Eye on AI - December 6th, 2021
Welcome to Aigora's "Eye on AI" series, where we round up exciting news at the intersection of consumer science and artificial intelligence!
This week, we’re all about the metaverse: what it is, when it’s coming, who will control it, and how it will alter the future of commerce (and reality).
What Exactly Is This Metaverse Thing, Anyway?
Ever since Facebook’s ‘Meta’ rebrand, the web has been abuzz about the Metaverse. Everyone’s talking about it. Few have a secure grasp of what it is and its potential impact. So to begin this week, let’s try and clear off some of the metaverse haze, beginning a look at the difference between the metaverse (the future) and the multiverse (the present).
“... we're currently in the multiverse era of technology, where ‘the virtual worlds of games expand to become mainstream hubs for social interaction and entertainment,’” writes futurist and AI expert Bernard Marr in the article, ‘what’s the difference between a metaverse and multiverse?’. “Social media platforms, online games, and MMOs (massive multiplayer online games) are all part of the multiverse… The metaverse is a shared, persistent digital environment where users can work, play sports, go to concerts, watch movies, hang out – or anything else they want to do. Tech companies from Microsoft to Meta to Epic Games are putting the technology together to build the metaverse, but we likely won’t see it for another decade or so.”
In other words, the multiverse has limits (i.e. game map, available objects, players allowed, etc.), whereas the metaverse is limitless. Think of the metaverse to a multiverse as you would the universe to a solar system: where the universe is the constantly evolving space in which solar systems exist, a solar system is a limited area within the universe. While one can leave the solar system and enter a new one with different planets and rules, one can never (so far as we know) leave the universe. In that way, the metaverse will essentially act as the hub upon which multiverses and other digital experiences will exist. NPR contributor Miguel Macias puts it this way in his article, ‘The metaverse is already here. The debate now is over who should own it.’
“The metaverse is described as an internet 3.0, a place where people can do real life things — like work out, meet with colleagues, or take a class — but all online and in virtual reality,” writes Macias. “Anyone can strap on a virtual reality headset in their living room and enter an alternate online universe.”
The second misconception to be addressed is the idea that the metaverse is something that isn’t yet built. As Macias’ article suggests, the metaverse already exists, though it’s now only in its infancy. Right now you can hop onto VRChat, NeosVR and Roblox, to enter a VR-driven digital universe. None of these metaverses are fully formed or even interconnected, but act more like tiny universes coming into existence simultaneously that will soon be absorbed into one another. Once these metaverses become connected into a singular metaverse, that’s really when THE metaverse as described in the news comes into play.
Who Will (and Should) Own the Metaverse?
While the metaverse technically exists, most experts believe we’re still decades away from the creation of a singular metaverse. Still, we’re already seeing a slew of companies investing in a future dominated by the metaverse, and with good reason: a recent market analysis estimates that the metaverse market opportunity could be around $800 billion by 2024. NFTs, Crypto and other digital assets will all have their parts to play. In that way, there won’t be one singular creator of the metaverse.
The race is to create the main platform upon which the metaverse exists. Most of the major players in this race are the brands you’d expect: Microsoft, Snap (SnapChat), Autodesk, Amazon. Others, like Epic Games, Tenecent, Roblox, and Unity are more gamer-centric. The outlier in all this is Facebook –– excuse me: ‘Meta’ –– which, from the outside looking in, seems the most likely to take the lead on metaverse platform creation. Since 2014, Zuckerberg and company have spent billions on VR company purchases, including Oculus VR headsets. The more recent Meta rebrand is itself a pretty big indicator of the company’s intentions.
“Meta is betting that they do and plans to spend at least $10 billion just this year on its metaverse division and to hire 10,000 people to work on it during the next five years,” writes Macias. “The company worries that Facebook is losing relevance as its users age, according to the leaked documents. So staying on top of the next big technology trend, like the metaverse, to attract younger people may be key to Meta's existence… the vision is that Meta provides the backbone for the metaverse in which everyone is invited to come, play, build and experiment.”
That vision by Meta may be more difficult than expected to turn into a reality. Already Facebook suffers from an issue with public trust. We are already seeing the brand shift focus on a more youthful audience in the opening Meta commercial as it continues to hemorrhage aging users.
While Facebook (excuse me: Meta) seems more determined than ever to shift its business model to the metaverse platform, whatever that ends up being, in the end it might not matter. There’s no guarantee people will accept the metaverse. And as of right now, we only have a hint of what the future metaverse will look like. The major players in the end may not even be brands we’ve heard of. Noted tech analyst Benedict Evans believes that every 15 years or so, a great generational tech reset occurs, and is already seeing signs that we may be at the start of one.
"Tech history is full of companies that dominated one generation trying to seize the next — they tend not to make it,” writes Evans in his essay, ‘Metabrand.’ “The incumbents very rarely create the future, and the future very rarely comes from a centralized, $10 billion project."
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