Well, it finally happened. The move to rename the internet is official. If Facebook believes it, it must be true. Facebook changing its name to Meta means that the race to adopt the term is on, full steam.
It will be interesting to see how it will now be promoted. I am pretty sure I smell a marketing rat. With Facebook throwing its weight behind meta, can the rest of the tech section be far behind? I recently penned a column on the metaverse and talked about it becoming the new moniker for the internet. It was a bit tongue-in-cheek and forward-looking; however, I also talked about how I was behind the re-spin and how the metaverse will become the new catch-all for the multitude of internet-related platforms and technologies. That position is a good concept.
Caution should be taken that this re-spin does not get out of control. By that I mean there is the usual danger of overhyping the rework. Overhyping was the case with 5G, and there is some of that in beyond 5G (B5G), already. In everyone’s haste to spin the term to their particular concept, one has to remember that the term metaverse is defined as a digital platform.
According to the company called Metaverse, it is one of the first public blockchains in China, and it has been operating successfully. It enables third-party developers to build decentralized applications. It also enables building metaverse on substrate, whatever that means. The Metaverse website is rather ambiguous, but it gives an interesting look at the term metaverse.
Wikipedia describes metaverse as “the concept of a future iteration of the internet, made up of persistent, shared, 3D virtual spaces linked into a perceived virtual universe. The metaverse, in a broader sense, may not only refer to virtual worlds but the internet as a whole, including the entire spectrum of augmented reality.”
Nvidia sees the metaverse as a bunch of worlds connected virtually. Just as the physical universe is a collection of worlds connected in space, the metaverse is a collection of virtual worlds. Hmmm… that sounds familiar. Nvidia’s concept is creating another reality, another world that is a rich as the real world. Their term for that is omniverse. Now the concept becomes a bit less foggy and sounds a lot like virtual reality.
As it turns out the metaverse is not all that new. It has been around for decades in the form of virtual reality (VR). In fact, a platform called Second Life, a virtual hangout space, has been around for more than 10 years and once had a million members.
Generally, the first real VR is attributed to Ivan Sutherland, a computer scientist who would ultimately be named the father of computer graphics. He laid out his idea for the ultimate display in 1965. The ultimate display would use head-mounted displays (HMDs) and computers to render a realistic, interactive world with accompanying audio in real time.
Next, in 1968 Sutherland and his student, Bob Sproull, introduced the Sword of Damocles. It consisted of an HMD connected to a computer. This was the first, somewhat primitive, instance of a VR/AR headset. The weight of the headset required it to be mounted to the ceiling, with the user strapped into the device. The primitive graphics consisted of wireframe renderings. That is where it all began.
So, one can say that the metaverse is just the final iteration of VR — as well as AR, Qualcomm’s MR and Microsoft’s XR, and whatever else the marketers can come up with. Examples of that are digital twins, massive multiplayer online games (MMOs) and video conferencing. It is all just digital reality (DR — hope this sticks).
Modern VR has been struggling, for a while, now. The main reason is that it takes a boatload of resources to make it look like anything beyond stick figures and line drawings. Only in the past few years has technology developed the processing power, high-speed memory, small form factor hardware and fast code to bring it closer to real-world imagery.
So, is the metaverse just the next iteration of DR? Seems that way. Yet, there are lots of overtones that it will be the next internet.
Therein lie some dangers. I already get an uneasy feeling that the marketers are hot on getting some new material to breathe some new life into the internet and shoehorn all the disheveled part of it into the metaverse. After all, at this early stage, one can paint the metaverse label on pretty much anything. Are we going to use the term as a curiosity hook to reel in people to things that are only partially or not at all digital?
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is plowing ahead full steam with the metaverse concept. In the recent Facebook connect event, he touted his meta platform as being the ultimate platform for get-togethers, work, play, learn, shop — you name it. One interesting thing he said was that the metaverse will enable concepts and experiences outside of the digital realm today. I have to wonder what that means.
The real metaverse enabler will be 5G — and a bit better technology — particularly low latency and mmWave spectrum. This will lead to better wearables and the ability to use the platform in real time. However, but that is at least five to 10 years out, so we have plenty of time to work on it.
Finally, there are those worrying about how VR can become perceived reality for some. The notion that one can escape while the world crumbles around them may sound utopian, but there is always the danger that some may, for whatever reason, not want to come back.
There is also the potential for nefarious activities — hate groups, subversive plotting and crime, conceived in a virtual world and played out in the real one.
Personally, I like the concept of a metaverse. I already do MMOs and video conferencing. I am curious how that will port to glasses, eyewear and other ocular — perhaps even integrated — devices as this evolves. I would love to have a tank, airplane, ship or other virtual program linked to my DR headset and a physical mock-up of a real cockpit with pneumatics and electronics. I just wonder what will happen if I flame out in a hail of gunfire or get hit by an antitank rocket and die in a fully virtual world. Remember, if you die in the Matrix’s virtual world, you die for real.
I often refer, in some of my ramblings, to sci-fi movies. Obviously, I am a fan. So, I am taking some editorial license here to do a bit of ethereal daydreaming about the brave new digital world being called the metaverse. The timing with this getting some traction is pretty good. It seems that things on the sci-fi front have been a bit slow if late – mostly zombies and invaders from outer space. Perhaps Hollywood can get a whiff of this and create some really cool flix with it as a theme.
It is interesting that someone finally came up with a name to breathe some new life into the well-worn internet and up the ante for what we describe as the digital world. Although definitions of the metaverse vary slightly, the bottom line and the common thread are that, just like the universe, which contains everything and anything physical, the metaverse contains anything and everything digital.
Actually, I like it. It is kind of a cool name. Even though the term has been around for a while — it was coined by Neal Stephenson in his 1992 sci-fi book, Snow Crash — I am a bit surprised it has taken this long for it to connect to the internet. It seems it is about time to rebrand the internet to give marketers something new to work with. And everybody is hopping on the bandwagon – from The Motley Fool to Forbes to Nvidia.
This column’ topic is borrowed from one of the other products in the wireless publishing space. That is what got me going on this. The story headline likened it to the Matrix film series. There are a lot of similarities, and my hat is off to whoever came up with the thought.
However, there is one big difference. This brave new metaverse is real and not just a virtual world created by a Skynet-iteration of a supercomputer with one of its appendages stuck in everyone’s brain.
We could easily have continued with the term internet. But what the heck, why not add a bit of 21-st-century creative fantasy to what has become a well-worn ecosystem.
It is a great way to bring in things that are on the edge. For example, at the just-concluded Internationale Automobil-Ausstellung (IAA – International Automobile Exhibition) in Germany, one of the coolest things was an exhibit by Mercedes-Benz showing a futuristic vehicular platform that allows the driver to pilot the vehicle with Telekinetic powers — or for now, a brain-computer interface (BCI), but without the probe.
The presentation at the IAA used a headset that is actually a BCI. It enables the wearer to manage some rudimentary functions via brainwaves, such as finding a parking spot, managing the 21-st-century equivalent of the radio – streaming media content, like Alexa without the voice – and dialing down the interior ambient lighting. So far, this is only a vision. However, BCIs are real and functioning in other areas, so why would we not be able to port them to vehicles – especially autonomous ones.
The BCI, sometimes called a neural control interface (NCI), mind-machine interface (MMI), direct neural interface (DNI) or brain-machine interface (BMI), like the metaverse, has been around for a while – since the mid-1990s, as a matter of fact. Some of the more common applications are in the medical realm with electroencephalographs (EEG) and the oft-barbaric shock therapy.
The future metaverse will couple the BCI with other objects within it, such as 3D holograms, all types of virtual realities, medical applications and retail. Another huge space is in video conferencing. Imagine a digital twin of every physical location of a company.
There are many others, some yet to be developed and integrated. But make no mistake, it is going to happen. Everything would simply be objects within the metaverse.
Another good reason for a metaverse is that the various sub-categories of the internet (IIot, IoPT, IoST, IoMT, yada yada)1 are now simply digital objects in a universe. A metaverse is a place where all of these worlds can live in harmony without having to justify what they are or have a slew of interfaces.
Imagine things like vehicles, medical devices, smart home devices, each having digital twins or some other digital avatar that manages them. One might never have to physically manage anything. One only needs to look to massively multiplayer online role-playing games to catch a glimpse of some of what will be ubiquitous within the metaverse.
The nice thing about the metaverse, unlike the internet, is that when looking at it as a “universe,” untethered intergalactic travel among apps will be the goal. The final stoke will be a single app that is capable of communicating with every “world” in the metaverse. The metaverse will become a platform that is not tied to any one app or any single place.
The metaverse will make it possible for objects and identities to move from one virtual world to another, even into the physical world, with augmented reality. It will seem as real as our world today.
I could go on about this for hours. The metaverse itself is not that fascinating, but what it will enable, is. That is the exciting thing.
One can only hope that the concepts of metaverse worlds catch on and everybody gets on board. It will make tying all of this together so much easier and quicker. This is truly a concept that can tie together the widely disparaged and fragmented world that is our internet of today. Let us just hope the politicians keep their noses out of it.
1. IIoT – internet of industrial things; IoPT – internet of personal things; IoMT – internet of medical things; IoST – internet of smart things, yada yada.
Ernest Worthman is an executive editor with AGL Media Group.