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Although several companies are already involved in the metaverse, it is still a new and developing technology. Some predict that it will take another 5-10 years to fully build the metaverse, with others giving even lengthier estimations. That said, it might be better to think of the metaverse in a more organic way, as something which will always be changing and growing into the future. With such a wide-open frontier ahead of us, almost anything is possible, but what does the metaverse have in store for us? How will it help us, and will it make our lives worse in any way? In this article, we look at the predictions of the experts to figure out how we might make the most of the metaverse as it becomes a bigger part of our daily lives.
Can it Metaverse be defined?
Meta’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, is possibly the most well-known proponent of the metaverse, but despite investing heavily in its development, he still doesn’t seem to be exactly certain of what it is, saying that we have to experience it ourselves to find out. His point is that because it hasn’t been fully created yet, we cannot know what it is. This makes sense – after all, how can we know what it is if nobody has seen or experienced it yet. There are those who would say it will always remain a concept and never get beyond the prototype phase, but that is highly unlikely, especially given the virtual reality and augmented reality (VR and AR) technologies already in existence. Indeed, the valuations of the metaverse given by some experts currently run into the billions and even the trillions of dollars, indicating that this technology is likely to go a bit further than just the conceptual phase. That said, we can’t be exactly sure what it will become.
Metaverse a fully integrated existence
Despite a small number of doubters, most are on board with the idea that the metaverse is coming whether we like it or not. Yat Siu, cofounder of Animoca Brands, a company focused on gaming and blockchain technologies, believes that the metaverse will move us further towards an existence which spans both the physical and the virtual worlds. He claims that, with the help of AR, people will live on a spectrum between the two worlds, with much of their everyday lives transferred to the metaverse space. At the moment, many people see the virtual and physical worlds as separate. When you are in the virtual world, you are almost totally inactive in the physical world. With the metaverse at its full potential, this will no longer be the case. The worlds will be far more integrated, with each enhancing the other.
Siu also mentions the existence of ‘virtual companions’ – AI assistants who will keep us updated on the latest goings on in the news, on our social media, and at work. They will provide us with day-to-day assistance, kind of like an advanced version of the daily phone updates we are all so used to, but much more focussed and engaging. Rony Abovitz, founder of Magic Leap, a company which has developed head-mounted AR technologies, believes that so-called ‘synthetic life’ will be created within different virtual worlds and that people will be able to design and build their own worlds, just like people do webpages today.
Timoni West, VP of Unity, a company which specialises in AR and VR experiences, suggests that something slightly different might occur. Rather than such digital assistants being created to help us, our computers will become much more aware of the world, bringing about a true era of ambient computing. Ambient computing combines computer hardware and software with the user experience and human-machine interactions and learning. With such integration, we will use computers or other devices that are connected to the internet or the metaverse without consciously realizing it, bringing the truly immersive combination of the real and virtual worlds which the metaverse represents.
For ambient computing to become a reality, we will need devices to facilitate this kind of seamless integration of the digital into our daily physical lives. Patrick Cozzi, CEO of Cesium, believes that AR wearables will become ubiquitous, like smartphones are today. He envisions a world where these devices completely replace smartphones, and an AR or VR headset is the most popular way for people to shop, connect with friends and family, or even travel. With our current technologies, this might be hard to imagine, but Helen Papagiannis, author of Augmented Human, believes that the ability of new metaverse technologies to appeal to all the senses will make this possible. The introduction of smart clothing, which is embedded with tiny electric sensors and other nanotechnologies, and haptic developments such as tactile gloves, which give realistic physical feedback to what’s happening in the virtual world, will help to bring all of the senses into the metaverse. At the moment, this is a challenge, as pointed out by Hyo Kang from the University of Florida, who states that there very few devices which currently go beyond sight, sound, and touch to include the more nebulous senses of smell and taste. It could be a real challenge to integrate all five senses in the metaverse, but despite this, Papagiannis believes that metaverse companies might even be able to create new senses as they will offer us the chance to operate them in completely different and novel ways.
Power to the people
One key idea about the metaverse is that it will be completely decentralized. It will be a shared space created and moulded for the users, by the users. So says Sam Hamilton from The Decentraland Foundation, creators of the world’s first fully decentralized virtual world, where users can buy virtual land using cryptocurrencies in the Ethereum blockchain. Hamilton also believes that the metaverse will impact all areas of our lives, from finance to education and even government. In fact, experts such as Yat Siu have claimed that Facebook’s attempt at building a metaverse is doomed to failure for the very reason that it will be controlled by a centralized organisation which has access to user data and experiences. Hamilton suggests that such a centralized metaverse would be no more than a video game, while Siu compares the experience to Disneyland. For the metaverse space to truly exist, the creators and users must have more control.
Reasons for caution
All of this sounds tremendously exciting, but some are more concerned about the possible negative effects of the metaverse. President of Creative Strategies, Carolina Melanesi, claims that it could exacerbate the problems that we have seen with misinformation and online abuse on current forms of social media. Ibrahim Baggili, from the Connecticut Institute of Technology, also cautions us against the possibilities for people to misuse the metaverse, citing the so-called Human Joystick Attack, in which one person can control the movement of another in the metaverse space without their knowledge or consent. Beyond these potential misuses, it’s also possible that we will see metaverse addictions that will eclipse the social media or gaming addictions that some people currently suffer from. Although many believe that the metaverse will increase connection, others, such as Chitra Ragavan of blockchain data analytics company Elementus, question this, suggesting that it might even make us lonelier and more isolated than we are today due to the unprecedented level of escapism it will allow its users to experience.
Reasons for optimism
That said, it is undoubtedly true that the metaverse will open up new paths of communication that could bring us closer together. Emma Ridderstad, CEO of Warpin, a company that develops AR and VR brand experiences, believes that it will help to bring businesses closer to consumers. The most successful brands will be those which manage to collaborate effectively with their customers, bringing them into the creative process to construct the metaverse together. And, according to Dr Rolf Illenberger, managing director at VRDirect, employers will be able to implement metaverse based recruitment and training to enhance the connection between companies and their staff. Rishi Mandal, CEO of the Future fitness app, also sees the potential for positive connections to be built between metaverse businesses and their customers. He believes that this new virtual space will offer people better access to the coaching and expertise they need to have healthier, happier lives.
Indeed, health is a big area where the metaverse might improve our lives. VR and AR technologies have already been implemented to help train doctors and paramedics, and even plastic surgeons have benefited from the technology. Melanie Subin, from The Future Today Institute, suggests that those looking to get plastic surgery will be able to experience the proposed changes to their appearance through digital twin technology, where the patient will be able to not only see their new features, but feel and experience them, giving them an accurate idea of what it will be like post-surgery. Less superficial surgeries are also making use of virtual technologies, with neurosurgeons having already used VR to successfully complete a spinal fusion operation. This technology allows doctors to see 3D images of the patient’s internal anatomy as they perform the operation, and Dr Timothy Witham of John Hopkins Neurosurgery Spinal Fusion Laboratory, where the operation took place, likened it to having “GPS” for your eyes when performing complex procedures.
A practical world for businesses and individuals
So, while some experts are worried about what the metaverse might bring, many are optimistic. The experts at XR Wizards have already begun to help those in the healthcare, finance, and education industries through their Mazer platform, and their vision is of a functional and practical collection of metaverse spaces, such as their Mazer spaces, which enhance the lives of businesses and individuals. Their honeycomb structure of Mazer spaces allows you to teleport at will from a trade show to a trip to the doctors to a meeting with your financial advisor, making the whole experience incredibly convenient and highly rewarding. End-to-end encryption keeps your information safe and none of your communications are collected or tracked by the Mazer platform, so not even they can access your information. Such metaverse solutions really tap into the full potential of the technology to make it fit into our lives without completely taking control of them.
With these capabilities, Rafal Siejca, CEO of XR Wizards, thinks of the metaverse as a kind of superpower. He believes that access to metaverse technologies provided via sleek, compact XR glasses will be as revolutionary as the smartphone has been, if not more so. This one device will replace all the many screens that currently surround us, giving us the power to fully integrate our real world with a virtual one such as that offered by the Mazer platform. This will remove the limitations of the physical world, opening up all sorts of possibilities for living more unbounded virtual lives. For example, your empty physical table at home can suddenly transform into a virtual desk in your office, with your virtual keyboard and computer right there, ready to use, and your colleagues sat right beside you as if they were physically there. Even our smartphones will become virtual. With this technology, your office, your home theatre, your computer, and your smartphone can all be exactly where your XR glasses are. And, when you take them off, you’re back at home instantly, so no time is wasted on commuting or waiting in traffic.
Stanislaw Komorowski, VP of XR Wizards, has an altogether different understanding of where the metaverse is heading. He envisions a direct connection between the metaverse and the brain, something like Elon Musk’s Neuralink, which is seen by many as a challenger to the metaverse. Neuralink will eventually involve a chip being implanted directly into the brain, giving a level of integration and immersion far beyond what traditional metaverse hardware could ever supply. Whichever technology you prefer, Komorowski believes that the real turning point for the metaverse will be when we can fall in love and even have sexual interactions within this universe. When this point has been reached, life in the ‘real’ world will give in to virtual life. While Neuralink is still in development, it is reported to have been successfully trialled on monkeys, suggesting that this technology could be closer than we think.
A final thought
It’s to be hoped that the positive applications of the metaverse win out over the negative ones. In reality, many of these metaverse experts will be right in their own way, with the metaverse having both benefits and drawbacks. Ultimately, as Sam Tabar, chief strategy officer at Bit Digital, points out, whatever the metaverse develops into is likely to be market driven. The limits are only those of the human mind, and with billions of different minds potentially being able to impact this space, those limits are bound to be vast.
How does the Metaverse aim for a fully integrated existence?
The Metaverse envisions an integrated existence between physical and virtual worlds. Yat Siu predicts AR facilitating a spectrum of living between the two worlds, fostering a more cohesive experience. Concepts like ‘virtual companions’ and ‘synthetic life’ showcase a future where digital and physical realms enhance each other.
What is the role of decentralization in the Metaverse’s future?
The Metaverse is expected to be decentralized, created and shaped by users. Sam Hamilton from The Decentraland Foundation emphasizes user control and envisions the Metaverse impacting various aspects of life, from finance to education and government.
What concerns and cautions exist regarding the Metaverse’s impact?
Concerns include potential misuse leading to misinformation, online abuse, and the Human Joystick Attack. Some caution that Metaverse addiction may arise, possibly increasing loneliness. However, optimists see positive impacts, such as closer business-consumer collaboration, improved health applications, and enhanced communication channels.