7 Challenges of The Metaverse
Metaverse seems to be taking many tech news channels by the storm, one could notice the buzz amplifying in the past few months. It seems that practically everyone is talking about the Metaverse, their vision of the Metaverse, the Metaverse development or even the potential of living in the Metaverse. We see it appearing in combination with such topics like Extended Reality (XR), Machine Learning (ML), Artificial Intelligence (AI), Blockchain, Non-fungible tokens (NFT), Cryptocurrency, Hyper-realistic Avatars, Digital Twin, Hybrid Ecosystems and many more. The vast scope of topics continue to cause more and more confusion around the concept itself. So before we dive into the main topic of this article, let's discover a bit more about the Metaverse itself.
Metaverse Meaning – What is this New World Everyone’s Been Talking About?
Oxford Languages defines Metaverse as “a virtual-reality space in which users can interact with a computer-generated environment and other users”. Now the question here is what caused the interest around Metaverse to surge at such a swift pace?
First of all, the reason for such a rapid expansion in interest is mainly connected to one of the tech giants, or to be more precise, to Mark Zuckerberg’s July announcement of Facebook intention to create our future Metaverse. The Verge reported that the vision revolves around the creation of one unified virtual universe or virtual space, connecting community, products, commerce, workspace, entertainment, creators and much more.
Even though the term itself is not new at all and has been with us since 1992, not everyone is fully familiar with the exact meaning or definition of the Metaverse. While experts around the globe each offer their own vision of this rapidly accelerating term, we have turned to the Lucid Reality Labs expert and visionary to define this ever-expanding concept.
“Metaverse is the next generation of interaction, the Web 3.0 if you want to call it. The concept that will blend our physical and digital existence, an open and expansive universe that will transition users from flat 2D environments into immersive and interactive 3D. A common, ungoverned, and most importantly co-created existence, consisting of a myriad of Metaverse worlds, with open standards and no physical borders. We are talking about an iteration that is decentralized, scalable and autonomous, that allows users to connect into a unified existence from any device. Ideally, we are talking about an immersive, interactable, smart, intuitive and digitally enhanced environment which could be both artificially created or real-time augmented, enhanced by Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML).”
So if we speak about it in general terms, we expect it to develop into a rapidly expanding decentralized space with a multitude of worlds connected into a single unified digital environment. Where both business and individual contributors could have equal access and opportunity to contribute to the development of both content and means of interaction. This world will carry over digital capabilities into our everyday lives, enhancing both physical and digital presence. Probably the most exciting part is that we are yet to discover or even imagine the extent into which the Metaverse could potentially expand and how much of our everyday activities would be carried out in this cross physical and digital world. Perhaps looking into the origin of the term could help us shape some of these ideas of our future Metaverse.
The Origins of the metaverse
As already mentioned, the term “Metaverse” has been with us since 1992, appearing in Neal Stephenson’s novel “Snow Crash”, where he envisioned a dystopian future and the in-VR existence of the next generation of internet.
While an actual Metaverse is yet to be created, we already have quite a few, of what one could use as an example to describe the Metaverse. Here we are referring to early gaming and interaction worlds like Second Life, World of Warcraft, Minecraft and later on appearing Fortnite, Roblox and VRChat. Each of these examples have one or more elements of the Metaverse, be it in immersive technology (VR), major interaction and collaboration platform that unites millions worldwide, creation platform or 3D cross-world interaction games.
At the end of the day, each of these products and games, could be the essential elements that will make up the beginning of the entertainment part of the Metaverse. Ultimately, more processing power, CPU and software developments will be required, however we are definitely up to a good start, considering that the whole concept of the Metaverse was simply a plot of imagination just three decades ago.
It could take us yet another decade for XR hardware, software, 6G, blockchain, AI, ML and other technology developers' joint effort, to shape the final concept. The one that would ultimately unite all of these worlds together, making them interoperable and accessible from any XR device, be it Augment Reality, Virtual Reality or Mixed Reality headsets or even desktop or mobile devices. At the end of the day, we are bound to see more exciting and immersive Metaverse worlds come to life, but without doubt, there will be only one Metaverse, which will unite all world development efforts together.
What Does the Metaverse Mean for Users and Humanity in General?
Today, the Metaverse is still perceived by many as a universe set for communication, gaming and entertainment purposes, with technology like NFT used primarily for art, music and creative processes. What is important to see here, is the vast opportunities that the Metaverse, or Web 3.0, could unravel for humanity in general. If you just think about it, the next generation of the internet will without doubt be both immersive and in 3D. It will allow to connect users globally, having capability to be used for practically any industry. From Healthcare and Medtech to Military and Defense, giving each industry a vast scope of new opportunities and tools.
Indeed, we expect to reach a point where the Metaverse will become so common that people will miss to notice its presence and deem it as a natural part of our everyday lives. Like what smartphones turned to become, but with immersive technology moving closer to our bodies, from our pockets to ultimately become head or face worn and controlled through eye-tracking or even electromyography (EMG) technology. While today the capabilities are still fairly limited, we can predict a more vast, global Metaverse integration already within the next decade. This would be made possible, not solely but significantly, through the tech giants efforts, that are already working on the next generation of mass consumer immersive devices, like Apple and Meta.
Once we get there, we are bound to see more industries adopt the Metaverse capabilities. With possibilities to do trade and transactions, it could become the next generation marketplace for businesses and individuals. Even though many global users could be joining the Metaverse to connect their physical and digital presence, like no other industry, healthcare could be amongst the directions where users could benefit greatly.
The possibilities could begin with connecting in the Metaverse for remote diagnostics happening in XR, consultations, basic check ups and visits. Developing further into remote surgical assistance, disease rehabilitation and intervention as well as far as to education, training, upskilling and reskilling of medical professionals, practitioners and students.
At the end of the day, the happening of the Metaverse, or conceptually the Web 3.0 that will be the next iteration of the internet, will be a major breakthrough, in both technology and user experience, how we perceive life and what we consider our daily normal. It will be an exciting step towards new opportunities and capabilities, benchmarking the next significant milestone in the development of humanity as a whole. It could potentially create a sense of living in the Metaverse to some extent.
Why is everyone suddenly talking about the metaverse?
This is probably one of the important questions to ask. If we look at the Metaverse purely from the perspective of connecting users and providing them with VR based video game opportunities, entertainment, and new means of interaction we could imagine perhaps a few hundred million users joining on a constant basis.
If we however think of it as a new unlimited marketplace, where both physical and digital goods could be sold, that require a new generation of specialists capable of building, navigating and accelerating the virtual world of the Metaverse, we could imagine a completely new economy developing. Ungoverned, decentralized, co-creatively expanding economy, with its own currency and marketplace, the Metaverse is already estimated to reach $8 to $13 trillion by 2030, just by early estimates.
With industries and businesses investing and funding both external and in-house Metaverse technology developments, more capital will be invested into this cross physical and digital universe. And of course let's not forget about the possibilities for individuals to invest, earn and exchange in the Metaverse. Today, cryptocurrency and tokens are far from being a novelty, however they could become one of key pillars for accelerating the Metaverse development. With the blockchain technology behind the cryptocurrency setting the stage for these new marketplace opportunities.
As investment and ROI opportunities will grow and expand, more users will be interested in joining and engaging in the Metaverse. Today, there is no doubt that this interest will only grow stronger overtime, with noticeable accelerating trends in potential Metaverse crypto currency and tokens market capitalization already in 2022.
In the beginning of this article we spoke about the Meta’s big announcement and their vision that has accelerated the major hype around the Metaverse. But how close has Extended Reality (XR), and specifically Virtual Reality (VR) technology come to realizing Mark’s vision? We could actually be much closer to submerging into the virtual universe than one can image. VR headsets sales continue to soar, projected to surpass 34 million units by 2024, driven by VR hardware pioneers like Oculus, VIVE, Varjo, Pico and many more. On the software side of the technology, we see tech pioneers recognizing the potential of VR becoming a commodity in the foreseeable future. With Unity CEO predicting Virtual Reality headsets becoming as commonly used as game consoles by 2030.
Even today, it is becoming clearer that many industries will only accelerate in their adaptation of Virtual Reality technology. With 2021 being the year to bring us more VR headsets aimed at both enterprise and consumer users - HTC VIVE VR, Pico Neo 3, HP Reverb G2 Omnicept Edition and Huawei VR Glass 6DOF Game Set. It is just a matter of time before the Metaverse ambition can be realized. For now, we still have a pretty vague idea of how the actual Metaverse will look like, but to make it a full-fledged virtual world, we can imagine it to have to overcome the following challenges:
1. Reputation & Identity in Metaverse
The question of personal identification and representation is fairly straightforward when it comes to the real world. But when speaking of virtual environments, or the Metaverse, one might wonder, what will really be the elements that make up one’s identity. And most importantly how to even prove that you are who you are, instead of another person or even bot trying to mimic your existence. This is where reputation can play an important role in terms of both authentication, but as proof that the entity one interacts with is trustworthy and legit. The main challenge lies in the possibility to forge facial features, footage and voice, thus, we are bound to see new verification methods being developed in the nearest future.
2. Data & Security in Metaverse
Even though companies and organizations keep revolutionizing their IT security systems, data privacy and security has been a long running concern for users of any online environment. Submerging into the Metaverse will require to evolve security methods to a completely new level, being on par with the ever so expanding space of the Metaverse. This will require building new methods of personal data and privacy protection that will be able to ensure the safety of one’s identity and possessions in the virtual world. With that being said, personal verification might come to the point where users will have to provide more personal data than what is expected today, to identify oneself and ensure the security system works efficiently, keeping personal data safe.
3. Currency & Payments Systems in Metaverse
Digital currency has been with us for a few decades now, with Bitcoin being amongst the most well-known ones. The same goes for online marketplaces like Amazon and eBay that connect millions of consumers around the globe. There is no doubt Metaverse will have its own version of a virtual marketplace, connecting different actual and digital currencies to enable fast and effortless exchange. Regardless of the currency and marketplace format, when it comes to transactions, it will be especially essential to develop unique new transaction verification system. The challenge will lie in convincing users that they can rely on and most important feel safe while engaging in any trade within the Metaverse.
4. Law & Jurisdiction in Metaverse
Submerging into the Metaverse will bring forth the question of legislation and jurisdiction, requiring countries to look more into the virtual legal domains. With the growing virtual space accessible for users worldwide, it will be essential to identify means according to which the matter of jurisdiction will be applicable. Metaverse is bound to bring large numbers of users together, making it a place of great opportunity to connect and exchange, however at the same time making users vulnerable in case there are no laws that regulate the boundaries. It will be a true challenge to identify jurisdiction as well as a set legislations that can ensure the virtual space is safe and secure for its users.
5. Ownership & Property in Metaverse
When we speak of one unified virtual universe where you can interact with both the world and other individuals, like in the real world, we can imagine that there will be an opportunity to purchase and hold possession of various items and assets. NFTs (Non-Fungible Tokens) have picked up their pace of growing in popularity and have been making headlines in 2021 attracting more investors and users to the digital assets and tokens. In a similar way to how NFTs currently represent real-world objects, granting and proving the ownership rights for art, music, videos and much more, the challenge will be in creating a unified system that could be used to verify the possessors of virtual assets in the Metaverse.
6. Community & Network in Metaverse
Metaverse without doubt will bring a diverse community together, connecting people around the globe in a unified virtual world. As the past few years showed, staying connected is one of the essentials for the society, which could potentially lead to a strong network forming in the Metaverse for both work and personal purposes. For many, Metaverse could become the platform to interact and form meaningful relationships. We are already used to communicating online, however for the Metaverse to become a space where people can feel both emotionally and physically present, the haptic and motion capture technology will have to advance to a completely new level. A level that can provide smooth comprehension of presence and surroundings, accompanying visual fidelity with the ability to touch and feel.
7. Time & Space in Metaverse
The concept of time perception can be different if we compare the real world with a virtual environment, as users tend to be less aware of their bodies while inside the Virtual Reality. The full immersion could unconsciously lead users to spend more time inside the Metaverse. Due to the possibility of a distorted sense of time, it is essential to set up mechanisms that will keep users in check with the real world. The second concept that should be looked at in the Metaverse, is the concept of space. As the Metaverse assumes an infinite space, at first it might be challenging for users to immerse into such a vast universe, trying to comprehend the amount and variety of information at once. Both time and space perception in the Metaverse will require guidance during the first steps of submersion, in order to ensure users will be both aware and comfortable while inside the virtual environment.
Even though we are still only on the doorstep of a virtual universe, setting up the Metaverse could be both challenging and full of opportunity. It is without doubt essential to make sure the Metaverse becomes a complimentary space, without replacing the real world we live in. As much as one can look forward to the virtual realm, it is important to remain aware, safe and secure in this new vast universe.
Can you move, talk to other users, grab digital assets, interact with your environment, and share your screen and slides?
The Metaverse implies the capability to move between a multitude of virtual worlds while engaging in conversations and interacting with other users regardless of their actual geographical location. Depending on the created functionalities, Metaverse worlds can also allow users to engage in asset-related transactions, exchanges, and purchases and share information, including visuals, videos, slides, and screens.
How can we make sure that everyone in the world has equal access to the Metaverse, and not just the people who have the most money and live in advanced countries?
Building the Metaverse, or the next iteration of the internet will be both time and resource-consuming. Considering the scale and today's technological advancement, it could take a couple of decades to build a truly inclusive and accessible solution that can connect billions worldwide. Full integration would, however, take even longer. Major technological players, including software, hardware, network, cybersecurity, and IoT producers and developers, will play a significant role in making the technology ubiquitous and cost-effective, thus bringing the Metaverse to more users worldwide.
Will the experiences in the Metaverse be interesting enough to make us renounce, even if only for a few minutes a day, life in the flesh and blood?
The capability of immersive technology already today allows building experiences with an unprecedented level of realism, enabled by high-fidelity hardware devices, digital twin technology, and rapidly advancing developers' skills. We are already creating 1-to-1 interactable replicas of real-life counterparts, including entirely realistic assets, objects, environments, processes, and functions in the digital environments, which allows users to feel present and submerged in the artificially created world.
Article Last Edited 17 October 2022.