DH Deciphers | Metaverse: Future of the internet or a tech monster in disguise? 

Zuckerberg says the metaverse won't be created by one company but would rather be built by many creators and developers

The metaverse is, in fact, the stuff of science-fiction. Credit: iStock Photo

After artificial intelligence, machine learning and blockchain, there is a new buzzword in the world of the internet: metaverse. Although the phrase isn't of recent vintage, its usage gained popular currency only after tech behemoth Facebook announced the change of the company's name to Meta Platforms Inc on October 29. But what exactly is metaverse? When will it happen? And does it have the potential to revolutionise the internet the way Facebook or Google did? Read on to find out: 

What exactly is the metaverse? 

Metaverse is a portmanteau of two words — meta and universe. Here, meta is used as a prefix in the sense of beyond or after. So metaverse would mean something that goes beyond the universe, as we understand it. It's something that's beyond reality. 

The first usage of metaverse dates back to Neal Stephenson's 1992 science fiction novel 'Snow Crash', which defines metaverse as a "computer-generated universe" and "an imaginary place". Three decades later, metaverse doesn’t mean much different. 

Also read: The metaverse is coming and world is not ready for it

Metaverse today is understood as a combination of virtual and/or augmented reality and video where people can live in a virtually programmed and developed world that is different from reality but is built by taking inspiration from the real environment around us. 

Facebook (er... Meta) CEO Mark Zuckerberg has declared that the new brand would bring together all their apps and technologies, thereby bringing the metaverse to life. The metaverse might take five to 10 years to fully take shape, according to him. 

Do we really need a metaverse? 

While the internet has given us the power to engage with digital content, the metaverse might allow us to have a virtual avatar and interact with other people's similar avatars and immerse ourselves in a lifelike environment at a multidimensional level using their VR headsets. 

What would a metaverse look like? 

It will be "a feeling of presence — like you are right there with another person or in another place," Zuckerberg says. Facebook had earlier used the virtual and augmented reality technology for work meetings in a virtual space where a person can attend and meet others in a hologram form by putting on Facebook's Oculus VR headsets. 

While it's difficult to say how exactly a metaverse might look since no such thing exists as of today, several pop-cultural references, including movies like Ready Player One (2018), have shown how a metaverse might turn out to be one fine day. 

A metaverse might have a mix of social-networking experiences projected over the real environment using augmented technology – just like the way the Pokémon Go projected gaming elements on a real-life environment. 

Who is building this metaverse? 

While several tech giants have been talking about a metaverse for quite some time now, Facebook has taken the first-mover advantage by announcing its plans publicly and giving it a shape through Meta Platforms Inc. 

Also read: AI bots to user data: Is there space for rights in the metaverse?

Zuckerberg, however, says the metaverse won't be created by one company but would rather be built by many creators and developers. Meta has already announced tools that will assist creators to build the metaverse and has also invested $150 million in immersive learning to train the next generation of creators. 

Talking of Facebook, wouldn't metaverse become a similar tech monster? 

Facebook and other tech giants have been under scrutiny from politicians and human rights activists over their role in influencing public opinion around sensitive issues. 

Considering an augmented reality, wherein some elements of the metaverse may be overlayed on top of the real-world environment, a metaverse might allow people from the real world to connect and interact with someone else's virtual avatar. 

This might turn metaverse into a tool for indiscriminate surveillance and raise concerns around data privacy. Although Zuckerberg and Team have started building a metaverse, it might not be an easy ride ahead for Meta given the concerns over data privacy.