what's the metaverse?
March 20, 2023
Before giving you our understanding of what the Metaverse is and what it has the potential to be, I think it’s important at this point to bring in an expert to give us a technical definition of the Metaverse.
The Metaverse is a massively scaled and interoperable network of real-time rendered 3D virtual worlds which can be experienced synchronously and persistently by an effectively unlimited number of users with an individual sense of presence, and with continuity of data, such as identity, history, entitlements, objects, communications, and payments.-- Matthew Ball
The best way to think about the Metaverse is as the next iteration of the internet. The internet isn’t a specific service like Google, an application like Instagram or a technology like the telephone. It’s the interconnection of all those things, hardware, software, applications, and good WiFi or mobile connection that we loosely refer to as the internet. The internet is this permanent network (never turned off) that we can all experience (unlimited users) at the same time (synchronously), where we can carry our respective identities and interact with each other at scale (i.e. without geographic limitations). To experience it, we need devices like computers, as well as services and applications like Google or social media.
The Metaverse is much the same. What makes this moment in time exciting is that there are multiple technologies, foundational to the Metaverse, that are coming to fruition at the same time: Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning that make our computers smarter and more autonomous giving their ability to learn as we feed them more data— like Google translate becoming smarter the more people use it; 5G– the fifth generation of cellular networks; virtual reality (VR) that offers fully immersive 3D digital experiences— think 3D movies at the theater but you’re in the movie; augmented reality (AR) that provides content in a 3D form instead of the 2D versions on our phones or TV– think holograms; Blockchain, a decentralized digital record (ledger) that stores information and a history of transactions, like bank statements but without a bank; and much more.
It’s the culmination and interplay of all those technologies that make up the Metaverse. To experience the Metaverse, we will need huge computing power and smarter devices that AI and 5G now can help deliver. We will need hardware: AR glasses, VR goggles and headsets. And we will need services and applications to deliver us content and experiences.
FINE, BUT WHY DOES IT ALL MATTER
We should all at least pay attention because much will change about our lives in significant ways, much like the internet and other technological advances since the industrial revolution changed our lives forever. The best way to wrap my head around all this change is to imagine specific applications.
AUGMENTED AND VIRTUAL REALITY
Imagine if instead of a phone, your Apple watch could just beam the same content you experience on your phone right now. The “screen” would pop up as a beam of light and you would be able to do everything you're currently doing on your phone. What if instead of propping your phone up to watch videos, you simply laid it flat on the table and a beam of light could pop up so you can watch your favorite show or movie in 3D. TVs would also disappear, at least in their current form, as all kinds of smaller and digitally native solutions will be invented to stream content.
AR glasses and VR headsets will be the main gateway to the metaverse. And as these tools get incrementally smaller and more elegant, like TVs, computers and phones did, we will all own and carry them around. Instead of Facetime or going live to share an experience with a friend, we will bring them into the experience, with an incredible feeling of presence. Virtual work calls and remote collaboration will no longer happen with flat 2D images on a screen but with avatars— virtual representations of ourselves— sharing the same virtual space. Architects will no longer show us flat renderings of our future homes, they will build a virtual twin of the house that we can walk through virtually and suggest changes before even breaking ground.
Blockchain is a technology that promises us ownership of our data and greater transparency in our interaction with third parties that currently manage our money, data, contracts, etc. Imagine if you could see exactly how Google and Facebook are using your data. Better yet, imagine only giving them access to the data you feel comfortable sharing. Imagine being able to see everything the bank is doing with your money without relying on them or having to trust them to produce a statement. Blockchain gave birth to digital currency– crypto-currencies like Bitcoin are powered by blockchain. And as we move completely away from paper money, the need for banks may become obsolete with blockchain enabling peer to peer transactions that no longer require an intermediary like the bank. Thanks to the blockchain which safely stores the data, we could verify the identity of anyone with whom we engage in a trade, as well as initiate and authenticate the transaction ourselves.
One of the most exciting parts of the blockchain, beside cryptocurrencies or NFTs, is this idea of smart contracts. A smart contract is an agreement between parties where the terms are prewritten in code— via computer programming. Imagine if the next album from your favorite artist was sold as a digital token (NFT). You would buy the cover art and have access to all the music. The artist could write in the codes that every time an album is sold, his die hard fans would receive a royalty payment. The payment will be made directly to your account in perpetuity and the history of every transaction will be recorded in the blockchain. That’s the promise of smart contracts.
ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE and MACHINE LEARNING
If you use Gmail, then surely you already use all the suggested email replies it offers as shortcuts. You might have asked yourself how they know what was said and what to say in response. Well, that is the power of machine learning on display. And the more we use it, the smarter the suggested replies become. The future will be powered by machine learning and artificial intelligence. Autonomous machines and robots will take over many of our tasks. Self-driving cars are just the tip of the iceberg. There will be robots cooking elaborate meals for us, performing complex surgeries, and serving as companions and aids to the elderly.
These technologies will support much of our experiences in the Metaverse. Online shopping will no longer be the 2D experience offered by stores via websites. There will be virtual stores in the Metaverse where we can walk around and try things on via our avatars. The stores will be run by artificially intelligent softwares that will remember exactly what we usually order and will deliver experiences that seemingly anticipate our every need.
The Metaverse is the next iteration of the internet. But more than that, to me, it represents an evolution of the human experience. It may sound dramatic but the internet created a paradigm shift for the entire human race. Many applications and experiences that were built on top of it changed our societies and civilizations in profound ways: social media, online dating, and services like Amazon, UBER, Postmates, AirBnB and Instacart to name only a few. Once the Metaverse is fully realized, much will change about the way we identify or express ourselves, work, connect with others and experience life in general.
We don’t know about you, but we're super excited about the future.
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