What is the Metaverse and how it will shape our future

The term Metaverse is now on everyone’s lips, thanks to recent technological developments and the digital revolution. But what is it? What are its origins and what is its current state? Is it just a dream, or something achievable that we will soon have in our hands?

Let’s try to understand this topic, definitely fascinating and full of contradictions.

Metaverse and science fiction

Since its inception, the Internet has appeared to us as a new world, similar yet different from ours, and capable of infinite possibilities. Literature, video games, and cinema have ridden this tasty suggestion. Let’s take a look at how art has conceived the Metaverse, anticipating (or determining) its next transformation into reality.  

A cyberpunk idea: what is the Metaverse?

The term “Metaverse” was born in 1992, thanks to the cyberpunk Snow Crash novel by Neal Stephenson. In this book, the Metaverse is a gigantic black sphere, crossed, corresponding to the imaginary line of the Equator, by a monorail that allows inhabitants to move from one point to another at great speed.

This world is perfectly parallel to ours – it’s possible to shop, work, and have fun. The only difference: each of us appears as a 3D avatar, more or less high resolution depending on one’s social class (and economic availability).

The socio-economic factor also influences the ability to access services. The rich will be able to afford to frequent exclusive locations denied to the less affluent.

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Metaverse in literature, cinema, and video games

From Stephenson’s idea, a real genre linked to the Metaverse was born. In literature, we can mention Player One by Ernest Cline (2010): in this novel, access to virtual reality (defined as OASIS, Ontologically Anthropocentric Sensory Immersive Simulation) is allowed by a combination of headset and treadmill.

Once inside, participants live the life of the Metaverse, interacting with other users and engaging in various activities. Steven Spielberg, in 2018, adapted this work into a film of the same title. He is no stranger to the theme of the Metaverse: in 1982, his Tlon was released, where a man is digitized during a theft attempt in a large company.

metaverse virtual world

How can we not mention the iconic Matrix quadrilogy by the Wachowski sisters, when talking about cinema? In their version, the Metaverse is a grand illusion created by machines to “cultivate” humans as an alternative energy source to solar power.

Another sector that has explored the Metaverse is undoubtedly video games: we can say that the gaming world has long embraced the concept of an entirely alternative world to ours, where it’s possible to build a fully-fledged identity and “live”.

A striking example is Second Life, a multimedia platform that gained a large following, while also revealing several issues (dependencies on the new world, considered more fulfilling than real life).

Is Metaverse becoming reality?

Beyond science fiction, is it possible to realize the Metaverse? It seems so, according to the statements of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.

On October 28, 2021, the CEO of Facebook officially renamed his company to “Meta”, and expressed a strong intention to begin transforming the Internet into the much-envisioned Metaverse.

Let’s take a closer look at this idea and its implications, while also considering the issues raised by many.

During the online event Inside the lab, building for the Metaverse with AI held in February, Zuckerberg stated that “there has never been a better time to build the future”. With this phrase, he is alluding to a highly ambitious new way of thinking about social media and the entire Internet.

A real parallel reality – a metaverse, to be precise – in which to immerse oneself to meet daily needs (from shopping to business meetings). How? Through avatars, as in Stephens’ concept, people can talk, see, and perceive each other as if they were in the same room, developing shared experiences in a common and continuously growing digital space.

Philosophy of the new Metaverse

For Zuckerberg, the heart of the project lies in the utopian idea of connecting the world. Social media has bridged the distances between us and our loved ones, enabling us, even during the pandemic, to avoid complete isolation. Yet, it’s not enough. Human relationships deserve to be nurtured in a different way: face-to-face.

metaverse for global communication

However, to unite the human community, an intermediate, enormous goal must be achieved: enabling verbal communication between avatars, even if they speak different languages and do not share knowledge of English.

To this end, Meta intends to build a large system for universal instant translation, utilizing AI (Artificial Intelligence).

“The elimination of language barriers would be profound, allowing billions of people to access online information in their native or preferred language. It’s a superpower people have always dreamed of, and AI will deliver it to us”.

(Mark Zuckerberg)

 

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When will Meta’s Metaverse be released?

Currently, Meta’s Metaverse exists only in very limited trial versions, but they are nevertheless accessible. However, Zuckerberg’s dream is to make it fully livable by 2031.

At that point, it will be possible to immerse oneself in a real city with all the shops and services we know, meet other avatars, and build one’s own virtual home, including in integrated marketing activities with NFTs.

marketing activity with nfts

It seems that one of the first fields of experimentation will be video meetings on platforms like Meat. It shouldn’t be long before we find ourselves sitting at a table with our colleagues in virtual reality!

How to enter the Metaverse

The ideal way to access the Metaverse will be through a VR headset. This accessory allows for complete immersion in virtual reality, optimizing the experience from a sensory perspective as well.

For this reason, a rush to specialized stores is anticipated, with widespread purchases of headsets, particularly the Quest 2, formerly Oculus, developed by Meta.

However, this is not the only path available: fundamentally, to access the Metaverse, a computer/iPhone, a browser, and an internet connection are sufficient.

Controversies

The Metaverse seems so close and promising, yet there are not a few potential or actual criticisms identified. Let’s look together at the “cons” identified by industry experts, and then analyze the scandals that have already shaken the Meta project.

Will the Metaverse be a flop?

Many believe Zuckerberg’s idea will be a flop. First and foremost, due to a lack of imagination. In the Metaverse, users would merely be living in the usual world, with the only difference being experiencing it through a headset. Indeed, the CEO of Meta didn’t exactly use the most attractive words to describe the new digital universe: he called it “an infinite office”.

metaverse examples and definition

In short, the Metaverse seems to lack any adventurous dimension, with the “augmentation of reality” being merely a holographic matter.

The question however is: if the Metaverse offers nothing more than everyday life (work, shopping, meetings, some events), will users be eager to dive into it? Would it be implausible to imagine that, after initial excitement, the project will be abandoned by most of the population, thus leading to a spectacular failure?

This being “too similar to our world” also opens up other problems, as discussed by none other than Brad Smith, president of Microsoft:

“We’re all talking about the metaverse as if we’re entering a new dimension. It’s not like dying and going to heaven. We will all live in the real world with people”.

And if, in the end, it’s about dealing with human beings and their interests, the risks are not unlike those we know all too well in our current reality: scams, fraud, data theft, disinformation, and various manipulations… In short, with his words, Smith reminds us of how easily dreams can turn into nightmares. And as we’ll see in the next paragraph, we’ve already had a taste of this.

Sexism and harassment in the Metaverse

In early December 2021, a female user accessed a beta version of Horizon World, a virtual platform developed by Meta. Within minutes of immersion, she became a victim of sexual harassment.

She was virtually groped by another user, while the digital audience present laughed and encouraged the assault. A very sad story, quite embarrassing for Meta, which claims to take measures to prevent such cases from happening again.

But is there a way to avoid such abuses, when many minimize the case by stating that simulated violence is not so serious? Considering the immersive context proposed by Meta: how to protect users from discrimination and harassment experienced in augmented reality, that is still real.

How to ensure, even before, that the statute of virtual reality does not encourage ill-intentioned people to feel free to commit actions that would be illegal in the flesh-and-blood world?

Metaverse: new investment perspectives

Despite all the perplexities highlighted, the emerging Metaverse still attracts many investors. It’s not just about those who want to participate in the conquest of the new world with various investments, but also about those who foresee the possibility of doing business within cyberspace.

In a context where sales and purchases are entirely digital, the currency will adapt and become virtual – so much so that we are now talking about Metamarketing. Metaverse therefore appears to be the ideal place for cryptocurrencies and bitcoin to take center stage, as they are still relatively marginal in everyday economy.

Cryptocurrencies

Global currencies will be an excellent means to interact with the meta-economy and will allow the purchase of goods and digital “lands”, to invest in works of art or virtual projects and services. At present, there are many cryptocurrencies in circulation, and it is not clear which one is best to bet on, as the Metaverse project is still young.

how cryptocurrency affects the economy

Among the most explosive, we have MANA, which has increased its value by 700% in recent months (from 0.7 to 5 dollars); AXIE INFINITY, which has risen from 65 to 165 dollars since last November and December; and SAND, which grew by 25,000% in 2021.

What is certain is that cryptocurrencies are having great success, and investing now, while they have not yet actively taken off, could be the gold mine of tomorrow (or the day after tomorrow).

Conclusion

Reminding ourselves that regardless of how far we may venture into unexplored digital realms, the demands for responsibility, ethics, and inclusivity to stay constant are as important.

The Metaverse creates new approaches and opportunities for investment that involve in particular using cryptocurrencies. This crossing of virtual economies and digital currencies may transform conventional ideas about value, trade, and property.

But it also brings complications and risks that need to be managed prudently. The metaverse introduces new investment views and prospects, especially with the acceptance of cryptocurrency.

The Metaverse, therefore, does not only demonstrate the technological phenomena but is also a socio-economic paradigm shift with an endless stream of opportunities and challenges.

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