Metaverse is a 3D virtual world network focused on social connection. It is also often described as a “hypothetical iteration of the Internet as a single, universal, virtual world” that can be walked on with virtual and augmented reality headsets.
The word metaverse was first used in 1992 in the science fiction novel “Snow Crash” and is composed of two parts – meta and universe. Since then, several variations have been developed and can be found as popular uses in virtual world platforms such as Second Life. The novel described is about programmable avatars interacting with each other and with software agents in a three-dimensional virtual space. This space is presented as a metaphor of the real world.
Some of these metaverse variations offer integration of diverse virtualities, physical spaces, and virtual economies. Microsoft is implementing such features, such as virtual avatars and meetings, into virtual reality in Microsoft Teams. In 2019, Facebook unveiled a social virtual reality (VR) app called Facebook Horizon. Facebook itself has been renamed Meta Platforms. Mark Zuckerberg stated a commitment by the company to develop a metaverse. However, many of the VR technologies promoted by Meta Platforms have yet to be developed. The move was criticized by Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen, who added that Meta Platforms’ continued focus on growth-oriented projects was largely at the expense of ensuring security on its platforms. Meta Platforms has also been criticized for sexual harassment on the platform in relation to user safety.
Opportunities and risks of Metaverse
Proposed applications for this technology include improving work productivity, interactive learning environments, e-commerce, real estate, and fashion. In public relations, the word metaverse is often used as a buzzword to drive development processes for various technologies and projects.
Of course, there are also critical voices and views on this, for whom issues such as data protection, dependency and user security are a concern. Social media and the video game industry in particular face these challenges. Internet addiction, social media addiction, and video game addiction can have mental and physical effects over a long period of time. For example, depression, anxiety, and various other diseases associated with an inactive lifestyle, such as increased risk of obesity and cardiovascular disease. Experts are concerned that Metaverse can be used as an escape from reality, similar to already existing Internet technologies.
The application of Metaverse in hardware and software
Access points include computers and smartphones, as well as augmented reality (AR), mixed reality, virtual reality (VR) and virtual worlds technologies. Reliance on VR technology has limited development and widespread adoption. Limitations of portable hardware and the need to balance cost and design have led to a lack of high-quality graphics and mobility. Lightweight wireless headsets struggle to match the pixel density of the Retina display required for visual immersion. While models with higher power are wired and often bulky.
Another issue for widespread adoption of the technology is cost, with consumer VR headsets priced between $300 and $1,100 in 2021.
Current hardware development is focused on overcoming the limitations of VR headsets and sensors and enhancing immersion with haptic technology. Regarding software, there is no widespread adoption of a standardized technical specification for such implementations, and existing implementations rely mainly on proprietary technology. Interoperability is a major concern in development due to transparency and privacy concerns.
Virtual crime versus disaster capitalists
There are several standardization projects for virtual environments. Metaverse can amplify the social impact of echo chambers and digitally alienating spaces, or abuse common social media engagement strategies to manipulate users with biased content. Virtual crime other user security issues are also significant challenges in current social virtual reality platforms and may be prevalent in a metaverse. The potential presence of criminals is a huge problem in the virtual space. Therefore, standards and guidelines are urgently needed.
In 2022, Keza MacDonald of The Guardian criticized the utopianism of tech companies that claim a metaverse could be a respite from exploitation, prejudice and discrimination against workers. MacDonald explained that this development could be viewed more positively if it were not dominated by “corporations and disaster capitalists” trying to make more money as real-world resources dwindle.
Here, too, it becomes clear that there is no chance without risk.