which was a remake in 2010, in The Matrix, and several episodes of the series Black Mirror. Games like Second Life and Fortnite also rely on this virtual universe.
What is the metaverse?
The concept of the metaverse, also called Web 3.0 or Spatial Web, presupposes the creation of a “3D internet” that naturally connects to the physical world. On this new web, it will be possible to interact with virtual entities “brought” to the real world in the same way it takes us to the virtual world. Instead of consuming text, video, and audio through a screen, users can “enter” a virtual world, with the possibility of physically feeling sensations experienced by their avatar, which would be their “persona” in that world.
Examples? Think about remote work today and what it would be like if you could “walk into” an environment and interact with your coworkers. Imagine an online purchase in an environment that puts you in an immersive virtual store, similar to a virtual store, where you (or your avatar) could enter the store and choose a book, clothing, or a car. How about testing a Porsche in a universe that simulates a road in the German Alps? Imagination is the limit to experiences.
When it becomes a reality, the metaverse could be our place for work, socialization, and entertainment. Do you have doubts? Think about the number of hours that young people spend on social networks 2.0 and compare it with the intensity of the experiences on the metaverse (whoever watched the episode Striking Vipers, from the Black Mirror series, will know. The appeal will be too great to ignore.
The metaverse goes beyond integration into a virtual world. It is a bidirectional world, which provides physical experiences in the virtual world – and virtual experiences in the physical world. In this second case, we can think of a person planning a new house’s decoration. This person positions the virtual sofa in the chosen location in the house – using glasses or augmented reality lenses. When the delivery people arrive, they will be able, thanks to their glasses, to know exactly where to install the real sofa. We can think of other applications such as a virtual guide that accompanies tourists in a city or some training in which a person can tighten a virtual screw with a real screwdriver.
The creation of the metaverse will force society (people, governments, and companies) to rethink issues related to law, rights, freedom, and privacy. The development of the metaverse will enable a person to create an independent avatar, which emulates the “person” behavior through artificial intelligence and machine learning. If this avatar commits a cybercrime, who should be criminally liable? Can a person be fired if their avatar disrespects a colleague or fails to meet a deadline?
Will the metaverse have an “owner”? Who will control it? A big tech? A country’s government? Or a group comprised of governments and companies? Who will choose this group? Will the codes used for its creation be opened? Who will be the “judge” to resolve any disputes in the virtual world?
There are also questions of an existential nature: can a person have multiple avatars and interact anonymously? Is it possible to assume the image of a famous living person or a historical character? In this case, how to identify such persons in situations where this is relevant? What to do with a dead person’s avatar? Will it be able to survive in the metaverse? Or shall it “die” along with its double?
In addition to legal and ethical aspects, the metaverse has the potential to create a new economy. New business opportunities for companies are enormous, and it is clear that the goals of large companies for the development of metaverse are economical. A new world with endless possibilities for creating experiences and journeys is an immense potential market to work. The creation of a parallel virtual economy supporting all the business processes of the new world with an even greater level of complexity than the current global economic market will therefore be inevitable.
How close we are to moving into the metaverse?
Despite Zuckerberg’s and many people’s excitement, the development of the metaverse involves overcoming today’s considerable technological challenges. Current data transmission networks do not support the amount of data to render a virtual world in remarkably high resolution, and processors are still short of what is needed to accomplish this. It is necessary to develop technologies to increase the physical and virtual world’s interaction, among other challenges.
For now, the metaverse is just a fascinating and exciting idea.