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What is The Metaverse: A Virtual Future to Embrace or Fear?

The world is evolving at breakneck speed, and the recent COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated a number of existing trends, which are only likely to be consolidated by the emerging political consensus that the climate crisis can no longer be ignored. While the direct effects of and responses to these phenomena are various and multi-faceted, the likely direction of travel seems to be toward increasing physical social isolation. With people spending less time together in face-to-face meetings and each passing generation being more at home online than the previous one, it makes sense that the new place of togetherness should be in cyberspace. A Metaverse would transcend borders, societies, businesses, countries, and civilizations.

what is metaverse

What Is the Metaverse?

The Metaverse is a term that was coined in Neal Stephenson’s 1992 novel “Snow Crash,” and comes from the prefix “meta” meaning “beyond,” and “verse” as in “universe.” The concept of this term is therefore a world beyond our own; one that we can access outside of this one. In some ways, it’s already present: you can explore another world through virtual reality (VR); enhance the physical world with augmented reality (AR), such as in PokemonGo; or physically move your own character in video games, like with the Nintendo. However, up until now, this has all been relatively simple and localized. Apart from perhaps playing against one’s friends and family as an avatar online, this digital world has yet to really open people up to each other.

What does a Metaverse do?

A Metaverse would transcend borders, societies, businesses, countries, and civilizations. It could be used for all manner of things, such as exploring a new world, playing games, getting professional advice from a doctor or lawyer (who would be present in the Metaverse as their avatars), or joining a business meeting or conference as yourself. Instead of a video call, you would walk into a digital room as your avatar, sit down, listen, contribute, or present to other avatars in the room.

What make a Metaverse?

Matthew Ball argues that there are a series of qualities that make a Metaverse:

  • Continuous: Never stopping or ending, just continuing indefinitely.
  • Open: Anybody can access it and participate in it.
  • Economy: There must be currency and trade.
  • Duality: Transcends both the digital and physical worlds.
  • Interoperability: Assets — in the shape of money, non-fungible tokens (NFTs), or anything else — can be moved and used across the worlds in the Metaverse, across games such as Fortnite to Facebook’s Metaverse for example.
  • Contribution:Participants and creators can create, expand, and evolve the Metaverse.

Facebook Metaverse’s Horizon Workrooms

A business meeting held by real people in one of Facebook Metaverse’s Horizon Workrooms. (Source: Facebook news)

How Would A Universal Metaverse be Structured?

As the Metaverse develops, it will evolve and take different routes. It’s clear judging the current companies that are stepping into the space, that the Metaverse will be formed up of many worlds: game worlds, social media worlds, digital real estate worlds, etc., but if a Metaverse is to exist, these will all have to be linked in some way. As it stands, there are a few components that would likely be necessary for a universal Metaverse:

What is a Metaverse blockchain?

The Metaverse, as something that would have a lot of power over people’s work, social, and personal lives, would need to be built on something decentralized. As a place where individuals would want to discuss personal issues or carry out transactions — consulting and paying for a lawyer, for example — it would need to have a high level of security. Finally, as a continuously expanding platform, it would need to support growth. All of this leads to blockchain technology, which provides the perfect solution with its security, decentralization, and ability to expand. Something like this could run on a blockchain that supports DApps, like Ethereum for example, but with better scalability in order to improve speed, and a lower carbon footprint — all things that are expected to take shape with Ethereum 2.0.

What are Metaverse NFTs?

Non-fungible tokens (NFTs) have enabled people to have full ownership of digital assets. This will be key for every participant on the Metaverse, as each of them can own their own avatar, or character. Moreover, they could open and own their own personalized properties: a doctor’s practice and waiting room for patients, a house to host friends, a function room, restaurant, hotel, or casino — the possibilities are endless. This could easily create a whole economy, not just in real estate, but also in trade, entertainment, and education, to name a few. Avatars could visit an art gallery and buy the NFT artwork on sale there; holidaymakers could visit the Vegas of the Metaverse and spend or win Metaverse crypto; or individuals could visit and stay in a hotel. All of this would be possible, and all of it could generate an income. Not only that, but it could generate jobs: Metaverse theatres need virtual actors, the hotels need porters, and the casinos need waiters, to name just a few.

What is Metaverse crypto?

Many Metaverse activities will require a currency, meaning a need for Metaverse crypto. It’s likely that each world within the Metaverse will have their own currency, either usable across the Metaverse or exchangeable for Metaverse crypto. This is backed by the need for a Metaverse crypto to run the site itself, in terms of standard blockchain fees, staking, and node rewards.

Metaverse users in digital wellness classes

Metaverse users could soon be joining friends in digital wellness classes as their NFT avatars. (Source: venturedesktop.com)

How Do You Use the Metaverse?

How the Metaverse is used will be down to the individual and their needs. But a few examples have already began to appear:

  • Facebook Metaverse and Horizon Workrooms: Facebook is taking the plunge into the Metaverse by introducing virtual office spaces where individuals can enter using the Oculus Quest2 headset and hand holders. These tools have sensors that will reflect real-time movements in the virtual work room. Users can walk around their living rooms presenting, or turn and high five a colleague, all of which is reflected by their avatars in the virtual workroom.
  • Performances: Musicians are already exploring this aspect of the Metaverse. With concerts left empty during Covid-19, Travis Scott took a new approach and hosted a whole concert within the online game “Fortnite.” Here, he was able to turn himself into a giant, a cyborg, and a deep-sea diver, while inviting his fans to join him in the sea and swim around his giant feet. Possibilities are limitless, and if paired with good speakers and a good headset, the proximity and immersion could even surpass a real concert. Let’s not forget that, as a Metaverse, all your friends could be beside you enjoying the show.
  • Social events: In a Metaverse, friends will be able to hang out, watch a film, or visit an establishment, such as a restaurant, casino, or club. However, as happened in 2020, bigger and more important events are starting to take place online too, such as weddings. This is again something that has been pushed forward by the restrictions of the Covid pandemic. However, when considering the financial savings, ease of organization, and lack of physical restrictions on guest numbers or location, it could become quite a normal thing to celebrate important life events in the Metaverse.
  • Military, safety, and security: This is another aspect of the Metaverse that is already being explored, especially using VR to build tailored environments for training scenarios. In addition, however, the Metaverse could be used for remote security meetings, either because the territory is too dangerous, or the individuals are not trustworthy enough to meet in person.
  • Counsel: For individuals too sick or frail to leave the house, the Metaverse could become a place to meet a doctor and physically show their ailments without being physically present. Perhaps one day, full-body suits where a doctor could carry out routine check-ups virtually on the Metaverse could be in use. Similar situations could also apply for legal counsel or court cases, where witnesses, victims, or suspects are too vulnerable or dangerous to go outdoors.

Travis Scott’s Metaverse concert

Travis Scott’s Metaverse concert on the online game “Fortnite.” (Source: economist.com)

How To Access the Metaverse?

Currently, different Metaverse-like environments are accessed separately online or through apps. However, if and when a more unified Metaverse begins to take shape, this could change, with a single app acting as a platform or a portal to multiple different worlds. If Elon Musk gets his way, however, perhaps it will be accessed via a Neuralink microchip implanted in the person’s head — though the dystopian possibilities of such technology explored in works such as “Black Mirror” might make this type of application hard for users to accept.

Are There Dangers to Creating a Metaverse?

There are many concerns over building a parallel digital universe. We don’t have to look far to find incredibly popular movies and series that explore the subject. “The Matrix” stands as perhaps one of the most famous films to make us question whether we are living in reality, or whether we are living in a virtual reality without knowing it. Similar scenarios have been explored — and always with negative outcomes — on the series “Black Mirror.” It’s of course concerning that as technology advances, we could lose ourselves in it, unable to distinguish what is real from what is fake. However, this level of complete immersive technology and interoperability remains a long way off, meaning that individuals cannot fully escape into another world yet. For now, the Metaverse offers an exciting opportunity to explore, experiment, and hopefully help society in ways previously undiscovered.

This blurring of the lines between what is real and what is not also raises concerns around manipulation. With such a powerful and potentially mind-altering tool, what will happen if those with a vested interest — be it financial or political — take control of the Metaverse, and subsequently of our lives? This is perhaps an argument against private ownership of the Metaverse. How this would be solved remains a mystery, especially when you consider that early adopters and drivers of the technology are mostly large corporations such as Facebook, which already suffers from low public trust and has faced controversy around privacy issues. On the plus side, however, blockchain technology’s decentralization may provide means for keeping too much centralized power from being accumulated by powerful vested interests.

Conclusion

The Metaverse offers an exciting opportunity to bring people closer together in a virtual world. It could be a gateway to offer assistance and opportunities to those in a more vulnerable state, or jobs to those who cannot physically attend a workplace due to where they live or disability. Additionally, it gives people more freedom to be anywhere they want and create whatever they want to see or do.

The technology is still evolving, and where it will go in the future is a mystery, but the wheels of change are turning and it’s exciting to see what will come of it. On the other hand, to prevent “Black Mirror”-like dystopian scenarios, the Metaverse must stay secure and decentralized — thereby opening the perfect partnership between blockchain technology, crypto, and the Metaverse.


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