What is the Metaverse?
By Sadira Sittampalam
Recently, Mark Zuckerberg rebranded Facebook as the new and improved ‘Meta’. While this doesn’t affect the social media platform that we all know as Facebook, the parent company of Facebook and all other Zuckerberg owned apps and technologies will now be known as Meta.
This name was brought about through this idea of the ‘metaverse’ which is a hypothesized iteration of the internet that supports online 3D virtual environments. With the new name Meta, Zuckerberg plans to create somewhat of a hybrid of today’s online social experiences, expanded into three dimensions using technologies such as virtual and augmented reality. To Zuckerberg, this is the next evolution in social technologies.
But what exactly does this all mean? Well, the metaverse has been a word that only tech enthusiasts ever knew, initially coined by Neal Stephenson in his 1992 cyberpunk novel, Snow Crash. In the book, the metaverse is a shared space for the public available on the internet, projected onto virtual reality goggles. There have been many uses of this concept in modern media, notably Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One where most of humanity interacts via this online virtual world. Essentially, it is about offering real-world experiences in a digital and virtual world.
This is already somewhat of reality with technology that we have right now such as VR and AR. For those who are unfamiliar, VR or Virtual Reality is an immersive experience where a person would put on a headset and can see, hear and operate within a digital world. You wouldn’t be able to hear outside as VR uses full headsets that immerse the user in a 360-degree virtual world that they can physically move around in, as one does in the real world. Meanwhile, AR or Augmented Reality is a digital overlay projected onto the real world.
This is something like what you see in Pokemon Go where you will be able to see Pokemon figures through your phone in the real world. It is also similar to some filters you see on Instagram where you can project a certain character onto a surface. Meanwhile, MR is what we call Mixed Reality, which incorporates elements of VR and AR. This is where a person can interact with virtual and real-world objects. Finally, there is XR or Extended Reality which is a catch-all term for VR, AR, and MR which will likely all blur together if the metaverse ever becomes a reality.
This concept of the metaverse gained a lot of traction after the recent announcement that Facebook was rebranding itself to Meta. But what was behind this abrupt rebrand? Well, for anyone who has been keeping up to date with Facebook, you would know that this rebranding was anything but abrupt. Zuckerberg has been very vocal about changing how people perceive the company of Facebook, as he wanted to move away from being known as just a social media company, and move closer to being known as a Metaverse company.
Facebook has spent quite a lot of its money on VR and AR research, even buying the VR Company Oculus. Zuckerberg believes that the future of the internet is this new virtual internet where you will believe you are actually inside the internet rather than looking at it from the outside.
This is something that has come about primarily due to the pandemic, as so many things were limited to the technology we had from within our homes. Thus, many tech companies, including Facebook, started to jump onto the Metaverse bandwagon to fill this demand of real-world - Esq interactions in virtual spaces. However, this will take a while to fully develop and be accepted by the general public.
Thus, while this all sounds quite exciting and futuristic as there are a number of new things that we would be able to do with this type of technology such as; virtual tours of things like famous landmarks, art galleries, museums, etc. There are obviously a lot of things to consider about something as ambitious as this, especially considering the track record that Facebook has in terms of privacy. There is also a chance that this is all just hype that will die down after a few years. However, with a company as large as Meta taking the lead on this, it is more likely that this will be something that we will have to take seriously.
In fact, Meta isn’t the only company that is pursuing this, as Microsoft has already started developing XR applications with its Microsoft Mesh platform which combines the real world with AR and VR. Microsoft is even planning on bringing in MR with things like holograms and virtual avatars to Microsoft Teams by 2022. The US Army has even started working with Microsoft to create a type of augmented reality for soldiers to train, rehearse and fight in.
Video game companies are also taking a leading role in this upcoming metaverse as it does offer a very exciting investment for them. Epic Games, the company behind Fortnite, has pledged to build the metaverse, even raising $1 billion from investors for this purpose. Even Roblox has joined in on this, with a vision to have the metaverse as a place where people can come together to learn, work, play and socialise.
Thus, while it is concerning that Meta is the main player in creating this new Metaverse, it is slightly reassuring that there are more people invested in this as well. Nevertheless, many critics have highlighted that the name metaverse, in general, is more of a gimmick than something that was actually necessary.
This entire concept could just as easily fit in under the definition of the internet, but by using a new word, it creates a distinction between the present-day internet and whatever the metaverse will be. This distinction also helps get rid of the negative baggage that the internet and social media have associated with it. This is also concerning as with these new names that make this technology seem new and fresh, many companies can avoid regulation. They can continue to develop this technology under the new name long before any sort of authority can catch up with them, which is quite concerning.
Privacy is something that does concern us all, and by ensuring that the people who create the metaverse know that it is something that they do have to take seriously, we will be able to have a healthier internet/metaverse. The best way you can do this is by keeping yourself informed and understanding how your data is being used and why. While it might not affect you personally, it affects the human race at large and can result in some serious consequences. So, next time you see a privacy update, take the time to read about it.