The Metaverse - The Next Phase of Humanity? Or the End of us All?
Virtual reality seems like it’s on a warpath to become a facet in our everyday lives. I’m willing to bet that by now you’ve heard of Meta and you’ve probably seen those funny Oculus videos with people walking into TVs and losing their balance on virtual roller coasters.
But is a funny GIF all there is to VR?
Is it only as simple as an immersive sensory experience?
Or could there be more to it in the way it is and will impact our lives?
Let’s find out.
What is Virtual Reality?
Virtual reality is pretty much a computer generated 3-D sensory experience similar to the lives we lead now. In a virtual reality, you’re aware of a three dimensional environment and you can navigate and interact with it in a similar way.
Of course, our interaction with the virtual space comes through the medium of technology. Typically this means putting on a headset that covers our eyes and ears and replaces what we see in our world with the virtual space.
Where did Virtual Reality Start?
Attempts at a successful virtual reality have been being made since -believe it or not- 1962. In 1955, a cinematographer named Morton Heilig described his vision for a “cinema of the future”. Which meant viewers being immersed in a full-on sensory experience.
From 1957 he began building his “sensorama” and eventually patented the invention in 1962. Considering that it was constructed from technology found in the 1950’s the sensorama was pretty damned impressive.
It was shaped a lot like an 80’s arcade game, with an overhead canopy that effectively enclosed the player’s senses. The sensorama was set up to give players one of five experiences including that of riding through the streets of New York.
Every single sense was stimulated by the experience. Smells were pumped into fans that simulated the wind in a rider’s face. Sounds and sights were of course recorded as if the player were riding a bike or driving a car. The seats even rotated and vibrated for god’s sake.
For something conceived in the 50's the experience was years ahead of its time.
Oculus- The First Commercially Successful VR Headset
Of course, we’ve come a long way since the days of the sensorama and “3-D glasses” in theaters. Oculus absolutely took over the Virtual Reality space for some time, starting with a massive kickstarter campaign in 2012.
They raised a whopping $2.5 million and that was in the early stages of kickstarter and social media. Pretty soon after that they were purchased by Facebook for a whopping $2 billion. The REALLY crazy part?
A mere 601 days passed between the company’s inception, kickstarter campaign and finally acquisition. All for a VR headset…
Oculus was founded by a man named Palmer Luckey who started to fall in love with the idea of Virtual Reality around the age of 15. He started a company that made custom modifications to gaming consoles and used that money to start what he claims is: “The largest private collection of VR headsets in the world.”
Once collecting got boring- Palmer started putting together headsets of his own. Eventually leading to the massive success that was the Oculus.
What is the Metaverse?
Now- you’re probably wondering when I’m actually going to start breaking down the Metaverse and the answer is- right about now.
The Oculus succeeded where other VR headsets before it failed. Leveraging modern technology the Oculus actually managed to create a fully immersive, high-resolution and interactive virtual reality.
With the help of companies like Epic Games and Unity the technology progressed rapidly and eventually gave birth to gaming titles like Arkham VR and Arizona Sunshine.
Naturally, the emerging success of the Oculus and Facebook’s ownership of it has led to ever greater concepts.
Take for instance Horizon Worlds, initially released by Meta -then Facebook- in 2019 to those with access to the Oculus Rift S and Oculus Quest 2. Horizon worlds is a video game that essentially allows you to create mini games within a virtual space. Interestingly, Horizon Worlds is pretty Facebook-esque in that it features a central hub that allows individual users to create worlds according to their preference.
So where is Zucks going with all of this?
Enter The Metaverse
In late 2021, God King Zucks -as I affectionately call him- announced that Facebook was rebranding in order to separate themselves a bit from their core product- Facebook and become more representative of the broad range of services they intend to provide.
At the same time- he announced the company’s commitment to creating the “Metaverse”. His vision for which was a digital world where you’d interact much the same way as you do in real life.
Work meetings? Jump into a VR board room.
Concert to attend? Social Distance while giving yourself the “full” concert experience.
Need a place to chill by yourself? Metaverse has a lounge that you can hop into whenever you want.
Some would call the Metaverse the next internet revolution, as the project seeks to merge the physical world with the virtual world. If you think of the Metaverse as an expansion of Social Media, the level of interactivity will be mind blowing.
We’re already capable of communicating with nearly every other human being on the planet at the touch of a button. So what happens as the virtual world approaches the physical world more and more?
It’s unlikely that virtual reality will simply stop at giving us the ability to look around and press a few buttons. Right now there are already companies innovating ways to simulate the sensation of touch in the virtual space. So far- it’s limited to items in shops, but pretty soon we’re likely to be playing contact sports in the Virtual World.
So what then?
What happens when the virtual world gives us just as much as the physical world?
Afterall- the point of the original sensorama was to create a sensory experience so much like the real world that users could experience the streets of New York without having ever visited physically.
It seems like we’re on a path to replacing our physical reality- with a virtual one.
Or have we already done so?
Are We Already Living in a Virtual Reality?
Since you’re reading this blog, and you’ve made it this far- I’m assuming you’re a little bit esoteric like myself. Which means- you’ve probably already heard mega brains like Elon Musk describing a concept called simulation theory.
If you haven’t, you can check out a clip of him breaking it down here.
For those who don’t want to click the blue button- here’s a quick summary:
- Assume any rate of technological improvement over time
- Even if the rate is .00001%- once enough time passes there are effectively two possible outcomes
- Society Collapses
- Entertainment/Gaming becomes indistinguishable from reality
Therefore- we’re probably already living in a virtual reality of some sort.
You might think that this is just a theory and couldn’t possibly be true. Yet, Donald Hoffman has actually been building quite the compelling case for this. Through his research as a cognitive psychologist, professor Hoffman has proposed a theory that will seem backward to most at first glance.
Our Minds Don’t Perceive Reality- They Create it
The idea that our minds are creating our reality and not merely experiencing it or perceiving it is a loopy one. Your brain is generating the words on the screen in front of you? The walls around you?
Well- not exactly.
Over a 3rd of our cortex is engaged in processing visual data at a time. We assume that our eyes function like cameras -taking a picture of what’s happening and sending the snapshots to our brains.
According to professor Hoffman, the only part of our vision that’s anything like a camera, is the lens in our eye that focuses light on our retinas, which are a layer of pigmented cells in the back of our eyeballs.
That’s where the camera action stops though.
Instead of recording an image onto a medium like a camera does, our retinas stimulate billions of neurons (brain cells) and trillions of synapses to begin creating the shapes, colors and motion that we “see”.
Don’t believe me?
Here’s a nifty example that he gave in a TED talk:
In this first image you probably only see a few circles with some chunks cut out of them.
Add a slight rotation and…
You’re most likely seeing a 3-D cube projecting out of your screen right now. Except… your screen is flat… so where does the cube come from? How can you perceive a 3-D object from a 2-D plane?
Here’s your brain right now:
Your brain is generating the entire experience.
Ready for an even crazier one?
See those bars moving across the GIF?
There is actually nothing moving on that screen. Neither the dots nor the bars. The only change taking place is some of the dots turn blue while the others remain black. Your brain generates the moving bars.
Now, you’d think that evolution would have given us eyes that show us things the way they are, right? Afterall, if I can’t tell the difference between fatal and non-fatal foods or a wolf and a dog- then how am I supposed to survive in a world filled with danger.
Well- the answer is that your brain has developed a series of shortcuts that it uses to navigate reality. Those shortcuts are what we perceive as real.
Here’s an example from the same lecture:
That’s an Australian Jewel bug getting freaky with an empty beer bottle.
As far as the beetle can tell, this bottle is a female of it’s species -which the beetles have been finding successfully for millenia now.
This problem got so bad that Australia had to outlaw beer bottles like this, since the species was at risk of extinction…
I think I’ve made my point by now, but just to drive it home, think about this.
The reality we perceive is a lot like the desktop of our computers. When we drag a file or program into the recycling bin, that action in and of itself is not what deletes the file. It’s simply a representation of data stored in your hard drive that’s now been blasted back into empty space.
The reality was a quantum function that we aren’t even capable of perceiving.
In the same way- the reality we perceive right now, is like that file on the desktop. There are quantum functions -or something- at work that we’re merely perceiving in a way that works for us. We don’t see the “true” reality behind it- we just see the file we’re dragging into the recycling bin.
No I won’t bring back the GIF…
We’ve probably already been living in a virtual reality and you’ve only just realized it. So will the Metaverse really be any different? Essentially- the only difference would be your conscious recognition of it’s “unreality”.
But what about a human without that frame of reference?
What about a Human being who is born “inside” of the Metaverse.
Creeped out yet?
Yeah what I just described is effectively the backdrop for the Matrix movie series.
But I know your mind is blown.
So What? We’re Stuck in an Endless Loop of Virtual Realities?
It’s difficult to say for sure, but according to minds far greater than mine- that’s probably the case.
We’re creating a “new” reality to interact with, which will have nigh-limitless possibilities and which will eventually encompass all of our senses. That’s not even considering the fact that Elon Musk is currently engineering Neuralink, which is essentially a microchip which can plug directly into our brains and has the potential to connect us to an Augmented reality in much similar ways.
So far the chips can be programmed to perform basic operations and help people suffering from paraplegia to be able to move their limbs. At this very moment- there’s a monkey playing pong with his mind…
Pics or it didn’t happen?
I’ll do you one better. Here’s video proof.
I think it’s safe to say that we may soon see a time where people can choose to live on Earth, or in the Metaverse.
What’s Happening in the Metaverse?
Okay, out of the esoteric for a bit and back into what’s currently happening.
The Metaverse is being constructed by a joint effort between a few companies, namely:
- Epic Games- who recently invested $1 billion dollars into the growing effort
- Niantic- the company responsible for Pokemon Go!, one of the most successful forays into Augmented Reality so far
There are currently a few sandbox exploration modes which allow you to basically roam the Metaverse creating spaces that you want to interact with and events to attend. Microsoft has set up virtual meeting spaces in an effort to facilitate business growth and development during lockdowns.
One of the most interesting new opportunities is actually the purchasing of digital “real estate” similar to NFTs. I won’t go into too much detail about NFTs right now, but you can think of this real estate as a finite amount of data which cannot be copied.
Right now, you can actually purchase land via Decentraland, an early mover in the Web 3.0 space recently sold a piece of land for a record $2.4 million…
Things are getting interesting to say the least.