Science fiction author Neal Stephenson introduced the word “metaverse” in his novel “Snow Crash,” published in 1992. In the novel, the Metaverse is a wildly popular virtual world that individuals outfitted with augmented reality technology can explore in the first person.
Over the last year, executives and creatives in the gaming and technology industries have resurrected the Metaverse concept, framing massively multiplayer games such as “Fortnite,” “Roblox,” and “Minecraft” as precursors to a sprawling digital world that combines Stephenson’s fictional Metaverse with a real-world that has become digitized during the pandemic.
The Metaverse is a “successor state” to the internet, containing the same content but with fewer restrictions on where and how it can be accessed. Current online platforms allow users to move about rather freely inside the bounds of certain services, but they restrict interoperability between platforms: you can create anything in “Minecraft,” but your works cannot be transferred to a “Fortnite” map. The Metaverse will enable individuals to create and distribute their own material freely across a widely accessible digital universe.
Unlike the modern internet, Metaverse users will see updates in real-time. If a user alters the Metaverse in any way, the change is permanent and immediately apparent to everyone else. The Metaverse’s permanence and interoperability will provide users with greater continuity of identity and experience than the present internet does. Users will no longer need to maintain distinct Facebook profiles, “Fortnite” characters, or Twitter accounts in the Metaverse; they will just be themselves across all media. This sense of continuity will be critical in determining how consumers acquire and consume material in the Metaverse.
Metaverse vs Virtual Reality
While both virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are closely related to the metaverse, they are not synonymous. Rather than considering them as forms of what is fundamentally the same thing, you can think of them as distinct entities that complement one another.
Virtual reality and augmented reality devices allow users to immerse themselves in a virtual world. In the case of virtual reality, we are offered entirely other environments. Whether it’s a game or a film, virtual reality allows you to engage with the constantly changing world around you. On the other hand, augmented reality (AR) augments your actual surroundings and enables you to engage with them in a variety of ways.
The distinction is in the objective. While you may play a virtual reality or augmented reality game without engaging with others, the metaverse as envisioned by Meta and other firms is built on human contact.
In a nutshell, the metaverse is a platform for both of the above – a method for individuals to collaborate on a virtual environment, whether for business, education, training, or simply for enjoyment.
The introduction of VR and AR capabilities will go a long way toward expanding the metaverse and giving it the impression of a real experience rather than a complicated video game. However, the metaverse notion extends far beyond virtual reality and augmented reality – it is intended to connect people together in previously unimaginable ways. This, in turn, creates significant room for expansion.
Technologies Used in Metaverse
Creating extended reality (Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality) requires spatial data; this includes 3D models, audio, and other spatialized multimedia. To accomplish this, the first step is to create true 3D material.
We’ve seen what the iPad’s LIDAR and the Hololens 3D Kinect Sensors are capable of, and we can also go to the metrology industry for information about the state of the art in 3D reconstruction. Companies such as Zeiss, Nikon, and Faro offer 3D reconstruction sensors with resolutions down to millimeters. Naturally, these devices don’t come cheap. Consumer versions of these technologies are now available, such as Apple’s LIDAR in its mobile devices and the Matterport 3D camera. Additionally, Microsoft offers Azure Kinect, which is geared for IoT applications. Even Canon and other lens manufacturers are releasing VR-specific lenses.
Not only is 3D reconstruction critical, but we must also consider how to manage the resulting data and make it actionable for consumers. Consider how Sketchfab enables us to build a massive library of user-generated 3D material and share it easily across social media platforms like Facebook. We require an environment that enables metaverse users to create and access content on top of the real world or within our virtual worlds from any location and on any device, depending on the context.
We must consider each extended reality device and the way it perceives the world. As demonstrated by devices such as HoloLens, Magic Leap, and HTC Vive Pro, we can create a real-time three-dimensional reconstruction of the world, allowing digital material to interact with our physical space in real-time. For instance, if we move a piece of furniture in the physical world, the 3D content should adapt and expand our experience.
Currently, these sensors are limited by the capabilities of the device’s SoC (system-on-a-chip), but by examining how the fidelity of the reconstruction affects the interaction between real and digital, we can see how this will work in the coming years as more robust silicon for extended reality devices becomes available. Immersion levels will be extraordinary.
Artificial Intelligence (AI)
Our brain’s neural circuits process spatial experiences; this enables us to detect correlations in space and movement. This is accomplished in our extended reality systems through the use of 3D reconstruction systems and several algorithms such as SLAM and visual-inertial odometry. Recognizing and classifying objects, giving us a sense of what is going on around us, is done through Artificial Intelligence (AI). In conjunction with 3D reconstruction technologies, AI enables us to identify our environment and provide contextually relevant information in the appropriate situations.
Additionally, we may highlight sympathetic AI, which assists us in augmenting our experiences, as well as our ability to communicate with and comprehend others. For instance, the technology may alert us if we fall asleep while driving or performing hazardous work, a goal pursued by companies such as Affectiva. These can help us come closer to context-aware systems that can provide users of the metaverse with real-time and valuable information.
Internet of Everything (IoE)
We need data to feed and operate context-aware systems. This requires devices to communicate with one another.
Consider how smart devices enable you to interact with your favorite digital assistants, such as Alexa or Google Assistant. Let us continue our journey from the Internet of Things (IoT) to the Internet of Everything (IoE). We can feed our extended reality systems and the metaverse with user-relevant data and interactions.
As demonstrated in the Meta announcement film, we saw a recreation of an apartment in which a user-activated the television simply by staring at it and making gestures. The IoE would make this a seamless reality, allowing us to operate systems and circumvent the limitations of voice commands with our virtual assistants.
A new degree of immersion would also feature prominently digital humans — the metaverse’s non-playable characters and virtual aides. This technology is expected to become prevalent during the next decade.
Currently, companies such as UNEEQ are devoted to this type of technology. We will make a quantum leap from what we presently have with Alexa and Cortana, which are faceless abstractions, to a more sympathetic digital assistant capable of serving as our concierge and providing context-rich information, resulting in an even more comfortable user experience.
The neural interfaces being developed at the moment will serve as facilitators for virtual reality, augmented reality, and other technologies. However, they have a long way to go before they can connect neural pathways to a chip, which is easier said than done.
For example, Neuralink is still in the research and development phase, while Next-mind launched this year and enables non-invasive EEG-based device control. This field requires additional exploration before it becomes relevant. We may see a future in which we regulate the inputs and outputs of our nervous systems, which opens the door to innovative communication interfaces.
The Major Players in Metaverse
Facebook is a social networking site that enables people to engage with one another, form communities and socialize from the comfort of their own homes. The social networking platform has broken down national barriers and enabled people from all around the world to engage with one another.
Facebook has already rebranded as Meta and is already conducting experiments using metaverse technology. Meta’s objective is to alter daily life through the creation of 3D workrooms, virtual workplaces, and augmented reality glasses.
It has some ambitious ideas for its metaverse goals; it is currently developing Horizon workrooms, which will allow users to gather in virtual workrooms. Additionally, it manufactures virtual reality headsets and experiments with extended realities.
In 2015, Microsoft unveiled the Hololens mixed reality glasses. Rather than overwhelming the consumer market with marketing hype, Microsoft quietly debuted Hololens a year later as an industrial manufacturing tool for a select set of commercial firms. The $3,000 business suite included a professional edition of Windows with enhanced security measures and programming tools.
The second edition, which arrived in 2019, was slightly more expensive but had a more precise combination of cameras and lens mounts, as well as a broader range of software capabilities, including industrial applications. According to Microsoft, current Hololens users include industry heavyweights such as Airbus and Toyota, who utilize the device for training and repairs.
Google Cardboard may be the most successful virtual reality project ever. In 2014, the world’s leading technology company requested millions of individuals to use a piece of cardboard to secure their smartphone to their face. Google reports that it has shipped “tens of millions” of foldable headgear and that over 160 million Google Cardboard apps have been downloaded. Although it was neither the highest-resolution nor most technologically advanced experience, the strategy helped introduce virtual reality to millions of students and aspiring developers.
Additionally, it aided Google in repositioning itself following the failure of its last augmented reality effort, Glass. Today, augmented reality glasses are touted as a tool for enterprise enterprises, but Google’s ambitions were sky high when the product launched. The wearable device was simply a smartphone’s guts put on a frame of non-prescription glasses with a small camera. The initiative ultimately failed and was the subject of countless memes.
Magic Leap is a startup that develops wearable technologies (such as virtual reality) that allow customers to interact with digital surroundings. Founded in 2010, the business is pioneering the use of virtual reality to shape the future of technology.
Magic Verse is a notion that was recently coined by “Magic Leap.” Magicverse is a revolutionary technology that will bridge the divide between the virtual and actual worlds. Different things will merge in the universe of “magic verse.” It will incorporate elements of the Internet of Things, geographic computing, and sensing.
With Magicverse, humans will be digitally co-present. The magic verse will be used to convey data across several platforms. It will dismantle national barriers, and the digital environment will become a free space for interaction.
Epic Games is a video game and software development company known for its incredible games such as Fortnite and the Unreal Engine. The company is leading the metaverse race, developing a metaverse platform where users may communicate with one another, with brands, and even stay in the virtual world for longer periods of time.
The metaverse platform will serve as a one-stop-shop for interacting with digital humans. Epic Games is currently contemplating the concept of meeting people electronically but having a real-world experience.
It will not be entirely digital. The Epic Space will be a location where individuals converse rather than use emoticons to communicate. This platform will be more exciting as a result of the virtual gaming experience, shopping experience, and virtual dining experience.
Advantages of the Metaverse
Ultra-Immersive Digital Communication. With the metaverse, people can use avatars to communicate with one another in a more lifelike virtual world, allowing for a more immersive type of digital communication.
Improved Social Media Platforms. Communication on social networking sites and applications such as Facebook and Instagram is limited to screen-to-screen exchanges, which makes them a two-dimensional medium. The metaverse promises a fully immersive and graphically rich virtual environment that enables virtual face-to-face interaction while also providing practical applications for digital content in the virtual environment.
New Business Opportunities. Technology creates new business opportunities. Similar to how social media transformed digital marketing and advertising, it enables businesses to promote their products and services more immersively with similar marketing content and advertisements, virtualized shops, and more interactive interaction and customer care. Additionally, it opens up new avenues for workplace communication and connection.
Enhanced Learning. Another advantage of the metaverse is that it focuses on specialized applications in education and learning. It is worth noting that online education via video conferencing platforms and asynchronous classes is largely passive and indirect. However, an immersive virtual environment enhances the learning process and makes education more engaging.
Disadvantages and Issues of the Metaverse
Requires Faster and More Reliable Internet Connection. The metaverse is a shared virtual world with an emphasis on graphics. Participation requires high-speed, dependable internet connectivity, which includes fiber-based connections and fifth-generation wireless network technology.
Higher Barrier of Entry. Another disadvantage is that it discriminates between those who can afford and use necessary digital tools and those who cannot. Poor families and communities will be unable to benefit from the program’s benefits.
Inherent Problems with the Internet. Concerns about internet use remain unsolved, including privacy and security hazards, cyberbullying, the dissemination of false information and propaganda, and other forms of cybercrime. These issues will escalate with each technological advancement.
Possible Social and Cultural Impacts. Another downside of the metaverse is the potential for the creation of new norms and customs, which could corrode existing human behaviors in the real world and influence behaviors and relationships refined via interaction with the natural environment.
Metaverse’s Impact on Healthcare
Wellness, fitness, and quality of life
Gamification or the use of game mechanics in non-game contexts enables new forms of communication between healthcare providers and patients. At the moment, its usage in healthcare is mostly limited to wellness and fitness apps; for example, augmented reality is utilized to give better workouts guided by virtual teachers.
Additionally, it has been demonstrated that VR can assist enhance the quality of life for persons living with dementia. Patients used a virtual reality headset in one trial and were able to ‘visit’ virtual locales, including a church and a sandy beach. The researchers discovered that after 16 monitored sessions, patients were better able to recollect old memories, which increased mood and gave good mental stimulation.
Medical learning and training
VR is used in medical education to immerse students in the human body, delivering a 360° picture of illnesses or simulating real-world procedures.
Medical institutions are increasingly using AR in their curricula to provide excellent chances for hands-on learning for students. Medical students can visualize and practice new techniques by using augmented reality apps to replicate patient and surgical contacts. Additionally, immersive experiences based on genuine operations might be replicated such that students sense and feel the recorded medical procedure first hand.
It is not implausible that the metaverse could also serve as a training ground for the next generation of surgical robots, where surgical robots would learn how to perform human surgery via Artificial Intelligence.
Expanding on the current use of surgical robots, more complex surgeries will increasingly rely on augmented reality.
The range of possible applications is extensive, ranging from tumor excision to complex spine surgery. These advancements will boost surgical precision and flexibility for difficult treatments even further. Already, augmented reality is enabling surgical staff to access information in new ways that are more compatible with surgical workflows and the sterile field of the operating room. For example, real-time guidance is provided in the surgeon’s field of view of the surgical site via integration with surgical navigation systems and data fusion from multiple imaging sources.
Pre- and post-operative examinations can also benefit from the use of augmented reality to improve surgical results through a more individualized intervention based on data analytics.
The Future of Metaverse
The metaverse is still in its infancy. The complete version will unfold in phases. To be completely operational, it requires remarkable technological improvements in hardware and software, as well as user demand.
While the metaverse has evolved at a faster rate than in past years, we have only seen the beginning of its true potential. Today’s metaverse is largely composed of isolated and closed 3D virtual worlds in which all material, dialogues, personas, assets, commerce, and experience inside a virtual environment are contained within that world. The existing metaverse technology imposes limitations on platform interoperability. Aside from the gaming business, which supports distinct mini-metaverses, we have yet to see larger enterprises outside of gaming.
The metaverse will have a massive impact on existing and future businesses. New businesses, goods, and services will arise to manage everything in the new integrated virtual-physical environment, including virtual banks, education, and healthcare. Exactly as it is in real life.
The metaverse will fundamentally alter the way resources are allocated and marketed. For example, laborers who reside outside cities will be able to participate in the “high value” economy through virtual labor, which currently appears to be impossible. Traditionally, location determines income since statistically, the highest paying jobs are in larger cities, and if we do not travel there, we are considered outsiders; however, the metaverse defies this idea entirely; value goes where you are.