The metaverse is a hypothetical virtual shared space created by the convergence of virtually enhanced physical reality and physically persistent virtual space, including the sum of all virtual worlds, augmented reality, and the internet. The word “metaverse” is a portmanteau of the prefix “meta” (meaning beyond) and “universe” and is typically used to describe the concept of a future iteration of the internet, made up of persistent, shared, 3D virtual spaces linked into a perceived virtual universe.
The metaverse is the fourth wave of the internet. The first wave was the internet itself, the second wave was social media and the third wave was mobile. The metaverse will be powered by augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR). It will change how we work, shop and play. Moreover, it will have a massive impact on businesses. The metaverse is a shared virtual world that can be accessed using VR, AR or mobile devices. It is a massive multiplayer online game, only more advanced and more immersive than anything we have seen before.
Metaverse: How is it different from the Internet?
In the 21st century, people are seeking authenticity in their online interactions. They want to connect in meaningful ways with other people — not just with computers or “bots.” The metaverse will create real human connections with real human emotions. Consumers will feel like they are part of something that extends beyond themselves yet still allows them to be individuals within a group.
Within this vision, humans interact with artificial intelligence programs via avatars. These avatars can interact with other avatars within virtual worlds. Today, the metaverse has many similarities with the internet, including virtual social networks and online games. There are also differences between them — while the internet is primarily made up of words and numbers (with images and video becoming more commonplace), Neal Stephenson, in his novel Snow Crash, describes the metaverse as being primarily visual in nature and being a successor to the internet.
The Metaverse vs augmented reality vs virtual reality
It is essential to understand that the metaverse is its own thing: not VR, not AR and not just an extension of the internet. In Virtual Reality environments, we are entirely removed from our physical surroundings, whereas in Augmented Reality environments, the virtual content is overlaid on the physical world. In AR and VR, we experience these worlds through specialized hardware such as headsets or augmented reality glasses. Nevertheless, in the metaverse, everything is experienced through a single ubiquitous device that has already penetrated most aspects of our lives — your smartphone. Metaverse also provides a persistent “global” space that anyone can access. We can say that metaverse is more like an extension of our current internet culture rather than something new altogether and it is built on top of existing technologies (such as AR and VR).
It should be noted that people and corporations are building the metaverse, so they can also predict what kinds of parties will have a stake in its development. Because of its complexity and the amount of effort needed to build it, the metaverse will most likely be built in phases, with different features being rolled out at different times.
Forces of the Metaverse
Here are three main forces that will likely shape the development of the metaverse:
- The search companies: The search companies (Google, Microsoft, Yahoo) will want to build an “index” of the metaverse that makes it easy for people to find information and experiences within it. They will likely compete to create better interfaces for navigating the metaverse.
- The game companies: Game developers may try to “colonize” portions of the metaverse with their virtual worlds, which they would then use as a platform for various games and virtual experiences.
- The advertising industry: Advertisers and marketers may try to build their worlds within the metaverse — shopping malls or theme parks where they could promote their brands or sell products directly to consumers.
Why should we be worried about the metaverse?
The most important thing to remember is that the metaverse will be a reflection of our own society, so all the problems that exist in our society will likely exist there as well. Nevertheless, that does not mean we should ignore these problems. Many negative issues could potentially arise, and now is the time to start thinking about how they might be best addressed.
The metaverse is a living, breathing, human-controlled reality with its own rules and laws and social norms. It will demand attention, just like any other place on the planet — and it might have the power to change life forever. There are some excellent reasons to be worried about the metaverse. Chief among them? It will become more accurate (or real) than a person can think.
The metaverse is not optional. One may not want to spend time in it, but one of the friends, family members, or co-workers will — and they will tell about it. The metaverse will become part of our everyday lives whether we like it or not.
One can not escape the attention economy. The metaverse is driven by a single fundamental force: the need for people’s attention, which companies will buy and sell at ever-increasing prices. It is also seen in action with social media platforms like Facebook and Snapchat; soon, it will extend into every aspect of people’s digital lives.
The metaverse is going to become part of regular job. Some companies are already creating virtual offices for their employees to use during telecommutes — places where people can meet up, collaborate on projects and feel connected (and productive) even when they are in fact working remotely.
Metaverse and governments
While some people are attracted to the idea that a metaverse would render nation-states obsolete, there is no real reason why a metaverse would necessarily lead to the end of state power.
The world’s states are potent organizations and will not disappear any time soon. There are things that states can do that non-state actor cannot do, such as engaging in warfare. States have legal sovereignty and exclusive jurisdiction over their territories whereas non-state actors do not.
Metaverse companies and governments can form a symbiotic relationship, where the government provides services such as infrastructure, security and access to markets while the companies provide products and services.
It is widely believed that the metaverse will be a centralized system. However, the metaverse can be designed in such a way that it is decentralized and not directly run by any government.
A decentralized Metaverse will require a different kind of governance to ensure that it remains in working order. The metaverse would need to be governed by its users, with some rules enforced by smart contracts. For example, every user needs to have an account to register their identity and protect themselves from stolen information. Users could also choose whether or not they allow other users to see their location and other data points within the metaverse.
Suppose, a user feels that another user has violated their privacy rights. In that case, the smart contract can automatically issue the offending user a warning, or even ban them from using the metaverse for a period of time until the issue has been resolved. Another issue with decentralization is security hacks and theft. A decentralized platform could use Proof-of-Stake (PoS) as a security mechanism and allow users to vote on any security issues.
What to expect?
The technology that enables the metaverse is still in its infancy. However, the infrastructure is coming together quickly. We can see glimpses of this future through games like Fortnite and Minecraft and virtual reality experiments like Tilt Brush, Google Blocks, and Quill. We are witnessing a real estate boom in the metaverse where a single piece of land can sell for 0.5 Ethereum.
Virtual worlds are only becoming more realistic with every passing year. The metaverse will soon be here — and it is going to change the way we live forever.