What Is the Metaverse, Exactly?

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technology to listen As CEOs like Mark Zuckerberg or Satya Nadella talk about it, the metaverse is the future of the Internet. Or is it a video game. or maybe it’s a A deeply uncomfortable, worse version of Zoom, It’s hard to say.

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To some extent, talking about the “metaverse” is like discussing the meaning of “the Internet” in the 1970s. were in the process of becoming the building blocks of a new form of communication, but no one could really know what reality would look like. So while that was true, at the time, “the Internet” was coming, no every idea of ​​what it would look like are true.

On the other hand, there’s also a lot of marketing hype wrapped up in this idea of ​​the metaverse. Facebook, in particular, is in a particularly vulnerable spot after Apple’s move to limit ad tracking kill the company’s bottom line, It’s impossible to separate Facebook’s vision of a future where everyone has a digital wardrobe to swipe through from the fact that Facebook really wants to make money selling virtual clothes,


So with all these things in mind…

Seriously, what does ‘the metaverse’ mean?

To help you get an idea of ​​how vague and complex the word “metaverse” can be, here’s a try: Mentally replace the phrase “metaverse” with “cyberspace” in a sentence. Ninety percent of the time, the meaning will not change substantially. That’s because the term doesn’t really refer to any one specific type of technology, but to a broader change in the way we interact with technology. And it’s entirely possible that the term will eventually become as archaic as the specific technology once described becomes generic.

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Broadly speaking, the technologies that make up the metaverse may include virtual reality – which is characterized by a persistent virtual world that exists even when you are not playing – as well as augmented reality which combines aspects of the digital and physical worlds. Is. However, it is not necessary that those places be exclusively accessed through VR or AR. aspects of a virtual world, such as fortnite Which can be accessed via PC, game console and even phone, can be metaversal.

This also translates to a digital economy, where users can create, buy and sell goods. And, in the more idealistic view of the Metaverse, it’s interoperable, allowing you to move virtual items like clothes or cars from platform to platform. In the real world, you can buy a shirt from the mall and then wear it to the movie theater. Right now, most platforms have virtual identities, avatars, and inventory tied to just one platform, but a metaverse can allow you to create a persona that you can carry everywhere as easily as you would your profile picture. Can copy from a social network. one more.

It’s hard to understand what this means because when you hear a description like the one above, an understandable response is, “Wait, doesn’t this already exist?” world of WarcraftFor example, there is a continuous virtual world where players can buy and sell goods. fortnite are virtual experiences such as concerts and An Exhibit Where Rick Sanchez Can Learn About MLK Jr., You can strap on an Oculus headset and be in your private virtual house, Is this really what “metaverse” means? Just some new type of video game?

Well, yes and no. saying that fortnite Would “metaverse” be like calling Google “internet”. even if you could theoretically spend a great deal of time in fortnite, socializing, buying things, learning and playing games, does not mean that it covers the whole realm of the metaverse.

On the other hand, as it would be fair to say that Google builds parts of the Internet—from Physical data centers for security layers-It is equally accurate to say fortnite Producer Epic Games is building parts of the Metaverse. And it’s not the only company to do so. Some of that work will be done by tech giants like Microsoft and Facebook—the latter of which recently rebranded Meta to reflect this work, though we’re still not quite used to the name. Several other assorted companies—including Nvidia, Unity, Roblox and even Snap—are all working on building out the infrastructure that could become the metaverse.

It is at this point that most discussions of what is included in the metaverse begin to stop. We have a vague understanding of what currently exists that we can one of a kind Call The Metaverse, And We Know Which Companies Are Investing In The Idea, But We Still Don’t Know What It Is Is, Facebook – Sorry, meta, still can’t find – thinks it will add fake house You can invite all your friends to hang out. Looks Like Microsoft Thinks It Might Be Involved virtual living room To train new employees or chat with your remote coworkers.

The pitch for these visions of the future ranges from optimistic to outright fan fiction. During a time … Meta’s … Presentation on the Metaverse, Company showed a scenario In which a young woman is sitting on her couch and scrolling through Instagram when she comes across a video a friend posted of a concert taking place halfway around the world.

The video then cuts to the concert, where the woman appears. avengers-style hologram, He is able to make eye contact with his friend who is physically there, they are both able to hear the concert, and they can see the text floating above the stage. It sounds cool, but it’s not really advertising an actual product, or even a possible future. In fact, this brings us to the biggest problem with the “metaverse.”

Why does the Metaverse include a hologram?

When the Internet first arrived, it began with a series of technological innovations, such as the ability for computers to talk to each other at great distances or to hyperlink from one web page to another. These technical features were the building blocks that were then used to create the abstract structures we know for the Internet: websites, apps, social networks, and everything else that depends on those core elements. And that means nothing to say about the convergence of interface innovations that are not strictly part of the Internet, but are still necessary for it to work, such as displays, keyboards, mice and touchscreens.

With the Metaverse, there are Some New building blocks in place, such as the ability to host hundreds of people in a single instance of a server (ideally future versions of the metaverse will be able to handle thousands or even millions of people simultaneously), or speed -Tracking tools that can distinguish where someone is looking or where their hands are. These new technologies can be very exciting and feel futuristic.

However, there are limitations that may be impossible to overcome. When tech companies like Microsoft or Fa—meta show fictional videos of their vision of the future, they often just pretend How People will interact with the metaverse. VR headsets are still pretty unsightly, and most people experience motion sickness or physical pain if they wear them for too long. Augmented reality glasses face a similar problem, on top of the insignificant issue of figuring out how people can wear them in public without looking like a big dork.

So, how do tech companies pretend Idea Of their technology without showing the reality of bulky headsets and dorky glasses? So far their primary solution seems to be just building the technology out of the whole fabric. The Holographic Woman from Meta’s Presentation? I hate to shatter the illusion, but this just isn’t possible with very advanced versions of existing technology.

Unlike motion-tracked digital avatars, which are kind of lively now but may someday get better, there’s no living version of creating a three-dimensional picture in the midst of tightly controlled conditions. No matter what Iron Man tells you. Perhaps these are to be interpreted as images projected through the glasses—both women in the demo video are wearing identical glasses—but even so much is believed about the physical capabilities of compact glasses, that Snap can tell you Not a simple problem to solve.

This kind of shine on reality is often present in video demos of how the Metaverse might work. one more Meta’s Demo Characters shown floating in space – is this person tied to an immersive aerial rig or are they just sitting at a desk? The person represented by the hologram—does this person have a headset, and if so, how is their face being scanned? At more points, a person grasps virtual objects but then holds those objects in their physical hands.

This demo raises more questions than it answers.

On some level this is fine. Microsoft, Meta, and every other company that shows such wild demos are trying to give an artistic impression of what the future might hold, not necessarily accounting for every technical question. It’s a time-honored tradition going back AT&T demo A voice controlled foldable phone that can magically erase people from images and generate 3D model, which at the time seemed equally impossible.

However, this kind of wishful-thinking-for-tech-demo leaves us in a place where it’s hard to decide which aspects of the various perspectives of the metaverse will actually be real one day. If VR and AR headsets become comfortable and cheap enough for people to wear on a daily basis – a substantial “if” – then perhaps the idea of ​​a virtual poker game where your friends are robots and holograms and floating in space to some degree May be close to reality. If not, you can always play Tabletop Simulator On a Discord video call.


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