Thanks to science fiction movies and literature, many people are already familiar with the idea of virtual worlds
One only needs to think of various popular films and books to imagine how people might navigate a different reality via an avatar.
Increasingly, however, companies want to turn fiction into reality, with Facebook (now known as Meta) just one example of a brand leading the charge, evolving from a pure social media platform into a tech company pushing for an entirely virtual universe known as the metaverse.
But what exactly is the metaverse? What opportunities does it offer for everyday life? And what challenges need to be overcome when implementing it?
Defining the Metaverse
The word metaverse combines the Greek word for beyond (meta) and the English word “universe.”
The idea itself isn’t new. In fact, questioning the origin of life and what comes after has long been a part of philosophical thought. For example, in philosophy, there’s the concept of metaphysics, which questions what lies beyond the real world. The modern concept of the metaverse is the latest iteration of these theories—focused on a virtual reality (VR) promising to take humans beyond the existing boundaries of normal, everyday life—supplementing our reality.
We already have instant access to the world’s knowledge with the help of our smartphones and spend a good amount of time in a digital world, with social media and gaming offering us a virtual escape from reality whenever we choose.
Though we’re still a long way from a digital world fully replacing our reality, technologies such as 5G and Google® Glass™ have shown us the innovation and know-how is already largely in place to take the next step toward the metaverse. For this to happen, there are four key elements necessary to consider.
The Role of Security
All technology is vulnerable, and if we’re going to embrace a more virtual life, it must be able to withstand the very real risks of cyberattacks. Security will therefore continue to play an essential role in the future. Even with the new approaches undoubtedly created as the metaverse evolves, there will always be gaps hackers can and will use.
Currently, the greatest danger when smartphones and computers are hacked is gaining access to the data stored on them. In the worst case, someone shuts down the devices or destroys them from inside. In the case of devices such as Google Glass, a shutdown would be inconvenient for the wearer, but nothing more would likely happen.
With implants, such as those predicted by the video game Cyberpunk 2077, however, there’s a much greater risk. Here, you’re not just hacking into a device but directly into the human body. This is just as dangerous—and potentially just as fatal—as it sounds. Therefore, special attention should be paid to the topic of security from the very first hour of development.
Thanks to the camera in our phone, we can already hunt virtual monsters in our back gardens or be shown how the new bookshelves we’re thinking of buying might look like in our home. Games like the wildly popular Pokémon Go have already shown us the types of augmented or mixed reality our smartphones are capable of.
Though these existing examples prove programming appropriate technologies and overlays shouldn’t be a problem in the future, the necessary fine-tuning to make our entire daily lives based on such technologies will take time, especially when it comes to the distribution and smooth use of such programs. This means brands wishing to embark upon their journey into the metaverse will need realistic time frames.
Leveraging the Cloud
The metaverse will most likely be a cloud-based system. If this is the case, server performance will need to continue to increase steadily to cope with demand. However, local servers aren’t the future of the technologies required to make the metaverse a reality.
Overlay glasses and similar technologies will quickly be capable of providing a 5G connection—or perhaps even 6G or 7G in the near future. The computing and server power will then certainly be outsourced to cloud systems. But an ad hoc implementation would currently fail because of the hardware. Not because it’s not capable of doing the job but because it’s not readily available.
The prices for good hardware are very high, plus—as the last couple of years have come—global supply chains can be interrupted for various reasons. This all means new ways of thinking will be needed to ensure the metaverse is a smooth experience for everyone.
Creating an Experience
Major brands are already positioning themselves to drive development and implementation in the metaverse. If you consider the gaming sector, for example, you can already see what developers are aiming for when it comes to creating an experience that makes people want to come back for more.
For example, every day, thousands of players still log in to the role-playing game World of Warcraft (which was released back in 2004) to interact with other players. This constant and long-lasting interaction is what people are hoping for and expecting when it comes to the metaverse.
With the help of technology, brands are keen to offer customers an attractive opportunity for digital escapism. However, there are also opportunities for the brands themselves to benefit, whether it’s through monetizing aspects of the virtual world or even getting recognition for a world-first as we enter a brave new world of digital life.
Looking to the Future
As with any disruptive technology, there are always early adopters who embrace it enthusiastically and integrate it willingly into their lives. The gaming industry—which already uses some forms of virtual reality, such as VR glasses and mixed reality apps—is a great example of a gateway into mainstream society.
However, the possibilities for this new way of living go far beyond gaming. Whether it’s virtual meetings where your avatar can interact in real time with other participants, strolling through a virtual shopping center to find a new outfit, or even joining a virtual event such as a music festival, the metaverse will become an integral part of all areas of life.
Although this progress will certainly take a few more years, the next stage in digital evolution can’t be stopped. Though it may sound scary or overwhelming, if done properly, there’s no reason to worry. Thoughtful and prudent development reduces the risks of the metaverse to a minimum, and the potential benefits can be huge—for both businesses and individuals.
To bring it back to science fiction, however, it should be said the goal must by no means be to replace real life with virtual life. It should instead continue to be about supplementing the “uni” with the “meta” verse, enriching analog life with digital components—components capable of facilitating and improving life while also making it more exciting, connected, and futuristic.
About the Author
Sascha Giese is Head Geek™ at SolarWinds. SolarWinds is a leading provider of powerful and affordable IT management software. Our products give organizations worldwide—regardless of type, size, or complexity—the power to monitor and manage their IT services, infrastructures, and applications; whether on-premises, in the cloud, or via hybrid models.