Technology

Facebook’s Metaverse: Internet’s Future Is Set In Virtual Reality

Tushar Gupta

Oct 29, 2021, 04:56 PM | Updated 05:14 PM IST

Facebook’s Metaverse and Virtual Reality
Facebook’s Metaverse and Virtual Reality
  • Metaverse is exciting, scary, and an inevitable imminent reality and warrants imagination.
  • But for now, it is one small step for Big Tech, but one giant leap for user connectivity globally.
  • Mobile phones with fingerprint scanners, self-driving cars, wearable tech, and sunglasses with audio and video capabilities were among the few futuristic technologies on display in the Hollywood movies of the 1990s, especially in the James Bond and Ethan Hunt franchises.

    For those times, in a world oblivious to the enormity and economy of the internet and smartphones, the tech was simply a piece of fiction, served as guilt-free entertainment. However, more than two decades later, it is all real, all mainstream, all easily accessible for the general public.

    For those who have been living under a rock for the last thirteen years and have not heard of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, imagining virtual reality (VR) in play, in its best form, could be a tad-bit difficult.

    From Tony Stark’s $600 million glasses in Captain America: Civil War where he is able to create a VR room with his deceased parents to the recent post-credits scene in Shang-Chi And The Legend Of Ten Rings, where our superheroes are collaborating in a virtual reality room from across different galaxies, virtual reality is now an integral part of storytelling, and now, the likes of Apple, Alphabet, and Facebook are taking upon themselves to make this virtual reality mainstream for people across the globe.

    First things first, virtual reality cannot be dismissed as a marketing gimmick by the Big Tech to take attention away from the scrutiny of the government.

    Virtual reality, as a technology offering, is not something that exists in theory or is without practical application. Both the hardware and software very much exist, and already, the threshold of the critical demand has been breached, thanks to the growing virtual gaming economy across the world.

    By embracing a new name, Meta, Facebook is not taking attention away from the recent ‘Facebook Files’ conspiracy, but adopting a new goal for the company altogether. Perhaps, he realises he's done what he could with 2D internet, and it is the ideal time to set sight on the future - 3D Internet.

    In the coming months, many journalists, driven by their contempt for the Big Tech, would be tempted to dismiss Facebook’s Metaverse as a foolish idea without any future. Many already have, but little do they realise that Mark Zuckerberg who ushered in the golden age of social media networking on the internet in the 2000s, is looking to repeat the history and success of his product, but this time in 3D, in virtual reality.

    What can be the simplest way to describe Facebook’s Metaverse, or similar pursuits of Apple and Alphabet?

    It’s the transition of the entire world wide web from a stale 2D existence to a 3D one.

    For instance, a Twitter space with a thousand people today is merely audio and profile icons. In a virtual reality setup, it could be a thousand avatars in a guarded virtual space, speaking to each other but in a more immersive manner.

    Think of a Zoom meeting, but not on screen with boxes allocated to each speaker, but on a table with everyone seated around it, in a virtual world. For the golden generation born in the 80s and 90s, well-acquainted with Road Rash and Need For Speed, imagine being inside the game, in a virtual space, inside the car, or on a bike.

    For the next few years, we are going to talk a lot about Facebook’s Metaverse, and the concept of virtual reality in general, for we have barely begun scratching the surface, but Zuckerberg’s briefing from last night (28 October) does offer a few low-hanging fruitful ideas one can pluck and ponder on.

    The whole idea of a virtual space, personal or professional, is to engage with people in a more immersive manner. In Facebook’s metaverse, the beginning of the engagement might be with avatars, or cartoon-like caricatures of one’s self, but eventually, even if takes thirty years, the endgame would be humans in holograms, as a complete replication of their physical forms in shape and size, just as we see in most superhero movies today.

    Thus, many use-cases emerge. Firstly, every meeting, be it ten people or ten thousand, can be conducted inside a virtual space. From politicians briefing the media to interacting in their constituencies to people from the same workplace connecting across continents, and from friends catching up in the afterhours over a board game to clubbing, everything will be possible within the virtual world.

    While the earlier versions and variants would be hard to customise, going forward, people will be able to customise their own virtual worlds, the way they want, or even replicate the physical world before them into a virtual space, as Zuckerberg stated in his briefing last night.

    This will create an economy of research and development as well. Going forward, one could have the likes of NASA and Tesla creating virtual worlds where people can tour the moon or any other planet, or even galaxies.

    The bridge between research infrastructure and researchers could be fixed to some extent. Defence personnel and experts could employ the virtual reality applications to further their studies and research.

    Shopping will move from 2D to 3D, thus rendering many physical stores futile, as anything that does not necessarily warrant a quality check by hand can easily be sold online. For instance, FMCG products. Thus, Facebook’s Metaverse and the whole concept of virtual reality can go as far as one’s imagination.

    The software can be programmed, as it has been already in many parts of the world, but many sceptics are unsure about the scale, for how do we ensure that Facebook’s three billion users get the devices to run their virtual spaces?

    Well, those were the concerns pertaining to internet and mobile devices as well, until a greater part of the 1990s. As more and more companies invest in the concept, the hardware is set to become cheaper, as witnessed in the past.

    Bill Gates wasn’t believed when he envisioned the computer as a device that could be used by everyone. Steve Jobs’ iPhone was proclaimed as a luxury for the few. Even the EVs, as another example, were dismissed as a cost-intensive option to begin with.

    The hardware for virtual reality, like the Oculus headsets, or Facebook’s glasses, or Apple’s AR-VR headset, or even Sony Playstation’s VR headset are catering to a growing virtual economy, and in time, more investments, innovations, and incentives will guide the growth of hardware that will solve the problem of scale. Also, going forward, virtual reality, like Facebook’s Metaverse, will also render many hardware we use today futile.

    The other problem, one that Zuckerberg too highlighted, was that of interoperability. For the economies and enormity of the concept of virtual reality, this could be the biggest test. Today, the world wide web is guided by a set of protocols like the IPv6, for instance, and therefore, to access the 2D internet space, one merely needs to have a device capable of internet connectivity.

    With virtual reality, as of now, there is little clarity on the interoperability and standard operating protocols. For the economy of scale to succeed, interoperability between the virtual worlds of Apple, Alphabet, and Facebook, to begin with, will be critical, and for the sake of innovation, room would need to be ensured for smaller players to make a mark.

    The success of the game Fortnite offers us some clues to the future of Facebook’s Metaverse. What started out as a video game is soon to emerge as a virtual reality platform.

    By December 2020, the platform’s virtual reality gaming ecosystem had attracted over 350 million players, together clocking more than 3 billion hours of gameplay each month. One of the virtual concerts on the gaming platform had over 10 million people in 2019 and more than 25 million in attendance in 2020. By 2022, Fortnite aims to have more than a billion players on its platform.

    In 2004, Mark Zuckerberg brought together a group of colleges and universities on a platform on the internet where they could chat with each other. Seventeen years later, he wants to bring the whole world together in a virtual space, or an alternate reality.

    Metaverse is exciting, scary, and an inevitable imminent reality and warrants imagination. But for now, it is one small step for Big Tech, but one giant leap for user connectivity globally.

    Tushar is a senior-sub-editor at Swarajya. He tweets at @Tushar15_


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