With the recent announcement of Epic Games raising $2 Billion (yeah, you read that right) towards their continued development of the Metaverse, it might be time to look at the current state of the Metaverse and some pros and cons of its development.
Metaverse: The Basics
With the recent addition of “Metaverse” to the lexicon, we should look at what it actually entails. The Metaverse is an effort spearheaded by Meta (formerly Oculus/Facebook) to create an interconnected virtual world. Imagine the internet only the different websites would be like buildings, connected by roads that could be traveled. For example, like virtual cities where you could connect with other people, or ignore them, like in real cities.
That is a simplified view, but basically accurate. Creating a universe that would allow for a substantial escape from reality. An infinite space that people could connect and experience together. Where you could be anyone or anything you want to be. Go anywhere, do anything (within common decency).
Right now, the Metaverse is in development by a few major companies, and leading the charge is Meta (hence the name). Although, for the time being, there is no timeline or prospective release date.
Recent Developments (Pun Intended)
Well, in truth, a lot of the technology that has been coming out for VR has been years in development. We are entering a time when several projects are intersecting to move the Metaverse forward. We are starting to see major investor support arise for a connected virtual reality experience. A connected virtual world has never been done before. Expectations are also high due to media’s interpretation of a virtual universe. Which means, making a Metaverse that is ready for public use is going to be a time-consuming, and difficult process.
Right now, we are starting to see the beginning stages of some of the technology that will combine to make a viable Metaverse. We are starting to see more MMO games in virtual reality, like Zenith. Meaning more extended experiences in VR with heavy social aspects. Adding to the immersion, we are starting to see more substantial haptic feedback devices. For example, products like the Teslasuit will allow players to “feel” from actions taken in VR.
More recently, ultrasonic haptic feedback, a technology that would use sound waves to create something you could feel in mid-air. Ultrasonic haptics is not necessarily new (usable prototypes have been around since about 2015). Although, making them compact, user-friendly, and publicly available has been a challenge. Since hand-tracking has become more accurate, combining that with ultrasonic feedback could make for a stepping stone to a fully tactile virtual experience. As a matter of fact, Emerge, a tech startup, has already started working in that field: https://newatlas.com/vr/emerge-wave1-virtual-reality-ultrasound-haptic/ . Now, imagine an entire room lined with those panels, and we can start to see the potential in a fully immersive, tactile experience.
In The Interest Of Fairness
“Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.”–Ian Malcolm, Jurassic Park. Looking toward a future of VR escapism, we should take stock in both the pros and cons of developing a Metaverse.
Firstly, probably one of the biggest “cons” of a virtual universe is in it’s name: virtual. No matter how expansive or immersive a virtual environment is, it can’t be a substitute to the real world. As far as things are now, there is just too much information that our brain is interpreting to understand and interact with our surroundings. That information can’t be recreated by any current technology.
Creating a new universe where we could be anything we want, go anywhere we want, and explore together means we could see a new way of interacting and socializing. This means a more visual and tactile form of connecting people all over the world.
We could also see a rise in virtual reality schooling. Teachers all over the world would be able to impart their expertise to the next generation. All these different interactions are hindered by the graphic limitations of current headsets. Also, the cost of VR is likely to increase with popularity, which may limit the audience for now.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of a connected Metaverse is the prospect of real-time translations between languages. This may be one of the most difficult challenges to overcome in creating a virtual universe. While live translation software has come a long way, especially in recent years, making it work with potentially hundreds of people, speaking dozens of different languages at the same time.
There Is No Spoon
It is becoming more and more clear that the Metaverse is moving forward, whether we want it to or not. With new technology being developed all the time, the gap between reality and the virtual is getting smaller and smaller. While the internet has inarguably impacted the way we interact with other humans, the Metaverse seems to be looking to take it a step farther. We could debate the nature of “reality” all day. However, the Metaverse is first and foremost a tool. It will ultimately depend on how we use it.