Humanity is ready for the next technology step – an interactive virtual world, where everyone can hang out with games, adventures, shopping, and the best new virtual identities. A parallel universe, if you may!
Enter – The Metaverse – the tech world’s latest obsession that traces its origins to a dystopic sci-fi novel. Sounds like science fiction? It is not. Through the years, the journey from Habitat to a fully functioning metaverse has come together piece by piece, supported by gaming, social media, and a vibrant digital economy.
We are in the Metaverse now!
The Metaverse is a shared, virtual space akin to a digital mirror of the natural world, without any constraints. In a recent earnings call, Mark Zuckerberg shared his vision to turn Facebook into a metaverse company, describing it as “an embodied internet, where instead of just viewing content — you are in it.”
The Metaverse literally means ‘beyond universe’ since it combines a physical reality with a virtual space only limited by our imagination. If you google the term, you’ll find numerous definitions. It has been called the Mirror World, the AR Cloud, the Magic Verse, the Spatial Internet, or Live Maps. But, one thing is sure – it’s coming and it is a big deal.
Like “cyberspace,” a term coined by fiction writer William Gibson, “metaverse” also has literary origins. The term first appeared in the novel “Snow Crash,” written by Neal Stephenson in 1992. It spoke of a new space where humans, as avatars interact with each other and software-generated entities, in a three-dimensional space that uses the natural world metaphor
Twenty-six years later, “Ready Player One” provided a glimpse of our possible future in the year 2045, where the world is faced with multiple crises. To escape this reality, people go to an alternate virtual universe called the OASIS. It functions as a virtual society, with its currency, own set of rules, and all. The movie could be a prototype of a future Metaverse.
The video game Second Life, released in 2003 by Linden Lab, created a virtual world where users could wander, building their structures; people bought land there for either U.S. dollars or Linden Dollars’ in-game currency.
With some cooperation between technology companies and futurists, the Metaverse could be just around the corner. Companies like Facebook, NVIDIA, Huawei, Microsoft, and others seem very clear of their intent to create a metaverse (their Metaverse?). The target? Compounding the size of the addressable market manifold by fusing the digital economies of the physical world with the virtual. FB is investing billions of dollars in creating devices that would make this a reality, starting with a smart wristband and VR goggles that project the wearer’s eyes. FB’s acquisition of Oculus in 2014 seems to be a step towards “getting ready for the platforms of tomorrow.”
Microsoft is equipped with enough AI and mixed reality tools in their Metaverse tech stack to be a worthy contender. Satya Nadella has already declared their intention to build an ‘enterprise metaverse” using digital twins, mixed reality, and what they call Metaverse apps. FYI – Microsoft already owns Minecraft, which has its own virtual ecosystem.
Gaming companies like Epic Games have already released simulation software and VR services. Epic Games (Fortnite) has raised USD 1 billion for its metaverse plans; Roblox and computing giant, Nvidia, is also working in this direction.
The idea isn’t new. People have toyed with the idea of living in a virtual world for ages. A lot of money has been spent (and lost) in virtual economies like Second Life and EVE Online.
Brands and retailers are already trying to create new customer engagement channels in this new world. FinTechs are attempting to seize the opportunity to capitalize on unique financial needs in the virtual world, while a battery of startups is creating new virtual products entirely, from avatars to crypto-collectibles.
But the question stays, is a metaverse possible? Is it real? What does it mean for the general population – both as individuals and businesses? Will there be one Metaverse to rule them all?
No single company can or should own or run the Metaverse. However, it requires cooperation to create consistency. For example – assets that one acquires in the Metaverse will need to be portable, with digital rights preferably moving between platforms owned by different corporations.
Silicon Valley is a great proponent of this new world. However, critics are more guarded – they believe the Metaverse could easily become a catch phrase – like “artificial intelligence” and “blockchain” – an attempt by start-ups to woo venture dollars.
Whatever form the Metaverse ultimately takes, its wider adoption will require a revolution across technologies across infra, consumer-facing devices, platforms, content, and more.
Till then, we have the Marvel parallel universes to revel in – the Multiverse where the God of Mischief reigns, lives, and perhaps dies!