The term “metaverse” is the latest buzzword to capture the tech industry’s imagination.
Facebook recently changed its name to meta Platforms, Nike has bought a virtual shoe company to help it expand to the metaverse, and other retail giants like Gucci and Ralph Lauren have been considering the future of fashion with digital personas.
But what is the metaverse, and what does it all mean? Can it be a space for optimism and collaboration or will it instead amplify some of the major issues currently surrounding social media and society?
With the help of Dr Eric Lim, a professor in information systems and technology management at UNSW Business School, we take a look at the issues around the metaverse.
What is the metaverse?
Okay, this is tricky, but imagine the virtual world and the real world intertwine and merge under a single reality.
This is about bringing the internet brought to life, if you will, or at least rendering it in 3D, a kind of virtual environment you can go inside of — instead of just looking at it on a screen.
Essentially, it’s a world of endless, interconnected virtual communities where people can meet, work and play, using virtual reality headsets, augmented reality glasses, smartphone apps or other devices.
The metaverse is web 3.0, Dr Lim says, the next evolutionary step on from web 1.0 and the current 2.0. It is not a new internet, he says, but a new way of interacting with the internet.
“A lot of people think of the metaverse as a place, but I see the metaverse as more of a time that is coming.”
In the metaverse, Dr Lim believes we will live our virtual life the same way we live our physical life.
Okay, so what does all this look like?
“It’s not an easy concept to understand because a lot of people just kind of see a virtual reality world,” Dr Lim says.
Once the metaverse infrastructure is in place — with things like proliferation of AR glasses and headsets and interconnected platforms and everyday objects — it is about layering digital and meta data on top of the physical reality around us.
“In the metaverse, once we have this platform and infrastructure, I can see you, and then I can see meta data on top of you,” he says, describing a kind of view and informational perspective which gamers will easily understand.
“I can see your name when I glance at you using AR glasses,” Dr Lim says.
“I can see your job title and other things you want people to view.”
What will I be able to do in the metaverse?
Well, you can go to a virtual concert, take a trip online, and buy and try on digital clothing.
The idea is to create a space similar to the internet, but one that users (via digital avatars) can walk around inside of and where they can interact with one another in real time.
Dr Lim says people will begin to buy and build “assets” that will only exist in the metaverse and have real monetary value.
These assets could be land, art, clothing and other items, and when you get your head around that then it could help you to understand the rise of the NFT.
Blockchain technology, the foundation of cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, mean the ownership of digital assets can be proven in the metaverse.
Digital currencies will be needed to pay for things in the metaverse.
“The metaverse is a concept where people spaces, assets and information and objects are all linked together and mesh,” Dr Lim says.
Tech companies still have to figure out how to connect their online platforms to each other, but these efforts are already underway. Billions of dollars are being invested into this space.
So when will the metaverse happen?
The key metaverse ingredients and building blocks — blockchains, cryptocurrencies, open source, Artificial Intelligence and smart contracts — already exist, Dr Lim says.
“There will be a huge spike in adoption of technologies and the creation of the metaverse,” he explains.
Dr Lim predicts the metaverse will hit a “huge inflection” point which becomes “exponential”, much like the way people suddenly adopted other transformational technologies like the iPhone.
“The metaverse will be realized once that happens,” he says.
By 2030, a large proportion of people will be in the metaverse in some way, Melanie Subin from The Future Today Institute predicts.
Is metaverse just a Facebook project?
Facebook renaming itself to meta was a sign of where things are going and trying to shake off its increasingly poor public image.
But Facebook is just one of many tech giants trying to become a dominant player in the next big internet leap forward.
Who are the major players in the metaverse space?
Some names you’d expect and maybe others you’re not so familiar with; Microsoft, Unisys, Amazon, Snap Inc, Google, Nvidia and HTC.
Then you have a group of major gaming companies, like Epic Games, Unity, Tencent and Roblox, who have all made serious strides in the metaverse space.
Should I be worried?
You could be forgiven for thinking humanity is heading for some kind of twisted Black Mirror hell.
Facebook and other big tech companies have long been accused of willfully crossing lines of privacy and data harvesting, as well as creating toxic environments for bullying, misogyny and sexual harassment.
Naturally, some wonder if the metaverse will give rise to the same.
Dr Lim thinks the metaverse is now at a crossroads. He believes we should rightly be wary of Silicon Valley and the tech giants controlling and monopolising the metaverse, without any restraint.
A centralized version of the metaverse where the tech companies are the “middlemen of necessity”, just as they are in this web 2.0 world, would be a bad thing, Dr Lim believes.
“Is it too late? No, I don’t think it’s too late,” he says, pointing to the rise of the opensource blockchain and its decentralization philosophies as a reason to be optimistic about how the metaverse could unfold and be built without the heavy-handed influence of Mark Zuckerberg and the other tech kingpins.
Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the world wide web’s inventor, has also publicly stressed his desire to wrestle power away from the clutches of big tech.
“When individuals are given the means — the open and inclusive infrastructure upon which they can create things of value — you can see there is vast amount of energy and excitement in that space,” Dr Lim says.
He and Mr Berners-Lee both believe people should have much better control over their personal data, a war that has been lost in web 2.0.
What is metaverse, And Why is it So Popular? | Lumptrade.com
The term "metaverse" is the latest buzzword to capture the tech industry's imagination. Facebook recently changed its…