Metaverse as a concept isn’t new but what is the history and evolution of the metaverse concept? Read the evolution from science fiction novel to modern day reality and future dystopia.
The Metaverse is an ever-evolving, quasi-fictional digital world comprising various websites and platforms. It was first established in science fiction as a virtual world that users could access and explore (albeit with a dystopian twist). The concept eventually emerged in the real world with the invention of the internet and has since evolved to include social media sites, video game worlds, and interactive online experiences.
The concept recently gained much traction after Facebook rebranded itself to “Meta” in 2021, sparking excitement about the potential for a fully immersive virtual reality. While numerous technical and legal issues still need to be addressed before reaching this goal, the idea is steadily gaining steam. Many industry experts have predicted that we will see significant developments on this front over the coming years.
Intro: What is the Metaverse Concept?
The Metaverse is a persistent virtual world or a collective space of several virtual worlds, providing a shared space for users to interact and experience information, content, and activities. The concept envisions a seamless integration of Virtual Reality (or Augmented Reality), enabling users to live, work, and play in a 3D simulated environment.
Full article: The Metaverse explained – Definition, Introduction and Examples
The Origin of the Metaverse Concept
The concept of a Metaverse first emerged in science fiction in the 1950s, with early works such as William Gibson’s novel Neuromancer and the movie Tron in 1982. These stories described an immersive virtual world that humans could explore. If you expand this definition to “Virtual Reality” then already 1938 the French poet Antonin Artaud used the term virtual Reality in his essay collection “The Theater and its Double”. The first real simulation was then created in 1962 with “Sensorama” a machine that simulated the experience of riding a motorbyke through New York City via a 3D movie with a vibrating chair and even fans and smell.
After the first attempts at Virtual Reality, in 1992, author Neal Stephenson coined the term “Metaverse” in his bestseller novel Snow Crash, envisioning it as a virtual multiverse where people interacted with each other and experienced shared virtual worlds in a dystopian future. In 1997, famed video game developer Richard Garriott used the term to describe an online role-playing game he was developing called Ultima Online which was released one year later and is widely credited as being the first MMO (Massively Multiplayer Online) game. 2003 the online virtual 3D world called “Second Life” was released to allow people to create virtual worlds, interact with them and exchange virtual goods. Only 3 years after Roblox was released and created a hype for users who could easily create virtual worlds (out of “blox” blocks) or use other virtual worlds from other users to play in them, which became a quick success.
Over time, more and more tech companies began to explore the concept of Virtual Reality and create versions of this new digital world. In 2012 Oculus, the first low-cost 3D headset for the masses, was started and only 2 years after in 2014 bought by Facebook. With faster smartphones, internet connections, and devices the emergence of platforms and games like Pokemon Go which combined AR and real-world gaming with the virtual game, or Fortnite, which now hosts over 250 million players in their virtual MMO game world began.
The following stages of the metaverse hype started in 2021 when Facebook renamed itself “Meta” and Microsoft released the “Mesh” platform. Both Facebook (Meta) Worlds and Microsoft “Mesh” try to win over businesses to use VR and virtual worlds for meetings, workshops and more.
The trend continued, and new hardware and software are released every year, making the VR headsets lighter, with better resolution, faster hardware, and, most importantly – cheaper. Still, mass adoption has yet to happen as many obstacles need to be overcome.
The “Vague Definition” of Metaverse
When we take a broader and more “vague” definition of the Metaverse, then eventually, social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram could be considered as a simplistic “Metaverse”. These social media platforms are virtual spaces where people spend time, interact, exchange information, and almost “live”. So even todays social media platforms could be a very simplified version of a Metaverse as it is always there (persistent), people live in it (people spend most of their time in this virtual world), and they create their world (even your feed, videos, pictures, etc. would count). The major difference is the experience of 3D worlds vs. 2D screens for scrolling and the limited/bad user experience coming from playing on a small 2D screen.
Metaverse in Movies and Novels
The concept of the Metaverse has become very popular in movies, video games, and novels. In films like Ready Player One and Tron Legacy, we see a fully realized metaverse where people can explore new worlds and live out their fantasies. In novel form, authors like Ernest Cline and Neal Stephenson have written extensively about the Metaverse.
- “Neuromancer” by William Gibson (1984)
- “Snow Crash” by Neal Stephenson (1992)
- “Altered Carbon” by Richard K. Morgan (2002)
- “Ready Player One” by Ernest Cline (2011)
- “A Frayed New World” by Damini Rana (2021)
- “The Matrix” (1999), directed by The Wachowski Brothers
- “Tron” (1982), directed by Steven Lisberger
- “eXistenZ” (1999), directed by David Cronenberg
- “The Thirteenth Floor” (1999), directed by Josef Rusnak
- “Ready Player One” (2018), directed by Steven Spielberg
- “Free Guy” (2021), directed by Shawn Levy
The Development of Virtual Reality Technology
The earliest VR experiments can be traced back to the 1960s, when computer scientist Ivan Sutherland developed the first VR headset, the Sword of Damocles. However, it was in the 1990s and early 2000s that VR technology started to gain momentum with the rise of VR gaming and entertainment. With more advanced computing power and graphics capabilities, VR gaming became a more immersive and interactive experience, allowing players to enter virtual worlds and interact with them in real time. Especially the entertainment industry saw the potential of VR, creating virtual experiences such as theme park rides and movies, and erotic films and pornography were one of the early adopting industries.
In recent years, the VR industry has experienced a significant resurgence, with the emergence of companies such as Oculus, and Microsoft (with its Hololens product) and X-Box and Playstation VR headsets. These are just some examples of companies that have developed new VR and AR technologies that have expanded the reach and capability of VR, making it not only a tool for gaming and entertainment but also for business and industry. From training simulations to virtual product demonstrations, VR has become a powerful tool changing how many companies operate.
The Modern Metaverse Concept
The Modern Metaverse has been a constant “buzzword” in the technology industry since Facebook changed its name to Meta in 2021. This has led to a surge in investment into the Metaverse space, prompting blockchain companies to try to tie their ideology to the Metaverse. However, these efforts have not yet added much real value to the space as the concept of “limited land” or “limited goods” doesn’t apply in a digital space and makes it unscalable.
Despite this, the growth of VR/AR platforms and social VR experiences has continued to accelerate, with companies like Microsoft and Meta (with Oculus) offering business solutions and first virtual classrooms and virtual worlds like the renewed Second Life platform and others.
It is important to note that the current state of the Metaverse is still in its early stages, and adoption has been slow due to limited computing power, bad experiences, expensive hardware, and also the technical limitation that only a few users can be in the same room together before the system reaches the limit. This is just the tip of the iceberg, as several technological challenges need to be addressed for the Metaverse to reach its full potential.
This includes the development of haptic sensors, improved VR headsets (lighter weight, better resolution, more computing power), smaller processors that can fit into glasses or VR headsets, and the overall computing power (servers) to create large-scale persistent worlds in high resolution for millions of users.
The Metaverse is both exciting and uncertain. While there is no doubt that the Metaverse has the potential to be a transformative technology, there are also many challenges that need to be addressed to make it a reality. Some of the biggest challenges are the issue of content moderation as well as addressing concerns related to identity theft and protection, which will need to be addressed for users to feel confident in the Metaverse.
Despite these challenges, investment in the Metaverse continues to grow, and as more technologies advance, it has the potential to be a game-changer for many industries. One of the critical questions that will need to be answered in the coming years is whether there will be a “winner takes it all” scenario, where a dominant player in the Metaverse will emerge due to well-known network effects.
The use of digital twins to create replicas of cities or buildings will also play a bigger role. Even real estate companies are using virtual worlds to sell expensive real estate to customers across the globe and give them a first impression of their homes without even the need for traveling. The same will be more and more used for traffic planning, data analytics, smart city planning, and other use cases which mainly involve the Virtual Reality space.
It is important to note that governments will play a critical role in the future of the Metaverse. They will need to be proactive in managing this technology, as the Metaverse has the potential to have significant implications on legislation, taxation, citizenship, and social impacts. As such, governments must take a proactive approach to this technology to ensure that the Metaverse is a positive force for change and not a source of harm.
The Metaverse as Dystopia
While the Metaverse has the potential to open up exciting opportunities, it also has a dystopian potential that must be acknowledged and addressed. If not properly regulated and managed, the Metaverse could become a tool for widespread surveillance and control by governments or corporations. The centralized management of such a vast network of information and experiences could lead to censorship, manipulation of information, and loss of privacy. The Metaverse also raises ethical concerns about the impact on physical Reality, as people spend more and more time in virtual environments and potentially lose touch with Reality. The potential for addictive and escapist behavior in the Metaverse is also a concern, leading to a loss of productivity and meaningful human connections and, therefore, falling fertility rates and shrinking populations. These challenges must be addressed in the development and implementation of the Metaverse to ensure its positive impact on society.
There is no doubt that the Metaverse has the potential to transform everything we know so far. As a natural evolution from the first forms of the internet, where only professionals created content and consumers could only consume, to the second generation of the internet, where users could easily create and exchange, the Metaverse represents the next step in this evolution. The Metaverse will allow users not only to create “information” but also to experience it and potentially even live in this created Reality without needing a physical world. (Why would you live in a small cheap apartment when you can have a villa on the beach in the Metaverse?)
Despite the challenges ahead, the Metaverse’s potential to shape the future is immense, and it is sure to have a significant impact on the way we live, work, and play in the years (or more decades) to come.
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