The word Metaverse was the hot-new buzz word for 2021, and that has pretty much rolled on into 2022. The concept has drawn billions of dollars in investment, plenty of excitement, and a lot of confusion and concern over the idea. The Metaverse today is a lot like the internet in the 1980s, where there was a lot of hype and speculation on the future of communication, but very little of us knew what it would actually look like or how it would develop.
So, what is the Metaverse? The term is not new and has been floating around for years. The term was first coined by author Neal Stephenson in 1992, with his sci-fi novel Snow Crash. In the book, the metaverse was a digital world that existed parallel to the real world. The current version of the Metaverse combines a number of different aspects from social media, online gaming, augmented reality and virtual reality. Cryptocurrencies are the way in which users can interact in the virtual world and interact, earn and build in the ecosystem. The Metaverse is to many the next generation of the internet - the future will be an immersive experience that brings the digital world closer to the physical.
Today, we can view anything we want online, but tomorrow will be about how to create an immersive online experience. Let’s say you and your partner are looking at a new apartment to move into. Now, you can browse the internet for photos and reviews, while the Metaverse (web 3.0) seeks to create a digital world where you can almost instantly walk through the apartment as if you were there physically, using augmented or virtual reality. Another interesting area is education. As it stands today, the best education is often limited to being there physically. But, if you could create an immersive, almost real-world experience, then we would be able to ship world-class education, and in a broader sense any “experience” to everyone around the world.
So why are some people worried? Philosopher Robert Nozick in his 1974 book ‘Anarchy, State, and Utopia, and The Examined Life’, asks us to imagine a machine that could simulate whatever desirable or pleasurable experiences we want. He then posed a key question: Would we prefer the machine simulated life or real life? As one could imagine, it would be hard to make the choice. We may all be given a choice like Neo had in the Matrix - do we take the red pill or the blue pill? In a future where the digital immersive experience could be indistinguishable from reality in terms of experience, for many the digital life could be a more pleasurable experience. So the question then becomes, what happens to our real world? In the not too distant future, we may move from just looking at things online to fully experiencing them.
So for those of you who are a little worried, Robert Nozick stated a few ideas on why we should not plug in. First, we actually want to take action and not just experience certain things - so our experiences are driven by action. Second, we want to be a specific person, and the notion of an imagined reality does provide a grim outlook on our individuality as people. Finally, no matter how developed our simulated reality is, it will always be limited by what we as humans can create, and ultimately real life will be a lot more limitless in potential. Truth is, reality is still hard to replicate, and for now, the Metaverse and what it develops into is still a mystery for us in the same way the Internet was all those decades ago.
The potential, however, is here - the Metaverse is expected to become an USD 800 billion market by 2024. The tech giants - Meta (formerly Facebook), Microsoft, Apple and Google have all made significant strides into making it a “reality”. We are not there yet, and the potential of the Metaverse creating a 3D version of the internet has not yet been fully developed, but it is the logical next step. While the future for entertainment, fashion and gaming are set to evolve first, many experts believe education may be the best use-case for this technology. This will be the first time we are able to truly offer an immersive educational experience digitally to people across the globe in real-time. For now, there are major hurdles hindering progress like hardware and interoperability. Fact of the matter is, we could be building the Matrix but we are not living in it…yet.
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