Opinion: We now have been promised the ‘metaverse’ for many years, however it’s nonetheless not a positive factor


In his 1992 novel “Snow Crash”, author Neal Stephenson describes how Hiro protagonist escapes from the confines of his 20 × 30 foot house in a former warehouse in southern California to “Metaverse”, where he owns a large house. wears a black leather kimono and carries swords.

“He’s in a computer-generated universe that his computer draws on his glasses and pumps into his headphones,” writes Stephenson. “In the jargon, this imaginary place is called a metaverse. Hiro spends a lot of time in the Metaverse. It beats the Sch – from the U-Stor-It. ”

This was not the first description of an alternative, virtual world in cyberspace that would enable us to escape our sometimes dreary reality, but the term Stephenson coined – the “Metaverse” – suddenly became the catchphrase of the technology companies, giants and small, after the recent renaming of Facebook to Meta Platforms Inc. FB, + 1.13%.
But that’s not new: For decades, software developers and engineers have been trying unsuccessfully to create these alternative worlds with ones and zeros and pixels, a science-fiction-inspired quest that goes back further than “Snow Crash” and a human desire to escape reality.

“This alternate reality idea is a very old idea, traced back to shamanic practices using alternate substances,” said Paul Saffo, a Silicon Valley futurist who currently teaches forecasting at Stanford University and future studies and forecasting at Stanford University Singularity University directs. “There has always been a deep human longing for an alternate reality.”

There have been various iterations of alternative digital worlds over the decades, but most of them have eluded the average consumer, either because the technologies were too expensive, not powerful enough, or simply not that exciting. The large, clunky, often headache-causing virtual reality headsets that move the wearer into a different environment were also another disadvantage, while augmented reality – which fuses computer-generated images into a physical environment – is still too complex and expensive.

For more: What is the “Metaverse” and how much will it be worth? It depends on who you ask

So the question now is, have we finally reached the point in history where a real virtual world could soon be available? Or is this another false promise from a technology that will never really go mainstream and lucrative?

“The start will be determined by who gets the experience right in terms of what the technology can do, and in a way that’s really compelling for us,” said Saffo, adding that he “would be surprised if we didn’t start this to find out “. 10 years ”and indicates that the definitions are constantly in flux.

“There is no standard definition of what VR is, there is no definition of augmented reality. People don’t think of the swampy ground between the two – that’s where the surprises will come. “

Also, based on the past, it is conceivable that what emerges from all of the current endeavors may be too science fiction for the average consumer, or will never really get through.

Video games are closest to us

So far, alternative digital worlds have been realized in the world of video games and the proposed vision of a metaverse comes closest to current reality.

In 1986 a group of developers at Lucasfilm Games released a beta version of the first virtual community called Habitat. They described Habitat as a multiplayer online virtual environment for the Commodore 64 that used a modem and phone line to communicate with a mainframe that hosted the world model and enforced the rules.

Habitat’s creators were inspired in part by a 1981 novel “True Names” by Vernor Vinge, in which a group of hackers immerse themselves in a virtual world called “Other Plane”. In a 1990 paper, software engineers Chip Morningstar and Randy Farmer describe the earliest iteration of Habitat as a screen with various objects such as houses and trees, with characters that the creators called avatars. Early on, users tampered with a bug in the system to amass more tokens that would be used to buy things in Habitat. There was also debate among users about violence after some players used weapons available to avatars and randomly killed people, highlighting two current issues in virtual worlds: digital currency and security.

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Habitat closed beta after a few years because it was too expensive to maintain, but the concept survived. “Second Life”, created by Linden Lab from San Francisco, experienced a surge in popularity in 2006 when it appeared on the cover of Businessweek. It still exists today as a virtual multi-user world, but is viewed as an extremely niche: gamers don’t have goals like in video games and don’t wear bulky headsets either. There is a Linden dollar based economy where users can buy virtual goods and create avatars according to their specifications.

“Second Life was very rudimentary compared to what we can do today,” said Rob Enderle, principal analyst at Enderle Group. He described the current activity and focus on the Metaverse as still in the “hype cycle”.

“You are going to have a couple of years of hype,” he said. “When that is ripe, it will be earth-shattering. It has the potential to dwarf the internet. It’s a different construct. But the effort for it will be more than the Internet. “

Today, multiplayer video games such as MSFT from Microsoft Corp., + 0.07% “Minecraft” and Roblox Inc. RBLX, + 8.15% gaming platform, are similarly close to the vision of a metaverse represented in the current hype . But the way from here is still uncertain: Will Metaverse Virtual Reality be combined with Augmented Reality or one or the other or something else?

Beyond games into a full metaverse

The theoretical metaverse of the future is a huge arena expected to bring together technologies and markets: the most advanced chips and computer hardware, video game development, cloud computing, digital rendering, content creation combined with opportunities for brands, Advertising and digital currencies. But the real experience is still being shared by tech companies and futurists with no real definition, as MarketWatch’s Jon Swartz recently outlined.

“Does it exist and what is it?” This is what Morgan Stanley equity strategist Edward Stanley asked in a recent client report. “Yes and no. Not in its purest form – it will take many years and cross-company collaboration so that users can seamlessly switch between millions of experiences and take their digital avatars and possessions with them.”

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Just as important, perhaps even more important than the consumer experience, is finding companies to buy into the evolution of the metaverse. Today, experiences like flight simulator training for professional and military pilots could even be viewed as a form of virtual reality for businesses, as pilots train take-off, landing and emergency situations in realistic situations. Microsoft, which has produced the famous Flight Simulator game for three decades, also has its own mixed reality glasses, the HoloLens, which are aimed at companies in manufacturing, healthcare and education for precise, hands-free work.

Peggy Johnson, the new CEO of Magic Leap, spoke at a Web Summit earlier this month about how difficult augmented reality was and why the company needed to focus on enterprise customers rather than consumers. The decade-old startup, which has raised nearly $ 3 billion in venture capital, is working on the second version of its headset, sometimes hailed as the future of AR.

“Just like the mobile phone, it got smaller, lighter, cheaper,” she says. “It wasn’t 10 years ago, it just has to come down this evolutionary curve.” She mentioned a collaboration where Magic Leap works with Cisco Systems Inc. CSCO, + 0.43%, to turn two-dimensional Webex meetings into 3-D meetings. “The power of augmented reality is that we can incorporate it into everything we do.”

While Meta Platforms has virtual reality glasses, the Oculus Quest, CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s demonstration of his version of the future Metaverse, has not exactly passed with some of the pioneers in VR. Virtual reality pioneer Jaron Lanier, who now works for Microsoft, told Kara Swisher on her New York Times podcast that Zuckerberg’s talk was a “strange disembodied vision of virtual reality” and “not entirely coherent.”

“I wouldn’t bet on Facebook,” said Saffo. “That is, if it came from anywhere, it would come from games or someone like Phil Rosedale [the founder of Linden Lab and now High Fidelity], someone who’s done it a couple of times … What we honestly need is a Tim Berners-Lee for VR. “

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While hopes for a miracle have been achieved in virtual reality for years, it remains a niche technology, even if executives like Zuckerberg have invested heavily in it. According to PitchBook, the current market size of virtual and augmented reality combined is approximately 32 billion US dollars in 2021. Virtual Reality is the more mature technology as the cost has come down and headsets like Metas Oculus have become more affordable and lighter.

“The sector’s general inability to establish itself shows a lack of maturity in the underlying technology,” said Ryan Vaswani, an emerging market analyst at PitchBook, in a recent report on AR and VR. “At a time when people everywhere are asking for technology to increase connectivity and presence, most have come to the conclusion that AR / VR still doesn’t meet the requirements.”

However, Enderle is looking forward to some applications of alternative realities in the near future, such as for example. In order to realize this vision, the computing power of supercomputers is required for the time being.

If you really believe that any of these visions could be materialized in the future and want to invest money in it, see companies that power these supercomputers, like Nvidia, or those who already have video game assets close to a metaverse, as well as potential ones in the next theoretical phase, like Roblox or Microsoft, might be your best bet. While Facebook has the name, it’s not clear if the social network or its parent meta has the key to unlocking the shape of the metaverse, if it ever arrives. Or it could be the same pipe dreams tech companies have been looking for for decades.

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