The most important thing to remember is that the metaverse constantly evolves and it means different things to different people at the same time. Even industry leaders, or those people that are directly exposed to the creation of the metaverse, have different visions on its evolution and how it will look in a few years’ time. For this reason, it is difficult to precisely define the metaverse.
Etymology: a universe beyond real life
Starting with the etymology, metaverse is made up of two words, the Greek prefix ‘meta’ which means ‘after’ or ‘beyond’ and the word ‘verse’ that stands for ‘universe’. The term originated in the 1992 novel ‘Snow Crash’ by Neal Stephenson, where humans were interacting with each other as avatars in a virtual space. Since then, the term has evolved to indicate an immersive, real-time, 3D environment where our physical and digital lives will converge together.
Evolution of the internet
The metaverse represents how technologies and infrastructures might evolve in the future. In this regard, many people envision the metaverse as being built on decentralised open platform infrastructure backed by blockchain technology, where individuals can hold digital identities, trade in digital assets, and pay in digital currencies, all within a digital world that mirrors, interacts with and extends the physical world we live and operate in. However, there are many questions which remain open on the future of the metaverse. Will the metaverse be public or private? Centralised or decentralised? Powered by Web 2.0 or Web 3.0 technology? How many metaverses there will be? How will we access it? What will we be able to do? These questions and many others don’t have an answer as yet, which makes it extremely difficult to have a common vision of it.
How to access the metaverse
A way to access the metaverse will be by mixed reality technology – comprising elements of both Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR). Through it, an individual can interact with virtual and real-world objects, and digital objects can dialogue with physical devices or in a completely invented digital universe. However, this will not be the only way to access the metaverse, as any device, like smartphones, tablets or PCs, will also be gateways to the metaverse although they might offer a less immersive experience.
Example: Digital twins
VR technology can be utilised by enterprises to create a digital replication of an asset, helping organisations and their employees to better understand and therefore make more educated and analytics-driven decisions. The digital twin provides a visual representation of the ‘state’ of a complex physical device or system, where data can be fed and synced between the physical device or system and its virtual twin. As more complex devices are connected and their data generated, having a digital representation of the asset will enable organisations to create “whatif” testing scenarios and optimise real-world deployments for their solutions.
The metaverse value chain
The value chain is vast and includes many parts of our economy. Certain industries and companies will benefit more than others, especially in the early adoption phase, as they will be key enablers of the creation and success of the metaverse. The metaverse value chain and illustrative thematic universe consist of three main categories and different sub-groups:
- Infrastructure: Companies that make it possible to create and operate the metaverse like cloud computing, AR & VR hardware, semiconductors and connectivity.
- Creators: Software companies that offer the technology to create 3D digital representations and allow monetisation.
- Experience: Companies and enterprise with which we will engage more like entertainment, education, enterprise tools, social networks, ecommerce, video games.
Trends that drive it
The realisation of the metaverse, be it in the form of a digital twin or an extension of our physical reality, is premised on the parallel development in technology, economical, social and regulatory trends and maturity. The 5 key technological trends and advancements that ushered in the realisation of the metaverse includes:
- Hardware (AR, VR and haptic technologies)
- Computing power
- Experience development
- Artificial intelligence and analytics
Potential challenges and conclusion
The metaverse is still in its infancy and it will take time and huge technological progress before it becomes real. Rather than view the metaverse with a utopian or dystopian lens, we should acknowledge that new technologies bring with it new challenges that we must be responsible for in our approach to bring the vision of the metaverse to life. Some of them are:
- Privacy and data protection
- Protection for children
- Health concerns
- Access inequality
- Identity hacking
Nobody knows with certainty how the metaverse will look like in the future and who will emerge as key players. However, our confidence lies on the fact that the metaverse will emerge at the intersection of multiple technologies and it should sustain further adoption of our digital disruption themes.