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  • Rovindu Ambagolla

Special Edition >>> The Metaverse, a Deeper Dive into the World’s Digital Doppelganger

Picture Credit: Mikhail Nilov

The Metaverse is an online universe made possible through cutting edge virtual reality technology, which is currently being pioneered by Meta, Facebook’s new rebranded image. Mark Zuckerberg announced his grand plan to upgrade the internet as we know it on the 28th of October at Facebook’s Connect livestream.

The concept of a “Metaverse”, a place where you could be anywhere, anyone and at any time feels like something that comes straight out of a science fiction book, but this is the reality we are headed towards. On Facebook’s Q2 2021 earnings call, Mark Zuckerberg referred to the Metaverse on almost 20 different occasions, which goes to show how important the project is for this tech giant. However, if this is really going to be the future of the internet, then it’s important to fully understand what exactly the Metaverse is, how it works, the technology behind it, its potential and its drawbacks.

What is the Metaverse?

Arun Maini, a popular UK based technology YouTuber explains the Metaverse as being “A living, shared, everlasting virtual universe”. What this means is that through the Metaverse we will be able to spend our time in a digital environment, but unlike our current contact with digital environments such as through gaming, streaming, or texting, we will be immersed into this digital environment through virtual reality technology. Mark Zuckerberg wants the Metaverse to be understood as a virtual environment where you can socialise and be present with other people in uniquely designed digital spaces.

Virtual reality is the core technology behind the Metaverse, and Facebook has spent billions of dollars developing the technology. This year alone Facebook’s spending on VR, AR and other related hardware, is said to top $10 billion.

The Characteristics of the Metaverse

There are a couple of unique characteristics which when combined make the Metaverse what it is.

1.) Virtual Identities – In the Metaverse you will be able to choose and customise your own virtual avatar. This avatar is what other users will see when they interact with you. You will be able to customise this avatar into whatever you want it to be, giving you the ability to spend your time in the Metaverse seen as whoever or whatever you wish.

Picture Source: Financial Times

2.) A Totally Immersive Experience - Transporting you to a completely different virtual environment is just the beginning. Future generations of VR technology aim to engage more of our senses through haptic body suits and omnidirectional treadmills which will allow users to become fully immersed into their surroundings. Although there is still a long way to go before this scale of technology can be implemented into the Metaverse, Facebook is launching their new “Project Cambria” VR headsets next year which will be able to detect your facial expressions and project them onto your avatar when you are communicating with others.

3.) Real Time – One of the unique features that the Metaverse will have is that it will be in real-time and there is no option to pause it. Even if you leave the platform, time will continue to pass in the Metaverse just like in real life.

4.) Economy – The Metaverse will have a fully functioning economy where users can spend and earn digital currencies. This new online market could be the future of shopping and fashion companies are already getting involved by investing in the Metaverse. Massive brands like Nike are already getting ready to start selling “digital clothing” which can be purchased for avatars to wear. The transaction and digital currency itself could be done through blockchain technology which will make sure they are safe.

These are just some of the important features that will be baked into the Metaverse, but what are the potential benefits and drawbacks of having a Metaverse?

The Potential of the Metaverse

The Metaverse could be the next big disruptive technology which changes the way we do things forever. Office work can be done straight from your home whilst still maintaining the “work environment” when you have your VR headset on, and then you are right back at home in an instant for lunch as you take your headsets off.

Education can be revolutionised as well. When learning about instances in history or different geographical locations, students can get a deeper understanding by actually observing it through virtual reality. Whether you are learning about dinosaurs, ancient Egypt or volcanos, you can gain a much deeper comprehension of the lessons through virtual reality.

The online economy of the Metaverse could be a trillion-dollar opportunity. With the ability to host social events, display ads and sell goods within the Metaverse, companies and individuals will be able to earn digital currencies online and convert them into real world currencies.

Another surprising advantage that the Metaverse could bring to the table is being environmentally friendly. Due to the way the Metaverse functions, less people will feel the need to travel to places. You won’t need to travel to work every day in the morning, and you will spend less time traveling to go out and instead spend time digitally with your friends instead as it’s more convenient. 41% of global transport emissions is caused by passenger vehicles, the change in behaviour the Metaverse will induce will likely slash that figure.

The Drawbacks

Although the Metaverse has the potential to improve the economy and the environment, it will also pose some significant problems.

The biggest problem will come with policing a platform that large. Facebook will have to monitor every single detail of the platform to censor abusive language, hate speech and misinformation. This is a massive undertaking, especially for a company that has faced multiple accusations for promoting hate speech and negative content just to keep users engaged on the platform for longer.

Addiction will also be a big problem that the younger generation will have to deal with. Something as immersive as the Metaverse, where you have access to content like never before, will be an even more addictive instrument than social media is today. Cyberbullying will also feel that much more real.

Picture Credit: Inspa Makers

Data breaches will be another serious issue. In something as personal as the Metaverse, your behaviour and personality can be analysed in a much more invasive manner just so there can be better ad targeting like there is on current social media sites like Facebook and Instagram. Data pertaining any individual of that magnitude, could have catastrophic consequences, if leaked.

The Metaverse is a fantastic display of human ingenuity, but it comes with serious drawbacks as well. The Metaverse is here, and it is here to stay, but we need to make sure that we understand it well enough to operate in it safely whilst also reaping its amazing potential.

December 01st 2021 | 6:25 PM

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