The Metaverse will be the next digital future

The metaverse seeks to describe the future iteration of the Internet, composed of shared and persistent 3D virtual spaces linked to a perceived virtual universe. The growing interest in it is because Facebook wants to build a metaverse, it seeks to build a computer-generated environment where people can interact with each other using AR, VR and other technologies.

Facebook’s metaverse project is still in the early stages of development, having recently set up a $10 million creator fund to attract developers to work on the construction project. The company expects that it will take 10-15 years to develop responsible products to create the metaverse.

In addition, Facebook recently announced that it expects to create 10,000 new high-skilled jobs in the European Union over the next 5 years to build the metaverse. However, Facebook is not the only company interested in this VR universe, Microsoft has also shown interest along with other tech firms. Google and Amazon are investing in innovations that could prove crucial to the development of the metaverse, in particular cloud computing and data storage.

What is the metaverse?

Today, some specific types of metaverse already exist to describe game worlds in which users have a character that can interact with other players. Also, there is a specific type that uses Blockchain technology, where users can buy virtual land and other digital assets using cryptocurrencies. These spaces are more similar to the interior of a video game than to real life and are not the end they are seeking for the future metaverse.

Although there is no concrete definition, this metaverse can be understood as a virtual environment that can be entered rather than simply observed. It is intended to be a world of endless, interconnected virtual communities where people can meet, work and play through virtual reality, augmented reality, smartphone applications and so on.

In addition, it is expected to incorporate different aspects of today’s online life, such as shopping and social networking. The metaverse will be the next evolution of connectivity in which all things online will be united in a seamless universe, i.e. virtual life will be lived in the same way as physical life.

From the metaverse there will be access to virtual concerts, online travel, shopping or the possibility of trying on digital clothes. It will also affect working from home, meetings will no longer be via video calls, but employees will be able to see each other virtually. Horizon workrooms, for example, is a meeting software for companies using the Oculus VR headset, initiating metaverse experiences.

The desired metaverse experience involves the ease of transporting from one experience to another. Therefore, technology companies need to look at how they can connect their online platforms with each other. There should be agreements between competing companies to create a set of standards so that all users can coexist in the common metaverse.

Responsible construction

The idea is that the metaverse will not be built by a single company. It is currently announcing a $50 million investment in global research and programme partners to ensure that these products are developed responsibly.

Facebook has proposed working with experts from government, industry and academia to look closely at the opportunities and problems of the metaverse, as its success will depend on building strong interoperability between services and the experiences of different companies need to be able to work together. Also, it will be necessary to involve the human rights and civil rights communities from the outset to ensure that these technologies are built in an inclusive manner.

The key areas that this project needs to work with to anticipate risks are privacy first, to minimise the amount of data being used and give people transparency and control over their data, security and integrity by giving users tools to take action and get help if they see something suspicious, and fairness and inclusion to make this technology accessible to all.

Possible architecture

The creation of the metaverse is in the early stages of development, so its architecture does not have a consistent definition. So far, all proposals for metaverse architecture is to follow a layered structure.

For example, Jon Radoff, an American creator of a live gaming platform, has suggested at least 7 layers from the bottom up: infrastructure, human interface, decentralisation, spatial computing, creator economy, discovery and experience. Ideally, it would be possible to build a metaverse architecture from a more macro perspective, i.e. a 3-layer architecture that from the bottom up includes: infrastructure, interaction and ecosystem.

If the physical world and the virtual world were represented by linked circles, there would be an intersection between the two worlds. This would represent the three layers: the physical world the infrastructure, the intersection between the two circles the interaction and the virtual world the ecosystem. This three-layered architecture could be effective in encompassing all the components that make up the metaverse.

Shenzhen student campus as a prototype

In recent years, experiences related to the metaverse have been observed blurring the lines between virtual and real experiences. For example, the platform Decentraland allows people to get a job as a dealer in its virtual casino or stars such as Ariana Grande and Travis Scott have been seen performing for large audiences through the video game Fortnite.

On the other hand, prototypes of what could be the metaverse have begun to be presented. At the 29th ACM International Conference on Multimedia, the China University of Hong Kong, Shenzhen (CUHKSZ) metaverse, which features a Blockchain-powered system, has been presented. The aim of the system is to generate an interactive metaverse and a mixed environment for the students of the University on campus, where actions in the real world could correspondingly affect the virtual world, and vice versa.

The first layer, the infrastructure layer, has a cross-platform development engine so that the application can be deployed on smartphones, computers and browser-based cloud streaming, along with other options. Also the 3D models presented were built with Blender and Blockchain with smart contract is applied to support the ecosystem.

The interaction layer is composed of a metaverse viewer and a location-aware service. The viewer is designed to allow users to interact with the campus by providing both a first-person and third-person perspective. On the other hand, the location sensing-based service uses location information as a source of sensing input, thus maximising the well-being of users on the campus.

In the third layer, the ecosystem will be governed by a token-driven ecosystem, autonomous governance, visualisation and negotiation, and an artificial intelligence-driven metaverse observer. The token-driven ecosystem is used to generate a fair and transparent ecosystem. Autonomous governance is necessary to have a well-designed democratic system that enhances equality for social good. Also, the ecosystem will feature visualisation and negotiation that will allow users to create almost anything, facilitate the exchange of objects between users and characterise themselves as a user.  Finally, an AI-powered observer has been deemed necessary in the ecosystem to have a broader view that will allow it to track and analyse real-time operation data from the metaverse and automatically recommend ongoing events to users.

Conclusions

In short, the desired metaverse should be a realistic reality with more direct and physical interactions, making the concepts of discrimination weaker, producing a great benefit to society. Currently, the development of the metaverse is in its early stages, with great potential for improvement. However, the industry is looking to prepare in advance, investing heavily and seeking to grow together with governments and scientists.

In this way, no single company will own and operate the metaverse. Bringing this project to life will require collaboration and cooperation between companies, developers and policy makers. The metaverse will thus help unlock access to new creative, social and economic opportunities. Today’s increasingly mature technologies, such as virtual reality and augmented reality, will be necessary for virtual presence, achieving human-to-human interaction in the metaverse similar to that of the physical world.