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The “Metaverse” may not be in everyone’s VR headset yet, but it seems to be on everyone’s lips. It’s not surprising that it’s a hot topic - the idea of a huge, virtual online world is technologically evolutionary and societally revolutionary. Hundreds of companies have seen the apparent opportunity that the metaverse holds, led by international behemoths like Microsoft, Meta (Facebook), Google, Nvidia, Unity Software, Shopify, Roblox, and Qualcomm.
However, many tech leaders believe the Metaverse will be an expensive flop, while a whole range of people are worried about societal factors such as: privacy, addiction, problematic social media usage, social and personal interaction issues and user safety.
Lets take a look at where we are now and where we could be…
The term has been around for 30 years, and not just in fictional form. It has been part of corporate visions of the future for quite some time.
Many experts look at the metaverse as a 3D model of the internet. Essentially, it’s a place parallel to the physical world, where you spend your digital life. Here, you and other people have a customised avatar, and you interact with them through their avatars. The discourse on defining it differs from case to case, but in the simplest terms, it is a shared virtual space that is interactive, immersive and hyper-realistic. It also includes your ‘digital assets’, which will likely be recorded on a blockchain.
“The internet was described as an ’information superhighway’ in the 90s, but it was more of just a term to refer to a potential future with networked computers rather than an actual highway. The Metaverse will also have equivalence to the real world and be much more distributed, democratic, fluid and varied,” said Timoni West, who oversees the AR and VR departments at Unity Software, a company that builds graphics engines for game development.
There is a huge amount of excitement about the Metaverse among wealthy investors and big tech firms, and no-one wants to be left behind if it turns out to be the future of the internet. Considered by many as the next internet, the Metaverse brings a new concept for blending physical and digital worlds. The social media giant, Facebook, changed its name to ‘Meta,’ and the discussions about Metaverse have not stopped since.
There is currently a feeling that for the first time, the technology is nearly ready, with advancements in VR gaming and connectivity coming close to what might be needed. Virtual Reality (VR), is now a reality and commercially available headsets of decent quality exist, including standalone wireless devices like the Quest 2 developed by Oculus. Facebook’s purchase of Oculus in 2014 was an early indication of where Zuckerberg thought his business might be headed.
Another is the blockchain, the barely comprehensible and energy-hungry technology that has made cryptocurrencies and NFTs possible. NFTs (Non-Fungible Tokens), which have become an obsession for crypto enthusiasts, salesmen, suggestible executives, and some parts of the art world over the last year or so, could enable the ownership of virtual items and real estate within the Metaverse.
NFTs are a way of registering a one-of-a-kind image, video, or any form of digital, or indeed, physical item on a blockchain. NFTs have been around for a few years and it took Beeple, CryptoPunks and Bored Ape Yacht Club to put this new technology on the map. Since then, Adidas, Nike, Disney, McDonalds and many celebrities have jumped into NFTs.
You might be wondering about the possible value and use of the Metaverse. People will be able to interact and socialise with each other through digital avatars in the Metaverse. Brands could capitalise on these interactions to identify favourable marketing opportunities. Just like the real world, the Metaverse can allow users to move around different Metaverse spaces and create, share or trade experiences and assets. Here are some examples of how the Metaverse might also be used;
We can expect the current hype and hyperbole to translate into a suite of products and services, which will likely evolve from the current trends in gaming and remote networking. Such products will need functionality such as low latency, very powerful video processors, uninterrupted communications networks and AI decision making tools driving the entire infrastructure. If it becomes ubiquitous, the Metaverse will be an entire ‘reality’ made out of technology. As a result, it can be expected that there will be an increase in demand for technology-skills, from semiconductor jobs, all the way through the technology stack into electronics, embedded software, high level software and whole new disciplines in UX and UI – even virtual architecture. To wit:
Facebook recently announced that they will need to hire 10,000 in the EU to work on metaverse - "the metaverse has the potential to help unlock access to new creative, social, and economic opportunities. And Europeans will be shaping it right from the start," Facebook said in a blog post. The new jobs being created over the next five years will include highly specialised engineers. (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-58949867)
Qualcomm’s investment in XR (Extended Reality), has been linked to its vision for the metaverse. Not only has the company opened an XR lab in Europe, but it has collaborated with Microsoft to ramp up the adoption of AR, in both the consumer and enterprise sector.
Qualcomm has stated that its collaboration with Microsoft represents a "shared commitment to XR and the metaverse" and that it is focused on inspiring more people to set their sights on this new version of the internet. So, we may be seeing some exciting AR developments being made in preparation for the metaverse by both Qualcomm and Microsoft. This exciting time in the technology industry has the potential to change our lives like the development of the internet in the 1990’s.
Of course, you might ask yourself why you’d want to go on a virtual holiday when you won’t get the sun on your skin or the smell of sea air filling your senses...but that’s a topic for future consideration…
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