What Is Metaverse and How Will It Change the Way We Work?
What is metaverse?
It is a question many people have asked on the internet since Facebook became Meta last year.
Mark Zucker, the CEO and founder of Facebook, explained that the rebranding was done in order to accommodate their shifting focus on building their own metaverse — a shared mixed-reality platform where people can create their 3D avatars and socialize, work, shop, etc. in the digital realm. And since then, metaverse has become one of the most popular buzzwords on the internet. Many are even calling it the next big evolution of the internet.
The hype surrounding metaverses is nothing we have not seen before. Every year such new buzzwords start buzzing around on the internet but very few of them last for more than a couple of months. AR/VR, IoT, and Blockchain are examples of those few buzzwords that were the real deal and stuck around over the years. And metaverse will likely join this exclusive club of buzzwords as well.
But while Facebook’s facelift to become Meta may have given metaverses a boost in popularity, the fact of the matter is that the term has been around since 1992. In his science fiction novel Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson first coined the term metaverse as a shared virtual space in which the physical reality was enhanced using virtual elements, and those virtual elements could be sensed (touched, seen, smelled, etc.) by people. It was an integration of all the virtual worlds, augmented reality, and the internet.
For the longest time, metaverses remained mere a figment of science fiction cinema and literature, much like artificial intelligence and AR/VR did initially. But, thanks to the technological strides we have made in the past fifteen years, metaverses are on the verge of becoming a reality.
But while a full-blown metaverse experience may be a few years off into the future, we are already seeing metaverse being embraced by consumers and companies alike.
The best example is Snapchat and its customized filters that allow brands to connect with their customers more personally. While we don’t need VR headsets to use these filters, and there is a sensory disconnect, it is astonishing that elements of metaverse are already surrounding us. For instance, internet gaming experiences like Second Life and World of WarCraft have been around for more than a decade now, and they work on the same social elements that metaverses promise.
With the rapid speed of innovation and tech giants dumping a lot of money into developing their own metaverses, they will likely become as common as social media platforms in the next few years. And in today’s blog, we will learn what metaverse is, who are the key players, and how metaverse will change the way we work. We will also try to take what we know of it and predict the future of metaverses and where the technology is headed.
- The term metaverse was first coined in 1992 by author Neal Stephenson in his book Snow Crash.
- Metaverses are mixed-reality platforms created by integrating technologies like AR/VR, IoT, Blockchain, and AI.
- Metaverse is the next big evolution of the internet and enterprises around the globe are investing in metaverse heavily.
- The metaverse market size is projected to hit $800 billion by 2024. Meta has already invested $10 billion in its metaverse endeavors.
- Augmented and Virtual realities are the founding principles that make metaverse possible. Metaverses can be considered an extension of our physical reality into the digital one.
What is Metaverse?
The term metaverse is a conjunction of two words: Meta, which means beyond, and Verse, which means universe. Put together, the literal sense of the word metaverse is beyond this universe, referring to a virtual world that sits on top of/beyond our physical reality.
The idea behind metaverse is to use technologies like AR/VR, IoT, 3D holographic avatars, etc. to create a shared digital platform that opens up a whole new way of living.
But one might ask, how is it any different than any MMORPG or an alternate life game like SIMS or Second Life?
The answer is immersion.
Using VR headsets and sophisticated sensory technologies, metaverses promise to transport you into the digital world where you can live the same way you live in the physical world. You can touch. You can feel. You can smell. The higher the level of sophistication of hardware and software, the better the immersion and more convincing a metaverse.
The most common way to describe a metaverse is that it is the extension of our physical world into the digital world. And while it may not have seemed like such a good idea a couple of years ago, after the covid pandemic, people have learned to appreciate such digital endeavors.
Most of us have been working remotely for more than two years now, and we have grown warmer to the idea of working remotely. Many companies are already putting out hybrid working guidelines for their employees to work remotely or in the office, depending on their preferences.
But this creates an obvious disconnect within a workforce. If some people work from the office and some work from their homes, they will always rely on collaboration tools such as Zoom and Slack.
This is where metaverses come in.
Tools like Meta’s Horizon Workrooms will allow people to create digital office rooms where people, no matter where they are, can log in and attend meetings, brainstorming sessions, etc. This creates an illusion of being present in the same room as the others. But this is just one way in which metaverse will reshape and compel us to reimagine the future of work.
Let’s take a deeper dive into the subject and try to see what changes lie ahead of us.
How Will the Metaverse Reshape the Future of Work?
The Covid-19 pandemic forced us to reimagine many things about our society.
How we work?
How we shop?
How we socialize?
We had to rethink most aspects of our lives. Global lockdowns forced businesses big and small to find new ways to stay operational and work with the same efficiency as before. Businesses that were undergoing digital transformation or had accomplished it to success could work digitally without seeing too much dip in their revenue or operationally efficiency. But businesses that were solely physical and never bothered to install a digital infrastructure or build a digital presence, like brick-and-mortar retail outlets, suffered heavy losses.
The Covid pandemic taught us to value our digital personas. And after two years of remote working, people are reluctant to go back to the old ways of working. Many would rather work from home than go back to their offices and sit in their cubicles. And as a result, many companies are building guidelines and policies to support hybrid working.
With the coming of metaverses, the corporate and business world is again looking at a huge disruption.
Metaverses will Enhance Hybrid Working for Corporates
Metaverses will allow workforces separated by great distances to come together in a virtual room and work as if they were physically present in the same room. Meta’s Workroom, which is now in the beta phase, is a tool directed towards this goal. Companies can create entire digital office premises and have people logging in as their avatars using their VR rigs. As a result, metaverses will enhance hybrid working. It will make it much more efficient and immersive and bring back the lost sense of togetherness. One of the best parts about working in an office is the office friendships and the sense of being a part of the team, and with metaverses, hybrid working can have that as well.
The emergence of metaverses will encourage more companies to switch to hybrid working because now they can achieve the same level of efficiency as before and ease their employees’ lives. Many people these days enjoy working from home. One of the biggest reasons is physical safety. With new variants of the coronavirus emerging every few months, people find it safe to stay home. Also, working from home helps them have a better work-life balance. They don’t have to spend hours commuting to and from offices.
Metaverses will allow People to Shop Virtually
Apart from corporations, businesses will benefit from metaverses as well. In a fully realized metaverse, people will be able to shop digitally, as they shop physically. That is, they can, or rather their avatars can, visit shops in the metaverse, try on different outfits and purchase them without even leaving their bedroom in the physical world. Many people don’t shop online because they say that it robs them of the experience of shopping in reality. For those people, the metaverse is the answer.
Metaverses will Cement Digital Currencies as the Leading Form of Payment
Metaverses will have their own independent economies. This means they can cement cryptocurrencies as the leading form of payment, at least in digital reality. As more and more people become a part of the metaverse and start doing all their shopping there, the physical reality will come to accept cryptocurrencies such as Ethereum and Bitcoin as the standard form of transactions too.
Metaverses will also Help Remote Education Feel more Real
The Covid pandemic didn’t just disrupt the business world. It also forced students to attend their classes digitally. The lockdowns led to schools and colleges holding classes on platforms like Zoom and Skype. This was not an ideal situation for the students. Social interaction and the school environment are paramount for a student’s overall growth. And not only that, these digital classes were less than graceful and very inefficient.
Metaverses, however, promise to fix these problems. With their 3D avatars attending digital classes and even school premises, students can have the same experiences as going to schools in the physical world.
Metaverses Open a Whole New Avenue for People’s Social Life
Humans are social creatures. At the end of the day, the need to connect with other humans is inherent in all of us, no matter how big of a recluse a person is. We always want to socialize, and that is the reason why social media became such a world-altering thing; it gave us a way to socialize from the comfort of our homes. Metaverse promises to enhance social media experiences by adding immersion and hyper-connectivity to the equation.
Virtual concerts, movie theaters, parties, etc., are all possible with metaverse. Fortnite, a massive online game by Epic, has already organized many virtual concerts over the past few years, which the players could attend by simply logging into the game. Metaverse promises to revolutionize how we work and socialize, and with the right gear, the sky’s the limit.
Key Players in the Metaverse Game
At the moment, there are three major players in the metaverse game who are driving the technology forward-
Meta has made a significant investment in AR and VR technologies in the past few years and is gearing up to drive the metaverse revolution.
In 2014, Meta, then Facebook, bought Oculus Quest, a VR headset product line. In 2021, Meta announced its own metaverse — Horizon and Horizon Workrooms (in the open beta phase now). It provides a digital collaborative experience to its users by allowing them to work in a virtual room. No matter the physical distance, people can log into Horizon Workroom and be in the same room as their colleagues. Using VR headsets, they will be able to interact with the avatars of their colleagues, use whiteboards, experience directional audio, etc.
Microsoft has been making big moves in the metaverse realm as well. It acquired AltspaceVR in 2017 and is currently working on its HoloLens mixed reality headset technology. Microsoft plans to bring the mixed reality capabilities of Mesh, its communication and collaboration platform, to Microsoft Teams. This will also include 3D holographic models, which will be available with or without HoloLens. Companies will be able to create their own metaverses inside Teams.
NVIDIA is working on an open-source tool called the Omniverse platform that will allow users to build virtual worlds. It is a simulation and collaboration platform that lets users build physically accurate virtual 3D worlds. Currently, the Omniverse is being used by Ericson to build virtual cities to determine how they would deploy its 5G networks.
While the excitement surrounding metaverses is justified, it will take some years for it to go mainstream. While tech giants have ambitious plans for metaverses, quite a few kinks need to be smoothed out before any real progress can be made. The two most prominent ones are the lack of affordable mixed-reality gear and the ethical implications of being connected to a metaverse.
It is no surprise that VR headsets, IoT devices like wearables, etc., are extremely expensive currently. So before metaverses can go mainstream, providers need to find a way to make these sophisticated devices affordable for normal users. It is easier said than done, of course. Furthermore, these devices may take off in rich countries, but outsourcing hubs such as south Asian countries will still be struggling to buy these rigs.
The ethical implications of a digital space in which all your information is constantly being shared with the vendor are massive. Historically companies such as Meta have played fast and loose with people’s data, selling it to bidders for marketing purposes, etc. So trusting Meta after such massive debacles is hard. More and more people grow wary of social media these days, and the growing health concern is also forcing people to stay away from their screens. So with all these things, the road ahead is difficult for metaverses, and companies will have to find a way to address these concerns.
But if done right, metaverses show great promise. As the physical world grows more and more dangerous for humans, the virtual world feels like the best way to escape harm. While it may sound like a typical dystopian novel trope, we are at a crossroads in our times where it can become a reality, one which is perhaps even better than the physical one.
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