Metaverse (from Greek "meta", "beyond, after, between, outside", + English "universe") is the concept of a persistent 3D universe. It’s a network of multi-user platforms that allow various kinds of human activities. The Metaverse should be considered as a new stage in the development of the Internet. At the moment, the concept has yet to be materialized.
The birth of the Metaverse
The term "Metaverse" was introduced in 1992 by Neil Stephenson in his “Snow Crash”. The metaverse was described as a virtual universe that was created using computer graphics. It was based on "the Street" protocol, which united regions of the universe, being an analogue of the "information superhighway". Users could access the Metaverse with a VR headset and they could set up avatars, i.e. digital bodies that represented their identity in the Metaverse. Actions in the Metaverse had real consequences for them. William Gibson's “The Matrix” cyberspace described in the 1984 “Neuromancer” can be considered the literary predecessor of Stephenson's Metaverse. In 2011 Ernest Cline described his own “OASIS” metaverse in his "Ready Player One".
The Metaverse Manifesto by Tony Parisi
In 2021, Tony Parisi, being one of the pioneers of virtual reality, described the 7 rules of the Metaverse. These 7 rules are proposals for implementing the Metaverse and they are presented in the form of a manifesto.
The 7 rules are as follows:
- There is only one Metaverse. The Metaverse is the sum total of all publicly accessible virtual worlds and real-time 3D content in an open global network.
- The metaverse is inclusive.
- The metaverse is collectively controlled. No one controls the Metaverse individually. Centralized control of the Metaverse is impossible due to its scope.
- The Metaverse exists on compatible technologies and tools that are based on open communication standards.
- The Metaverse is hardware-agnostic.
- The Metaverse is a united network of computers that present digital information in 3D space to facilitate human communication.
- The Metaverse is an enhanced Internet that provides access to information in the form of 3D content and allows various kinds of collaborative synchronous human activity in a shared space.
Human activity in the Metaverse
With the VR and AR technologies, the Metaverse will be able to expand many areas of human activity and make them more accessible. In the Metaverse, people will be able to work, learn, create and have fun, among other things, overcoming limitations of the physical world.
The Metaverse has an enormous potential to improve the educational process. An important place will be given to simulation practices of professionals. Thanks to the possibilities of 3D VR, the Metaverse will be able to offer a more interactive and effective approach to mass education.
Experiences and matter produced in the Metaverse can have real value and consequences. The Metaverse will open up new opportunities for occupation and earnings. In the Metaverse-like projects, which already exist, GameFi and play-to-earn games are a reliable way of earning. In addition, the Metaverse will impact infinitely on collaborative work by providing new ways and tools to communicate as well as visualizing data and ideas.
The Metaverse can implement all existing innovative technologies in the field of health care to make it more accessible. Remote medical interventions, including surgery, may be available in the Metaverse. Also, the Metaverse may provide new tools in psychotherapy.
Users of the Metaverse shall take part in its development and in making important decisions concerning its community.
At the moment, the closest to the Metaverse concept are multiplayer online computer games. The Metaverse will also be a space for platforms where people can play and conduct mass events.
For social interactions to be full-fledged in the Metaverse, it will have to have its own virtual economy. Blockchain technologies, particularly cryptocurrencies and NFTs, will be crucial in establishing Metaverse’s own economy.
Technologies of the Metaverse
In order for the Metaverse to become real, it is necessary to satisfy the following technological requirements.
Extended Reality (XR)
The Metaverse is based on extended reality (XR) technologies. XR allows multimodal interaction with virtual spaces, people and objects within them. With these technologies consuming digital content by using all human senses is natural for human perception. XR includes VR (virtual reality), AR (augmented reality) and MR (mixed reality) technologies.
Virtual reality (VR)
Virtual reality is an artificially created space where users act in the same way as they would in a physical one. VR experience is enhanced with hardware like VR headsets and omnidirectional treadmills that stimulate human senses.
Augmented Reality (AR)
AR embeds digital world objects and virtual elements into physical space in order to expand its capabilities and overcome its limitations. The product of AR can be displayed using phone cameras, special glasses (including VR glasses) and AR contact lenses.
Mixed Reality (MR)
The easiest way to think of mixed reality is as a combination of augmented and virtual reality.
The hardware of XR is a VR headset, advanced controllers, gloves, and suits. Stereoscopic displays convey the depth of digital space and reproduce vision in physical space. XR Displays offer a quality auditory experience for a full immersion in the virtuality. The soundscape helps users better orient in virtual spaces. XR systems allow active interaction with virtual spaces, yet the issue of transmitting olfactory and tactile sensations remains. User movements are captured by motion detectors. A modern headset allows support of 6 DoF (“degrees of freedom”).
Spatial computing and brain-computer interface
To achieve the sensation of full immersion in the Metaverse, the development of spatial computing and brain-computer interface is crucial. Spatial computing will allow users to manipulate equipment in the Metaverse using natural gestures and speech. A brain-computer interface will allow the manipulation of devices and interface through brain activity. Notably, it means that paralyzed people will be able to control artificial limbs.
Artificial intelligence will be a natural part of the Metaverse. It’ll be used for creating avatars to match the real appearances of users, etc. AI will also be implemented in the form of digital people born and “raised”, i.e. developed in the Metaverse.
No centralized data warehouse can support the computational scale of the Metaverse. Blockchain will be the backbone of the Metaverse infrastructure providing decentralized data storage and distributed ownership over its space. Blockchain can effectively solve a number of issues regarding the Metaverse implementation. Crypto Wallets on the blockchain can grant users an instant proof of ownership of any kind of asset in the Metaverse. Non-fungible tokens (NFTs) will allow creating unique objects in the Metaverse, for various purposes, including monetization. As in real life, people will have to vote for important changes in the community – blockchain technology allows the voting procedure to be as open as possible. In addition, the blockchain has ready-made scaling solutions, necessary for the Metaverse that is designed to combine the multiplicity of separate projects and platforms.
Internet of Things (IoT)
IoT will improve the accuracy of the physical world representation in the Metaverse. It’ll help digital objects adapt to the user's needs. The Azure Digital Twins IOT platform by Microsoft launched in 2020 is important for the Metaverse. Designed for enterprises, this "digital twin" technology allows the creation of digital models of real-life objects and their synchronization with the physical world.
Framework for the Metaverse by Matthew Ball
Matthew Ball, the managing Partner of EpyllionCo and co-founder of Ball Metaverse Research Partners, listed 8 key technical requirements of the Metaverse:
- Hardware availability;
- High bandwidth and decentralized network;
- Powerful data processing systems;
- Virtual platforms for human socialization and work;
- New data interchange tools and standards;
- Digital payment services support;
- An unrestricted management of digital assets within all the Metaverse platforms;
- Observation and registration of user behavior and trends with deep social significance.
Precursors of the Metaverse
There is a list of already existing projects that are ideologically close to the concept of Metaverse and have some of its features. Among them are:
- Roblox, an online platform for creating and participating in multiplayer games;
- Fortnite, an open world online game and a space for socializing;
- Decentraland is an online world where users can trade NFTs and digital real estate, with its own virtual economy and governance;
- Second Life is a virtual 3D space for socializing, learning and working. It has its own NFT marketplace;
- Axie Infinity is a play-to-earn game where users actively earn by farming SLP (Smooth Love Potion) tokens;
- The Sandbox is a virtual world allowing users to create and trade digital assets in the form of a game.
In 2021, Facebook was rebranded into Meta Platforms, and the company announced its plans towards the Metaverse. In the same year, Microsoft introduced Microsoft Mesh, allowing users to connect and collaborate in MR using holograms. In April 2021, Epic Games raised $1 billion to develop the Metaverse. In January 2022, Apple CEO Tim Cook shared the company’s visions towards the Metaverse implementation, and HTC introduced VIVERSE, the so-called "Metaverse ecosystem".