As the internet has evolved, new concepts and ideas have sprung up. Technologists of our day would suggest that the next step in the evolution of the internet would be the metaverse.
If this concept ever were to come to fruition, it would be just as transformative to our society as mobile phones have been, or the internet itself.
Imagine waking up in the morning.
Normally, the first thing you would do after waking up would be to jump on Facebook or browse the internet.
Since the internet is the main entry point for billions of people to access all of the information, services, communication, socialization, commercial interests, and all forms of entertainment readily available to us, this is only natural.
Instead of signing into Facebook with your phone that morning, after having your coffee, you put on your virtual reality goggles and sit down at your desk.
The metaverse has all but replaced the internet in its value — all of these things can now be done as if you are doing them in person.
Being offline and being online will become more and more difficult to differentiate.
This world you are a part of is readily accessible and interactive in real-time. This virtual environment will be a space for all of our social, entertainment, and business engagements.
Yet, if it is going to be a practical technology, it would require widespread adoption.
From the comfort of your own home, you enter the work office, chat with the colleagues sitting across from you and get to work.
You complete the workday and decide you want to grab some new clothes. You find a shop you like and go in. After browsing for a while, you find a shirt that you like. You try the shirt on, from the comfort of your office chair, and decide it’s something you’d quite like to wear in real life.
Luckily for you, the metaverse is all interconnected and currency is a real thing, even in this online space.
This economy could perhaps even become part of extended reality, a combination of augmented and virtual reality, and play an important role in the world going forward. After purchasing your item, it could get shipped to your real-world location.
Until now, such extended reality technologies have had their focus mainly on video games and niche enterprises.
As games have continued to evolve into platforms that drive the social experiences of their users, it becomes more and more likely that such virtual worlds, mediums of expression, and use of pop culture can be utilized in a variety of contexts and applications across a shared metaverse.
As with any new idea, technological evolution is what is required to drive the concept.
Even so with the metaverse, for it to be truly successful, all kinds of technology must be utilized and applied for the future of the virtual world to get off the ground.
These technologies included augmented or virtual reality systems, blockchain technology, artificial intelligence, networking, the internet, a brain-computer interface, and sensory technology.
These are 7 next-generation technologies that have a hand in shaping the future of the metaverse.
1. Synesthesia and Sensory Tech
In The Academy of the Senses, Frans Evers describes the idea of synesthesia as the ability for our five senses to be rerouted, during to the way that our brain is able to adapt to new situations and ideas.
Our senses, in this way, are a fascinating playground, and concepts such as feeling through sound, hearing through touch, and seeing through our taste could become the norm.
Our senses tend to inform the reality of the world around us, and even if we don’t use all of the above technologies in the metaverse, there are countless ways that our perception of the world can be changed.
Indeed, as we head towards a new and exciting internet experience, far more personalized than ever before, the use of sensory and immersive technology will help us to be able to achieve and enjoy the most incredible of human experiences and possibilities.
In the real world, we tend to be largely desensitized to many different things on account of the media.
Immersive technology which engages all of our senses will alter the measurement of successes and failures of media, commerce, campaigns, and all facets of life as we engage in the digital world.
Over the past century, many different attempts have been made to engage the senses of consumers.
For example, the Smell-O-Vision was first unveiled at the 1939 New York World’s Fair by Hans Laube. In this system, he used tubes to pump different fragrances into a cinema. After an initial break from use and a brief resurgence in the 1960s, the technology mostly disappeared.
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Perhaps the closest we have today are 4D cinemas, with moving chairs, air pumps, smells, and water, all in an attempt to fully engage the senses of the consumer.
In the here and now, a number of companies are working on developing different devices that would allow users to sense the metaverse beyond vision and audio.
2. Augmented and Virtual Reality
The coronavirus pandemic has put a real focus on remote work and having the flexibility to work from anywhere.
This comes with a few different challenges, such as feelings of isolation from work colleagues or difficulty focusing on work in a distracting or busy home environment.
Virtual reality truly shines in this space.
People are able to feel like they are together, in person, despite being far apart and remote.
Individuals are able to build real-life memories with others in a shared, virtual space, hold conversations and take note of body language and direction of speech.
Without any of the physical limitations of the real world, these virtual worlds can also allow unlimited numbers of displays, whiteboards, and expandable rooms that persist when you go offline.
Brainstorming, documenting work, and even just socializing with the work team, virtual reality will aid the ability of people to collaborate, communicate and connect from wherever in the world they are.
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No doubt in the coming years, virtual reality headsets will become even more comfortable for longer wear, provide more advanced optic options for clarity of text and video, and will even allow your in-world avatars to mimic your real-life expressions.
In addition to this, virtual reality will begin to connect much more simply with business workflow tools, 2D services, and devices such as keyboards.
As time progresses, more and more companies will begin to make use of VR tools, in addition to their laptops, tablets, and mobiles. It will become one of the best ways to create a connection among a remote working workforce.
Another emerging technology is known as augmented reality, which combines the physical world with the digital world. In this way, users have easy access to information when they need it while giving them situational awareness of their real-world surroundings.
It is likely that the industry will gravitate towards this kind of metaversal function.
Many of today’s professionals around the world, including those in the construction and architectural industries, have knowledge of this type of technology.
Having grown up playing games, the tools required for the metaverse were incredibly expensive for most.
For many now, though, the VR and AR devices are affordable items and useful tools for their work. As the number of ways that these systems can be used increases, the purchase, and adoption of such technology will also scale up.
Placing a screen over your eyes helps you to notice things you might not whilst staring at a phone or television screen.
With these devices, we are able to see the gaps between pixels in something known as the screen door effect.
For an image to begin looking like a reality, you need approximately 60 pixels per degree of field of view. Naturally, this leads to a big demand for device resolution.
In addition to this, device optics need to focus and size projected images correctly for our vision.
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When it comes to augmented reality, the optics are quite inefficient, leading to high brightness demands, many times higher than even the newest iPhone Pro.
Some promising solutions to brightness problems are being developed such as MicroLED displays, which do not suffer burn-in problems like other displays, can have high brightness levels, and even enable tiny pixels.
The greatest challenge for augmented reality is combiner optics. The purpose of such an optic is to overlay a projected image onto a transparent lens, such as in glasses.
Many companies try their hand at this, fighting over the best color choices, widest field of views, and the largest eye box necessary to give every set of human eyes the best display experience possible.
3. De-centralized Tech
The concept of the metaverse would not possibly be coming to fruition were it not for blockchain technology.
The future of the internet rests in this platform, as a massive, persistent, real-time place where all these virtual worlds are joined together, where people can socialize, work, make transactions, play, and create.
In the metaverses’ most complete form, it is the evolution of the internet and shall exist as a group of decentralized, connected virtual worlds boasting a fully functioning economic system.
People will be able to do just about anything they can do in the physical world, and maybe also things they physically couldn’t.
For all of this to work out, blockchain technology in the decentralized metaverse would hold the ideal currencies for ensuring and facilitating those digital transactions are protected.
As a shared database that allows individuals to access and verify data, complete transactions securely, and holds onto their virtual items safely.
In a note written by analysts led by Rod Hall, it was noted that blockchain technology is the only kind of technology we have that would work in a metaversal sense to identify and track the ownership of any virtual objects in the online, virtual world.
This system would allow for the partial elimination of a centralized system of control and is crucial for the operation of the metaverse.
Eventually, users might also be able to log in without the use of a log-in from Meta, Google, or Apple.
Blockchain has been one of the most disruptive technological advancements since the development of TCP/IP and HTML that began the development of the internet in the 1990s.
According to the same report, “investment implications are hard to predict at this juncture, but companies who are dependent on centralized control of user identity will likely find their business models challenged by the adoption of blockchain.”
Perhaps one of the biggest developments when it comes to the metaverse came when Facebook became Meta. This rebranding signified their change of focus, and also announced a plan to bring on as many as 10,000 people into their team to develop this metaverse.
4. Responsible AI
One of the main drawcards for the metaverse and the basis for its likely success will be the inclusion and addition of immersive, in-person experiences.
Naturally, a virtual reality world will only improve social interactions for some people, who might normally utilize their mobile phones and call on Facebook Messenger.
For many, though, such as those with disabilities, there can be some difficulty with trying to access the future digital world.
Others, such as older individuals with less digital knowledge, would find themselves missing out on the new economic system and experience that comes with the metaverse.
AI for accessibility needs to play a role in the coming virtual world and would be fundamental to guarantee that everyone has access to the metaverse, regardless of their physical or digital ability.
The use of AI, such as enhanced smart contracts, could help with ensuring certain scenarios do not take place.
For example, the metaverse promises to allow creators and users to create and exchange digital assets simply, while also protecting their ownership through the blockchain.
Adidas launched an NFT on the blockchain, and although the purchases were meant to be limited to two purchases per person, the Adidas NFT sale was sold out in less than a second.
In this second, a single person had the ability to buy 330 of the Adidas NFTs in a single transaction.
While power may be moving away from big corporations and being placed back into the hands of individuals, it is normally only those with software skills to match.
The use of such AI or smart contract infrastructure could curb and trace these kinds of activity but wouldn’t be able to stop transactions on the blockchain once they occur.
Natural Language Processing models have opened the door wide to include the use of AI as a creative partner. Through the application of such technology, creative writing can be generated based on user inputs.
In addition to this, realistic images from text descriptions or even from very simple drawings can be generated.
One of the biggest aims of the metaverse concept is to greatly enhance the social networking experience of many around the world, through its empowerment of the digital aspects of self and the possibilities of personalization.
Ultimately, each user will have a unique experience of the digital world as they would in the physical world, yet it poses many challenges for the likes of minorities and children. AI could also improve and prevent issues such as abuse and hate speech, ensure content is relevant, or select features to avoid possible bias.
5. Brain-Computer Interface
A brain-computer interface system could be used to track brain activity, such as the Neurable virtual reality game “Awakening”.
In this, the game uses an electrode-laden headband which is connected to the HTC Vive HMD. The purpose of such software is to analyze the data and determine what exactly should be happening in a game.
Back in 2017, the MIT Technology Review wrote that this technology could quickly become mainstream in virtual reality devices and arcade companies. Naturally, there needs to be a transition and adoption phase, so even if this isn’t the reality yet, it could well soon be in the future.
CTRL-Labs takes a different approach to human-computer interfaces, where they utilize an electrode-laden wristband that reads the neural signals from the user’s arm.
Back in 2019, this company purchased patents from Myo, a similar device that enables the control of robotic systems and computers through the use of gestures and motion.
In the same year, Facebook, now Meta, purchased this company, which became a part of the Facebook Reality Labs team and was tasked with building the technology as a usable, consumer end-product. Oculus has since released hand-tracking on the Oculus Quest, so it is only a matter of time until mind-control systems are developed.
Neuralink, by Elon Musk, perhaps fits under this category.
Involving the insert of 96 threads into the brain with the precision required in the microns, it’s by far the riskiest, most invasive technique there is.
The reality of mind-control systems is here, and “An integrated brain-machine interface platform with thousands of channels” offers a great look into how such a system can replace things as simple as typing, clicking, and even talking, where digital telepathy can be utilized.
6. Network Hubs
Like any internet system, networking will be required.
As expected, there are many difficulties with developing an immersive virtual world that persists in real-time.
This metaverse won’t be a service operating on top of an application or on top of the internet, nor is it simply a world or a game.
It’s the next evolution of the internet, the next generation of what we currently have, allowing real-time, seemingly real-world interactions.
All of this comes down to infrastructure, where startups and IT are attempting to overcome these difficulties that come with its delivery.
The internet will not lose its relevance and the improvements in network technology over the last few years will be helpful in its scopes, such as 5G and following iterations such as 6G, cloud systems, and the like.
According to the author of their book, The Path to Metaverse, “The cloud-based integrated intelligent network is the lowest-level infrastructure of the metaverse, providing high-speed, low-latency, high-computing power, and high AI access at scale. As such, it provides a real-time and smoothly immersive experience for metaverse users.”
Cloud-based systems will be essential to its delivery.
In addition to this, for realistic modeling, textures, and immersive sound, a plethora of significantly sized digital files will be necessary, uploaded, and handled all online.
Naturally, a single user’s computer is unable to perform the function of supporting billions of different users online using the metaverse.
Network developments such as 5G support the better transmission of data across the network, and reduce latency and these other technologies, such as cloud systems and edge computing can assist in proving more functional and lighter equipment, solving the issues faced by large numbers of users access the metaverse at the same time with very little to no networking issues.
7. Internet of Everything (IoE)
A phrase termed, resourced and most often related to Cisco, the Internet of Everything (IoE) is a concept that seeks to take aim at the bigger picture in which the Internet of Things fits.
As you explore the Internet of Everything concept deeper, you find that it’s most often about a vision of a distributed network with an increasing focus on the concept of edge and edge computing, in combination with cloud systems.
All of this is occurring during times of decentralization, with digital transformation and a focus on Internet of Things business outcomes for many firms.
For Cisco, the Internet of Everything is defined as the networked connection of people, processes, data, and things.
The ultimate benefit of this system is through the impact of connecting all of these different facets, and the value that develops as the connectedness of everything comes online on the network.
The Internet of Everything is creating new and unprecedented opportunities for a plethora of organizations, individuals, communities and even countries, who are coming to recognize the incredible value that comes from fostering connections between people, processes, data, and everything there is.
In comparison, the simpler “Internet of Things” is defined as the networked connection of physical objects, which typically does not include people or processes.
Forgiving context-rich information to those who need it, AI is necessary.
A context-aware system such as the Internet of Everything needs to be fed data to make such a system effective.
As such, connectivity between different devices is a necessity.
Think of it in the same way as you would give commands to one of your smart devices, such as Alexa, Google Assistant, or Siri.
Data can be fed to extended reality systems and into the metaverse to make sure data and interactions in the world are relevant for the specific user.
In the Meta announcement video, an apartment was shown where a user turned on the TV simply by looking at it and making a gesture.
The Internet of Everything would allow all of these simple actions to become a reality, where we would be able to control the system beyond the extended reality system and avoid the limitations that come with voice commands that are given to our virtual assistants.
The human propensity to develop new and immersive experiences will no doubt see the metaverse become a reality.
Humans are social creatures, and the need for social interaction and immersive real-world experiences often comes to the top of the list for many of us.
When it comes to the development of the metaverse, these technologies are likely only the tip of the iceberg in the development roadmap, and each will feed into the work in its own way.
Whether it is making the connectivity simpler, assisting the development of a working economy, or allowing users to have a fully immersive, real-world-like experience, these 7 next-gen technologies have a hand in shaping the future of the metaverse.
What an exciting, but also terribly frightening, concept right on our doorstep. Let’s embrace and experience!