What is the Metaverse, what are we talking about?
The metaverse comes from the word meta which means “beyond” and verse which represents “the universe”. In other words, beyond the universe. In simple terms, the metaverse is a virtual universe. Guided by social networks, which are applications created to develop and maintain our social connections through interfaces on the Internet, the metaverse would be the extension, the evolution even, of the social networks we know today.
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Facebook becomes Meta
You may have noticed that when you open your application, the name Meta is displayed instead of Facebook. Yet the application is still called Facebook. You may wonder what this has to do with an article about the metaverse? It’s because it’s all related.
After buying Instagram in 2012, Snapchat in 2013, WhatsApp and Oculus VR (virtual reality headset) in 2014, the Facebook.Inc group, whose CEO is none other than Mark Zuckerberg, has decided to change its name to Meta, in October of 2021. And this because the company wants to adopt a name that aims to better reflect its new ambitions. This allows them to make their current choices, their future choices and what they want to do as a company consistent. Their website says it well: “The metaverse is the future of social connections, our company’s vision is to help bring the metaverse to life so we are changing our name to reflect our commitment to this future”.
As it may be clear by now, this new company name comes directly from the metaverse. And this makes us wonder, what are these new ambitions?
Virtuality, artificial intelligence, parallel universe
A precise definition of the metaverse is rather difficult to give. The metaverse, which is still in development, includes artificial intelligence, virtual reality and technology. We could define it as a digital ecosystem that will completely redefine our relationship with reality.
Every year, social networks become more sophisticated in order to increase the level of engagement and connectivity between users. The future evolution of these online platforms will be the metaverse. A virtual living space.
Social Networks 2.0
Today, through social networks, we can communicate through messages or comments, give our opinions via “likes”, share our travel photos, vacations or our daily lives. We can generate money with social networks, develop projects, federate ideas, transmit information and so on. The role of social networks is more than present in our lives, and yet it remains only a tool. But the metaverse promises to go further: we would be totally immersed in our social networks. Indeed, instead of just having a web page as a support, the metaverse would be a complete universe in 3 dimensions, in which we could walk around, move around, with zones, landscapes, avatars incarnated by people like you and me, houses, languages…. A complete universe where you would be yourself, or an avatar that you would have created beforehand, like the game Sims. This vision is very similar to that of a video game, and for good reason, many of them are organized around a parallel world.
But more than a video game, you will be able to perform everyday actions, such as taking part in a work meeting with your company, attending a conference, classes, participating in sports sessions, concerts, visiting museums from a distance, but connected in the same virtual space of the metaverse. It is the notion of immersion that will make the difference.
What will the Metaverse look like?
Let’s go back to the example of the Zoom meeting. To do this, you need to have a connected device (smartphone, tablet, computer…) and an internet connection. When you enter the meeting, you are represented in a small square on the application’s interface just like the other participants. Each person present in the meeting can hear the others and see them in 2 dimensions, on their respective screens. And that’s it. It’s already good or sufficient you may think, and yet, it’s a much more intense experience that the metaverse makes us hope for.
Instead of seeing your colleagues via a video while sitting behind your screen, you will meet them virtually in a 3D meeting room. You will be totally immersed in this meeting room, as if you were there. You will be able to physically move around, go from one end of the room to the other, sit or stand and look around. To do this, Oculus VR headsets (a company bought by the Meta group) combined with motion capture (using sensors) will immerse you in this virtual universe. We are already talking about augmented virtuality glasses or even neural interfaces that will make the connection between the brain and an external device, which will be lighter, more discreet and more pleasant to wear than the existing virtual reality headsets.
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The objective of the metaverse project is to create a global universe where everyone can interact together, see each other, discuss in real time. Just like in video games, the notion of value will exist there. For example, to get a new accessory in my video game, I have to accumulate points, coins, in short a unit of value to be able to get it. These value units are money, and in the metaverse, it will be possible to buy clothes, accessories, decoration…
This vision is not new, the film Ready Player One by Steven Spielberg released in 2018 uses the same codes as the metaverse.
What are the limits of the metaverse?
Like anything new, the metaverse can seem scary, even dangerous. The promise being a virtual universe, a new world, where everyone can have free access, what will be the rules? Will there be limits? From the point of view of technology and development, there is no doubt that the metaverse is an incredible evolution, but what are the risks? By wanting to be too connected to the virtual world, aren’t we going to disconnect ourselves from reality?
We still have time to think about it since it will take years of research and development, as well as technological discoveries and material evolutions to reach this famous virtual universe.