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Demystifying Metaverse

Preamble

These days It is very difficult to go online without encountering someone raving about the Metaverse, whether in awe or mockery. it has become very much like the proverbial story of five blind men feeling the Elephant, similarly, various opinions are expressed stating, it is the Internet inevitable future or a billionaire’s fantasy; a gaming utopia, an “infinite workplace,” a brand strategy, and NFT playground, or a Sci-fi dream.

So, the question remains as to what is the underlying idea about metaverse which is making Mark Zuckerberg this as his future calling and why are other tech companies betting huge amounts for various other interpretations of this concept.

Yet another question that remains to be answered; what role will cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology play in actualising this vision. And, most importantly, how will any of this affect your life?

In this piece, we are going to demystify the concept of the metaverse. However, as the field is still emerging we are all learning about this evolving concept and why various companies and people are putting their might behind it.

Definition

Metaverse was in some ways already existent on platforms such as VR Chat or video games such as Second Life. It is a technology hybrid that combines virtual reality, augmented reality, and video to allow users to “live” within a digital realm.

Various advancements in technology have paved the way for a true metaverse, an online virtual environment that integrates augmented reality, virtual reality, 3D holographic avatars, video, and other modes of communication. As the metaverse expands, it will provide you with a hyper-real alternate universe in which to coexist.

The metaverse envisions its users working, playing, and staying connected with friends through activities ranging from concerts and conferences to virtual globe travel.

Some people define the metaverse as an advanced version of the Internet that you are inside of rather than just looking at. You walk around as an avatar in this unique 3D world, interacting with other avatars; you can buy and sell virtual goods, go to work, form communities, play games, and wage war.

Experiencing the Metaverse

The metaverse exists all around us. Early trials in MMORPGs such as Second Life and World of Warcraft introduced the notion of gamified social platforms that engrossed users to the point that digital commodities such as weaponry and apparel, as well as in-game dwellings, carried enormous real-world value. Existing social networking sites like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter have enabled the construction of pseudo-anonymous Internet avatar identities as well as interactive virtual rooms where users may share news, discuss information, and communicate with friends.

People are no strangers to completing digital immersion via an external screen, whether in a Google hangout, a Zoom call with co-workers, or multiplayer games. However, there are emerging technologies that have the potential to give the digital world more significance, permanence, and prominence.

A significant factor for increasing telepresence that will enable Metaverse development will be the ability to mimic the human experience. In this, virtual reality (VR) headsets and movement-tracking devices can play a pivotal role, with increasingly realistic portrayals that create a state of complete sensory immersion. Some innovative examples include SuperHot, a Matrix-style game where time moves only as fast as the player, and VR Chat, a social platform where players create 3D avatars to interact in communal virtual rooms.

While virtual reality (VR) seeks to create an immersive virtual world separate from physical spaces, augmented reality (AR) augments physical reality with virtual displays. Microsoft’s Hololens, an augmented reality headset that tracks both what we’re looking at and our body movements to superimpose virtual images and icons, allows for compelling use cases that can help us navigate, identify objects, and virtually interact with the physical world.

Imagine a world where you can put on AR glasses to see which virtual shoes a person chose to wear that day or play games on a completely virtual screen that exists on your desk. AR glasses could update in real-time based on sensors, providing information and accentuating everyday experiences.

The goal of AR is to seamlessly blend the virtual and physical to enhance everyday life in exciting, functional, and genuine ways.

Elements of Metaverse

The following elements constitute the ecosystem necessary to create the environment necessary for the development of metaverse.

Hardware: Physical technologies and devices used to access, interact with, or develop the Metaverse are sold and supported. This includes both consumer-facing hardware (such as VR headsets, mobile phones, and haptic gloves) and enterprise hardware (such as those used to operate or create virtual or AR-based environments, e.g. industrial cameras, projection and tracking systems, and scanning sensors). This category does not include computer-specific hardware, such as GPU chips and servers, as well as networking-specific hardware, such as fibre optic cabling or wireless chipsets.

Networking: The provisioning of persistent, real-time connections, high bandwidth, and decentralized data transmission by backbone providers, the networks, exchange centres, and services that route amongst them, as well as those managing ‘last mile’ data to consumers.

Computational Power: The enablement and supply of computing power to support the Metaverse, supporting such diverse and demanding functions as physics calculation, rendering, data reconciliation and synchronization, artificial intelligence, projection, motion capture and translation.

Virtual Platforms: The creation and operation of immersive digital, often three-dimensional, simulations, environments, and worlds in which users and businesses can explore, create, socialise, and participate in a wide range of experiences (e.g., racing a car, painting a painting, attending a class, listening to music), as well as engage in economic activity. These businesses are distinguished from traditional online experiences and multiplayer video games by the presence of a large ecosystem of developers and content creators who generate the majority of content and/or collect the majority of revenues generated by the underlying platform.

Interchange Tools and Standards: The tools, protocols, formats, services, and engines that serve as actual or de facto standards for interoperability, and enable the creation, operation and ongoing improvements to the Metaverse. These standards support rendering, physics, and artificial intelligence (AI), as well as asset formats and their import/export from experience to experience, forward compatibility management and updating, tooling and authoring activities, and information management.

Payments: Support for digital payment processes, platforms, and operations, including fiat on-ramps (a type of digital currency exchange) to pure-play digital currencies and financial services such as bitcoin and ether, as well as other blockchain technologies.

Metaverse Content, Services, and Assets: The design/creation, sale, resale, storage, secure protection and financial management of digital assets, such as virtual goods and currencies, as connected to user data and identity. This includes all businesses and services that are “built on top of” or “service” the Metaverse but are not vertically integrated into a virtual platform by the platform owner, as well as content that is built specifically for the Metaverse and is independent of virtual platforms.

User Behaviours: Observable changes in consumer and business behaviours (including spend and investment, time and attention, decision-making and capability) which are either directly associated with the Metaverse, or otherwise enable it or reflect its principles and philosophy. When these behaviours first appear, they almost always appear as ‘trends’ (or, more pejoratively, ‘fads,’) but later show enduring global social significance.

LAYERS IN METAVERSE

The metaverse is like an onion with several layers the important ones are highlighted as under:

Layer 1: Experience

The conduct of virtual live events showcases another facet of metaverse experiences: the content-community complex. Whereas customers who were only passive consumers of content have now become content-creators and content-amplifiers as well. The notion of “user-generated content” was earlier limited to features like blog comments or uploading a video, has now transformed to the creation of an entire experience utilizing the various tools of Metaverse predominantly 3D and AR/VR applications.

The biggest applications of experience would be sports and online communities built around them for purpose of social entertainment. The traditional experience-based industries such as travel, education, and live performance will be reshaped around game-thinking and the virtual economy of abundance.

Some of these experiences using the application of metaverse include 3D games like Fortnite on gaming consoles, Beat Saber on virtual reality headsets, and Roblox on computers. These experiential applications also include Alexa in living rooms, Zoom in virtual offices, Clubhouse on phones, and Peloton in home gyms.

Layer 2: Discovery

The discovery layer is about the push and pulls that introduces people to new experiences. Discovery systems can broadly be classified as marketing concepts either the person is actively seeking information about an experience or marketing that was not specifically requested by the person, even if they opted in. The following things will lead to the discovery process in metaverse:

1. Real-time presence

2. Community-driven content

3. Real search engines in the Metaverse for the experience purpose

4. Curation of featured applications listed in App stores and endorsed by “influencers”.

5. Spam (email, LinkedIn, Discord)

6. Notifications

Most of the above concepts are currently familiar to internet users, so the focus is on the various aspects of community-driven content and real-time presence that will elevate the importance of the metaverse.

For starters, community-driven content is a far more cost-effective way of discovering new content than most forms of marketing. People will spread the word if they care about the content or the events in which they are involved. As content becomes easier to exchange, trade, and share across more metaverse contexts, it will also become a marketing asset.

Real-time presence features facilitate the discovery of various types of communities. This is especially important in a metaverse were interacting with friends through shared experiences will provide so much value. Therefore, one of the most exciting discovery opportunities for creators is real-time presence detection that spans the multitude of activities in the metaverse.

Layer 3: Creator Economy

Before the advent of metaverse people who wanted to create experiences for a given technology had no tools available, so they used to build everything from scratch. In the early days, the websites were coded directly in HTML; people implemented their shopping carts for e-commerce sites; programmers wrote directly to the graphics hardware for games.

These days, one can launch an e-commerce website in minutes without knowing a single line of code. Websites can be created and maintained online using multiple tools available which have features of content management and data-driven. Various 3D graphics experiences can be created within game engines like Unity and Unreal using visual interfaces within their studio environments, without ever touching the lower-level rendering.

Experiences in the metaverse will be increasingly live, social, and continuously updated. Thus far, creator-driven experiences in the metaverse are oriented around centrally managed platforms.

Experiences in the metaverse will become increasingly immersive, social, and based on real-time. This has led to burgeoning creator-driven experiences in the metaverse built around centrally managed platforms. Therefore the number of creators who craft them are increasing exponentially.

This layer contains all of the technology that creators use daily to craft the experiences that people enjoy.

Layer 4: Spatial Computing

Spatial computing is a specific type of computation that blends hybrid real/virtual computation and it blurs the distinction between the virtual and real worlds. This type of computing entails bringing space into the computer and at times it entails infusing computation into objects. The most important objective of spatial computing is to create systems that push past the traditional boundaries of screen and keyboard without becoming bogged down in various interfaces.

Spatial computing has grown into a broad category of technology that allows us to enter and manipulate 3D spaces, as well as augment the real world with additional information and experience. The key aspects of the software that lead to spatial computing include:

· 3D engines to display geometry and animation

· Geospatial Mapping and object recognition to blend the inside and the outside world

· Voice and gesture recognition

· Data integration from devices (Internet of Things)

· Bio-metrics from people (for identification purposes as well as quantified self-applications in health/fitness).

Layer 5: Decentralization

The ideal structure of the metaverse is a decentralized one where no single entity controls the growth and usage. Experimentation and growth skyrocket when options are maximized and systems are interoperable and built within competitive markets where creators have complete control over their data and creations.

One of the earliest examples of decentralization is the Domain Name System (DNS). It maps individual IP addresses to names, saving you from having to enter a number every time you want to go somewhere online.

However, Distributed computing and micro-services provides a whole new world of decentralization which permits a scalable ecosystem for developers. This enables them to tap into online resources — everything from commerce systems to specialized AI to various game systems — without needing to focus on building or integrating back-end capabilities.

The coming of age of blockchain technology has enabled value exchange between software and led to new ways of unbundling and bundling content and currencies which leads to huge decentralization. A new area of innovation called Web3 promotes the creation of metaverse by freeing financial assets from centralized control and custody.

With the advent of NFTs and blockchains designed specifically for the micro-transactions required by games and metaverse experiences, there will be a wave of innovation in decentralized markets and applications for game assets.

Layer 6: Human Interface

Technology has augmented the world around us, it has enhanced the human experience, our capabilities, and also extend our reality to digital and virtual worlds. These are leading towards cyber-human interface with the progressive development of the Internet of Bodies(IoB).

Computing devices from being wearable are becoming more intimate with our bodies, transforming us into cyborgs. Smartphones are no longer considered phones. They are highly portable, always-connected, and powerful computers that come preloaded with a phone application. The technological advances and further miniaturization are making portable phones coming equipped with the right sensors, embedded AI technology, and low-latency access to powerful edge computing systems. Such phones will be able to absorb an increasing number of applications and experiences from the metaverse.

Quarantine enforced by pandemic led to experimentation with new platforms, pushing immersive technologies to their limits, and collaborating in unusual ways, ranging from eye-tracking technology and facial tracking to bio-metrics and brain-control interfaces.

Layer 7: Infrastructure

The infrastructure layer includes the technology that enables our devices, connects them to the network, and delivers content. Networks are dramatically improving bandwidth while reducing network contention and latency

To enable the untethered functionality, high performance, and miniaturization required by the next generation of mobile devices, smart glasses, and wearables, increasingly powerful and tinier hardware will be required. Microelectronic chips are being made in 3nm processes and beyond along with the development of microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) that will allow for tiny sensors; and compact, long-lasting batteries.

Therefore the infrastructure backbone would be largely built by the developments in the semiconductor world.

Some of the Leading companies propagating Metaverse

Meta/Facebook: The tech behemoth formerly known as Facebook has in fact, renamed itself as Meta to be at the forefront of the metaverse revolution. Meta envisions a virtual world in which digital avatars interact via VR headsets for work, travel, or entertainment. The founder is very optimistic about the metaverse, believing it has the potential to replace the internet as we currently understand. “The next platform and medium will be an even more immersive and embodied internet where you’re in the experience, not just looking at it,” Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg said after revealing the company’s new name.

Microsoft: This software giant already deploys holograms and is working on mixed and extended reality (XR) applications that combine the real world with augmented reality and virtual reality through its Microsoft Mesh platform. Microsoft is planning to bring mixed-reality, including holograms and virtual avatars, to its video conferencing utility Microsoft Teams by 2022. To further utilise the metaverse opportunity it is also exploring 3D virtual connected spaces for retail and workplaces which it hopes to launch by next year. This company Is likely to be one of the major players in the future arena of the metaverse.

Epic Games: “It’s no secret that Epic is invested in building the metaverse,” claims, Tim Sweeney, CEO of the company that created the very popular game Fortnite using extensive 3D immersive capabilities. The company is heavily into immersive experiences enabled by metaverse by hosting concerts, movie trailers and music debuts. Further by developing its tool Metahuman Creator, it helps in creating photorealistic digital humans, which could enable you to customise your digital doppelganger in future open-world games.

Roblox: The platform, which was founded in 2004 is a pioneer of metaverse as it houses a plethora of user-generated games, including role-playing offerings such as Bloxburg and Brookhaven, where users can construct homes, work, and play-out scenarios. Roblox founder and CEO David Baszucki say “we are one step closer to fulfilling our vision of the #Metaverse” on the day of its IPO. Since then, Roblox has collaborated with skateboarding shoe company Vans to create Vans World, a virtual skateboarding park where players can dress up in new Vans gear, as well as opened a limited Gucci Garden, where you can try on and purchase clothing and accessories for your virtual self.

Minecraft: It is another popular virtual world among children, is essentially the digital equivalent of Legos, with players able to create their digital character and build whatever they want. Minecraft has currently over 150 million active users. During the pandemic, it grew in popularity among children who were forced to rely more heavily on virtual connections.

Conclusion

To summaries the concept of metaverse can be defined in the following ways:

· The metaverse is not referred to as “a” metaverse. A multiverse is the next generation of the Internet. The numerous adventures in this space will surround us socially and graphically.

· A metaverse is a network of three-dimensional virtual worlds focused on social interaction. The term is frequently used to describe a novel iteration of the Internet as a single, universal virtual world made possible by the use of virtual and augmented reality headsets.

· The metaverse is no longer a pipe dream; it is now becoming a reality, and our real-world will become more virtual in the coming days as a result of this technology. Virtual reality will evolve and take our experiences to a new level.

It is imminent that the Metaverse is here to stay, and that it will consist of a network of interconnected virtual worlds. Our future goal should be to make it simple, trusted, and decentralized for anyone to establish their identity and gain access to those worlds. If this vision succeeds, the Metaverse will be able to reach its full potential while remaining free and open to all.

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A new tech publication by Start it up (https://medium.com/swlh).

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Parag Diwan

Parag Diwan

A noted academic leader, is at the vanguard of research and curriculum design across disciplines to usher in Education.40. Evangelist & Advisor to universities

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