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What is the Metaverse?

Aurora, IL

graphical representation of metaverse by facebook/meta, similar to nvidia omniverse or decentraland
This is an aesthetic representation of what a metaverse could look like in the future.

Recently, after Facebook’s plan to rename itself as Meta, there has been an astonishing amount of buzz regarding the topic known as “the metaverse”. Many companies have invested heavily into the idea, most notably NVIDIA and Microsoft with their graphics card and cloud software prowess respectively. Currently, however, the metaverse is just an idea relegated to the future. If it were to become a reality, though, what would it look like? How would companies go about the idea anyway?

technological and gaming oriented virtual world like metaverse or omniverse displayed in the movie ready player one
This is a scene from Ready Player One, a movie that is centered around a virtual world accessible by a VR device.

The idea of the metaverse has an eerie resemblance to the Oasis of Ready Player One, where people can interact and communicate in a virtual world. Some games already emulate this setting, like Minecraft, which allows players to do something very similar, although it is oriented for survival and building rather than pure interaction. GTA 5 and Cyberpunk 2077 are other games that allow players to connect with each other virtually. The metaverse is meant to be an extension of the internet; essentially, people are supposed to be able to do everything that they do in real life except virtually. This is carried out through devices that enable technology like virtual reality (VR) or augmented reality (AR). When one wears one of those devices, they are transported into a digital world very similar to our own. Large portions of reality are to be digitized for the metaverse, including the very buildings that you see today.

However, with these futuristic ideas come controversies and issues regarding privacy, ethics, and the “how” of the metaverse. The way in which people use and interact with the metaverse is often brushed aside by companies attempting to showcase their latest and greatest ideas. This raises questions as to how exactly the metaverse idea will work. Although VR is quite powerful today, even advanced versions of it in the future may not be capable of presenting a hologram of its user halfway across the world. Additionally, most people get motion sickness from using a VR for too long. Such an issue may be quite difficult to solve. The metaverse, being pioneered by Meta (previous Facebook), also has to deal with privacy issues. Meta has had controversies regarding the sale of user information to third parties via its social media app, Facebook. Therefore, many people may feel distrustful of “the future of the internet” being created by a company that may be all too willing to invade on your privacy in the metaverse too.

nvidia omniverse with support for house and architectural design like games like minecraft and roblox
This is an example of NVIDIA's Omniverse being put to work for various graphics-oriented projects.

Currently, there are many companies working on a metaverse-like concept. NVIDIA has already created its Omniverse platform, which exists to integrate different 3D worlds into a shared virtual world. It is often used by 3D graphic designers creating environments for animated movies and games. Additionally, NVIDIA is the largest producer of graphics cards in the world and its popular RTX series has become infamous for extreme shortages recently amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Because graphics cards are extremely important for rendering a vast and expansive metaverse, NVIDIA is uniquely positioned to champion the idea of the metaverse along with Meta itself. Epic Games also has experience with a metaverse-like concept because of its immersive and hugely popular game Fortnite. Microsoft, with its prowess in cloud computing, also has the tools to build a metaverse, although the company has announced that it will design one based mostly around work. In theory, one would be able to use Microsoft Teams, Windows, and more in VR while collaborating with one’s colleagues. However, the most important part of the metaverse will be the user itself. The metaverse is entirely based on humanity’s need for social interaction. As the metaverse is created, companies must face user hesitancy for this new technology and help alleviate their concerns. The metaverse has many issues to deal with currently, but if Meta and other companies are able to handle them, a potentially revolutionary technology could be in our hands soon.

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