Meta VR/AR expert shares vision of metaverse in next decade
Product Initiative Blog | 23 March 2022
When it comes to the metaverse, the world has come a very long way in a fairly short period of time.
During Wednesday’s Product Initiative Meet-Up Webinar, INMA Product Initiative Lead Jodie Hopperton took a trip down memory lane to explore her own journey with Virtual Reality.
The world has gone from the clunky VR gear of 2015 (complete with a big battery pack users had to carry and long cables tethering them to a computer) with cartoonish-looking figures that didn’t feel real to the stunningly realistic-looking human faces that are possible with today’s more sophisticated technology.
Hopperton mentioned two examples of how she uses VR today — doing workouts in beautiful places with Supernatural and exploring fantastical worlds with Dreamscape — to showcase some of the things the metaverse makes possible.
“What the metaverse is going to be is people moving between worlds, including between 2D and 3D, which is the thing that’s super exciting,” she said.
But, Hopperton acknowledged, the metaverse can be a lofty concept.
To help ground understanding of the metaverse, Cyrus Saihan, head of AV/VR product partnerships for EMEA at Meta, started by looking backward.
“When you look back over the past 30 or 40 years, the basic story of technology in our lifetimes has been around how technology has given us the power to express ourselves and experience the world in increasingly richer and more immersive ways,” Saihan said.
Humans moved from text, typing on a computer, to phones with cameras. Then, as connections got faster, the world moved to video. “We believe that’s not the end of the line at all,” Saihan said. “We believe that the successor to the mobile Internet will be immersive experiences in which you’ll feel present with other people no matter how far apart you are in the physical world and be able to express yourself in new ways. And that’s what we call the metaverse.”
The current organising principle of our mobile devices is the app. In the future, Saihan said, “We believe it’s going to be you — your identity, your digital goods, your connections — and that you’ll be able to move seamlessly between different devices and different experiences.”
The metaverse will be “the first set of technologies that’s really built around people.”
Instead of being on a video call with a family member, you’ll feel as if you’re right there with them. Instead of playing a game with a friend you’ll feel like you and you are together in the game’s world. Instead of having a work meeting via a conference video, you’ll feel like you’re really making eye contact in the same room with your colleagues.
“That’s what we mean by ‘embodied Internet,’” Saihans aid, “when you’re not looking at a screen but actually in the experience.”
The best way to understand the metaverse, he said, is to experience it yourself. But that’s difficult right now because the metaverse they envision doesn’t fully exist yet. There are a few building blocks that help people get a sense of the direction it’s going, but, realistically, Saihan said it’ll be about five to 10 years before the metaverse “could be reaching a billion people, generating hundreds of billions of dollars of digital commerce, and supporting jobs for millions of creators and developers.”
There’s a great deal of work that needs to be done in the next five to 10 years, and Saihan outlined what he said are the basic building blocks that are needed to deliver the metaverse:
“The defining quality of the metaverse is going to be that feeling of presence,” said Saihan, referring to when you’re not just looking at a screen but you feel like you’re really in the experience. “We don’t see the metaverse as spending more time on a screen, rather improving the quality of the time we do spend.”
Screens alone can’t convey the whole range of human connection.
The way we represent ourselves in the metaverse will “probably be as common as profile pictures are today,” Saihan said.
Instead of a static profile picture, avatars can represent your gestures and facial expressions that “can make interactions much richer than anything that’s possible today.” In addition, people might have multiple avatars for use in different situations — a work avatar, a gaming avatar, etc.
3. Home space
A person’s home space, designed however they like, can serve both as a place where they can invite friends and family to interact with them and also as a place from which to enter other spaces in the metaverse.
Moving into different spaces in the metaverse will be the equivalent of clicking on an Internet link today.
When you buy or create something in the metaverse, you want to be able to use that item elsewhere, not get locked into one world or one platform. Saihan said that would be like, in the physical world, “buying a top from your favourite football club and then never being able to wear it outside the stadium.”
The economy built in the metaverse will need to be interoperable so people own their items rather than a platform owning them for you. “Cooperation is key” to this effort, Saihan said, noting this isn’t something one company or organisation will build alone.
6. Privacy and safety
Saihan emphasised that privacy and safety are key fundamentals that “need to be built into the metaverse from day one.”
“With technological advances, there are always going to be challenges and uncertainties,” Saihan said. “In the past, the speed with which these technologies have emerged has left policy makers and regulators playing catch-up.” With the metaverse, on the other hand, because we’re still years out from it being fully realised, we can “design for privacy and safety before these products even exist.”
7. Virtual goods
Along with the aforementioned need for interoperability, it’s important the metaverse allows for users to bring things from the physical world (anything that can be represented digitally, that is, like photos and videos) into the metaverse.
Likewise, some things that are physical today may eventually be replaceable with VR. For instance, you may not need to buy a gigantic TV if you’ve got a metaverse home space that has a movie theater.
8. New natural interfaces
The metaverse will be experienced across different kinds of devices, and “we’ll see new ways of interacting with digital content and devices,” Saihan said. Instead of just tapping or typing, you may be able to interact using gestures or hand movements, using voice commands, and possibly even by simply thinking about what you want to do.
“Devices won’t necessarily be the focal point of your attention,” Saihan said. Today, devices sometimes feel like they get in the way of our interactions, but with the metaverse they could “help you be more present in interactions.”
INMA members can watch the full Webinar here.