Stepping into a 3D virtual world

In his 1992 novel Snow Crash, Noel Stevenson outlined a futuristic society that reminds us today in a few details: headphones with noise-canceling, pizza delivery in a maximum of 30 minutes, hyperinflation. In order to escape from the real world, heroes dive into the Metaverse – a parallel virtual universe that exists alongside the physical. What seem like abstract dreams for the future should soon become a reality.

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In October last year, the Facebook group, which also owns Instagram and Whatsapp, renamed itself Meta. The California tech giant’s new name aims to bring focus to the planned digital world “Metaverse”. Explains Konstanz Ausi, Head of Society and Innovation Policy at Meta for Germany, Austria and Switzerland.

The fusion of the digital and physical world

Currently, the design of the Internet is still two-dimensional – that is, people read text and watch videos on a flat screen. With the metaverse, the Internet is quickly becoming three-dimensional. Users can then navigate through a virtual world and experience things interactively with others. “In the process, the virtual world will increasingly merge with the physical world,” says Osei. This means that in the future we will be able to stroll through our Facebook feed, try on clothes, attend events, sit in meetings or even own our long-awaited vacation home – almost everything, of course.

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So the Metaverse is not entirely new, but an extension of recent technological innovations. The metaverse’s initial technology is called Extended Reality (XR). It consists of virtual reality and augmented reality (AR). Metaverse is basically a product of current technologies.

With virtual reality, you are isolated from the environment, usually by glasses. So one sees only an artificial world. Using augmented reality glasses, digital objects are projected directly into the field of view via a transparent screen. If you want to get into the Metaverse, you need the necessary technological tools, such as virtual or augmented reality glasses. The Facebook group had already bought Oculus in 2014, a leading maker of glasses for virtual reality viewing. The brand name on the glasses will now be phased out and replaced with Meta.

Metaverse plans are still in their infancy

But this is not the only investment that users face. The virtual world should operate according to the principles of a free market economy. In mid-April, the tech giant announced that it would soon begin testing tools for selling digital assets and experiences within its virtual reality platform Horizon Worlds. This move is an important part of the company’s plan to create the metaverse.

Virtual assets mean, for example, NFTs, i.e. non-fungible tokens. This is a Certificate of Authenticity based on the blockchain architecture. As Business Insider recently discovered, Meta probably wants to take a total commission of up to 47.5 percent of creatives on NFT sales. According to the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) estimates, the total Metaverse market could be around 250 through 2025 reaching $400 billion, with the majority ($150 to $300 billion) expected to come from the virtual asset business.

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Compared to classic meta services, the metaverse currently accounts for only a fraction of the group’s revenue. The app family, made up of Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram, makes up about 97.5 percent of sales, the group’s current quarterly results show. Reality Labs, the creators of Metaverse, contributed just $695 million in revenue compared to a $3 billion loss.

Meta Manager Osei confirms that the development of the 3D digital world is still in its infancy. “It will take at least another 10 to 15 years before the technical requirements are yet for the vision we have of the metaverse to become a reality.” In addition, the group does not manage the project alone, but in cooperation with several companies, developers and organizations.

Metaverse presents opportunities for many industries

The goal of Project Giga is to create “virtual accessibility and allow people to go where they might not be able to go in real life,” says a spokeswoman for the tech giant. “People can meet friends, work, play, learn, shop, be creative and much more.” Application scenarios can look like this: Instead of just watching a team on screen, users can be virtually present in the game. At the same time you can do sports. For example, humans can stand in a boxing ring to face a created opponent.

Not only the entertainment industry can benefit from the Metaverse. There are also interesting options for other sectors like healthcare, says Petra Dehm, board member of XR Bavaria, a professional association for virtual and augmented reality. For daily clinical or external work, for example, there can be digital-assisted relief on the tablet or assistive glasses.

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At the same time, the online virtual world has great opportunities in terms of e-learning supported by virtual reality, for example for nursing staff training, standards training or collaboration between multidisciplinary teams. “International studies demonstrate the positive impact of learning by working in virtual reality, and the first use of virtual reality training shows that there is great potential here,” says Dahm.

The issue of privacy and data protection is not yet resolved

According to Philip Rauschnabel, professor of digital marketing and media innovation at the Federal Armed Forces University in Munich, the new dimension provides “a lot of new jobs and new jobs – many of which we don’t even know about today”. It also sees the Metaverse primarily as an accelerator of innovations and as new business models emerge, technologies will be improved.

“Vision is a 3D internet without screens, and it has a lot in common with society,” says the meta researcher. As a result, people can interact with digital content through glasses or contact lenses as well as with products. Window by the fireplace.

But this kind of augmented reality also carries significant privacy and data protection risks. The meta-expert explains: “With augmented reality, scanners are used to create a 3D model of the environment in real time, which, thanks to artificial intelligence, can also be interpreted.” The data is often sent to the cloud for processing. This enables entirely new forms of espionage after all, there is 3D data from a number of apartments, for example.

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Can the vision of a peaceful technological society exist side by side with the real world? It is enough to look into the past to see the possibility of attracting criminal masses. The idea of ​​the online world is not new, it already exists – at least in 2D. At the beginning of the 2000s, “Second Life” started a virtual world in which users could share via avatars. And with success came problems. Pornographic content and casinos have spread in the internet world. Finally, the FBI took a look at the virtual casinos around it.

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Psychological aspects of metaverse

In addition, the psychological component should not be underestimated. So you don’t know how that affects society, “if you’re constantly seeing things that aren’t there, like intentional hallucinations,” says innovation expert Rauschnabel.

Olga Geisel, head of addiction research at the Charité Berlin psychiatry clinic, warns about addiction. “In the early stages of the Metaverse, it could be argued that extensions of reality can lead to a greater potential for addiction or evasion than real life,” she says. However, it also sees platform opportunities, particularly in terms of education.

Psychologist Armin Kacer remains somewhat relaxed on the issue of the addictive factor of young people: “It should be more exciting than TikTok, YouTube and Fortnite.” This is currently unexpected.

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RND / dpa

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