The metaverse has becoming an increasingly popular concept in the tech world. But what is it and how will it change our lives?
Imagine attending a mega-concert with millions from all over the world, all at the same time, in a virtual universe, as a digital avatar.
Hard to believe? Well, take a look at this.
The video you just watched shows an in-game live music adventure with a digital avatar that takes you to a virtual Ariana Grande concert in Fortnite’s ‘metaverse’. A metaverse is an environment in virtual-reality where users can interact with others in a purely digital space.
This adventure involves a very small part of the metaverse, a small step that participants take in just one neighbourhood.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been consistently talking about the metaverse while pledging to transform his company into ‘‘a metaverse company’’ in the next five years or so. He sees it as "the next generation of the internet."
So far, Zuckerberg has plans to invest at least $10 billion this year and rebrand Facebook to shift the focus of the company in that direction.
"The metaverse is going to be the successor of the mobile internet," Zuckerberg said on Monday.
Zuckerberg is no exception in this regard. The idea of the metaverse has attracted a lot of interest from both investors and companies such as Microsoft who are eager to be part of the next internet era.
While the digitally progressive who dabble in cryptocurrencies, and tech giants continue to take steps towards this universe, virtual game world developers such as Fortnite have already started to live in this digital world.
From sci-fi to reality
In March, digital artist Beeple’s artwork sold for $69.3 million at an auction and was bought by two people whose digital monikers were Metakovan and Twobadour. In the ‘real’ world their names are Vignesh Sundaresan and Anand Venkateswaran.
This art is completely digital and is what’s known as a non-fungible token (NFT).
Sundaresan and Venkateswaran, have an interesting plan - they will exhibit the artwork in a virtual monument which they call ''The Souk'.
“We are in the process of building a massive structure called The Souk, which will basically become the permanent address for the Beeple’s 5,000 days piece,” Venkateswaran said.
“We've been working with award-winning architects from New York to build it and will launch it on November 4,’’ he added.
Moreover, not only will Beeple's piece be exhibited there, but the venue will also host live concerts, events and sessions attended by influential public figures.
This place, designed by well reputed real-world architects, is indeed a virtual environment.
Looking at the concept itself, "meta" is a Greek word meaning "after, beyond." The metaverse is derived from the combination of the word "meta" and "universe", meaning "beyond the universe.”
The concept was first mentioned in a sci-fi novel titled Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson in 1992. In the book, the 3D virtual world with avatars of real people was called the metaverse.
"On the back is gibberish explaining how he may be reached: a telephone number. A half electronic communications nets. And an address in the Metaverse,’’
Several science fiction books and films such as Ready Player One are set in a metaverse- alternative digital worlds which are indistinguishable from the real physical world.
Metaverse defines a collective virtual sharing space created by combining physical reality, online gaming, augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) and cryptocurrencies to enable users to interact virtually.
Augmented reality covers visual components, sound, and other sensory input onto real-world settings to magnify the user experience. In contrast, virtual reality is completely virtual and intensifies fictional realities.
It is a common fictional universe in which all digital worlds are located.
Think about markets, cities, countries, planets, universes or consider all the superheroes you can imagine have a common univers - the metaverse claims to become a virtual-reality space that covers and unites them all.
Currently, virtual reality is predominantly in use in the gaming world through VR headsets. Users have avatars that walk around and interact with other players.
The metaverse, on the other hand, will likely expand the online fields significantly and interactions can be more multi-dimensional.
"It is delivering a sense of presence, like you're right there with another person -that's the holy grail of online and social experience," says Zuckerberg.
In this digital universe, people will likely perform daily activities such as working, travelling, playing games, going to concerts, shopping, trade with cryptocurrencies and many more with their 3D avatars. The metaverse can also pave the way for a virtual economy to form and operate successfully.
The stimulated interest in the metaverse can be seen as an outcome of the Covid-19 pandemic. As more people have begun working and going to school remotely, there has been an increased demand for alternatives to make online interaction more lifelike.
But is a large-scale metaverse really possible in the future? The massive investments being pumped into the concept is a strong signal that it may soon be a reality.
The internet has become an indispensable part of our lives, so why not the metaverse?