A few years ago, just before COVID shut down the world, I was sitting with it Bob Iger in his office at Disney headquarters in Burbank and he happily asked me if I wanted to see something cool. “Of course,” I said, not knowing what magic trick he was about to pull out of his hat. He walked over to his giant wooden desk, covered in Star Wars, Marvel and Disney paraphernalia, and grabbed his iPad. He then sat on the couch and started showing me music videos from movies that Disney was working on at the time, all the images of people and animals that I was sure were real (filmed with actors) but that Iger informed me that they were 100% CGI. My mind literally couldn’t decipher between reality and a computer-generated version of it. As I sat speechless, Iger looked at me with his uniquely American smile and said, “The craziest thing about it all is that every time we render a new scene, the technology used to make it. is already obsolete. It is already obsolete.
If you’ve recently heard of this thing called the Metaverse, you are coming close to the same experience I had on Iger’s couch, but instead you will be doing it from your own couch, sitting in front of your computer. or by using a game console. Or maybe you will experience it outdoors, on your smartphone, using a virtual reality headset and a pair of digitally connected glasses or even contact lenses. You will step into a digital world that feels so real that your brain won’t know if it’s a digital render or a reality. And the metaverse, for better and possibly worse, is about to change everything.
So what exactly is this stuff? The term “metaverse” was first coined in Snow accident, a science fiction novel published in 1992, in which the author Neal stephenson imagine a virtual world where humans, as avatars, interact with each other (and other artificially intelligent versions of people, almost robots if you will) in an online virtual world that was designed to look like to the real world. Since then, as technology has grown and transformed, so have the ideas around the Metaverse, and we’ve seen iterations of it take dramatic life in Ernest Clinethe novel of Loan Player One, where people interact – and also die – in the virtual Oasis, or in the Matrix, where they also die. (Don’t worry, you’re not going to die in our metaverse, at least not yet.)
The metaverse is such a big idea that the CEO of Facebook Mark Zuckerberg said he envisions a world where he changes the whole premise of his business. “I think over the next five years or so, in this next chapter of our business, I think we’ll actually go from people who see us primarily as a social media business to a metaverse business,” he said. told The Verge in an interview. earlier this year (before the latest round of scandals). “You can think of the metaverse as an embodied Internet, where instead of just posting content, you are there. (Zuckerberg is so obsessed with the idea of the Metaverse that he’s considering changing Facebook’s name to Metaverse or something similar.)
The number of possibilities around the metaverse is endless, but you can easily imagine how this could change the way we interact in the same way that mobile devices have changed society today. In a world where the metaverse exists, rather than having a weekly Zoom meeting with all of your coworkers, you could imagine a meeting in a physical representation of your office, where each person looks like a digital version of themselves, sitting at a digital cafe. table drinking digital craft coffee and munching digital donuts. If that sounds a little boring to you, you might meet somewhere else, maybe in the past, like in 1776 in New York, or in the future, on a spaceship, or at the zoo, on another planet – if that had. makes sense for the reunion, of course. You can choose not to be yourself, but rather a form of digital avatar that you picked up during the local online NFT exchange meetup or at a Balenciaga virtual store. You could dress like a bunny to go to the meeting. A dragon. A dead dragon. And it’s just a miserable little reunion. Imagine what the rest of the Metaverse might look like.
You can play first-person shooter video games in the Metaverse, which appear to be in real life. You can take a British history class taught by a digital representation of King George III, or learn about the theory of relativity from Albert Einstein himself. You can attend a TED talk, give one, or go to church. You could plug in your exercise bike to take on Maurice Garin in the Tour de France. Or your racing machine to run against Usain Bolt at the Olympics (and lose). You could go to the zoo. You could be an animal at the zoo. Visit the Louvre. Le Mans. The International Space Station. You could go for a walk on Mars. Neptune. Float in space. Play “red light, green light” with your friends in Squid Game. You can go shopping, try on outfits which, once you pay, are actually sent to your house. You could go to a theme park and ride the world’s biggest roller coaster and maybe even throw up in real life. There are also a lot of potential dark sides to the Metaverse. Don’t be surprised to see Nazi gatherings and people picking up racist and dangerous avatars, or hackers stealing from people, or performing metaversal terrorism, whatever becomes. All of this could be for sale in crypto, where we buy and sell digital goods with Bitcoin or Ethereum.
Despite all the talk and ridicule about NFTs, the Metaverse is where they start to make sense, sort of. You might own a digital Beeple worth $ 70 million NFT. In the real world, you can only show the real thing to someone on your computer, or brag about it, or share it on social media. But in the metaverse, you can hang it on the wall of your digital home for your digital guests to enjoy. Or you can put it in a digital art museum and charge people a small fee (paid in crypto) to come and view the piece as if it were the Mona Lisa. If you owned one of the famous Cryptopunks, the digital avatars you’ve probably seen on Twitter that are currently selling for $ 500,000 or more, maybe you could wear it as your own avatar in the Metaverse. You could imagine in such a scenario that people with those limited avatars are a new form of celebrity in the metaverse. Bitcoin billionaires will also be billionaires in the digital metaverse.
To truly understand how the Metaverse might come to be real, in and of itself, you have to go back to the history books of the digital world we live in today to see how technology has evolved over the past four decades. In the seminal days of all of this, there was simply the Internet. A bunch of tubes and wires connected together that allowed people to email and chat on the BBS forums. In 1989, Tim Berners-Lee created the World Wide Web, which allowed people to connect to the Internet through a web browser, which in turn went to millions of different websites. This brought about the advent of things like Yahoo and Google, and of course porn. A decade later came the advent of Web 2.0, which brought about the advent of user-generated content in the forms of Blogger, Flickr, and Pandora, which eventually evolved into social media. All new layers placed on top of the original Internet foundation. Today we interact largely in an app-based layer, where we interact with each other and content through apps that we download to our smartphones – Twitter, Facebook, Snap, Slack, Zoom, Kindle, etc.
The next layer that’s going to be placed on top of the world we live in today is the metaverse. Much of it may sound like something you may have heard of before, or even seen and committed to in some raw technological form. In 2003, a version of the Metaverse called Second Life debuted as a self-contained world that you could hang out in, not too separate from what we’re talking about now.
But the problem with Second Life was, first, that it was a closed system, and second, the technology just wasn’t ready. Today there are many metaverse-like worlds that people play in on a daily basis. Roblox, one of the most downloaded games on the App Store, has become its own mini-metaverse where people create block-like games and experiences and a very crude, rudimentary avatar of you can go and play. During the pandemic, it became the place where kids would go to have birthday parties. (It’s also become a place to do a digital lap dance, if you like that sort of thing.)
The means by which you access the Metaverse will likely be what either makes or breaks it. Researchers I’ve spoken to over the years about virtual reality and the concept of the metaverse have all talked about how easily apps and the internet work, where you literally grab your phone, press a button, and talk to people. people on Facebook, reading a book on the Kindle app, or playing a game on Fortnite. The metaverse should work the same: one click, and you’re on (or in). But there will be countless ways to access it. For example, you can imagine capturing certain aspects of it on your smartphone or computer, bouncing from one metaversal experience to another, as you do today with apps. Or maybe you’ll enter through a game console or your TV, which gives you a different kind of immersive experience. But where true metaverse experiences are likely to thrive is through virtual reality and augmented reality.