By Allison Philips
Senior Copywriter and Edge Contributor
The metaverse is coming. Neal Stephenson first originated this term in his 1992 sci-fi novel “Snow Crash,” in which humanoid avatars meet and interact in virtual reality. According to Yahoo! Finance, tech giants Facebook and Microsoft have now advanced Stephenson’s vision to create a “hyper-real alternative world” in a race to immerse the metaverse into our daily lives — or vice versa — within the next generation.
Life in the Metaverse
What will the metaverse be like? Users will work, play and communicate with friends through various activities ranging from concerts to virtual trips.
Technically speaking, an actual metaverse does not really exist, but its advocates see it emerging from the online technology framework that we have now. Many technologies that could drive the metaverse – such as online 3D universes, ultra-fast broadband and virtual reality headsets – are already in everyday use.
For example, video games such as Fortnite, Microsoft’s Minecraft and Roblox weave elements of the metaverse through their online gaming platforms. Minecraft allows players to create digital characters and build anything they want.
Roblox, a platform created in 2004, features user-generated games and has partnered with Vans. Vans has created a virtual skateboarding park called Vans World, complete with clothing for virtual players to wear.
Dr. Zona Kostic, the University’s Department Chair for Computational and Mathematical Sciences, states, “The metaverse is, of course, going to focus on virtual reality. VR is just one subdomain of a much larger domain called extended reality and is also composed of augmented reality.
“AR provides the capability to project virtual content in your surroundings with the use of a headset such as Oculus Quest or a mobile phone. As far as VR and the metaverse are concerned, everything is going to be synthetic. Everything is going to be computer-generated.”
Facebook Rebrands Itself as Meta to Show Its Commitment to the Metaverse
According to Yahoo! Finance, Facebook is anxious to get in the metaverse game and downplay recent negative news stories about the company’s effect on teens and its proliferation of misinformation. The company recently changed its name to Meta. The name change reflects CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s conviction that the metaverse can replace the current version of the internet over a period of five to 10 years.
Meta’s investments include acquiring Oculus, the company that offers virtual reality headsets. In Zuckerberg’s vision of the metaverse, we will use these virtual reality headsets to come together through work, travel or entertainment and will be fully immersed within the internet.
Meta plans to create 10,000 jobs in the European Union by 2026, all aimed at building the metaverse. Zuckerberg has already committed $50 million toward creating the metaverse.
Related link: Science Fiction and Its Influence on Modern Technology
Microsoft and Others Racing to the Metaverse Finish Line
Through the Microsoft Mesh platform, Microsoft engineers have built holograms and created mixed and extended reality (XR) applications. Mesh blends the real world with both augmented and virtual reality. Microsoft has also developed an augmented reality HoloLens 2 headset for the U.S. Army that soldiers will use for training and fighting.
Epic’s section of the metaverse features concerts by Ariana Grande and Travis Scott, debuts by other musicians, and an immersive experience of Martin Luther King Jr.’s iconic 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech. Epic is also utilizing a MetaHuman Creator to produce digital humans who can be customized for future games.
Foundational Elements of the Metaverse
On your Facebook page or your personal website, your username or picture indicates who you are. But in the metaverse, avatars will represent users, according to ArsTechnica.
Once you’re in the metaverse, your unique avatar acts like a real person who talks, moves and completes a variety of actions. Online video games and social spaces have featured avatars since the ‘90s, and they’ve been enhanced by the progression in virtual reality.
Users’ avatars need spaces where they can engage with other users and the virtual world itself. Users can also buy and sell virtual property that can be tracked by non-fungible tokens.
ArsTechnica also notes that user-generated content specifically created for the metaverses can help round out the virtual dimension. Both Minecraft and Roblox already offer simple building blocks that take advantage of network effects and user creativity. To access the metaverse, users will require augmented reality glasses or some other augmented reality technology to achieve the full effect of a 3D presence with other avatars.
A Metaverse or the Metaverse: What Is the Difference?
As we’ve seen with games such as Fortnite and Minecraft, companies can create a metaverse and manage servers, oversee users, and establish rules for a virtual world. On the other hand, “the metaverse” would feature open architecture with groups and servers applying set standards just as the World Wide Web does.
As it stands now, tech companies are battling it out for the title of “owner of the metaverse,” but this desire may prove to be a pipe dream. If no decentralized standards come to fruition, odds are the world will end up dealing with multiple versions of the metaverse jockeying for users with absolutely no connection between the versions.