Metaverse: a dystopian fantasy or a paradigm shift?

Ashwinram Meenakshisundaram

Technological innovation knows no boundaries and it has been proven multiple times that what might seem like a futuristic invention can become a reality quickly, even embedded in our daily routine. Since October 2021 one such tech advancement caught the attention not only of the tech community, but of the entire world, when the social media giant Facebook and associated companies rebranded themselves as “Meta”. They mainly rebranded themselves to reflect their work building the metaverse. Many tech giants including Microsoft, Apple, and other visual effects and gaming giants like Nvidia, Epic Games, Unity software, and Roblox have also invested billions of dollars in building the virtual world of the metaverse.

So what is this metaverse? And what does it mean?

Remember the virtual reality universe in Ready Player One? What if I tell you it is not a sci-fi fantasy anymore and the tech community has already started building a space that can bridge the physical and virtual world. The term ‘metaverse’ was first used in a cyberpunk novel snow crash created by Neal Stephenson in 1992. The metaverse is a massive interconnected virtual space that changes the way people interact with each other using Mixed Reality (MR) technology. MR is more of an extension of both Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR). VR is when you are fully immersed in a complete virtual environment using gadgets like Oculus and AR is more of an overlay of virtual digital content in a real-world environment like the Pokemon GO game. MR is a combination of both AR and VR where you see virtual objects in AR that can interact with a real-world environment.


Does this metaverse already exist?

If metaverse sounds familiar, it is because the existing online multiplayer games share most of its concepts. In the famous online multiplayer game Fortnite for instance, you transcend into the virtual world accessed by PCs, game consoles, or even through phones. It need not be accessed by VR or AR. It could be “metaversal” and it translates to a digital economy where you can buy and sell things. You can take virtual items you purchase in this 3D virtual world from one platform to another as it is interoperable. It is one of the idealistic visions of the metaverse where the users can buy and sell goods and it might be familiar if you played the World of Warcraft game. From a company perspective, the metaverse offers opportunities as well. Think of virtual meeting rooms for example, where you can work with your remote coworkers.

Mind-wandering about these opportunities also raises questions. Where is the metaverse right now? Is it a dystopian fantasy or is it a paradigm shift that will change the online world?

What will the metaverse mean for businesses and individuals?

In recent years, Big Tech managed to gather data of many users as the internet became more and more dynamic and interactive. Companies like Meta are showing personalised ads and targets their users with sophisticated hyper-personalisation algorithms. To control the power of Big Tech, Europe and the U.S. are bringing in stringent data security policies and laws such as GDPR. Metaverse might provide a welcome tool in reducing the use, or misuse, of information. As the metaverse has a decentralised system with open-source code and multiple stakeholders, it is fully transparent. And with this transparency, naturally, comes trust.

I could also think of changes in the online retail industry on the basis of the metaverse. Think of a virtual mall for example, where you can shop for things sold on other platforms. This also paves the way for using cryptocurrency with blockchain technology. Cryptocurrency has been around for quite a while but now, with the metaverse, it will be a game-changer as the virtual world will need digital currency. Major tech companies have launched their own cryptocurrencies foreseeing the advent of the metaverse. Metaverse has a wide scope and is far-reaching in terms of technology. It will be a ubiquitous experience where users can have an enhancing experience with AR and VR gears on traditional devices like mobile phones and computers. Metaverse has the potential to replace the internet with the state-of-the-art 5G technology that could accelerate this change.

Though the metaverse might seem like a far-fetched dystopian fantasy to the common public and they might find this entire concept esoteric, in reality, even the tech giants who are developing it don't seem to have a clear picture. Like every technological advancement, the metaverse will also take time to find its stride and be the paradigm shift for the future of online technology.

Metaverse: a dystopian fantasy or a paradigm shift?
Image credit:
Sara Kurig via Unsplash

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