The Metaverse

Prof. Kaveri Narang, Adjunct Faculty, IQ City United World School of Business, Kolkata
…… “there’s always the Metaverse, and in the Metaverse, Hiro Protagonist is a warrior prince.” Source: The novel ‘Snow Crash’ by Neal Stephenson A term coined by Science Fiction author Neal Stephenson in his 1992 novel ‘Snow Crash’ is today the subject of much attention thanks to the publicity it received from Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg a couple of months ago, when he described his vision for the future of the company, which he has renamed as Meta. He envisages a future for the company which would take it well beyond its existing business focus on social apps along with some supporting hardware, and headlong into a business arena where the real and virtual worlds coalesce into a new dimension. This brave new world will have a confluence of the physical, virtual and augmented reality in a shared online space. Digital representations of people in the form of Avatars will be able to interact in professional and social settings. Facebook already has Oculus virtual reality (VR) headsets and is exploring 3D virtual meetings where its Oculus-wearing workers are attending virtual meetings complete with virtual table and whiteboard. To this end Facebook has launched a test version of its new virtual-reality remote work app called Horizon Workrooms. The app, still in beta version, allows users to hold meetings as digital avatar versions of themselves.. But how new is the Metaverse really? Several of its constituent technologies have already been incorporated in internet-enabled video games for several years. The 2003 video game Second Life is often cited as the first metaverse, as it embraced many of the typical features of the Metaverse such as virtual and augmented reality in which Avatars interacted in a social setting. As early as 1994, the corporate thriller Disclosure, included a virtual reality sequence where the hero, played by Michael Douglas, dons virtual reality glasses which take his avatar on a journey through a virtual corridor. However there is no doubt that the concept has now arrived at a tipping point because of the conjunction of different facets of technology embracing the mobile, virtual, and physical worlds, the latter through the internet of things. But most significantly, facilitated through blockchain technology which has in turn paved the way for the development of crypto currencies, thus creating a complete virtuous cycle for a viable existential universe which extends beyond the frontiers of physical reality as we know it now. The realisation that the metaverse is already upon us is best illustrated by the example of the virtual world of Decentraland created and launched by two Argentinians in 2017 and opened to the public in February 2020. It is a decentralised 3D virtual reality platform, with its own digital currency, the Mana. It sells plots of digital land to interested investors, and by March 2021 these digital plots were going for amounts which would translate to hundreds of thousands of US dollars. That Decentraland, and by association the Metaverse, has attained legitimacy is borne out by the fact that in June 2021 Sotheby’s, a globally famous auction house based in London launched a digital replica of its New Bond Street headquarters as a virtual gallery in Decentraland to display digital art. So we need to be aware of the brave new world of parallel universes that is looming upon the horizon – the one we now occupy, and the other one which may best be termed as its coming digital avatar.