Opinion: Moving towards a Metaverse

The author details the ecosystem of Metaverse and its growing prominence

Dec 10, 2021 02:08:00 AM | Article | Sammridh Varma

Remember that dream which was so vivid that you were sure you were there and that you still feel the after-effects? 

 

Or remember the movie Matrix, where Neo closes his eyes and learns karate in the blink of an eye? 

 

Both the above experiences might just become very much real for us with the emergence of Metaverse – a new technology-based augmented reality space that is projected to change how humans live and interact forever. However, hardly enough people are talking about this or understanding its implications.  

 

Last month, Facebook’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, announced that it would now be a Metaverse company. While Metaverse was in development in different forms on a small scale, Facebook’s announcement has resulted in it being an urgent topic of discussion and possibly creating a signal Metaverse creating more immediate changes to the way we live.  

 

So, what exactly is Metaverse?

 

Metaverse is a virtual reality platform that would be an extension of the physical world. Using virtual and augmented reality technologies we could create a parallel virtual world. 

 

In simpler terms, it could be described as an internet that you are not just looking at on the screen, but inside of. Instead of watching or reading about a topic, you could be doing or experiencing it in a way that feels real, with other people who feel present with you in a setting you want to.  

 

For example, imagine the 2020 lockdown where you have stuck far away from your family and did Whatsapp video calls to stay in touch. But you still felt faraway as your family played that caroms game together. Enter Metaverse, and you and your family could meet in a virtual space as avatars and play that carom game together with actual movements and conversations taking place.  

 

Virtual concerts, work meetings, parties with friends- so many things we have wanted to be there for but have not been able, due to distance and time constraints. Metaverse would enable us to experience all these and more with our group of friends, family or colleagues through virtual-reality based platforms. Unlike the present digital exchanges, we are used to, Metaverse proposes to give us a more direct experience of being present in the location of your choice through an avatar.  

 

Metaverse is a transition 

 

Metaverse would be a culmination of a transition towards a virtual oriented world that has already begun in the past few decades. 

 

Workplaces are moving from factories and boardrooms to laptops and Zoom. Quality interactions and friendships are moving to online spaces. With cryptocurrencies, even our assets are taking a digital transition. 

 

Thus, according to one estimate, Metaverse would be a culmination of a world where our digital world holds more value and worth than physical worth.  

 

What benefits would the Metaverse have? 

 

Richer digital experience

With the internet turning faster and our interactions turning largely digital, there is increased demand for more intimate and quality interactions which the physical world provides. Metaverse provides an opportunity for this.  

 

Knowledge building

Learning would no longer be googling but experiencing it. Learning by doing could be easier and more practical in Metaverse.  

 

Higher productivity

With richer experiences and lesser time for commuting or accessing a service, overall productivity would increase. One could think about it and get it done in an eventual Metaverse. It will make collaboration and idea-sharing more accessible.  

 

New economy and job creation 

With assets going virtual, Metaverse will fuel an entirely digital economy already in motion with the cryptocurrency rush. Thus, a digital car that a digital person pays for in a digital marketplace represents every bit as much economic value as the real-world equivalent. According to a PwC report, Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) has the potential to boost the global economy by nearly $2 trillion by 2030. This is huge!  

 

Environment

Metaverse could be an opportunity for us to switch from a physical resource-intensive economy and lifestyle to a more virtual resource-oriented one. This could lead to lesser pollution and a lesser race for finite resources like land, petroleum etc. 

 

Does the Metaverse have no inevitable cons? 

Yes, it does! And the first one is Data! Data! Data! 

 

While we continue to solve issues of data privacy and data security, Metaverse would further compromise digital security with technology giants having a monopoly on the same. Facebook especially is still reeling from the series of lawsuits over its handling of user data. With Metaverse, the data collection would be more intimate, up to a level that will track your brain activity. 

 

For India, especially the absence of a Data Protection Law continues to be a great challenge. In a scenario with the rising of Metaverse, an altogether new set of rules of censorships, data security and regulatory environment will have to be foreseen.  

 

Would we lose touch with reality?

An intensely immersive virtual reality controlled by a tech company could manipulate our views of what reality is? What views matter to you and are beneficial to you rather than what might be shown to you as good.  

 

Do we need to stop the growth of Metaverse? 

Metaverse is an inevitable evolution of our technology-oriented world. Being in denial or resisting it may not give many dividends. For example, Barbados- is one of the first countries to announce its plan of setting up an embassy in the Metaverse. Thus, it ceases to be just an imaginative experiment by a few tech geeks. It is very near and real! 

 

The key would be to look at it how we look at society. We must continuously ask these questions: 

 

Who controls it? 

 

Can we keep it democratic and open source? 

 

Do people have rights in a metaverse? 

 

What lines would we have to draw? 

 

How can we limit usage in a way it serves society? 

 

How can we make it an equitable space? 

 

The technology and logistics for Metaverse – the way Mark Zuckerberg has portrayed would need time to come in place. We must understand that virtual reality spaces are going rapidly. In India, it is already being seen as the next big investment. However, the ultimate goal of these virtual spaces should be to ensure that our present physical world where we live in is benefits and grows.

 

The author is a communications professional currently associated with Bihar Young Thinkers Forum, India Foundation.