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According to Wikipedia, “metaverse” is defined as “a hypothetical iteration of the Internet as a single, universal and immersive virtual world that is facilitated by the use of virtual reality and augmented reality headsets.”
Forgive me if I’m wrong, but hasn’t the term “cyberspace” defined the same concept since William Gibson wrote “Burning Chrome” in 1982? Check your Wikis again. Except for an esoteric art collective in the ’70s having naught to do with digital spaces, the popular concept of “cyberspace” has always described “a widespread interconnected digital technology…dating back from the first decade of the diffusion of the internet” and refers to the online world as “a world apart,” — distinct from everyday reality.
Not to seem obtuse, but isn’t the only difference then that instead of plugging a stereo jack into the back of our heads, we are—for now—using goggles and handsets?
Perhaps the term “metaverse” would be better used to describe the reality of a digital multiverse where many smaller digital landscapes exist. Why the distinction? Well, primarily because what is needed isn’t a fight for brand supremacy, a virtual version of the fight for market dominance, as witnessed between Apple and Microsoft and continues until now. What is needed now, today, up front, is a way for these separate virtual reality (VR) landscapes — metaverses — to work together.
These small digital ecosystems such as The Sandbox, Cryptovoxels, and many more on the way will need to be designed with protocols on board that allow them to communicate and operate with each other, in synchronicity, inside the greater virtual reality of a singular metaverse. Users need to open the door of their virtual office in one metaverse and move via their avatar seamlessly into another, where their favorite game or perhaps their bank exists. How will those protocols come into existence? How will they be written, and who will be writing them?
With the advent of 5G, a technology that promises to deliver download speeds up to 10 gigabits per second, there will be multiple ways to access the various metaverses. These methods will inevitably be as relevant as the different charging cables that prevent one brand of laptop from connecting to another brand, thus making users reliant on another branded, technologically unnecessary service. Attention must be paid to cyberspace interconnectivity protocols now, and more importantly, the development of the associated workforce to implement these protocols. Not five or 10 years down the road when 50 focus group-approved branded metaverses compete to provide similar services with wildly varying results.
Think of it this way. Right now, we live in a world where Web2 platforms require logins, passwords, security questions, and/or one-time text message codes to validate that users are authorized. This Web2 world is clearly login and password-driven. But the future — Web3 and the metaverses–will be ideally driven by blockchain. Do we really want to stop repeatedly in the middle of transitioning from one metaverse to another to log in again? Or do we want to simply be recognized once and have those credentials travel with us wherever we go? If we don’t have the appropriate framework in place, choke points will result, causing at the very least inconvenience and at its worst complete chaos.
With the vast, diverse potential of the various metaverses in cyberspace, there are basic concepts and capabilities we should examine. As I contrast VR with the smart city work I have done, many of the same questions and problems need to be addressed:
Who will manage these portals, and how will they be managed? What kind of programming knowledge will be needed in metaverses that will almost certainly have the look and feel of video games? Those skill sets are already in surprisingly limited supply. Will the metaverses require a completely new data transport architecture?
Also to be considered are microservices, open-source platforms and artificial intelligence (AI) systems. How will these and new emerging technologies fit within the multiple metaverses? Do the current industry high-density compute platforms meet the requirements? Will we need serious innovation and advancement in chipsets and compute power? Where does quantum fit into this picture? How will crypto and NFTs integrate? You might share your new NFT on your cell phone like a cat picture, but that Bored Ape or magnificent in-game sword will only be amazing in your 3D VR man cave.
These challenges may feel insurmountable. They’ll no doubt require an immense investment into the development of integrated metaverse architecture on a scale we have never seen before. That much is certainly true. All I have to do is think about the many computing epochs I’ve already seen come and go in my working life, and all of a sudden, the lift needed here doesn’t seem greater than other hurdles we’ve overcome in technology and systems.
Consider the 9.6 kbps fax machine and floppy disks. Then came Windows for Workgroups providing the first large-scale ability to connect communities of users, and ultimately, the internet reached global scale. That was soon followed by the rise of smartphones, and the millions of apps they support. Now, after a rise in bot technology, conversational AI and other new computing paradigms, we see the emergence of a global blockchain technology movement, replete with mass adoption of its ideas, protocols, and products.
Past lessons have already laid out the punch list needed to make the rise of the metaverses an incredible event in our brief history. We have to be smart enough to learn from these lessons while ensuring our freedoms in the virtual world will equal and enhance our freedoms in the real world.
Mark Schonberg is the chief strategy officer and chief of staff at 2B3D, Inc.
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