We have been promised the ‘metaverse’ for decades, but it is still not a sure thing

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In his 1992 novel, “Snow Crash”, author Neil Stephenson describes the hero hero escaping in a “metaverse” from the confines of their shared 20″ x 30″ home located in a former storage unit in Southern California, where he He owns a big house. , wears a black leather kimono and carries swords.

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“He’s in a computer-generated universe that his computer is pulling on his glasses and pumping in his earphones,” Stephenson writes. “In parlance, this fictional place is known as the Metaverse. Hiro spends a lot of time in the Metaverse. It beats the sh-out of the You-Store-It.”

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This wasn’t the first description of an alternate, virtual world in cyberspace that would allow us to escape from the sometimes monotonous realities, but the term “metaverse” — coined by Stephenson — suddenly became a catchall phrase used by tech companies. Big and small, after Facebook’s recent corporate rebranding, Meta Platforms Inc. as FB,
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This is nothing new, though: For decades, software developers and engineers have tried unsuccessfully to create those alternate worlds, including Another Void and Pixel, a quest inspired by science fiction that goes much beyond “Snow Crash”. Goes back and the human desire to escape is reality.

“This idea of ​​an alternate reality is a very old idea, it goes back to shamanic practices, taking alternative substances,” said Silicon Valley futurist Paul Sappho, who currently teaches forecasting at Stanford University and Singularity University. Chairs Future Studies and Forecasting. “There has always been a deep human yearning for an alternate reality.”

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There have been various iterations of the alternative digital world through the decades, but they have been used for the most part by the average consumer, either because the technologies were too expensive, not powerful enough, or just not exciting. Large clunky, often headache-inducing virtual-reality headsets that transport the wearer to another environment are also another drawback, while augmented reality — which mixes computer-generated images into a physical environment — is still too complex. and is more expensive.

For more: What is the ‘Metaverse’ and how much will it cost? depends who you ask

So the question right now is, have we finally reached the point in history where a true virtual world may soon be available? Or is it just another false promise of technology that will never really become mainstream and flashy?

“Takeoff will be determined by what the technology can do and in a way that precisely matches the experience with what’s really attractive to us,” Sappho said. years” and pointing out that the definitions are in constant flux.

“There is no single definition of what VR is, no definition of augmented reality. People don’t think about the marshy ground between the two, that’s where the surprises will come from.

Based on the past, it is also possible that the results of all current efforts may be too scientific for average consumers, or will never really succeed.

Videogames are the closest we’ve come

So far, it is in the world of videogames where alternative digital worlds have been realized, and where the proposed vision of the metaverse closest to current reality is.

In 1986, a group of developers from Lucasfilm Games released a beta of the first virtual community called “Habitat”. he described the habitat As a multiplayer online virtual environment for the Commodore 64, which used a modem and a telephone line to communicate with a mainframe where the world model was hosted and rules were enforced.

The Habitat creator was partly inspired by Werner Winge’s 1981 novel “True Names”, in which a group of hackers are immersed in a virtual world called “Another Plane”. In a paper in 1990, software engineers Chip Morningstar and Randy Farmer described an early iteration of Habitat as a screen with various objects such as houses and trees, with makers called avatars. Initially, users manipulated a bug in the system to collect more tokens, which were used to buy things at Habitat. There was also debate among users about violence, when some players used guns available to avatars, and randomly killed people, highlighting two ongoing issues in the virtual world: digital currency and security.

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Habitat closed after a few years in beta testing, as it was too expensive to maintain, but the concept survived. Created by San Francisco’s Lyndon Lab, Second Life saw a surge in popularity when it made the cover of Businessweek in 2006. It still exists today as a multi-user virtual world, but is viewed as a highly specialized space: players have no goals as they do in videogames, nor do they wear heavy headsets. . There is an economy around the Linden Dollar where users can buy virtual goods and create avatars to their specifications.

“Second Life was very rudimentary compared to what we can do now,” said Rob Enderle, Principal Analyst at Enderle Group. He described the current activity and focus on the metaverse still in the “hype cycle”.

“You’ll have a few years” hype, he said. “Once it’s mature, it’s going to be earth-shattering. It has the potential to eclipse the Internet. It’s a different creation. But the effort that’s going into it is going to be even more than the Internet.”

Today, Microsoft Corp. of multiplayer videogames, such as MSFT
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Minecraft and Roblox Inc. RBLX,
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The gaming platform is closer to the vision of a metaverse that has been acknowledged in the current hype. But the road from here is still uncertain: is the metaverse virtual reality combined with augmented reality, or one or the other or something?

Moving Beyond the Games into a Complete Metaverse

The theoretical future metaverse is a vast field that is expected to bring together technologies and markets: the most advanced chips and computer hardware, coupled with opportunities in videogame development, cloud computing, digital rendering, content creation, brands, advertising and digital currencies. But the actual experience is still being tied up by tech companies and futurists without any real definition, as John Swartz of Businesshala recently outlined.

“Does it exist and what is it?” Morgan Stanley equity strategist Edward Stanley asked clients in a recent report. “Yes and no. No in its purest form – it will take years and cross-company collaboration will allow users to seamlessly move across millions of experiences and take their digital avatar and assets with them.”

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As important as the consumer experience may have been in the early days, businesses are finding ways to buy into the growth of the metaverse. Today, one can consider experiences such as flight simulator training by commercial and military pilots as virtual reality for professions, as pilots train in realistic situations to take off, land, and emergency situations. Microsoft, which has built the most famous flight simulator game for three decades, also has its own mixed-reality glasses, the HoloLens, aimed at companies in manufacturing, healthcare and education for precise, hands-free work. Is.

Peggy Johnson, the new chief executive of Magic Leap talked about how hard augmented reality has been at a web summit earlier this month, and why the company had to focus on enterprise customers rather than consumers. The decade-old startup, which has raised nearly $3 billion in venture funding, is working on a second version of its headset, which has been touted as the future of AR.

“Like the mobile phone, it got smaller, lighter, less expensive,” she said. “It’s not 10 years out, it just has to come down that growth curve.” He mentioned a collaboration that involved Magic Leap Cisco Systems Inc. Working with CSCO,
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To convert two-dimensional Webex meetings into 3-D meetings. “The power of augmented reality is when we can add it to everything we do.”

While the Meta platform features virtual reality glasses, Oculus Quest, CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s showcase of its version of the future Metaverse, didn’t quite pass up with some of the pioneers in the VR field. Virtual reality pioneer Jeroen Lanier, who now works for Microsoft In her New York Times podcast, Kara told Swisher that Zuckerberg’s talk was a “strangely disjointed vision of virtual reality”. and “not completely consistent.”

“I wouldn’t bet on Facebook,” Sappho said. “It is, if it was going to come out of nowhere, it would come out of gaming, or someone like Phil Rosedale” [the founder of Linden Lab and now High Fidelity], who has done it many times…. When we honestly need Tim Berners-Lee for VR. ,

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While some kind of miracle has been expected in virtual reality for years, it remains a niche technology, even as executives like Zuckerberg have invested heavily in it. According to Pitchbook, the current market size of virtual and augmented reality combined is approximately $32 billion in 2021. Virtual reality is…

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