Metaverse: Five things to know about it and what it could mean for you.

The Facebook rebranding as Meta, reflecting its focus on the “metaverse,” Microsoft has now announced it, too, will launch into this space. Meta has proposed that the metaverse will eventually allow us to engage across education, work and social contexts, while Microsoft looks to be focusing specifically on the realm of the virtual office for now.

 

More so, what actually is the metaverse and to what extent should we believe that the vision being presented to us is really going to be central to our daily lives? The idea itself isn’t new. Science fiction author Neal Stephenson coined the term “metaverse” in his 1992 cyberpunk novel Snow Crash, presenting a 3D virtual world in which people, represented as avatars, could interact with each other and artificially intelligent agents.

 

 

However, as with any big vision of a future that doesn’t yet exist, many people have tried to stamp their own definitions on the metaverse. If the idea is new to you, it may help to understand some of the properties you can expect from a metaverse.

 

i. A virtual world: this is, in my opinion, the most important characteristic of a metaverse. You could explore it using a computer, gaming console, mobile, wearable technology or other device, experiencing 3D graphics and sound along the way. The idea is that this makes you feel more present in the metaverse, and presumably less present in the everyday world (where your body stubbornly remains).

ii. Virtual reality. You need a virtual reality headset for this. The idea here is that you become immersed in the virtual world, so you feel even more present—at least until you bump into something that remains in the everyday world, like the coffee table.

iii. Other people. The metaverse is social. There are lots of other people there, represented as avatars. Some of these avatars might be bots, virtual agents and manifestations of artificial intelligence. You can hang out with the other people or even do things together. The social aspect is likely to be central in Facebook’s metaverse given its history as a social network. However, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg explains his “Metaverse” virtual world concept, which he says is about “connecting with people.” — The Recount (@therecount) October 28, 2021
Metaverse fans and some researchers believe communication may be more natural than with video conferencing because, for example, you can use gaze to show who you are addressing (your avatar can turn its head to look at another person). Your avatar could also walk over and sit next to someone else’s avatar to start a conversation.

 

iv. Persistence. This means the virtual world is available whenever you want to visit it. You can change it by adding new virtual buildings or other objects and importantly, the changes remain in place next time you visit. You might be able to take up residence and own a bit of it. The metaverse will rely on your user-generated content—your digital creations and personal stories—in the same way social media does today.

 

 

v. Connection to the real world. In some visions of the metaverse, the virtual stuff in the virtual world actually represents real stuff in the real world. For example, you might fly a virtual drone in the metaverse to steer an actual drone in the real world. People talk about the real and virtual as being “digital twins”.

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