The Internet and the Metaverse | Part 216. March 2022 Published by Jana Greyling
Since autumn 2021, everyone has been talking about the metaverse. What exactly is it all about? That’s what we want to explore in this blog post. Why bother with it now? Because the “metaverse promises an amazingly realistic 3D digital world where you can buy and sell goods and services, make and enforce contracts, recruit and train talent, and interact with customers and communities,” writes the accounting and consulting firm PwC about the metaverse in business. This future world does not yet exist and it may take more than a decade to work, “but if it develops, it has the potential to change almost everything in human life,” said investment expert Simon Powell.
The metaverse is part of the next iteration of the internet, which some are calling Web 3.0, and it promises to turn everything we know on its head. In the next few years, we will all be working, playing, socialising and investing in this all-encompassing ecosystem, whether it’s attending a professional conference at a virtual Four Seasons Hotel, buying a new designer handbag for our digital avatar or swinging through the New York City skyline with Spider-Man.
But for all the euphoria of the Metaversians, one must take into account that the Metaverse requires an infrastructure that does not currently exist. The internet was not designed for the metaverse, but to transfer files from one computer to another. As a result, most of the systems underlying the internet are designed for one server to communicate with another server or end-user device. This model continues to this day. For example, there are billions of people on Facebook today, but each user shares an individual connection with the Facebook server, not with any other user, and the whole thing is not 3D either, but simply 2D. The internet was not designed for persistent communication, let alone persistent communication synchronised in precise real time with countless others.
The starter pack for the Metaverse?
This is not an easy question to answer. As a rule, with VR glasses and clearly Facebook, as the manufacturer of Oculus headsets, not entirely disinterestedly prefers its VR glasses to enter the Metaverse. And quite incidentally, the company is also working on a special VR glove to make entering the Metaverse a particularly realistic experience at some point. Zuckerberg already posted a video in his Facebook feed last year in which he introduces the gloves. The video shows him interacting with a stack of Jenga blocks, rolling dice and playing chess. In a statement, Facebook said it is building the world’s first high-speed microfluidic processor – a chip that will be used in a special glove.
The focus here is on the user’s sense of touch. According to the company, it has been working on a glove for virtual reality for several years. Sensors on the glove provide the wearer with pressure, texture and vibration to make the feeling of touching virtual objects as real as possible. The gloves themselves contain a lot of hydraulics and pneumatics, which Meta is currently struggling with because the glove is still too complex. When it is finished, it should be light and adapt to the shape of the hand.
This year alone, Meta has spent ten billion US dollars on research and development and, according to Mark Zuckerberg, the investments will continue to increase in the following years. Around 10,000 professionals work at Reality Labs, Meta’s VR and AR division. Meta plans to hire another 10,000 in Europe over the next five years. These figures show how serious Meta is about the Metaverse.
And what about Microsoft? Microsoft’s plans for an office in virtual space were announced in March 2021 with its Microsoft Mesh platform. As t3n reports, this was basically a first building block for the entry into the metaverse. Even if the term set by Meta and Mark Zuckerberg was not used at the time.
Microsoft’s Holoportation and 3D Avatars
“Microsoft Mesh is Microsoft’s own interpretation of the Metaverse, which is understood even more broadly than Metas: Because on the Mesh platform, users can appear as holograms that can interact with each other in three-dimensional virtual space. Microsoft calls this solution Holoportation and is turning its years-old concept into reality. Conceivable fields of application include the office environment, but also trade fairs or meetings. In the end, the user experience should be designed as if you were in a real-feeling room and interacting.” What is missing are the avatars for the metaverse. In the metaverse, they are an expression of identity. If Microsoft has its way, 3D avatars should be possible in MS Teams as early as the first half of 2022, without having to wear VR glasses. “Before the meeting, you will be asked whether you want to activate the camera or participate as an avatar. There will be numerous customisation options so that the 3D figure is also dressed appropriately. Backgrounds can already be adapted – this will of course also be possible for the avatars. Mouth movements will be adopted as realistically as possible by the user, with an artificial intelligence generating animations from the audio recordings. You will also be able to trigger various gestures, such as raising a hand, by pressing a button.”
“Microsoft’s approach to the Metaverse differs from similar projects in that we focus on the user experience,” Katie Kelly, product manager at Microsoft, told The Verge. They are very concerned that human facial expressions and gestures can be transferred to the Metaverse as realistically as possible in order to really feel like you are among people, even if only 3D avatars are facing each other. It will certainly take some time until this is the case.
Web 3.0, the metaverse and the big money
For Grayscale Research, the Metaverse is the real Web 3. In a recent paper, they put the revenue potential of virtual worlds at one trillion US dollars. “The Metaverse is a digital universe that goes beyond the internet as we know it today. This vision for the future state of the web has the potential to transform our social interactions, business transactions and the internet economy in general. The metaverse is still emerging, but the crypto networks of the open virtual world of Web 3.0 offer a glimpse of the future of the internet. The market opportunity to bring the Metaverse to life could generate more than $1 trillion in annual revenue and rival Web 2.0 companies, which today have a market value of about $15 trillion. This potential has led companies like Facebook to turn to the Metaverse, which could serve as a catalyst for other Web 2.0 tech giants and investors.”
Virtual worlds and experiences already exist today that correspond at least in part to the ideal described by Matthew Ball, as the “New York Times” recently pointed out. One example is the virtual world Decentraland in an environment built on the blockchain with its own currency. Residents of the world can create and trade virtual properties there via contracts on the blockchain – in March this year, prices were in the thousands of dollars – and then create experiences such as concerts or art exhibitions on them. There is a casino with croupiers who are paid in virtual currency for their work, and the auction house Sothebys has created a replica of its gallery in London on a plot of land. “Users spent nearly ten billion hours on the Roblox video game platform in the first quarter of 2021. More than 42 million players logged in daily during this period and made purchases worth 652 million dollars in the platform currency Robux. This can be spent on hats, weapons and other digital objects to equip your own virtual character. In May, a digital Gucci bag was sold for more than 4100 dollars – more than the bag costs in the physical world,” writes the Zurich newspaper.
The best known examples of business activities in the metaverse today are:
- Art galleries such as Sotheby’s allow owners to display and sell their digital NFT art at auction;
- Companies have set up digital headquarters in the Metaverse, allowing their employees to meet and collaborate;
- digital billboards (advertising) in the Metaverse;
- Concert halls in the Metaverse area where DJs and musicians play music and organise concerts.
Analyst Mathew Ball also expects the metaverse to generate even more revenue than the web already does today. “The value of being a major participant, if not a driving force, of such a system is obvious – there is no ‘owner’ of the Internet today, but almost all of the leading Internet companies are among the 10 most valuable public companies in the world.”
The beautiful side of the future
Imagine the absolute best version of the metaverse, operating at peak performance: That’s billions of users using VR and AR principles to shop, work, educate, entertain and interact, all from the comfort of their own homes. Jeremy Bailenson, founding director of Stanford University’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab and author of Experience on Demand: What Virtual Reality Is, How It Works, and What It Can Do , explains it this way: “The metaverse, in simple terms, is people, places and things.”
“People”, as Bailenson defines them, are digital avatars that resemble real people, right down to their body movements. “Places” are virtual scenes that exist even when no one is there. “‘Things’ are 3D models of objects designed to create market value,” Bailenson says. The Metaverse is unleashing a wave of new economic opportunities for people around the world.
The “Creator Economy” is growing and will create jobs in the metaverse in the future: Creators will create value, connecting the physical and digital worlds. Artists will create real-time content. Participants will learn about, explore and improve the new world. Architects will conceptualise and design experiences. The community will contribute, generate attention and interact.
By 2026, 25 % of people will spend at least one hour per day in the metaverse to work, shop, educate themselves, socialise or simply for entertainment – at least that’s what the experts at research and consulting firm Gartner claim.
“Vendors are already developing ways for users to recreate their lives in digital worlds,” says Marty Resnick, research vice president at Gartner. “Visiting virtual classrooms, buying digital properties or building virtual homes are currently done in separate environments. In the future, they will take place in a single environment – the metaverse – with different goals across different technologies and experiences.”
Icelandverse is already real
If you don’t want to wait that long, you can experience the metaverse today. The video “Icelandverse” on YouTube shows how it feels and where it is. An Icelandic tourism organisation has published the future clip in which Meta-CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his Metaverse are interpreted in a completely different way. Without a VR headset and VR gloves.
Video sources on YouTube: