The year is 2040. You wake up and, like a routine, slip on your VR headset, transporting you into ZuckWorld—a Metaverse universe where you can exchange endless cat videos without limits or boundaries. Okay, so that might’ve been an over-exaggeration but the scenario might not be as far-fetched as you’d once believe. This week, Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook announced plans for the company to set its sights on the Metaverse, a new emerging technology that has been dubbed the “successor state” of the internet. Here’s what the mind-boggling concept could mean for a not-so-distant future.
The term ‘Metaverse’ was first coined by science fiction writer Neal Stephenson. In his 1992 novel, Snow Crash, the Metaverse is a massively popular virtual world experienced in first person by users equipped with Augmented Reality (AR) technology. Strangely, Stephenson’s fictional imagination has started to become reality. Was he a time traveller or a genius? Who knows.
But what exactly is a Metaverse? The complex and mind-blowing concept is difficult to put into words. As of today, the closest thing we have to a Metaverse is online games. Ever played the game Roblox? If you haven’t, you’re probably somewhat aware of the concept—or at least, you’ve seen videos of screaming children playing the game. Essentially, the online multiplayer game, which is targeted towards children and whose parent company is valued at over 44 billion dollars, is based in a digital sandbox world where its users can program as well as play games created by other users. According to CNBC, the game is often considered an example of a Metaverse. Minecraft, a vast open-world sandbox game, is also considered by some to be a Metaverse.
The Metaverse can be thought of as the “successor state” to the modern-day internet—with all the same content but fewer limitations as to where and how that content can be accessed. Technology in the year 2021 allows people to move somewhat freely within the confines of specific services, however, we’re limited by interoperability between platforms. Interoperability is essentially the way technologies function in conjunction with one another—you can make a house in Minecraft but you’re unable to transfer the house over to a Roblox world. The Metaverse comes in as the perfect way of making the internet more interoperable, as it will allow us to generate our own content and distribute it freely throughout a widely accessible digital world.
On Monday 26 July 2021, Facebook announced its plans to dip its multinational conglomerate’s fingers into the multiverse pot. The company revealed its plans to create an executive team to work on Zuckerberg’s vision of a digital universe. Taking influence from the Metaverse concept, the team will aim to create a digital world that multiple people can inhibit at the same time. The team will also be a part of Facebook’s virtual reality group, Reality Labs.
In a statement, Andrew Bosworth, an executive at Facebook Reality Labs (FRL), said: “Today Portal and Oculus can teleport you into a room with another person, regardless of physical distance, or to new virtual worlds and experiences.”
Bosworth continued, “But to achieve our full vision of the Metaverse, we also need to build the connective tissue between these spaces so you can remove the limitations of physics and move between them with the same ease as moving from one room in your home to the next.”
It’s already been noted that Facebook is heavily investing in AR and VR technologies because they offer the company the possibility of controlling its own hardware platform in the future, and not be controlled by competitors. In essence, the company is already in the midst of a VR arms race with the likes of Apple and Google. Now heads are turning towards the Metaverse.
Zuck himself confirmed that Facebook’s own Metaverse would work on virtual reality headsets, as well as mobile devices and gaming consoles. In an interview with The Verge last week he said, “And my hope, if we do this well, I think over the next five years or so, in this next chapter of our company, I think we will effectively transition from people seeing us as primarily being a social media company to being a Metaverse company.”
Is the concept of a Metaverse exciting or terrifying? I’d say both, at least for now. Could this just be another one of Zuckerberg’s many business ventures, or is this a completely different mission altogether? Only time will tell. On the surface though, the positives are persuasive. For starters, a technology that allows instantaneous communication with anyone in the world like you’re in the same room would be incredible—not only in reducing carbon emissions by decreasing the need for travel but also for people’s mental health too. That being said, I can barely stomach the bombardment of personalised ads on my newsfeed, let alone in virtual reality.