VR: Metaverse, buzz word or revolution?
VR: Metaverse, buzz word or revolution?
If there is one word that we hear more and more today, it is METAVERSE. A contraction of META and UNIVERSE which dates back to 1992 and comes from the novel The Virtual Samurai, by Neal Stephenson. Dr. Julien Casarin, Head of XR at Inetum, says the Metaverse can be defined as an open world (users can enter and leave it freely) in which:
- Users are collectively and collaboratively immersed and represented by avatars
- Connected to each other through audio chat
- The experience replicates real-world social interactions (e.g. the trainer-learner relationship)
- These interactions are persistent: You can find the object you left the day before in the same place the next day, (unless another person has passed by and moved it in the meantime... the world continues to live when you are not there!)
In short, it is a parallel universe, entirely digital and virtual, in which we could all find ourselves by incarnating our own digital double.
It is important to agree on these principles because it avoids labelling any new digital creation, however smart it may be, as a Metaverse.
I will come back to the many uses of such an approach. If you think that some massively parallel video games already meet this definition, you are on the right track. But it goes much further than that – beyond gaming, and with the use of technologies that provide an unprecedented immersive experience.
There is a strange sense that this new concept, even if it is debatable whether it is actually new, already exists. We are currently reading, for example, about how indispensable it is to master crypto-currencies to acquire the no less indispensable virtual goods that we already need to own in the Metaverse: a villa to host our friends' avatars, or the latest virtual shoes for our own avatar. I know this might make you smile. I invite you to check out the sites and the capitalisation of The Sandbox or Wilder World and their dedicated crypto-currencies. Not to mention Balenciaga that creates fashion ranges for avatars.
Will there be one or more Metaverse(s)? I'll bet you a crypto-bill that we'll relive the joy of any new digital technology that comes into being: the war of incompatibility of the different players who will declare themselves champions of the Metaverse (Facebook is renamed Meta? One wonders why!).
If we are to compare it with the Web, remember how long it took to tune web browsers to a single protocol, allowing them to be all (almost) compatible and to display all sites in a similar way? Compatibility between virtual reality devices is following the same path, with the risk of complicating a seamless experience between the multiple universes that make up the Metaverse (or the different Metaverses? That's where the debate also lies).
Note that Inetum continues to develop its UMI3D protocol for creating collaborative 3D experiences regardless of the hardware used. We are releasing this protocol as open source and we invite anyone interested in the subject to join us in the consortium of the same name. I hope that this work will be useful for the development of an open Metaverse and its accessibility, in every sense of the word. I would like to take this opportunity to point out that many issues in the (real) world will have to be reconsidered in the virtual world. I just mentioned accessibility? We're talking about it for the Web, we'll have to do it for access to the Metaverse. It is likely that the solutions for better accessibility will not be the same as for the Web or real life. You have of course understood that I am talking about people with disabilities.
Are we talking about security? Well, I invite you to think about the security of the Metaverse. What is double authentication or biometrics in a virtual world? Does it make sense, is it equivalent? Can we create instances of this parallel world (potentially only portions of it) and what could it be used for? I promise, I'll bring this up again in my next article!
How can the Metaverse be put to use for our real world, its preservation, the fight against climate change? Why not make use of these technologies for the sake of our planet, its discovery, its understanding... conduct trials on this digital twin that is the Metaverse, which will have fewer consequences than if they were conducted on our real world? A virtual world that could serve the real one; but without being a substitute.
We believe that virtual reality, and the fact that you can create increasingly realistic and immersive experiences, is useful for business. Training, object reviews, technology reviews, construction reviews, role playing, training, coaching...
We will soon see many uses appear in fields as diverse as healthcare (e.g. a pre-surgery 3D visualation of the operation to come), in industry to train for team operations in sensitive environments, in defence to train in simulation, in sport to rework previous actions and on which we want to imagine variants, in construction to design or restore, etc. Be sure, the list is endless and it is time to understand the technology, its limits and its capabilities to imagine the best scenarios (just as we advocate for artificial intelligence, by the way).
All of these uses may not require an actual Metaverse – it may be enough just to conduct on-demand virtual reality sessions. But it's a safe bet that, like the World Wide Web, all of these experiments will end up being concentrated, for simpler and more homogeneous access. For my part, I have no doubt that it will not be long before we have, in the continuity of our websites and our corporate intranets, parts of the Metaverse that are private (let’s call it an intraverse) and others that are accessible to our customers and partners (and therefore the extraverse).
Written by Jean-François Gaudy, Corporate Vice President, Innovation & Digital at Inetum