Next stop – The Metaverse

Muscat – The journey from scratchy 56k modems and choppy WWW addresses to the mobile internet we’re constantly hopping on and off has been short and intense. And it goes on with full force. The metaverse is coming – and it brings with it a host of possibilities and dilemmas.

As is often the case with alien new technologies, the debate surrounding the Metaverse is mostly one of caution. So let’s start instead with the possibilities that the Metaverse offers in relation to the Internet we know today.

The metaverse is spatial. With the Metaverse, glasses will replace smartphones. Instead of holding the phone in your hand, the screen moves up into view. We see the information we need as an integral part of our environment. It’s more immersive and in many cases much easier and more “natural” to use.

It will eventually become meaningless to differentiate between the physical and virtual worlds. We experience them together, they play closely together, and we use both dimensions without considering whether one is more “real” than the other. We don’t want to be “on” the web, we want to be “on” the web.

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The general expectation is that it will be filled with photorealistic avatars and chatbots, it will integrate and interface with all the “smart” objects that will soon fill our homes and cities, and it will be powered by an unimaginable amount of artificial intelligence.

Everything seems to be just around the corner. Investments are flowing, hardware and software are getting better, and lightning-fast networks are proliferating. The COVID-19 pandemic has made it more convenient for billions of people to meet, work and learn virtually. Countless companies around the world are considering how to gain a foothold in the impending upheaval.

The wave of interest in the Metaverse began in earnest when Mark Zuckerberg announced last October that Facebook was changing its name to Meta. Back in 2014, Facebook bought the largest and leading VR headset maker, Oculus, and recently hinted at developing an operating system capable of supporting the services in the Metaverse.

Microsoft has been developing both software and hardware for the Metaverse for many years, and Apple has added features with each new release of the iPhone and iOS operating systems that can serve as building blocks for creating a graphical 3D world.

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The internet today is two-dimensional. It’s like reading a book and flipping from page to page. The Metaverse, on the other hand, will feature real-time graphics like in a computer game. It is not for nothing that one speaks of “mixed reality”, a combination of virtual and augmented reality.

The metaverse will indeed mix our worlds and impressions well and thoroughly – the streets are full of avatars, facades and walls are covered with decorations and advertisements aimed at the individual, and the operation of all our devices is done by pointing and gesturing on menus and Displays that float in the air.

Along with all the possibilities of the metaverse, there are some problems associated with it. We know many of them from the internet today, but more powerful and immersive technology, more connected devices, an increasingly digital economy and much more powerful artificial intelligence will increase the risks.

Internet services are characterized by the fact that they are largely financed by advertising. In the metaverse, advertisements appear directly in our field of vision. We will see avatars, billboards, pop-ups and notifications that overlap what we see in the physical world. The underlying data could potentially be misused to influence the user’s actions and decisions by altering the world the user sees and the objects in it.

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Just like today’s internet, the Metaverse could be used to spread fake news, propaganda, rumors and lies – but in a photorealistic virtual world; it may become even more difficult to distinguish between what is true and what is false.

We’re not going to wake up one morning and see the metaverse as a reality. The pieces are laid and you can already feel it.

it will come And over time, we’ll likely see “haptic” suits and gloves that can simulate the feeling of touching objects. Work is underway to put the screen in contact lenses – or why not an implant in the brain that can connect our nervous system directly to the internet?

Is Oman ready to embark on the Metaverse journey?

Syed Adil Abbas

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