Metaverse: why Silicon Valley relies on the implementation of this anti-utopian science fiction idea

The idea is to create a space similar to the Internet, but one in which users (using digital avatars) could walk inside and where they could interact with each other in real time. Theoretically, you could, for example, sit at a table for virtual meetings with colleagues from around the world – instead of looking at their two-dimensional faces on Zoom – and then go to a virtual Starbucks to meet your mom, who lives across the country.

Despite the current cycle of excitement, the idea is still amorphous, and there will probably be years and billions of dollars left before a fully functioning metaverse – if at all. The big companies that are now joining the discussion can simply reassure investors that they will not miss out on what could become the next big deal, or that their investment in virtual reality, which has not yet gained widespread commercial appeal, will eventually pay off. And, especially with Facebook, using the long-term potential of the metaverse can be a useful way to distract from the focus here and now.

Regardless of motivation, big questions remain: from how technology companies can address security and privacy issues in the metaverse, to whether people really want to live most of their lives in an in-depth virtual simulation.

“What worries me the most is the metaverse: are we ready?” said Avi Bar-Zeev, founder of consulting firm RealityPrime and a former employee of Apple, Amazon and Microsoft, where he worked on HoloLens.

“Are we still emotionally developed enough to go beyond the safe division of screens between us and the input of words?” he said. “Is it safe to start human-to-human interaction, or is nonsense still ruining it for everyone?”

Facebook's investment in the Oculus VR headset is a key part of its meta-global ambitions.

What is the “metaverse”?

Metavsesvit was invented in the 1992 cyberpunk novel Snow Crash. In the book, the protagonist Hiro, the protagonist – a hacker and for a short time a pizza supplier – uses the metaverse as an escape from his life, where he lives with a roommate in a storage container 20 by 30 feet in a gloomy world where power has been replaced by corrupt corporations.

In this story, the metaverse is a platform for virtual creation, but it is also full of challenges, including technology addiction, discrimination, harassment, and violence, that occasionally spill over into the real world.

This is far from the optimistic potential presented by Zuckerberg and others. But one sign that the metaverse is still far away: no one can fully agree with a clear definition of what it is or could be.

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Experts working in space tend to agree on several key aspects of the metaverse, including the idea that users will experience a sense of “embodiment” or “presence.” That is, they will feel that they are actually in cyberspace with other people, seeing things in the first person and probably in 3D. It will also be able to receive many users who will be able to interact with each other in real time.

“It simply came to our notice then [the metaverse] as the embodied Internet in which you are, not just looking, “Zuckerberg said during the conversation.

Like the Internet today, the metacosm will not be the only technology to be launched at once, but rather an ecosystem created over time by many different companies using a variety of technologies. Ideally, these different parts of the ecosystem will be interconnected and interacting, said Jesse Alton, leader of Open Metaverse, a group that develops open source standards for the metaverse.

“Someone who plays video games can win a flaming sword in their favorite Xbox game, put it in their inventory, and later in virtual reality he can show it to his friend, and his friend can hold it,” said Elton, who also the founder of the augmented reality firm AngellXR. “It’s the ability to transport [information] from one world to another, no matter what platform it is on. ”

Some fragments of the metaverse already exist. Services such as Fortnite, an online game in which users can compete, communicate and build virtual worlds with millions of other players, can give users an early idea of ​​how it will work. And some people have already spent thousands of dollars on virtual homes, forcing their share of real estate in the metaverse.

Why did everyone suddenly talk about it?

The metauniverse is a relatively old idea that seems to be gaining momentum every few years, but disappearing from the conversation instead of more instantaneous possibilities. Perhaps, and predictably, those working on this technology see signs that this time it may be different.

“A lot of people who worked on this before … are still involved, we were just waiting for some technological advances,” Elton said.

Improvements to mobile processors, gaming systems, Internet infrastructure, virtual reality headsets and cryptocurrencies are all important building blocks for creating a metaverse and ensuring consumer acceptance.

Moreover, after the pandemic has forced most of the world to work, study and communicate from home, many people may feel more comfortable communicating virtually than two years ago, on which technology companies are trying to make money.

“[A change like] it’s always a multi-year iterative process … and yet, despite this fact, over the last few years, there’s been an unmistakable feeling that the main parts come together, which looks very new and very different, “said Ball, a venture capitalist.

Will the metaworld have the same problems as the Internet?

Proponents of the meta-universe say that eventually there may be huge business potential – a completely new platform on which to sell digital goods and services. It can also have benefits for how people interact through technology.

“What we’re really doing is figuring out ways to add technology to our lives to improve our lives and our communication with other people,” Bar-Zeev of RealityPrime said. “It’s not just about conquering a whole new world.”

But there are also many concerns about how the metaverse can be used or exploited.

Last week, Zuckerberg said that advertising is likely to be a key source of income in the metaworld, as for the company today. But some in space worry that a business model based on advertising will create owners who can afford to pay for a headset without advertising or a metaworld, and those who don’t, who won’t be able to reproduce the inequalities that exist in the real world.

“I don’t want to see a world where we divide people into those who can afford it, get a better experience, and those who can’t afford it have this horrible experience of using it for advertising,” Bar-Zeev said. He added that the harassment on the Internet could become more intense when users could attack each other’s virtual bodies, rather than just exchanging ugly words on the screen.

Data privacy and security can also become a bigger problem when “most of our lives, our data, our work, our investments now exist in a purely virtual form,” Ball said. And other problems, such as misinformation and radicalization, can also worsen in the metaverse.

“If you can now replace someone’s reality with an alternative reality, you can make them believe in almost anything,” Bar-Zeev said. “Everyone’s responsibility in this area is to prevent bad things as much as possible and to promote good.”

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