i3 | January 13, 2022

The Metaverse is Closer Than You Think

Steve Koenig
Woman surrounded by digital photos

A new buzzword can be heard echoing across the hallowed halls of CES 2022: Metaverse. It’s an intriguing and perplexing concept — the idea of a persistent three-dimensional digital universe where humans interact via avatars. But this view of the metaverse is just the tip of the virtual iceberg.

I’m reluctant to draw too many comparisons to Ernest Cline’s novel Ready Player One set in 2045 which portrays a dystopian (if not dysfunctional) view of the metaverse embodied by the OASIS (Ontologically Anthropocentric Sensory Immersive Simulation); however, there are unavoidable parallels with modern innovation.

The Meta Economy

The truth is the metaverse is closer to becoming reality than you might expect. Many of the building blocks of this virtualized world are already in play and other supporting technologies are developing rapidly. Examining the metaverse with a technological lens we see a vast array of devices, systems, services and applications acting in concert. What’s exciting is we can learn about and experience these technologies at CES 2022.

5G networks will provide the robust connectivity to support the massive MIMO (multiple input, multiple output) requirements of the metaverse. Cloud computing environments are a central component to operating the metaverse as well as edge compute devices including AR/VR hardware, haptic apparel, cameras, and a host of other sensors and input devices.

Volumetric video will be a key construct in the metaverse. Even today, volumetric filmmaking combines the artistry of cinema with the interactivity of video games by utilizing advanced algorithms to render interactive three-dimensional moving images.

What’s more, we’re witnessing the birth of an entirely new “meta economy” sprouted from blockchain technology. Consider the budding momentum of NFTs (non-fungible tokens) which are blockchain-based digital tokens used to provide public proof of ownership of a (typically) digital asset like art, music or video. While NFTs have been around for years, they’ve become more popular in 2021 as artists and industries like professional sports seek to monetize their craft in the digital realm.

This invariably leads us to cryptocurrency and the emerging sector of decentralized finance (DEFI), which enables peer to peer transactions using digital coinage, side-stepping traditional centralized financial intermediaries. DEFI models are seen as the “new cash” and are the ultimate expression of the digital wallet. 

Many of the building blocks of this virtualized world are already in play.

Hints of What Will Be

Looking beyond technology itself yields other clues that portend the metaverse to come. Modern use cases leveraging these technologies illustrate how the metaverse will be a resource for more than just social connections and entertainment. Apologies, Mr. Cline.

For example, CTA’s recent XR Enterprise Trends report (October 2021) found companies today are using virtual reality (VR) initiatives to support training, sales, design, customer engagement and meetings. The research also found that among companies using XR tech in their business 59% believe it will have a significant impact on their organization over the next five years. Small wonder, therefore, 84% of businesses using XR tech plan to spend more in this area over the next two years.

Proponents of the metaverse claim its inexorable arrival heralds more than just a new connectivity platform, but a generational shift in almost everything from business to entertainment to social interactions. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella compares conversations about the metaverse today with “how we talked about the web and websites in the early ’90s.”

We know how transformative the internet has been, but are we ready for the metaverse? Probably not all at once. The good news is we won’t have to experience the metaverse that way. Just as the internet over the past 20 years has increasingly underscored our daily lives, meta-experiences will eventually define the 21st century lifestyle as the physical and digital realms become inextricably linked.

i3 magazine January/February 2022 cover

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