Thirty years after Neal Stephenson conjured a fictional virtual reality application of the internet that was immersive and shareable, where people could work, play, learn and socialize, people are ready to make his "Snow Crash"metaversea reality.
We are on the threshold of creating a world where the real and the virtual connect seamlessly, giving us new ways to experience life. From Amazon to Samsung, Google, Microsoft and Facebook, every major technology company is investing in the metaverse. They are turning a once fictional idea into commerce.
The Metaverse Market Heats Up
The idea of the metaverse is attractive because it presents an opportunity for businesses to think differently and extend human perception. It is one step closer to delivering services in a new, more immersive digital environment for consumers. Scores of companies are working to build software, hardware(processors, headsets, haptic equipment, 3-D displays), assets(holograms, AR content), products(datasets, tools for digital identities),avatars (virtual representations), marketplaces(digital goods, NFTs), and financial services(blockchain, DeFi)to support the metaverse.
Gartner predicts that 25% of people will spend at least an hour every day in the metaverse by 2026, so we can expect to see a quick evolution and far-reaching developments around the metaverse. It may be a little early to predict how it will take shape, or its potential. But this needs to be emphasized: The metaverse is not limited to increasing the use of augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and mixed reality (MR). It is not just about developing flashy holographic representations. It is not just about putting brands and processes, employees and customers, into a virtual gaming environment or into the neighborhood of Keanu Reeves in "The Matrix."
The metaverse can be thought of as a combination of technologies that creates a persistent blend of the real and the virtual world, giving us the freedom to move seamlessly from one to the other. This is the ultimate experience that technology will aim to deliver.The display systems, the compute capabilities, the quality of the human-machine interface, and the richness of content and services will determine who leads and who lags. But we can be sure that without humanizing the experience, the metaverse will remain a mesh of cold technologies, creating a playground for a small tribe of nerds.
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What Will Set the Metaverse Apart?
At an experience level, the metaverse will be marked by six characteristics. Businesses must carefully examine each characteristic and assess the value they create:
- Boundless: The metaverse is limitless. There are no barriers between the real and the digital.
- Persistent: The metaverse can’t be unplugged or reset. It is always active, always on, always dynamic.
- Immersive: The metaverse extends reality (XR). It builds a new type of world, rather than simply creating a representation of reality as we know it.
- Decentralized: All users have individual agency. No single entity will control the metaverse.
- Economic System: Virtual economies will flourish. Digital currency will gain traction.
- Social Experience: The metaverse fuels sharing. It does this by allowing linkages to be created between users and AI-driven/virtual entities and events.
It is reasonably evident that the metaverse is not just the intersection of technologies. It will use AI, ML, AR, VR,MR,XR, IoT, 5G, blockchain, BCI (brain-computer interfaces) to create a more human experience. But success would revolve around bringing attention to a short list of human qualities that include:
'Humotions' — Emoting Normally
At the moment when we want to emote in the digital world, we turn to an emoji. Today, we have 3,633 emojis in the Unicode Standard alone. The world uses 5 billion emojis every day. And, no surprise, we use billions of emoticons every day besides the emojis. Over the years, users have created ingenious ways to battle the reductionist effects of technology. Technologists have recently tried to infuse computational systems with cognition, intuition, emotion and perception. Fuzzy logic was amongst the initial methodologies used to approximate human thinking. Now we need to supplement “human thinking” with “human emotion.”Several encouraging developments can aid in interpreting human emotion and responding to it. One of them is using visual analytics to interpret micro-facial expressions. Metaverse environments that can emote normally will stand head and shoulders above others.
'ConneXperiences' — Connecting and Creating
Until now, technology has successfully created networks using demographic, professional, and behavioral data. These networks, dominated by name tags and business cards (or the digital equivalent of platforms, handles and profiles), have been driving relationships. In real life, relationships are built on how we feel about people through the emotional connection we make with them — which depends on shared experiences. Technology must go a step beyond supporting networking to creating and strengthening relationship sand building rapport (between societies, communities, buyer and seller, businesses and stakeholders, governments and citizens).We know that relationships fail to rise above the network if we do not prioritize face time. The metaverse should enable, with its immersive environment, the opportunity for users to build and strengthen relationships.
'Communiverse' — Binding Communities
Great brands provoke emotion by creating interactions that gratify user needs, help meet the user ambitions, resonate with the user’s mental state, and develop a sense of belonging.They bring us together as a community with a common interest.An immersive environment can provide subtle and subconscious ways to improve emotional attachment and drive decisions. Research shows that 95% of purchase decisions are made subconsciously. In addition, data shows we process visual information 60,000 times faster than text (pdf). With its ability to personalize interactions, drive subconscious messaging, and provide visual environments, the metaverse holds the key to creating deep attachment and inducing long-term loyalty.
'Spongification' — Engaging and Learning
The metaverse presents a new way of delivering ideas, instructions and education. Imagine collaborative and immersive 3-D environments, global connectedness, real-time interactions, and access to practically any information and data. This would fire users into exploring, challenging and debating ideas independently or with any community they wish.At its deepest level, the metaverse is the ideal playground to quench human curiosity in a “near-natural” setting, away from the dangers, harms and barriers that the real world places before us.