Race to the Metaverse: The Struggle to Shape the Internet’s Future | Scientific and technical news

Last week I was invited to have my hair done in the metaverse.

In what was the weirdest PR email I’ve received in some time, a leading hair care manufacturer offered me a spot in a virtual salon, where my avatar would get a treatment. luxury that I could only dream of.

By blurring the lines between physical and digital, the idea is that it will become a way for people to “test out” new looks on themselves before perhaps choosing to go ahead. While I never imagine myself asking a hairdresser for anything more extravagant than a two around the back and sides and a little up top, thank you, the metaverse offers a risk-free opportunity to experiment.

And in this case, all without ever attaching a bulky helmet.

Like me, chances are that when you think of the metaverse, the first thing you associate with it is virtual or augmented reality. But in a week when Mark Zuckerberg’s relentless attempt to put his stamp on the concept was highlighted by thousands of job cuts at Metathis bizarre invitation was a timely reminder that it’s so much more than that.

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Meta’s latest headset, the Quest Pro, launched last month for $1,499

Meta’s Place in the Metaverse

When Zuckerberg talks about the metaverse, he’s primarily talking about Horizon, which is the virtual world his company created to house various experiences — from chatting with friends to collaborating with co-workers — while you’re wearing a Meta headset. Quest. Ever since the release of its $1,500 “Pro” headset last month, you’ll likely have seen Meta ads and billboards touting the Metaverse as the perfect home for these types of experiences.

And there are certainly believers.

Nicky Danino, a lecturer in computer science at the University of Central Lancashire, sees herself as one of those already on board, saying the metaverse offers “incredible opportunities and possibilities” in education and training settings in particular. . The university is already using virtual spaces to place students in situations and environments they would normally never be able to access, while institutions like the RAF have shown how augmented reality can improve the work of their facility maintenance teams. fighter.

But just as Facebook’s rebranding to Internet Inc wouldn’t indicate ownership of the web as a whole, don’t let Zuckerberg renaming it Meta make you think his vision is all there is to the web. metaverse. What Meta is building should really be considered a platform within the metaverse, although it’s true that one with a surprisingly large sum of money (tens of billions of dollars already) is thrown at him.

But there are many more that move through space – and you’ve probably heard of them.

Meta participated in a metaverse marketing blitz.  Picture: Facebook
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Meta participated in a metaverse marketing blitz. Picture: Facebook

For example, there is Fortnite from Epic Games. It’s no longer just a space where 100 players can parachute onto an island and kill each other, it also allows them to create their own games and even attend concerts – among those who have performed there is has real megastars like Ariana Grande and Travis Scott, taking the stage in a fever dream of brand synergy that sees millions of fans able to appear as anyone from Princess Leia to Neymar.

Speaking of brands, this is where you’ll find some of the biggest advocates in the metaverse. Last December, sportswear giant Nike bought a company called RTFKT, which was launched to create digital goods such as virtual clothing, collectibles and NFTs. Its first post-acquisition product was the Nike Cryptokicks, a pair of digital sneakers designed to be personalized and showcased online.

And then there are virtual spaces like Decentraland, one of the biggest slices of the metaverse pie so far, which is probably the closest you get right now to living a life entirely separate from your real life. As Sky News discovered earlier this yearthe people of Decentraland are spending thousands of pounds on plots of land to make their own.

It’s sort of the ultimate utopian vision of a decentralized metaverse, where people own what’s theirs and can monetize it all themselves, taking it with them wherever they go – with no strings attached or corporate overlords attached. . It’s a view that wouldn’t allow any company – not even one named after the Metaverse itself – to dominate the entire court.

Indeed, for Immersive Wire’s Tom Ffiske, the idea of ​​”interoperability” between metaverse platforms is absolutely critical to its viability – there can’t be one metaverse to rule them all.

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Would you buy virtual land?

“Race for the Future of the Internet”

Now, this all probably sounds absolutely bonkers to a lot of people born before the turn of the millennium. What makes Horizon different from Second Life (an online virtual chat inhabited by avatars) from 20 years ago? Why would Ariana Grande want to play in a video game? You might be puzzled as to why people get excited enough to line up for sneakers in real life, let alone buy pairs they can’t even put on their real feet.

You might be right to think that’s completely crazy – the truth is, we don’t know yet. The one thing that is certain is that these possibly brilliant, even confusing ideas are here to stay.

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“The race for the metaverse is about the race for the future of the internet,” says Professor Yu Xiong, director of the Surrey Academy for Blockchain and Metaverse Applications at the University of Surrey.

“The areas of Virtual/Augmented Reality, Artificial Intelligence and Blockchain all require a time-consuming skill maturation process. Currently, the metaverse is facing issues with battery constraints, internet connections slow and the disappearance of the unstable blockchain.

“However, 10 years from now, once we make breakthroughs in battery power, use 6G for data transmission, and blockchain matures, I have absolutely no doubt that the metaverse will be the future. As a result, these companies need to understand that their billion-dollar investments will have little or no return until then.”

This last comment is a sharp point at Meta, which has seen its metaverse strategy gutted by financial analysts as it attempts to brutally force its way into what should be a long-term sea change in the way we interact with the internet. .

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Is this the end of “big tech”?

Gen Z is the key to it all

Even Metaverse proponents agree that when it comes to Zuckerberg’s Go Big or Go Home approach, it’s an extremely risky case of trying to run before you can walk. He seemed to view the pandemic as an accelerator – a time jump that would see us embrace a decade of technological change in the blink of an eye, and expanded Meta’s ambitions accordingly. Our desire to return to pre-COVID comfort took him by surprise.

“They’ve accumulated faster and spent more than any other metaverse and probably haven’t had more traction,” is Cudo founder Matt Hawkins’ direct assessment, and yet he thinks the metaverse is “the natural next step” of a transition that is seen as younger generations grow up in an increasingly digital world.

“Gen Z has become a purely digital world and often places more value on digital assets than real-world assets. The idea is that you can take it with you and show it to the world, so if you spend £1000 on a photo and put it on your bedroom wall, no one will see it, if you buy a digital version you can show it to the world.

Again, this is not a particularly new phenomenon. Online games like World Of Warcraft allowed players to show off their exotic pets and epic armor as far back as 2004. One of the great things about Fortnite is that people love being able to dress up as Star Wars characters, superheroes Marvel heroes and global sports stars. , then hang out with their friends to compare looks.

Twenty million people watched The Device on Fortnite
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Fortnite has become a hub for live events – and a place where people can dress up and show off to their friends

The promise of the metaverse is to blur the lines between our digital and real lives, to the point where the former might be the one we’re most proud of. The same generation that fears they will never have enough money to climb the housing ladder may decide the money is better spent on a digital home to call their own.

After all, £5,000 will go a bit further on Decentraland’s housing market than Rightmove (although, ironically, Spitfire Homes has just become the first UK homebuilder to create a show home in the Metaverse).

Pic: Spitfire Houses
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Pic: Spitfire Houses

John Needham is the president of esports at gaming giant Riot Games, and before that he oversaw an augmented reality project from Microsoft called Hololens, which blends the meta and physical worlds through a headset that layers digital effects and objects in real space.

“Millennials and Gen Z are on their phones all day, their presence is defined by their digital presence,” he said.

“The game scratched what [the metaverse] will look like for a long time, with MMOs (massively multiplayer online games) with games like The Sims. I think doing that, on a human race scale, is going to require much better technology than what we have now.

“But you see all the signs that your digital personality is becoming more and more important, it will evolve into the most important thing. I don’t know if it’s this generation or the next generation, but I think it’s inevitable.”

BAE Systems and the RAF work with AR to improve aircraft maintenance
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BAE Systems and the RAF work with AR to improve aircraft maintenance

Whether it’s education, industry, or just dancing with friends at an online concert, it’s clear that we are collectively immersing ourselves more and more in the possibilities the metaverse could provide.

For Cudo’s Matt Hawkins, all that’s missing is a eureka moment. As access to information and e-commerce have driven people to the internet, and connections have driven us to social media, what is taking us en masse to the metaverse?

Zuckerberg seems determined to do it himself and seems ready to make or break Meta to find out.

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