Internet, broadband, mobile computing… Radical changes take time and the metaverse will be no different
“Most successful things don’t require retraining 250 million people.”
Wired magazine published this line in 1995, in reference to the Internet.
You could apply the same thought to the metaverse. There’s a lot of skepticism about this digital ecosystem in the marketplace, and many critics have dismissed the innovation as little more than hype or modernized virtual reality, which never took off. Yet the skeptics are wrong. They often start with the wrong premise – that the metaverse is built from the ground up.
5G and beyond
This task – to create a huge virtual network of worlds that everyone can access – is daunting, especially considering that the necessary hardware (VR and augmented reality) and required connectivity (ideally 5G and beyond) may not not be ready.
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Yet this task is doable. Skeptics do not view the metaverse in the proper context. The metaverse differs from the Internet in several ways: it is spatial, experiential and highly interactive. The Metaverse is as different from the Internet as online shopping is real shopping.
Think of the metaverse – or a collection of smaller metaverses – as a continuation of the Internet, not a separate entity. The telephone evolved from landlines, to car phones, to bulky cell phones, to flip phones, and finally to small but powerful computers in our hands. This evolution took decades. It required revolutionary design and engineering, powerful new microprocessors and operating software. And then there was the small issue of consumer adoption. The evolution of the metaverse will be no different.
In the early 1990s, my university launched peer-to-peer rooms on our campus intranet. Soon after, companies like AOL, Prodigy, and Compuserve produced subscription-based access to the World Wide Web. Most of us did not recognize these events as stepping stones into today’s near-infinite decentralized network on which most of society functions.
The metaverse similarly insinuates itself into our daily lives. Many are aware of this, or at least think we are: a survey found that 38% of respondents say they are familiar with the Metaverse, yet only 16% can correctly define the term. In other words, we know that some kind of revolution is knocking at our door. We just don’t know what this revolution looks like.
But there are ways to see it already if we know where to look.
Nike has launched a brand activation with its NIKELAND via Roblox. This digital world allows customers to try on different Nike products, but also to play games such as tag, dodgeball and lava floor, according to the company. The digital world even allows users to mirror real-life movements with the virtual world, “taking advantage of their mobile devices’ accelerometers to transfer offline movements to online play.”
Investment giant Fidelity, meanwhile, has launched The Fidelity Stack at Decentraland — an eight-story digital building with a mission to turn Metaverse visitors into investors, according to Reuters. The interactive and fun environment offers visitors a unique and immersive financial education experience. Lowe’s Home Improvement Store allows visitors to download over 500 product resources for free to help them imagine their home layout and improvement ideas.
Even those who are not paying attention can see obvious signs of this development. Facebook has become Meta. Magic Leap has raised billions for its hardware. Apple has filed patents but has yet to reveal its potentially game-changing roadmap. Alibaba, Google, Lenovo, HP, Samsung, Qualcomm, ByteDance, are developing business use cases in the metaverse.
Last November, Microsoft announced the upcoming launch of its “Mesh” platform, in which the Microsoft Teams video conferencing platform will allow users to join via a 3D avatar. This will allow those who cannot or do not want to join a meeting via video to still have a dynamic presence during a call. The idea is that it will make interactions more personal, even in a digital world.
What’s not so obvious are the use cases — and the companies behind them — whose incremental steps add up to massive efficiency. These use cases push the boundaries of what is possible even now, let alone once the metaverse(s) fully take shape.
Where do we go from here?
There are real hurdles for the Metaverse to overcome, no doubt. Harassment and discrimination have as much impact in a virtual world as in the real world. Intel claims that we will need a thousandfold increase in computing capacity.
There are and will continue to be many cultural, ethical, technological, and political challenges to the metaverse. Conny Braams, Unilever’s Chief Digital & Commercial Officer, perhaps summed it up best: “As we begin to create and invest in the next environment where people spend their time and money, we need to be clear about what we are building and what we need to do.” to prevent.”
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And naysayers will say these challenges are proof of the Metaverse’s impending demise. They will echo the opening quote of this piece – there are just too many people for the metaverse to reach. Slow adoption will be mistaken for stalled progress. We’ll see the articles and talking heads claiming that the metaverse is dead. And admittedly, we may not see a single decentralized metaverse in the near future. But we are already seeing companies expanding their own smaller metaverses or microverses, while decentralized applications are also becoming mainstream.
But Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was the Internet. In 1990, there was less than one Internet user for every 100 consumers in the United States. In 2019, that number was nearly 90 out of 100. That’s a remarkable change, but it’s also taken decades to reach that level of mainstream usage. It will be the same for the metaverse.
We are already seeing tangible examples of its adoption. And once that adoption is achieved, the use cases are limitless. We will be able to interact authentically with our colleagues and family members, even when they are on the other side of the world.
We will be able to train police officers, medics and first responders by engaging them in the most realistic and challenging simulations, providing them with a rich experience before their first day on the job. Users will be able to visit places on the other side of the world, allowing them to understand different cultures and broaden their perspective.
Stephen Fromkin is the co-founder of Talespin.
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