With the announcement of Facebook going “Meta” by Mark Zuckerberg, everyone is curious about metaverse. The idea of metaverse was first propagated by Neal Stephenson in his science fiction novel “Snow Crash” where a digital universe was shown that could be accessed through virtual reality (VR). The concept is widely used in many works of science fiction including many popular movies and web series, such as “Black Mirror”, “Ready Player One”, and “The Matrix”. The general concept shown in the media is creating an alternative digital world, similar to the real world which can be accessed by a VR headset.
Technology has always strived to bring sci-fi ideas to lived experiences and metaverse is one of such attempts. According to Zuckerberg, the metaverse will feel like a hybrid of virtual social media experiences, projected into the material realm. It will connect people throughout the globe and enable them to experience things together that they cannot experience in the physical world. The metaverse will focus on privacy and inclusion right from the start and would enable users to create Horizon Home, work remotely and develop different services. Moreover, Presence Platform, Project Cambria, and Project Nazare are the additional services that will be game-changers in the virtual world.
Privacy and safety will be an integral part of the metaverse. The user will decide whom they want to interact with and whom they want to block, when they want to socialise and when they want to be alone. It will enable the users to bring things, that can be represented virtually, from the physical world to the metaverse. Users can create a home space for themselves called Horizon Home where they can visit friends and invite them over.
Although it still attracts a huge number of users, the step is seeming to be inspirational marketing as virtual reality users of the company are relatively less, less than 10 million, compared to the overall base of almost 2.9 billion.
The outbreak of COVID-19 created a health crisis globally and brought the world economies to their knees. To keep the system going, many platforms, like Zoom and Google Meet, were created for workers to work from home. But, work from metaverse will take things to the next level with a hologram presence. The hologram presence will make it possible for workers to have the same workplace experience from the comforts of their homes. This will promote remote work resulting in less traffic on the roads and leading to a climate-friendly environment. Moreover, it will allow architects, engineers, and artists to present their designs virtually.
Furthermore, Presence Platform will enable the developers to create a mixed reality experience for the Oculus Quest virtual reality headset. It will include tools that will enable developers to immerse in real experiences and combine virtual with the physical world. The improved Spark AR (Augmented Reality) will allow creativity through hand tracking and body tracking which will allow hand gestures and expressions possible in more realistic ways.
Likewise, Project Cambria is a high-end virtual reality headset designed for metaverse with capabilities beyond the normal virtual reality headsets. The device will have sensors that will allow users to maintain eye contact and reflect facial expressions through avatars.
To sketch the world of the future, the metaverse is a huge step. However, there are concerns regarding the world becoming more digital. Will it be a better alternative to the current world? Eric Schmidt, the former Google CEO, is critical of the step and considers the artificial intelligence (AI) technology used in the majority of metaverse as a “giant, false god” (as it will be ubiquitous) that can lead to “unhealthy and para-social relationships.” As many are weighing in on how the worlds created in metaverse would be better than the real world – considering one would have the power to create a better version – people might spend more time in the metaverse than in the real world. Elon Musk is also sceptical of the Open AI technology used in his company after many concerns were raised about its safety and transparency. His own Tesla’s AI team has become a competitor to Open AI.
As for metaverse, many consider this rebranding as saving the image of Facebook, following a series of controversies resulting in a decrease in the popularity of the platform. Although it still attracts a huge number of users, the step is seeming to be inspirational marketing as virtual reality users of the company are relatively less, less than 10 million, compared to the overall base of almost 2.9 billion.
Also, many virtual reality systems like AltspaceVR and Facebook Horizon are new, and many lawmakers are not aware of how they work.
Besides, a few rules are regulating the metaverse. But, most of the rules regarding harassment and resolving conflicts in virtual environments are regulated by the environments’ own established systems. Also, many virtual reality systems like AltspaceVR and Facebook Horizon are new, and many lawmakers are not aware of how they work. The allegations on Facebook of selling data to companies and interference with governance is also a recent phenomenon and nobody until recently knew about it. So, it will take time to understand the process of how metaverse would work and how it will be regulated. Only time will reveal the problems revolving around these systems and how laws would be able to regulate them.
A major concern relating to remote work the internationalisation of capitalism. If one has the access to the same opportunities in another country which offer better resources, they would not consider working for their own country. Likewise, if someone in one part of the world is willing to do the same job in lesser resources, the companies would prefer to hire them. This will create a complex economic system and further strengthen the monopoly of big companies.
Territorial integrity of nations and sense of identity is another factor that might diminish in the metaverse. It would be a true global village where you can work anywhere, buy from anywhere and be with anyone. Having an option to create an identity and a utopian world to live in, one would seldom like to switch back to the real world. Considering the time people spend online, a new space for fifth generation warfare is possible where citizens can be manipulated against their nations. How would nations regulate it is what they should be working on before giving metaverse a pass in their countries.
Lastly, the most important question is about safety and hazards especially for kids. The same issues pertaining to the negative impacts of social media would become graver. Wearing a headset for hours can be potentially harmful to both physical and mental health. U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has already warned that “their foam facial interfaces can cause facial skin irritation and reactions including rashes, swelling, burning, itching, hives, and bumps.” And these companies have proved many times that they would put their profit above wellbeing.
Conclusively, Facebook is stepping in the direction of a brave new world but it will not be alone on the way as many companies like Microsoft, Snap, Unity, Amazon, and others are also investing in a wide range of metaverse start-ups. Although these companies will be competing to take the AI experience to the next level, it is uncertain if this new world will be any better than the old one. However, it surely shows us where the digital world is heading.