• John Ennis

Eye on AI - September 13th, 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’s focus is all about the metaverse: what it is, why it’s being developed, and how it could change the future of human interaction.


Enjoy!


What Is a Metaverse, Anyway?



If you’ve ever watched the movie Ready Player One, you’ve seen a metaverse in action. It is, quite literally, a shared virtual space in which people interact digitally without boundaries. This may sound similar to digital experiences like Second Life, which touch on the idea of a metaverse. But to date, there are no digital worlds that reach metaverse status. However, with advances in technology, there may soon be.


To help you understand what a metaverse is and how close we are to developing one, let’s turn to futurist Bernard Marr’s article “What Is The Metaverse? An Easy Explanation For Anyone” for clarification.


“Metaverses as a concept have existed for a long time – digital shared universes where we can take on whatever personality we want, or work together on collaborative projects,” writes Marr. “… The reason we’re having a serious conversation about metaverses now is that several key technology trends have reached a level of maturity where they will be up to the task. One of these is certainly virtual reality.”

In order to create an actual digital world in which to interact, we need a technology that enables us to fully immerse ourselves within that digital world. VR is thought to be that technology. Facebook recently invested billions of dollars into VR, which helped them create virtual reality offices earlier this year, or what Zuckerberg called “a step to the metaverse.” Their intent, according to Marr, isn’t to utilize VR for things like remote training and gaming advancements, but to use VR as a means “to create virtual environments with the power of social media to create shared online spaces.”


Such online spaces may seem to already exist through things like virtual apps –– after all, you can pop on a VR headset and be transported into a virtual world right now. Yet these VR spaces are limited. For example, you can’t transition from a VR game of tennis to a virtual board meeting and start sharing slides without first changing applications. For a full metaverse to be possible, that transition would have to be seamless, which would allow participants to interact digitally without boundaries in a similar way to how we interact physically. The difference would be that within a digital world, we’d be able to interact without physical barriers.


“Metaverses don’t need to be limited to one platform, as long as there is a shared, continuous experience,” continues Marr. “Your metaverse life might take you from immersive, VR environments, to 3D environments rendered on a conventional flat screen, to 2D applications on your mobile phone, depending on what you want to do. The important factor is that there is continuity between the activities and environments, in terms of the user experience and avatar you control.”

How Close Are We to a Metaverse?



For now, the idea of creating a true metaverse is purely aspirational. Facebook and others already have revealed their hopes of creating a metaverse in the not-so-distant future. To do so, many hurdles will need to be overcome, the most obvious of which is convincing people to transition their lives entirely online. The pandemic likely expedited that transition. People confined to their homes were, in many cases, forced to interact digitally or not at all, pushing humanity more into digital realms like never before. In response, companies also transitioned digitally as they searched for new ways to interact remotely with customers.


“While we may currently be used to carrying out many activities – shopping, entertainment, socializing, and working – in digital environments, we aren't quite at the stage – technologically speaking or as a society – where we’re ready to do the same with the bits that join them all together!” continues Marr. “For now, there are opportunities to get a bite-sized taste of what a metaverse experience might feel like. Epic Games has experimented with expanding the borders of its Fortnite gaming universe to include social events and concerts, most recently featuring Ariana Grande.”

What will the first metaverse be like, if one is created? No one really knows. The architecture and rules are still being developed, as is the technology. But with the biggest names in tech all pushing toward metaverse creation, it’s a fair assumption that one will eventually be developed. I just hope we’re ready for it.



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