At the end of October 2021, Mark Zuckerber announced that Facebook was renaming the company Meta and said that under the new name, the company would begin to create a meta-universe – the “volumetric Internet”.
If you still do not understand what the meta universe is, how it will work and who needs it and why, read the article to the end. We explain with simple examples and speculate whether the idea is real or just another anti-utopia.
Meta-Universe – what is it in simple words + examples
A meta universe is a virtual reality, a parallel world where websites, search engines, applications and their ecosystems will be moved. We will be present in the metaworld, create our own metaworlds and interact with objects as a virtual 3D avatar.
This is similar to the movies The Matrix, Avatar, and Neal Stephenson’s 1992 novel Avalanche. By the way, Stevenson coined the term ” meta-universe.”
How is the Meta-Universe different from regular video games, where you can also create your own avatar and be in other worlds?
First of all, the main feature and idea of the meta-universe is total immersion. With virtual reality goggles, tactile gloves, suits, and sensors, you can really feel yourself in another reality. It will be possible to feel virtual objects, understand the mood of the interlocutor (the avatar must copy the host’s facial expressions), walk in these worlds, and not just sit on the couch and look at the monitor, like now.
Secondly, it is supposed to “seamlessly” use online services – the compatibility of their data. Right now, most platforms are isolated from each other and try to create separate ecosystems. Yes, there are integrations, but they are not capable of combining a maximum of platforms into a single system. As a result, you have to have a dozen accounts and come up with passwords for each one separately. In the meta-universe, these boundaries are supposed to be erased. You will be able to watch a movie on Netflix in a virtual room with your friends’ avatars and simultaneously chat on WhatsApp or order a pizza without having to open a bunch of windows and separately authorize in each system.
Another example of “seamlessness” – let’s say there are 2 online games. Now you can’t use ammunition or artifacts from the WOW game in Fortnite. And in the meta universe (as conceived by the developers) this will be possible.
In a meta-universe you can work, study, communicate with your friends and family, meet new people, buy virtual items and even open a business, all without leaving home. The meta-universe is not just a virtual world for fun. It can solve real problems of mankind, for example:
Problem #1. Users spend a lot of time at smartphones and laptops, and this affects health.
A sedentary lifestyle, many hours behind the monitor, lack of real communication – all this leads, at a minimum, to depression and fatigue, at a maximum – to real diseases and pathological conditions (hypodynamia, obesity, cardiovascular problems, headaches, visual impairment).
In the meta-universe it will be possible to walk through worlds, to gesticulate, and to move objects with our hands. That is, our physical body will be in motion, which is vital. We won’t have to choose between our health and the possibilities of the Internet. In the meta-universe it will even be possible to exercise in the gym among other people, or rather their avatars. You will see the trainer and other participants from home, and they will see you.
Problem #2. People are communicating less often in real life and are increasingly replacing voice communication with texting. Another problem arises when children are given gadgets at an early age – they lose the motivation to explore the real world around them and communicate with their peers, instead getting “hooked” on vids from the Internet or scribbling messages. Neural connections are formed more slowly, and this has a bad effect on overall development.
The metavirtual universe allows you not to lose your social skills – you can meet your friends in a virtual cafe and communicate as if you met in a real cafe – with your voice and emotions instead of a couple of typed phrases and emoticons in Viber.
When communicating on a cell phone or even a video call, there’s still no such effect of presence. You hear a voice or see a 2D image of your interlocutor, but in the meta-vacuum you will have a 3D avatar in front of you that you can even touch.
Problem #3. Distance. We spend a lot of time to get to work, to the store, to pick up a package from the post office, or to drive to the theater. We may not see our friends for years because we live in different countries, and we simply don’t have the time. The meta-universe should remove these boundaries. You can go to a virtual store, then meet your friends in a virtual house (even if in reality you live in different cities), then watch a movie together and so on. The time you save by doing basic things in the virtual world (work, study, shopping) can be spent on something more valuable than standing in traffic jams. For example, for a real romantic evening with the person you love.
Problem #4. Pandemic. In 2020, we’re all facing massive restrictions and being locked out of our homes. Even in companies that have moved employees to remote work, some processes have to be handled offline – like having a meeting in the office once a week. That’s a risk for employees. Many people are cut off from their loved ones because of closed borders. In the meta-universe there will be no borders and you won’t need QR codes to go to a virtual mall or meet a friend from another country (or rather his avatar, of course). There will be no need for offline meetings either – you will be able to get together with your colleagues in a virtual room, make a presentation on a virtual board and show your bosses the digitized documents. Yes, you can do it now, but you should agree that a Zoom meeting and a virtual room meeting are not the same thing.
An example of how a meta-universe can work
The simplest example of implementation is that you wake up in your home, put on your immersive meta-universe equipment to have a meeting with your colleagues in a virtual office. Then you invite a friend from another country for a walk on the virtual promenade, where you discuss the past week. Then go into a virtual gallery together to look at paintings by contemporary artists. Maybe even buy one as an NFT. Then you go to the virtual supermarket and buy food. Then a real courier in a real warehouse picks it up and brings it to your real home. In the evening you and your friends watch the movie in the virtual theater. And all this without leaving home. You use the time saved to do sports outdoors (in the real world) or do creative work.
As conceived by the developers involved in the creation of the metaworld, it must meet the following criteria:
- maximum immersion (not only to see the virtual world, but also to be able to interact with it – touch, smell, move objects);
- the meta universe should be constant and the same for everyone – just like in the real world. If you bought a virtual product in a store, another person cannot buy the same product;
- High quality of Internet connection and data processing speed – nothing should freeze, the network should not break;
- no limits on the number of users who are in the meta universe at the same time;
- unified internal economy – people will be able to make and spend money in the metaclassical universe;
- possibility for residents of the meta-universe to create their own worlds and objects;
- Decentralized – that is, no large company should be the sole manager of the meta-universe.
*More on the principles of the metaworld can be read in articles by investor Matthew Ball.
Pros of the meta-universe
So, what opportunities the meta-universe offers to people:
– The possibility of transferring many everyday processes “to a remote location”;
– More opportunities for learning: in history classes, children can find themselves in a virtual world of ancient Greece, or visit the battlefields, medical students can practice and learn anatomy from virtual models of people, future architects will be able to create full-size virtual buildings;
– the ability to visualize their projects, for example, inventors will be able to show investors prototypes of their work not just as drawings or printed 3D models, but as an object of the virtual world;
– The erasure of borders, the ability to travel through virtual worlds. This will make life easier and better for people with disabilities, low financial status, or those who cannot travel due to restrictions imposed by the state;
– the ability to meet with friends and colleagues in virtual worlds instead of spending time on the road;
– New jobs will appear, for example, programmers and designers of virtual objects and metaworlds will definitely be in demand;
– Brands will be able to advertise in the metaclasses;
What prevents you from opening a meta-universe right now?
Despite the optimism of meta-universes ideologists, there are many unresolved issues. Because of them, the creation of a full-fledged virtual universe will stretch for several years. For example:
The technical side of the issue. Right now, VR glasses and tactile gloves are heavy and uncomfortable – it is hard to stay in them for hours. Plus, some users get seasick when they use standard VR glasses. We need more compact and lightweight analogues. Mark Zuckerberg thinks it should be glasses that are close to regular vision glasses, like Google glass.
In addition, while the quality of graphics in the VR environment leaves much to be desired (although progress is already noticeable). For a sense of full immersion in the process, it is important what we see with our eyes – a realistic 3D avatar or a pixelated human with a triangular head.
The second point is the safety of the physical body as we travel through the metaviverse. A person in a VR helmet can easily trip and hit the furniture in his apartment. So, in addition to immersion equipment, there should be safety equipment. An option is to use virtual reality running platforms like Virtuix Omni 2.0.
The third point is that to process so much data and a stable picture, you need a huge number of servers and powerful video cards. And all this has to be stored, uninterrupted and maintained somewhere.
Fourth, to live in the meta universe you need stable Internet access. But for many users this is a problem, which means that these people will be cut off from being able to live in the metaclassical universe.
Cybersecurity. The metaworld involves storing a huge amount of information about both the worlds themselves and the users. If one application gets hacked – that’s half the trouble, but if the whole metaworld gets hacked? In addition to normal digital data, it could have access to the biometric data of a billion people. Theoretically, it could be obtained through sensors that track eye movements and facial expressions, microphones, tactile gloves. If such information were to fall into the wrong hands, disaster would ensue.
Expensive equipment. VR equipment, running platforms, and powerful video cards already cost an unaffordable amount of money for many users today. If prices don’t come down, then again, millions of people will be cut off from living and developing in the metaworld due to lack of money for equipment.
There is no consensus among the world’s companies. For the metaworld to be “seamless,” companies must come together and agree to share data with each other. At the very least, large corporations. This is one of the biggest problems, because it is unlikely that Yandex will agree to cooperate with Google. And Apple was repeatedly accused of monopoly due to the prohibition to put third-party applications on iOS. There is also no guarantee that some companies will not use “dirty methods of play,” such as trying to create their own meta-villages based on the data or use them in other ways to their detriment. For example, for cyberattacks on people in other countries.
Which companies have already teamed up to co-develop solutions for the meta-universe:
- Meta (Facebook);
- Epic Games;
What other companies or products are somehow planning to integrate into the meta-universe:
Examples of meta-universes from brands
Or rather, micro-meta-universes, because it’s not realistic to launch full-fledged ones yet, as explained above, why. Nevertheless, there are companies and celebrities who have already taken the first steps in this direction.
#1. Fortnite. The famous game from Epic Games has long ceased to be just a video game. It is a virtual social platform where you can communicate with your friends, create your own worlds, go to concerts, change clothes and images. Epic Games actively collaborates with brands and celebrities. Thus, right in the game the singer Travis Scott held a virtual concert, which attracted more than 12 million listeners.
Disney studio has held in-game presentation of the ninth episode of “Star Wars” and interviewed the director of the film. American band Weezer created the whole island in the game for the promotion of their new album. Also as a part of Fortnite’s collaboration with Balenciaga, 4 new skins with clothes you could buy in the brand’s actual store appeared in the game.
#2. Meta. The main ideologist and promoter of metaworlds Mark Zuckerberg introduced the first VR worlds Meta Horizon Worlds and Horizon Home, which should give the first insight into what a metaworld can look like. There you can interact with other people, meet friends, and create your own worlds.
The second example is the creation of 3D avatars on Instagram. They can be added to posts with a sticker, used for texting and video chatting. They will also be available in the messenger. Most likely, these avatars can be used in a future metaworld.
#3. TikTok. Following Instagram, TikTok has the ability to create a 3D avatar that should respond to the movements of the host and reproduce emotions.
#4. Oculus. The brand of Facebook Technologies (a subsidiary of Meta) is in the business of making VR headsets. It is with the headset from Oculus that you can test Meta’s products – prototypes of the future metaworld – Horizon Worlds, Horizon Home.
Back in 2020, the Infinite Office platform for the Oculus Quest 2 headset model was presented at the Facebook Connect conference. It clearly shows how you can organize your workspace with VR.
And here’s a trailer of the game Supernatural for virtual reality sports. The game is already available and popular.
In the comments to the game, users shared that during the pandemic, the game allowed them to keep themselves in good physical shape, and one couple even converted the garage into a home fitness room for VR.
#5. An example of how the first versions of the meta-universe are already being used in life by ordinary people. A couple from India decided to have their wedding in the meta-universe because of coronavirus and financial constraints. The official ceremony is planned in the traditional form in the presence of the closest people. The couple must then step into the metaviverse, where there will be 2,000 guests, or rather their avatars. In reality, the newlyweds could not afford such a number of guests. The virtual world is based on “Harry Potter” – that’s another beauty of VR, you can create any environment. It cost about $2,000 for the couple to get married in the meta-viverse. The event is scheduled for February 6, 2022.
#6. Decentraland is a metavirtual universe where you can buy a plot (virtual land). It is sold as plots and can be purchased with the currency of its virtual space.
At the start of the Metaworld you can buy your plot for a very democratic price. As the platform grows in popularity, so does the price of real estate in it. In June of this year, for example, a plot of land in Decentraland sold for more than $900,000.
The metaworld is a huge simulation. It cannot completely replace the real world. Nor is it intended to do so. The metaworld will be an extension or addition to the real world, with all its pluses and, for some, minuses. If it is implemented as we are promised, it will be a breakthrough in the technology of virtual and augmented reality. And it will change the lives of many people. Whether the developers will manage to create a meta universe or it will remain a pipe dream – we’ll see in a few years.