What is the Metaverse?
The metaverse is a tech buzzword that almost everybody has heard, but what actually is it? Another version of the Internet? A virtual reality game? A series of virtual worlds that resemble real life?
According to Vriti Saraf, co-founder of Ed3 DAO, the metaverse is a space that does not yet exist. She said that since there is no technology that enables all people to be online at the same time, there cannot be a virtual version of the outside world.
“There are a lot of misconceptions out there about what the metaverse is. People think that these AR/VR platforms like Fortnite, Meta, Roblox, Sandblox, are actually the metaverse and they’re not,” Saraf said.
These augmented and virtual reality platforms are spaces within the future metaverse and are only a small part of it. It’s like comparing a website to the whole Internet.
The term metaverse was originally coined by Neal Stephenson in his science fiction novel Snow Crash in 1992, but Facebook’s rebranding to Meta Platforms in 2021 brought the term to a more mainstream audience. “The word metaverse became a buzzword meaning everything and nothing,” Diego de Tommaso, COO and co-founder of OVER said.
Although the metaverse is a concept that has not fully come into fruition yet, there are metaverse spaces that exist and we can define what the metaverse is.
Steven King, professor of emerging technologies and director of UNC Reese Innovation Lab, defined the metaverse as a three-dimensional representation of the internet that enables us to create and share content and interact in 3D space that can be fully virtual or a hybrid between the real and virtual world.
“The metaverse provides users with a more immersive 3D representation and bridges the gap between the physical and digital world,” said de Tommaso said.
Metaverse Uses in Business
The workforce is moving towards remote work right now and the metaverse enables remote human connection and collaboration in ways that current online platforms can’t accommodate.
King said that the metaverse can be especially beneficial for industries where physical objects are bought and sold.
With access to the metaverse, companies can improve employee training, customer support and employee engagement while increasing revenue by decreasing maintenance and management costs.
For businesses, the metaverse offers opportunities to better connect with customers through the use of photorealistic avatars or three-dimensional stores. It creates more personal and interactive experiences for customers.
“Talking to a text bot is not comparable with the authenticity and ease a voice interaction with a photorealistic avatar offers,” Tommaso said. “Products displayed in AR are much more compelling than a 3D picture on a 2D screen, that’s why tech giants like Apple are putting so much effort into developing this technological pathway.”
Tommaso mentioned that some businesses are already incorporating elements of the metaverse into their customers’ experiences with games, treasure hunts and other virtual experiences.
Metaverse Uses in Education
UNC’s King said that in education, “the metaverse allows students to learn, interact, and engage in ways that are similar to the real world enabling more personal connection between students and instructors.”
After much of the education world was moved to online formats during the COVID-19 pandemic, technology has become a crucial part of learning for students, and investment in educational technology has tripled since 2020.
Saraf said she likes to think of educational opportunities in the metaverse as a ride on the Magic School Bus where students can do things they can’t do in real life because of feasibility, cost, or safety concerns.
According to a report by the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya eLearning Innovation Center, using immersive metaverse environments in education and learning creates an opportunity for educators to better track students’ progress because data is so much more readily available. With this easy access to data, student experiences can be further personalized to best fit their learning style.
Watch the video below to see more of Saraf’s thoughts on how the metaverse and Web3 will change education.
The metaverse enables gamification of learning which helps students learn in a more collaborative environment that develops skills like teamwork, imagination, critical thinking, and spatial awareness.
Some schools and educational institutions have already begun using metaverse environments to further student learning. For example, Dallas Hybrid Prep has been one of the first schools to institute metaverse spaces into their curriculum using a hybrid model of blended learning.
“I have seen first-hand how the 3D metaverse classroom provides more interactive and personal engagement for students that is better than a video conference,” King said. “People interact in ways more consistent with the way they engage in the real world.”
Although the metaverse provides incredible opportunities, it also has its fair share of disadvantages. It poses some accessibility barriers for people who are differently abled, as well as cost barriers.
Accessing the metaverse requires advanced technology, especially in early development, and the expensive headsets and very strong connectivity is unattainable for many people. New phenomena such as VR “hangovers” or post-VR sadness are becoming common occurrences and are health barriers to accessing the metaverse.
Saraf said there are also security and privacy concerns so it is important to exercise caution and critical thinking when using metaverse spaces. Privacy concerns will be especially important as the metaverse is adopted in education to ensure protection of students.
Another concern people share regarding the metaverse is how it will be regulated. Can people commit crimes virtually? How will they be punished? Who is in charge of the laws of the metaverse? These questions will all need to be addressed as the metaverse is developed.
“It’s very early in the development process, thus the metaverse is currently difficult to explore and consequently has limited adoption,” Tommaso stated. “However, increased education and continued support for developers and their endeavors in the AR metaverse, will help to mitigate this as time goes on.”
The Future of the Metaverse
As the metaverse is in very early stages of development, there is much that needs to happen for it to become a developed and immersive aspect of daily life.
A Pew Research Center study highlights what the metaverse may look like in 2040. A slim majority of the experts they spoke with said they expect the metaverse to be useful and integrated into daily life for over half a billion people.
According to the study, many experts believe that as the metaverse develops, it will focus on augmented and mixed reality environments instead of fully immersive virtual reality spaces.
The metaverse’s development and adoption will hinge on investment in advancing metaverse technology, people’s willingness to join metaverse spaces, and managing threats of harmful extended reality uses.
King said the Reese Innovation Lab at UNC is hoping to launch a new way of creating virtual avatars that allow people to be themselves in their own image and likeness in the first quarter of 2023.
He encourages tech professionals to test out the metaverse, to experiments with VR headsets and exist in metaverse spaces.
“As we’re so early on in the creation of this space, we have the chance to have a real influence in its evolution and create lasting infrastructure that truly benefits our users,” Tommasco concluded.
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