In recent months, the term ‘metaverse has been cropping up more frequently in public discourse, especially in the emerging tech space, and with Mark Zuckerberg’s rebranding of Facebook to ‘Meta’, that discourse has only increased in frequency and depth. But it begs the question, what exactly is meant by the term Metaverse, what is it, and what could the future potentially look like with its emergence? In this article, I’ll explain what the Metaverse is, its limitations and restrictions, and what the future of social interaction and cryptocurrency could look like after its mainstream implementation.
Metaverse In Fiction
The idea of a Metaverse was first seen smouldering in the realm of speculative science fiction. The term’s first usage came from Neil Stevenson’s 1982 novel Snow Crash, a founding pillar of the dystopian near-future science fiction genre known as Cyberpunk. In the novel, the term was used to descript a virtual reality where average citizens could go to escape the dreary reality of totalitarian life. It represented a view of the future where the crushing reality of our increasingly shrinking world would set in, and the various financial burdens and general lack of space would push society to move into a virtual space. A bleak idea in its founding, but it would prove to be an accurate prediction of societies’ growing reliance on technology to escape the mundane nature of modern society.
The concept of a Metaverse has been adapted and changed over the years, from Ernest Cline’s novel, and Steven Spielberg’s eventual film adaptation, Ready Player One, to the popular film franchise by the Wachowskis, The Matrix. The concept has even been taken into other mediums with relative success, from the popularity of the anime Sword Art Online to the idea of ‘Netrunning’ in both video game and tabletop iterations with Cyberpunk 2020, 2077 and RED. The idea of a Metaverse has now formed a type of cultural zeitgeist that has now translated into the world of emerging tech, and while all of this seems like figments of a science fiction writer’s imagination, formed amid a daydream, the reality is that the Metaverse is already here, and with the ever-present advancement of technology, its presence on society will be felt more and more.
It Already Exists, But In What Form?
The Metaverse already exists, it has since the late 90s. From Runescape to World Of Warcraft, to Second Life, and more recently, VR Chat. These are all virtual spaces where people can interact and work together to achieve mutual goals. True, it’s still rather niche, but the only difference between the Metaverse as it exists currently and the Metaverse as it exists in science fiction is its widespread accessibility and the technology involved. VR headsets are almost at the point of being affordable for the average family, and with the increased focus on the Metaverse by various companies, it’s only a matter of time before we experience a very basic version of the Metaverse as it’s been imagined in science fiction. Due to the recent pandemic, it’s also driven society to be more open to virtual interaction, remote working and virtual socialization. But still, that begs the question: Once the Metaverse becomes a worldwide phenomenon, where could it go from there?
Where It Can Go From Here
With the rapid advancement in the fields of Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality, and with the upcoming releases of hyper-realistic game engines like Unreal 5, it’s fair to say that we may see a series of true-to-life virtual spaces appear within the next decade, where people can work, interact and play games. That’s only one step short of most science-fiction depictions of the Metaverse. The last step would be to tie our nervous systems to these virtual spaces so we can also feel, smell, taste and touch the Metaverse. This part has no grounds in reality as of yet, but it could be the next direction Metaverse developers could take to create a fully inclusive experience.
We could also see an entire digital economy be implemented through the use of blockchain and blockchain-based art assets. People could, in theory, spend their entire lives working, earning and trading in these virtual spaces. This brings us to the next topic, the potential limitations and hurdles imposed by the Metaverse.
Limitations And Hurdles
The advent of a widely-used metaverse also comes with several potential hurdles and dangerous hazards that those developing these virtual spaces may want to think twice about. For example, most of the world has access to the internet, but not everyone's connection speeds may be able to support a fully realized and persistent virtual space. There are currently steps being taken to improve connection speeds, like the worldwide implementation of 5G infrastructure and the commercial usage of Starlink.
There's also the question of regulation. Who controls this space, and who decides what content can be shared or talked about on the platform? This is a question being asked around most online spaces currently, and it'll be no different for the first worldwide metaverse. It's fair to say the one who controls that forum will have a lot of power resting in the palm of their hands, with the ability to purge misinformation - or potentially create their own. In truth, can we trust the person (or company) with all the power to do the right thing, separate from their own monetary or ideological ambitions?
One of the largest dangers presented by the Metaverse is the sudden removal of distance and borders in everyday interaction. The ease of communication will allow dangerous ideologies and ideas to transfer and spread at an alarming rate. We've already seen it with platforms like Instagram and Twitter, the Metaverse may only increase the frequency of radicalization and indoctrination. Once more, the policing of what people can and can't say on the platform will be entirely up to the discretion of those developing it.
The biggest hurdle to making the version of the Metaverse that we've seen in science fiction a reality is the advancement of Augmented and Virtual Reality, which isn't entirely ready yet. However, with the advancement in VR technology and the implementation of game engines that can construct photo-realistic environments like Unreal 5, this hurdle becomes smaller and smaller with each passing day.
It's extremely likely that we'll see the implementation and subsequent interactions of a widely-available metaverse within our lifetimes, with some even predicting that the first versions will be publically available in no more than a decade. In truth, technology is adapting and changing faster than we can keep up with it. Who knows what the world will look like in a year, let alone ten. While all these concerns are, in truth, legitimate concerns, people (like TiiQu) are looking to create a new secure square for enhanced business and knowledge-sharing interactions.
You can find further in-depth discussions we've had about the Metaverse on TiiQu Talks.