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Wednesday, January 26, 2022

What’s the big fuss about the metaverse?


Photo by Julien Tromeur on Unsplash



 
 

Everybody is talking about the metaverse these days, especially since Mark Zuckerberg made a lot of noise about how he sees this new phenomenon enter and take hold of our lives like nothing we have known hitherto or are likely to know in the future. Experts and specialists, not to speak of laypeople have expounded how it is the new frontier to be explored by humans and spelt out their pet theories about how enabling and useful it is or how much of a dystopian nightmare it is likely to be. 


 

What Exactly is the Metaverse? 

 

The term metaverse is the creation of sci-fi author Neal Stephenson who used it in his 1992 book, Snowcrash in which he created a world where avatars meet and interact with each other in a virtual reality environment.



Well, it so happened as is often the case-life imitated art or in this instance, real science imitated science fiction and many scientific and technological developments later we have a real metaverse- an online virtual universe which leverages the abilities of virtual reality, augmented reality, 3-D holographic avatars as well as video and other ways of communicating to help create an almost as-good- as-real world for one to inhabit alongside the actual real one.



Proponents of the metaverse believe that such a world would allow one to do all the important things that one does in the real world- working, entertaining and communicating with friends as well as attending concerts, and travelling virtually to wherever one fancies. 



The Metaverse Exists 

 

The metaverse existed much before Zuckerberg explained its virtues to the world last year. Liden Lab came up with Second Life, an online virtual way of life back in 1992. 2003 saw the launch of Roblox, an online platform that enabled users to create and share games. This was followed by Bitcoin in 2006, the world’s very first successful cryptocurrency. In 2014 came Decentraland’s first edition of an online virtual world.


 

Then there was the iconic augmented reality-based Pokémon Go that came out in 2015. Fortnite, the multiplayer game cum social hub with its virtual concerts and tours was introduced in 2016. Axie Infinity the well-known virtual reality game about training as well as trading in mythical creatures made its debut in 2018 Microsoft announced Mesh a platform that enables virtual collaboration across many devices in April 2021. For the most part, however, gaming platforms like Mirandus, Sandbox and Decentraland typify the metaverse as it exists today.

  


How Will it Unfold?


While the jury is out about how the metaverse is going to impact us as it evolves and permeates every aspect of our lives in the years to come, the fact that it will change and grow is something of a foregone conclusion. The very fact that Zuckerberg decided to rename his iconic Facebook to Meta, tells you something about how much importance some very smart people accord to the metaverse and its ability to impact our lives in a seminal manner.



As a precursor of things to come, Facebook launched Workrooms, a platform for employees to attend virtual meetings in the shape of digital cartoon-like avatars by donning VR headsets. The only catch-the avatars haven’t yet been given legs. Gaming platform Roblox on the other hand has enabled virtual concerts performed by artists like Zara Larsson that have been attended by millions across the world-some even in nondescript towns no one has ever heard of. 


 

It is not just Facebook and Microsoft who are very gung- ho about the tremendous business enabling potential of the metaverse. The times ahead are likely going to see a lot of metaverse companies open shop, just like the advent of the Internet gave rise to a host of internet businesses that earlier went by the name of dot com companies. Just like it is de rigueur for all businesses to have a digital presence, one could see a metaverse strategy becoming an integral part of any company’s marketing plan. Already companies like Nike are looking at showcasing their products in the metaverse. 


 

The metaverse is essentially the future of the internet and like it, is likely to permeate every aspect of our lives in the foreseeable future. An amalgamation of a host of technologies that range from VR, AR and XR (extended reality) to edge computing, 5G, AI, new age internet satellite networks, GPUs and so on, the metaverse is going to radically alter the paradigm of the digital world as we currently know it.



It will impact every aspect of our lives in ways we probably won’t even begin to comprehend at this time. You can be sure that it will radically alter the way diverse sectors like manufacturing, transportation, healthcare, education, retail, entertainment, content creation and much more function and operate right now. 



What’s there to not like about the metaverse? 

 

Photo by Lucrezia Carnelos

  

There is an awful lot of noise about the metaverse that has enveloped the world leaving many to wonder in awe what this new universe is all about and whether they have anything to fear from it. With the endorsement that it has received from the ever-controversial Zuckerberg and the fact that Microsoft plonked a mind-numbing $68.7 billion to acquire the video game Activision Blizzard a lot of people are genuinely worried about what the future holds for them in a world that seems more and more like what they show in the Matrix movie series. 



But do we need to fear the metaverse? There are many who would suggest that we indeed need to worry about what the future would hold for us if the metaverse would indeed become mainstream. They fear that it would eventually assume complete control of every aspect of its users rather than the other way round. The ability of this synthetically created universe to shape and direct daily life is to be deeply feared, according to them. Many believe and indeed dread that whoever controls the metaverse-corporations or governments, would exercise a vice-like grip over how people conduct their lives. 



The question is-are the fears justified? While there is certainly a case for exercising caution and placing safeguards to prevent its misuse, it is at the end of the day one more technology or a group of technologies that promises to bring about unprecedented improvements in the lives of people. Every such pathbreaking technology ranging from trains and telephones to television and aeroplanes was feared when it first made an appearance. But these fears proved largely groundless.  


While every successful technology may have some negatives associated with it, the capacity to infinitely changes mankind’s lot for the better invariably far outweighs any reservations about adopting it. Fearing change or anything new is human nature and there are those who even refuse the vaccine for Covid-19! The metaverse is undoubtedly a fascinating concept that holds tremendous promise in the coming years. We need to understand it, not fear it. 

 

 

 

 

 

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