Race to the metaverse: The fight to shape the future of the internet | Science & Tech News

Last week, I was invited to have my hair done in the metaverse.

In the strangest PR email I’ve received in some time, a leading hair care manufacturer offered me a seat in a virtual salon, where my avatar would receive luxurious treatments I could only dream of.

Blurring the lines between physical and digital, the idea is that this will be a way for people to “test drive” a new look on themselves before choosing to go ahead. Although I don’t think I’ve ever asked a hairdresser for anything more extravagant than two rounds in the back and sides and a little off the top, thankfully, the metaverse offers a risk-free opportunity to experiment.

And in this case, all without putting on a bulky headset.

Like me, there’s a good chance when you think of the metaverse, it’s the first thing you associate with it virtual or augmented reality. But in the week when Mark Zuckerberg made an irresistible bid to put his stamp on the concept was brought into stark relief by thousands of job cuts in MetaThis strange invitation is a timely reminder that it is more than that.

Meta's latest headset, the Quest Pro, launched last month for $1,499
Meta’s latest headset, the Quest Pro, launched last month for $1,499

Meta’s place in the metaverse

When Zuckerberg talks about the metaverse, he is generally talking about Horizon, which is a virtual world created by his company to provide a variety of experiences – from chatting with friends, and collaborating with colleagues – when you wear the Meta Quest headset. Since last month’s release of its $1,500 “Pro” headset, you’ve likely seen Meta commercials and billboards touting the metaverse as the perfect home for such an experience.

And surely there are believers.

Nicky Danino, principal lecturer in computer science at the University of Central Lancashire, considers himself one of those already on board, saying the metaverse offers “incredible opportunities and possibilities” in particular education and training settings. Universities have used virtual spaces to put students in situations and environments they wouldn’t normally be able to, while institutions such as the RAF have shown how augmented reality can improve the work of their fighter jet maintenance crews.

But just as Facebook’s rebranding as Internet Inc won’t indicate ownership of the web at large, don’t let Zuckerberg’s rebranding of Meta make you think his vision is all there is when it comes to the metaverse. What makes up the Meta should really be seen as a platform in the metaverse, even if it is an astonishingly large amount of money (tens of billions of dollars already) is being thrown there.

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But there are plenty of others moving into the space — and you’ve probably heard of some of them.

Meta has been in the metaverse marketing blitz.  Image: Facebook
Meta has been in the metaverse marketing blitz. Image: Facebook

For example, there is Fortnite from Epic Games. No longer is it purely a space for 100 players to parachute onto an island and kill each other, it also allows them to create their own games and attend concerts – among those who have performed are real megastars such as Ariana Grande and Travis Scott. , took to the stage in a fever dream of brand synergy that sees millions of fans can appear as anyone from Princess Leia to Neymar.

Speaking of brands, that’s where you’ll find some of the metaverse’s greatest advocates. Last December, sportswear giant Nike bought a company called RTFKT, which was launched to create digital goods such as virtual clothes, collectibles, and NFTs. The first post-acquisition product is the Nike Cryptokicks, a pair of digital trainers designed to be customized and displayed online.

Then there are virtual spaces like Decentraland, one of the biggest slices of the metaverse pie so far, which is probably the closest you get now to living a life completely separate from the real you. As Sky News found out earlier this yearpeople in Decentraland spend thousands of pounds on a plot of land to call their own.

This is in some ways the ultimate utopian vision of a decentralized metaverse, where people own what they own and can monetize it all themselves, taking it with them wherever they go – no strings or corporate overlords attached. It is a vision that will not allow one company – not even one named in the metaverse itself – to hold power in the entire court.

Indeed, for Tom Ffiske of Immersive Wire, the idea of ​​”interoperability” between metaverse platforms is absolutely key to its viability – there can never be one metaverse to rule them all.

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Are you looking to buy a virtual home?

‘The race for the future of the internet’

Now, all of this may seem downright terrifying to many people born before the turn of the millennium. What makes Horizon different from Second Life (an online virtual chatroom populated by avatars) from 20 years ago? Does Ariana Grande want to appear in a video? You may be confused as to why people are excited enough to queue for trainers in real life, let alone buy a pair they can’t actually put their feet on.

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You might be right to think it’s crazy – the truth is we don’t know yet. The only thing that is certain is that this brilliant, perhaps confusing idea is here to stay.

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“The race for the metaverse is about the race for the future of the internet,” said Professor Yu Xiong, director of the Surrey Academy for Blockchain and Metaverse Applications at the University of Surrey.

“The field of virtual / augmented reality, artificial intelligence and blockchain all require a skill maturing process that takes significant time. Currently, the metaverse is facing problems with battery constraints, slow internet connections and the death of unstable blockchains.

“However, in 10 years’ time, once we have made battery breakthroughs, which use 6G for data transmission, and the blockchain has matured, I really have no doubt that the metaverse will be the future. As a result, this company must understand. that his billion-dollar investment will have little to no return until such a time.

The last comment was a barb pointed at Meta, which has seen its metaverse strategy dismissed by financial analysts as it tries to force its way ahead of what is shaping up to be a long-term sea change in how we engage with the internet.

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Gen Z is the key to all of this

Even supporters of the metaverse agree that when it comes to Zuckerberg’s go-big-or-go-home approach, it’s a risky case to run before you can walk. He appears to regard the pandemic as an accelerator – a time-skip that will see us embrace ten years of technological change in the blink of an eye, and expand Meta’s ambitions accordingly. Our willingness to return to pre-COVID comfort surprised him.

“They’ve piled up faster and spent more than any other metaverse and probably don’t have as much traction,” is the unequivocal assessment of Cudo founder Matt Hawkins, but he believes that the metaverse is the “natural next stage” of the transition that. it is seen that the young generation is growing into an increasingly digital world.

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“The Gen Zs have grown purely into the digital world and quite often value digital assets more than real world assets. This idea is that you can take it with you, and you can show it off to the world, so, if you spend £1,000 on a picture then put it on the wall your bedroom, no one will see it. If you buy the digital version, you can show it to the world.”

Again, this is not a new phenomenon. Online games like World Of Warcraft had players show off their exotic pets and epic armor to each other during 2004. One of Fortnite’s trump cards is that people like to be able to dress up as Star Wars characters, Marvel superheroes and global sports stars. , then hang out with his friends to compare looks.

Twenty million people watched The Device on Fortnite
Fortnite has become a hub for live events – and a place for people to dress up and show off to friends

The promise of the metaverse is to blur the lines between our digital and real lives, to the point where the former can be something we’re more proud of. Our money is better spent on a digital home to call itself.

After all, £5,000 will go further in the Decentraland housing market than on Rightmove (although, somewhat ironically, Spitfire Homes just became the first UK housebuilder to create a show home in the metaverse).

Image: Spitfire Homes
Image: Spitfire Homes

John Needham is the president of esports at gaming giant Riot Games, and before that oversaw Microsoft’s reality project called Hololens, which mixes the meta and the physical world through a headset that overlays digital effects and objects into real space.

“Millennials and Gen Z are on their phones all day, their existence is defined by their digital presence,” he said.

“Gaming is scratching what [the metaverse] will look like for a long time, with MMOs (massively multiplayer online games) with games like The Sims. I think doing that, on a human scale, will require better technology than we have now.

“But you see all the signs that your digital persona is becoming more important, it’s going to evolve into the most important thing.

BAE and RAF systems are working with AR to improve aircraft maintenance
BAE and RAF systems are working with AR to improve aircraft maintenance

Whether it’s education, industry, or just dancing with friends at an online gig, it’s clear that more and more of us are putting our collective feet to the possibilities that the metaverse can offer.

For Cudo’s Matt Hawkins, all that was missing was a eureka moment. Like access to information and e-commerce drove people to the internet, and the connection drove us to social media, what took us en masse to the metaverse?

Zuckerberg seems determined to make it him, and appears ready to make or break Meta to find out.


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