What is Metaverse, what is virtual reality and what is augmented reality? Everything you never wanted to know about the future of computers and the internet.
Top corporate executives, such as Mark Zuckerberg Facebook and Microsoft's Satya Nadella, have started talking about the Metaverse envisioning the future of the internet. But what is this? Video game or virtual reality? And what is the difference with augmented reality?
The truth is that we are overwhelmed by terminology that to some extent is quite vague and general. And because we are talking about a future that is coming, our conversation will be a bit like the conversations we had in the 1970s about what "internet" means. Back then, the building blocks of a new form of communication were under construction, and no one really knew what it would look like. At that time, while everyone knew that "the internet" was coming, they had no idea what it would look like.
On the other hand, there is also a lot of advertising marketing wrapped up in this metaverse idea. Facebook has already changed its name to Meta, envisioning a future where everyone has a digital wardrobe, and where they might hope to make money selling virtual clothing in the future.
The icing on the cake is completed by the strange Greek rendering of the already vague English terms. If you insist on speaking only Greek, then you should use the following vocabulary:
- Metaverse = Post-universe
- Virtual reality (VR) = Virtual Reality
- Augmented reality (AR) = Augmented Reality
With all this in mind…
What does "Virtual Reality" mean?
Virtual reality is a simulated experience that can be similar or completely different from the real world. Virtual reality applications include entertainment (eg video games), education (eg medical or military training) and business (eg virtual meetings).
Virtual reality completely replaces the actual user interface with a simulated and there is no real-world interaction with the simulated.
What does "Augmented Reality" mean?
Augmented reality is an interactive experience of a real environment where objects in the real world are enhanced by perceptual information computer-generated, sometimes in multiple sensory modalities such as visual, auditory, tactile, somatosensory and olfactory.
Augmented reality can be defined as a system that incorporates three key features: combination of real and virtual worlds, real-time interaction and accurate 3D registration of virtual and real objects.
In this way, augmented reality changes one's constant perception of a real-world environment, while virtual reality completely replaces the user's real environment with a simulated one. Augmented reality is largely related to two synonymous terms: mixed reality and computer reality.
What does "Metaverse" mean?
To help you understand how vague and complicated the term "meta-universe" can be, here is an exercise you should try: Mentally replace the word "meta-universe" in a sentence with "cyberspace". Ninety percent of the cases, the meaning will not change substantially.
This is because the term does not really refer to any particular type of technology, but rather a broad change in the way it interacts with technology.
In general, the technologies that make up the post-universe may include virtual reality, which is characterized by virtual worlds that continue to exist even when you are not playing, as well as augmented reality that combines aspects of the digital and physical worlds.
However, access to these sites exclusively through VR or AR is not required. A virtual world, like its aspects Fortnite game that can be accessed through computers, game consoles and even mobile phones, could be the "post-universe".
It also translates to a digital economy, where users can create, buy and sell goods. And, in the most idealistic visions of the post-universe, this will be interoperable, allowing you to move virtual objects such as clothes or cars from one platform to another.
In the real world, you can buy a shirt from a mall and then wear it to a movie theater. Currently, most platforms have virtual identities (accound) linked to a single platform, but metaverse may allow you to create one persona, where you can take it anywhere, as easily as you can copy your profile photo from one social network to another.
What will metaverse be in the end?
It is difficult to analyze what all this means, because when you hear descriptions like the ones above, you will surely think that the meta-universe already exists. World of Warcraft, for example, is a virtual world where players can buy and sell goods.
And Fortnite has virtual experiences, such as concerts and an event where the Rick Sanchez learns about Martin Luther King. You can put on a microphone and headset and be in your own virtual home. Is this really the "post-universe"? Or are they just some new types of video games?
So…. Yes and no. To say that Fortnite is "the post-universe" would be a bit like saying that Google is "the Internet." Even if you could, in theory, spend large chunks of time on Fortnite, socializing yourself, buying things, learning and playing games, this does not necessarily mean that it covers the full range of metaverse.
On the other hand, just as it would be accurate to say that Google is a large part of the internet, it is equally accurate to say that the creator company of Fortnite, Epic Games is creating a part of the metaverse.
And it's not the only company doing that. Part of this work will be done by technology giants such as Microsoft and Facebook, recently renamed Meta to reflect this work. Many other different companies, including Nvidia, Unity, Roblox, and even Snap, are all working on building the infrastructure that could become metaverse.
And this is where we can not say what and how the post-universe will be. We have a vague sense of what exists at the moment that we could call metaverse, and we know which companies are investing in the idea, but we still do not know how it will evolve.
It could be the next idea of teleworking in a virtual work environment, or the school of the future where teaching would be transformed into interactive learning environments. The metaverse could also host virtual reality home tours. Have imagination and you will find infinite versions.
Facebook currently believes that it will include fake homes where you can invite all your friends to hang out and that this will be the metaverse.
Microsoft seems to believe that it could include virtual meeting rooms to train newly hired employees or to have a meeting with your colleagues.
These all look great, but they do not really identify a current product or even a potential future metaverse.
Metaverse and holograms
When the internet first came along, it started with a number of technological innovations, such as the ability to allow computers to talk to each other over long distances or the ability to hyperlink from one web page to another. These technical features were the building blocks that were then used to build the structures we know the internet by today: websites, apps, social networks and everything else is based on these fundamentals.
In addition, new interface components have emerged, which are not strictly part of the internet, but are still necessary for it to work, such as monitors, keyboards, mice and touch screens.
With metaverse, there are some new building blocks, such as the ability to host hundreds of people on one server (ideally future versions of a metaverse could handle thousands or even millions of people at once) or motion tracking tools that can see where a person is looking or where his hands are. These new technologies stimulate the imagination and look futuristic.
However, there are limitations that are currently impossible to overcome. When technology companies like Microsoft or Meta display fantastic videos with their visions for the future, they often tend to hide how people will interact with the post-universe.
Virtual reality headphones are still very clumsy and most people experience nausea or pain if they wear them for a long time. Augmented reality glasses face a similar problem, beyond the "trivial" question of how people could wear them in public without looking like astronauts.
So how do tech companies advertise their idea without showing the reality of bulky headphones and glasses? So far, their main solution seems to be the integration of technology in clothing. But from what exists today, until you can see the holographic woman from the Meta presentation wearing a simple pair of myopia glasses, technology is a long way off.
Unlike advertisements that feature digitally animated avatars, which will surely become more realistic in the future, there is no way to display a XNUMXD image on air without strictly controlled conditions. Whatever his movies show you iron man or the Zuckerberg interview.
Microsoft, Meta and every other company show demos that try to give an artistic impression of what the future might be, without necessarily taking into account any technical difficulties. After all, any ad that focuses on the near future will speak to you.
All this daydreaming about how each company imagines the future technology unfortunately does not determine which of their visions will eventually become true one day. If for example, VR and AR headphones will become comfortable enough and cheap enough for people to wear on a daily basis.
How is Metaverse doing right now?
The paradox of defining the post-universe is that in order to be the future, you must define the present. We already have mass online games (MMO) which are essentially entire virtual worlds, digital concerts, video calls with people from all over the world, online avatars and trading platforms. So in order to "sell" these things as a new vision of the world, there has to be something new.
Spend plenty of time discussing metaverse and inevitably someone will refer to fictional stories like Snow crash (the 1992 novel that coined the term "metaverse") or the film Ready Player One , which depicts a VR world where everyone works, plays and shop.
These stories are an imaginative benchmark for metaverse that tech companies could sell as something new.
But while we can compare the path of the early internet to the present day and assume that everything will progress accordingly with the metaverse this is not a given. There's no guarantee that people will want to hang out without physical communication, work in a virtual office, or play poker with Mark Zuckerberg's hologram. And if VR and AR technology will become seamless enough to be as commonplace as the smartphone and computers today.
It may simply evolve into some VR games and digital avatars in Zoom calls, something we still consider to be the internet today.