Virtual reality (VR) has been around since 1968 when Ivan Sutherland created his first head mounted display system. But VR really didn’t gain any traction until 2012 when Palmer Lucky launched a kickstarter campaign for his company Oculus. That kickstarter campaign raised 2.4 million dollars, and set the stage for the future of VR platforms.
VR is now just entering the mainstream consciousness of society at large thanks in part to the hype around the next evolution of the internet–the metaverse.
What Exactly is the Metaverse?
The metaverse is an online 3D virtual environment that people can access through VR headsets, smartphones and other devices. Its the next iteration of the internet consisting entirely virtual reality (VR) environments. Think of it as an internet for virtual realities.
The idea is that human beings in the physical world can slip into virtual space, using avatars that pursue myriad activities within that realm.
At the same time, our physical beings and consciousness are never far away – we can come back when we want. The dimensions can be designed based on the imagination of the participants and the creators of the virtual space.
Where Did the Metaverse Concept Come From?
The modern concept of the metaverse has gone on steroids, with imagination running rife with Facebook rebranding itself as Meta. The thought of people existing principally in virtual reality and being able to do almost anything through their avatars seems intoxicating.
The concept of escaping reality emerged a long time ago within the science fiction, film and gaming genre, where creative minds realized the allure of stories based on an immersive virtual reality way back in the 1960’s.
The key question of “What exactly is the Metaverse?” began to take shape after a 1992 dystopian sci-fi model by Neal Stephenson called Snow Crash, wherein the term “metaverse” was coined.
In Stephenson’s novel, there is a long “street” in a virtual/augmented setting that people can access by plugging into public terminals wearing special goggles. After access, the avatar of each person could walk on and participate in activities along the Street.
Users of public terminals would appear as blurry avatars in black and white, while those that paid for, and entered through, private terminals would appear in full contrast and vibrant colors.
A Specific Definition of Metaverse Arose Post Snow Crash
“Meta” can be interpreted in multiple ways, from “transformative”, to “comprehensive”, to “above and beyond.” The term “verse” is used the same way that we think of the universe – it’s a self-contained sphere or area of activity.
Combining the possible definitions, a metaverse typically alludes to an alternative reality that sits atop our normal, everyday existence, with the proviso that we (in the form of our avatars) can access that virtual reality through certain portals and experience.
Technologies That Make Up the Metaverse
The metaverse relies heavily on 3 technologies: Web 3.0, Virtual Reality/Augmented Reality, and Blockchain.
Blockchain is an important part of the metaverse because its uses extend far beyond any one industry or market place. The blockchain will enable virtual items in the metaverse to be tradeable for real economic value.
The Continued Development of the Metaverse Concept
Building on Stephensons vision, there were multiple forays into developing the metaverse concept further. In 2003, there was the alt-reality computer game Second Life, which participants could play through an avatar which gave them the power to do virtually anything (pun almost intended), such as build a house, work at a job, visit sites – get married, even.
Since then, there have been many versions of the metaverse concept that have been developed and then adopted by users. For example, the aforementioned Metaverse Roadmap was launched by the proclaimed futurist John Smart and his team in 2006, following a summit that was attended by a crowd of metaverse enthusiasts.
The trend has continued to evolve and become further specified as the technology revolution in all spheres of human life has also caught up with the features that might enable a metaverse.
Metaverse Concepts are Evolving Faster with Technology
We have now forward from the theory, and the sci-fi driven imagination that drove futurists’ thoughts about a possible metaverse, to get to where we are now. The technology that could support the backbone of a metaverse is now available to create the backbones of virtual reality, along with the avatars and portals that can allow people to participate in such a space.
Today, people can connect virtually to a 5G world through social networks, avatars, non-fungible tokens (NFTs), virtual meetings, online shopping, wearable tech, artificial intelligence and myriad other experiences enhancing a virtual, augmented reality.
These inventions and innovations get us closer to realizing the dream that futurists had about a metaverse accessible to every one.
What Exactly is the Metaverse? It’s a Continuously Present Parallel World
Matthew Ball is a venture capitalist and widely publicized writer, whose version of the metaverse is an all-encompassing network of 3D worlds and simulations that are present in parallel to the real world on a continuous basis.
Every participant in that metaverse has the same combination of identity, history, financial identity and material possessions that they can continuously draw upon in their real-life existence.
From the metaverse perspective, this is great. The milieu is an immense virtual reality where the users are really present, the same way as you are present at whatever physical location you happen to inhabit. Your check in at the portal is akin to your possessing the proper ID (passport, drivers license, SSN etc.) and having the financial capability to function in your everyday world.
This kind of metaverse utilizes the blockchain technology, bestowing identifiers so that users are uniquely defined – from their bank accounts to their fashion accessories to their social media personalities.
These avatars allow for free roams in virtual space. Plus, there are opportunities to constantly stretch the metaverse to incorporate yet more functionality, so the experiences are enhanced on a continuous and evolving basis. There are, however, some drawbacks and concerns.
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Are There Concerns?
There are a number of concerns with how the metaverse, and participation in virtual reality, is evolving. While it may be a great idea for someone to escape and live in a virtual reality, there are steps involved that may give us pause.
The users who log into the metaverse through a portal, be it Facebook or any other, must provide personalized information. Some of this information could be used to track and monitor individuals and/or their internet usage. In a more involved set of transactions, avatars could be shopping, investing or otherwise engaging in commercial activity, which will involve their banking or other financial information.
One of the biggest concerns expressed about the metaverse is that the loudest advocates, individuals and corporations, are those who have a definite stake – often financial – in promoting mass migration of users to the metaverse. How concerned are these individuals and corporations at protecting the interests of society as a whole?
In Conclusion – What Exactly is the Metaverse?
Following the discussion before, the concept of the metaverse can be expressed in a slightly different way – it is a digital playground where the parameters of existence and the experiences had by people are only limited by their own imaginations.
There are many alluring features to the concept. Despite cautionary tales, the concept is set to explode within technology driven societies.