12° Nicosia,
20 May, 2024

The mysterious world of the 'metaverse'

Facebook to hire 10,000 in the EU to build new virtual world

Last Sunday, Facebook announced plans to create 10,000 new jobs in the European Union over the next five years to build products that will serve the metaverse — an interconnected virtual world enhanced by augmented and virtual reality around which online avatars and digital goods can move seamlessly. The company says its products will be interoperable with those from other tech firms in order to build a cohesive cyber space.

The mysterious world of the metaverse may be new to readers who have not seen The Matrix series. The concept originated in Neal Stephenson’s 1992 science-fiction novel Snow Crash, depicting a world where humans interact through avatars in a three-dimensional virtual space created through a combination of physical, augmented and virtual realities. The idea is updated in the Wachowski sisters’ films, where humans are unknowingly trapped in a metaverse called the Matrix.

Imagine a world where you will be “teleported” through a digital avatar into a conference meeting room. (Or)...your hologram sits on a friend’s couch enabling you to watch a film together

In an interview with The Verge in July, Zuckerberg said, “you can think about the metaverse as an embodied internet, where instead of just viewing content — you are in it.”

Facebook plans to build a set of interconnected worlds using VR and AR that users access through PCs, mobile devices, and game consoles. Imagine a world where you will be “teleported” through a digital avatar into a conference meeting room. Imagine, after work, your hologram sits on a friend’s couch enabling you to watch a film together without either party stepping out of the front door.

The goal is to bring the world’s physicality into virtual communications and “give people that sense of presence”, says Zuckerberg.

The Facebook boss argues VR and AR can fill gaps created by the videoconferencing technology the world has grown accustomed to during the pandemic. He blames the uniformity of online meetings for dulling sensory experiences, which in turn makes social interactions more forgettable: “I sometimes find it hard to remember what meeting someone said something in because they all look the same and they all blend together. And I think part of that is because we don’t have this sense of presence in space.”

The metaverse will incorporate different technologies including cryptocurrency, NFTs and live-streaming. For the part of the metaverse governing social interaction, VR and AR will be essential. The two are often spoken of simultaneously without sufficient explanation of how their underlying technologies differ. VR headsets obscure the user’s vision, replacing it with a virtual environment beamed through in-built screens. By contrast, AR devices such as smart glasses enhance users’ surroundings, projecting new information on top of what they are already seeing.

VR and AR have promise in certain industries. Gaming companies are slowly making better use of VR, although even on this front, innovation has been disappointing. The retail sector is experimenting with AR to encourage consumers to buy fashion and beauty products.

But Zuckerberg’s vision is for the metaverse to enhance interactions between individuals in different places. He envisages office workers, school friends and gamers alike turning to Facebook’s metaverse to collaborate, socialise and compete with one another. Facebook is, after all, a social media company.

But the jury is still out on whether VR and AR bring something that consumers are really missing in long-distance interactions. It might be cool to be transported to a different planet when video gaming, but do I really need to see my colleague’s face in 3D rather than 2D during morning meetings? I’m not so sure.

For the metaverse to be as transformative as preceding technological innovations including the fax machine, computer and smartphone, it needs at a minimum to bring convenience to our lives. Tech that has successfully embedded into our daily routines can make this claim towards bringing convenience, including, it should be noted the embattled social media site that Zuckerberg founded.

[Source: Financial Times]

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