The metaverse and the future of technology
A firestorm erupted in October when Facebook announced it would embrace the metaverse and rebrand itself as Meta. Though experts say the metaverse will be around for many years yet, the recent boom in the use of the term has many wondering what it is.
A metaverse seeks to reinvent how people interact with each other on the internet, interacting in a way previously considered only possible in science fiction.
“In theory, we’ll be able to move from one virtual world to another in the metaverse, but we’ll have to wear virtual reality goggles or maybe augmented reality,” said Rabindra Ratan, associate professor of media and information at Michigan State University.
The metaverse will be brought to life by technologies such as virtual reality, which simulates a 3D image or world, and augmented reality, which superimposes a computer-generated image onto a user’s view of the real world.
Users could be immersed in an alternate world using virtual reality, or augmented reality as we know it today. Meta says it builds and improves these devices, but the technology is still in development. A good example of such a device is Meta’s Oculus Quest, now in its second model.
Ratan said that in the metaverse, in a virtual reality headset, you’ll feel like you’re in a room with someone who can see you, who can see your nonverbal gestures, to whom you can respond and mimic you.
Virtual worlds and avatar creation are nothing new, as games like Grand Theft Auto Online, Minecraft, and Roblox have already done it. It is Meta’s intention to go beyond entertainment, and create virtual workspaces, homes, and experiences for all ages, as announced last October.
Ratan explained that social media is becoming a metaverse without games. There’s no difference between hanging out with friends or having a business meeting in the new metaverse.”
The excitement about a metaverse is growing quickly, but Ratan says it will be many years before that vision becomes a reality.
Ratan says the project is being built in bits and pieces. Metaverse users are not sure exactly how they will use it yet.
In preparation for the change, experts say that companies are ensuring they are ready.
Arun Maini, a tech YouTuber from England with over 9 million subscribers, said, “I think no one knows exactly how it’s going to look, but they need to be front and center.”
Companies moving into this new venture may be able to find new revenue streams with a virtual world where everything is supported by codes. Based on how Americans are adopting a digital lifestyle, there are limitless opportunities. Walmart announced earlier this month that it would enter the virtual world, providing currency and allowing its customers to buy and sell new-fangled technologies.
CNET Editor-at-Large Brian Cooley predicted that Metaverse technology would become concrete and sampleable over the next five years. As far as I’m concerned, it will be impressive, but it will be more than one flavor, not just one.
31% of Americans almost always went online in the March 2021 Pew Research study, and 79% went online several times daily. It seems people are moving away from physical goods to virtual goods based on the amount of time they spend on apps and games.
Maini said, “In the metaverse, you will still have those ridiculously expensive Gucci trainers to show you’re doing well, even if it is just code.”
Although this world could be realized, there would be a lot of work to do. In the U.S., many people don’t have access to high-speed broadband connections, and VR hardware is expensive. According to Maini, new technologies are making hardware more affordable and accessible.
Maini said that the promise of virtual land is increasing every day, so people’s willingness to pay will go up. And, if hardware is getting cheaper, there may come a point when it’s mass adopted.
Innovation is even more critical when demand is high. Meta announced on Jan. 24 that it is developing a new artificial intelligence supercomputer as a foundation for realizing the metaverse vision.
A statement from Meta said that the AI Research SuperCluster, or RSC, will help Meta’s AI researchers develop better models that can learn from trillions of examples; work across hundreds of languages; analyze text, images, and video in real-time; as well as develop new augmented reality tools.
Ultimately, the work with RSC will pave the way for building technologies for the next major computing platform — the metaverse — where AI-powered applications and products will be a major component.
In addition to offering businesses enticing financial opportunities, virtual interactions raise concerns about their impact on users and safety.
In addition to alleged negative effects on young users, Meta continues to face scrutiny for its monitoring of hate speech across its apps, including Instagram. Maini said moderation is critical because there are millions of users on different platforms.
If you want to moderate something with that level of freedom, you’ll have to be intrusive,” Maini said. This leads to either complete chaos, where everyone can do everything and there’s racism, sexism, abuse, and all that kind of stuff, or incredibly tight moderation, where nothing can be said or done.”
Technology is being developed at an incredibly fast pace and innovative ideas are being implemented around immersive reality, which makes it only a matter of time before the metaverse becomes a reality.
In many ways, the web experience would be different than it is today, Ratan said.
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