What is the meta-verse, exactly?

Well, yes and no. To say it Fortnite is “the metaverse” would be a bit like saying that Google is “the internet”. Although you could theoretically spend big chunks of time on it Fortnite, socializing, buying things, learning and playing games, it does not necessarily mean that it encompasses the whole scope of the metaverse.

On the other hand, just as it would be accurate to say that Google is building parts of the Internet – from physical data centers to security layers – it is also accurate to say that Fortnite creator Epic Games builds parts of the meta-verse. And it’s not the only company doing it. Some of that work will be done by technology giants like Microsoft and Facebook – the latter of which was recently renamed Meta to reflect this work, though we’re still not quite used to the name. Many other different companies – including Nvidia, Unity, Roblox and even Snap – are all working to build the infrastructure that can become the metaverse.

It is at this point that most discussions about what the metaverse entails begin to stall. We have a vague sense of what things are currently in existence that we could kind of calls the meta-verse and we know which companies are investing in the idea but we still do not know what it is is. Facebook – sorry, Meta, still not getting it – think it will include fake houses you can invite all your friends to hang out in. Microsoft seems to think it could involve virtual meeting rooms to train new employees or chat with your external colleagues.

The places for these visions of the future range from optimistic to pure fanfiction. At one point during the… Metas… presentation on the meta-verse, the company showed a scenario where a young woman is sitting on her couch and scrolling through Instagram as she watches a video that a friend has posted of a concert taking place halfway across world.

The video then goes to the concert where the woman performs in an Avengers-style hologram. She is able to make eye contact with her friend who is physically there, they can both hear the concert and they can see hovering text hovering over the stage. It seems cool, but it’s not really advertising for a real product, or even a possible future. In fact, it brings us to the biggest problem with “metaverse.”

Why does the metaverse involve holograms?

When the Internet first came along, it started with a number of technological innovations, such as the ability to let computers talk to each other over long distances or the ability to hyperlink from one web page to another. These technical properties were the building blocks that were then used to create the abstract structures we know the Internet for: websites, apps, social networks, and anything else that depends on these core elements. And that’s not to say about the convergence of interface innovations, which are not strictly part of the Internet, but which are still needed to make it work, such as monitors, keyboards, mice and touch screens.

With the meta-verse there is some new building blocks in place, such as the ability to host hundreds of people in a single instance of a server (ideally, future versions of a metaverse will be able to handle thousands or even millions of people at once), or motion tracking tools , which can distinguish where a person is looking or where their hands are. These new technologies can be very exciting and feel futuristic.


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