Facebook rebranded itself with a new name META. The term “Metaverse” is fast becoming a buzzword in tech and business. The American Novelist Neal Stephenson mentioned virtual reality back in 1992. A world where people would use digital avatars to live, work and play online and he called it THE METAVERSE, a blend of META which means beyond, and the VERSE derived from Universe. Stephenson thought that this metaverse would be the successor of the Internet. Big tech giants like Apple, Microsoft, Google, and Facebook are racing to claim the metaverse. A virtual universe that will coexist with the physical one, to stay on top of the curve facebook rebranded itself as Meta.
Think of it as an Internet that you are not just looking at but also living in, your digital avatar will inhabit the metaverse instead of watching or reading about a topic, you’ll be experiencing it, doing those actions yourself digitally along with other people who wants to be a part of your experience.
Online spaces allow you to interact in a more immersive way than a traditional website. let’s take a scenario to simplify it further, you’re in a lockdown far away from your family and friends, how do you stay in touch with them? Video calls would be the closest that technology could offer you today but it’s still not close enough. You might feel left out, but here Metaverse assures you to change that, here you meet with them in a virtual space, and actual movements and conversations can take place. This is exactly what metaverse offers, Experience. Not just sight and sounds.
It would be cyberspace where reality meets imagination. The characters will be real human beings but their world would be completely fictional made up of virtual elements that signify real life. The metaverse will be like a teleportation device where you can explore virtual worlds while being physically present at your home.
How many virtual worlds are there going to be?
Looking forward to the investments which are being made by different companies, it’s safe to say that there would be a lot of choices for end-users. There are different virtual worlds in the making, Facebook seems to be the biggest one but it’s not the only one in pursuit.
Apple for instance is working on an advanced virtual reality headset and the reports say it could revolutionize the whole metaverse experience. Google is also working on an innovative Augmented reality device, this would create a separate and unique metaverse platform. Microsoft is also creating a digital world calling it Mesh, this will incorporate virtual experiences directly in Microsoft teams. Governments are also betting on the metaverse, Barbados is planning to set up an embassy in the metaverse. Almost everything- everywhere is joining the metaverse. It’s no more an experiment by a few tech geeks, it’s becoming an alternative to reality.
Some Controversy of Metaverse
There are already reports of crime in the metaverse, In December last year, a woman from San Fransico used Meta’s Oculus headset to play a game, when she entered the game her digital avatar was approached by a stranger who groped and harassed her avatar digitally. When asked to stop the perpetrator is said to have told the victim, “ It’s the metaverse, I’ll do what I want.”
It’s horrible and not just one incident, according to reports, a violent incident occurs every seven minutes in a popular virtual reality world, VRchat. This makes the concept problematic, the slightest touch or sensory experience is amplified to give you an immersive experience so every crime that is committed can feel much more real and much more intense. These issues are projected to increase as the Metaverse expands.
How do tech companies plan to ensure the privacy & safety of digital avatars?
Well, the simple answer is, They Can’t. Andrew Bosworth, who will be the Meta—Chief Technology Officer said, “ Moderating what people say and how they act in the metaverse at any meaningful scale is practically impossible.” How safe the metaverse is going to be? especially for children? for most tech companies the target audience is children. Teenagers who are always on the Internet. Studies have proven that the metaverse is not safe for children. Several crimes have been reported like children being exposed to graphic sexual content, children adopting extremist views from strangers, and children being subjected to sexual harassment. All of it is happening and it’s practically impossible to stop it.
Metaverse can change the world for the better but it can also overstep its purpose, It can become a tool for online predators to commit crimes online and get away with it. It can become a dangerous and unethical escape from reality. Holograms cannot replace human relationships. None of it would be real. It’s all made to make you forget reality, to escape the unique human elements of life which can’t be replicated online. Sensory experiences can’t replace emotions. Addiction to virtual worlds can lead people to withdraw from real-world experiences. At the end of the day, the decision is always in the hands of the people, not the technology. If you don’t find value in what the metaverse has to offer, don’t use it. It can’t become a second life, at best going to be an imprisoned reality.
Initially published here