The Embodied Internet may sound like a poorly written evil Marvel villain, but it perfectly encapsulates the nature of the Metaverse – the newest front in online immersive innovation and (potentially) the future of online and physical life.
While embodiment of online experiences was a concept ostensibly penned by Mark Zuckerberg when describing facebook’s/Meta’s commitment to creating a metaverse, it’s a great way to enter the field of wider metaverse development.
And developing it still is. While some initial doorway tech into metaversal experiences exists (such as VR and immersive tech), the full framework – and a fully realized concept – has yet to develop.
The metaverse means many things to many people – from facebook to Roblox, from Fortnite to Microsoft – and a universal definition (or ubiquitous location, or central hub) is yet to really exist.
Criticisms (as with any major cultural and experiential advance) also abound. From confusion over data ownership and hosting, to the ongoing development of invasive wearable tech, issues around privacy, and the erosion of in-person experiences and community building, the metaverse has become a lightning rod for online cautioneers…and massive VC investment.
So what is the metaverse?
- The metaverse is, in short, a multipurpose hybrid online experience where users can move through digital environments, own digital stock, and collaborate and communicate with exclusively online communities.
XR Today summarizes it thusly: “the metaverse offers a future where we can enjoy a stronger overlap between our physical and digital lives…the promise of the Metaverse today focuses on universality and decentralization. It invites us to imagine a world where we can control our digital experiences and access them in a more flexible environment”.
There are three fundamental technologies/methodologies that underpin metaversal existence – Extended Reality (XR), blockchain, and AI. Again, referring to XR Today’s definitions:
- XR – “involves merging the physical and digital worlds through the use of headsets and devices…with extended reality, we can step into virtual worlds and interact with 3D avatars in communities”.
- Blockchain – “In the metaverse, blockchain promises a way to give users more control over their online experience, taking us away from Web 2.0 and into Web 3.0, where larger organizations…don’t have as much control over what we do and see online”. These sorts of experiences are typified in NFTs and cryptocurrency.
- AI – “Artificial Intelligence is essential for a number of metaverse experiences. It can help with natural language processing, to ensure our machines and robotics can understand us”.
Who hosts the metaverse?
“Hosting” may be a misnomer, as major corporations are building their own “version” of a metaverse, such as Microsoft, Meta, Roblox, Nvidia (who might be the first creator of MaaS, or Metaverse-as-a-Service functionality and architecture), Unity, Snap, Tencent and more.
Basically, every and any major tech, IT, systems or network creator is in the process of making, and hosting, their own metaversal experience.
However, “ownership” of a lived-in digital universe is conceptually challenging, to quote Faisal Galaria, Chief Executive Officer of Blippar, “If a few big-tech companies were to control the way people access, experience, or contribute to the metaverse, it would limit engagement and uptake. Picture only being able to access particular websites through Amazon web servers, or only being able to write your social media posts using a Facebook branded mouse and keyboard”.
Who has bought into the metaverse?
“Companies related to the metaverse (tagged under gaming, online games, virtual worlds, and augmented reality) have raised nearly $10.4 billion (in 2021)…with Epic Games’ $1 billion funding round in April 2021 leading the pack”. It’s a world of incredible opportunity, and is soaking up VC funds.
What are the criticisms of the metaverse?
From metaversal monopolies to a gradual eroding of in-person community cohesion, the metaverse is not without its naysayers.
Again, referring to Faisal Galaria, “It should be firmly grounded in – not an escape from – our current reality, and should augment and improve our daily lives, not insulate us from the world around us. The metaverse, and its potential, should not be owned by big tech – but all of us”.
There are also questions around regulations and safety; the price of immersive tech such as VR headsets; and a basic lack of convenience to do something we all do already.
Is the metaverse the future? It’s certainly looking like it, but it’s true end-form is yet to emerge.