Virtual reality in the metaverse

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Nova Starling

The metaverse has the potential to change the world with its numerous applications

Ananya Mukherjee, Staff Writer

In 1974, philosopher Robert Nozick wrote about an imaginary machine capable of providing happy experiences that were indistinguishable from real-life possibilities in his book Anarchy, State, and Utopia. He discussed whether – when given the choice – humans would choose the machine’s artificial simulation over reality.

Now in 2022, I find myself wondering why anyone would choose reality over a machine that gave them the ability to dream of a world where they could create their own lives, determine their own destiny and be whoever they wanted to be rather than exist in the body that they did. The machine I’m referring to has now come to life as a far more developed metaverse.

The term was first mentioned in Neal Stephenson’s 1992 novel, Snow Crash. It mentioned a 3D virtual world where avatars of real people lived. Similar to Nozick’s machine, it portrayed an escape from reality’s grappling hook: a chance to undo mistakes made in the real world and start afresh. 

Though this concept seems advanced, its development may be even more plausible than most think, considering several aspects of the metaverse already exist today. Amongst numerous advancements in technology over the years are augmented and virtual reality. Augmented reality refers to virtual items which are overlaid in a real-world environment, while virtual reality is responsible for the creation of a fully artificial environment. When the two are combined, they produce a visual representation of the physical world – a place many of us have grown accustomed to. 

Entertainment 

It’s impossible to evade the concepts of the metaverse today. I, along with others my age, have grown up in the digital era where playing video games and spending hours online is the new norm. The COVID pandemic further normalized meeting in virtual workspaces and attending virtual events, when venturing outside wasn’t an option. Each and every one of these metaverse-based activities familiarizes us with the possibility of a world online.

Take Fortnite for example, a game that Business of Apps reported as played by 350 million registered users in 2021.  The game is solely based in a virtual environment where players team up to battle other characters or each other by imitating real-life actions. Other notable mentions are Roblox and Minecraft – both based in virtual worlds, similar to Fortnite.

Aside from games, the concept of virtual concerts, which was previously lesser-known, has been brought to light during the pandemic. 2020 saw singers such as Dua Lipa and John Legend turn to Instagram and YouTube live streams, to keep performing informally. 

However, breakthroughs occurred over the next year and a half, when other world-famous singers such as Ariana Grande, Travis Scott, J Balvin, Lil Nas X and Twenty One Pilots took to gaming platforms Fortnite and Roblox to host free virtual concerts for their large fanbases. 

The idea of togetherness seems impossible after being separated from loved ones in other parts of the world for almost 2 years, but to me, communicating over the metaverse sounds like the next best thing.”

These concerts seem so much more feasible than concerts in the physical world – not only were they accessible to a larger audience, but their ingenious use of the virtual landscape highlighted the flexibility of solutions that the metaverse can provide. If their popularity continues to grow, I foresee even larger virtual concerts in the near future.

Communication

The implications of the COVID pandemic restricted our ability to go over to a friend’s house or head down to T4 without any qualms about social distancing. While these impositions only prove how fickle the state of reality can be, multiple solutions lie within the virtual world.

Instead of traditional methods of communicating online (ie. messaging and calling people), your avatar can be face-to-face with the person you are talking to, in a shared virtual environment. Although video conferencing platforms such as Zoom and Google Meet fulfill the purpose of calls, they do not always enable engaging experiences. 

As Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg shared during his Facebook Connect 2021 event in Oct. 2021, this feature makes it seem like “you’re right in the room together, making eye contact, having a shared sense of space and not just looking at a grid of faces on a screen.” 

The idea of togetherness seems impossible after being separated from loved ones in other parts of the world for almost 2 years, but to me, communicating over the metaverse sounds like the next best thing.

Another future feature of the metaverse entails allowing the receiver of a video to view it like it’s happening in real-time, around them. Zuckerberg explains that the individual will “feel like they’re right at the moment [with the sender], not peering through a little window.”

Apart from communication, the virtual world is set to elevate the affordability of experiences such as virtually traveling and working remotely in different countries. These opportunities offer individuals job experience while giving them the chance to visit different countries and explore the world online – which may not have been possible due to physical and economic barriers in the real world.  

Careers and opportunities 

With a growing need for experts in the field of technology, the metaverse is bound to comply with its own set of necessary job-holders. With that being said, traditional jobs may be of less importance by the time the new generations have grown up and set out into the workforce. 

Amongst numerous positions of responsibility within the development of the virtual world, comes the role of research scientists and safety managers, who work alongside each other to ensure the relevance and safety of content being put out on the virtual forum. I believe this role is of utmost importance since critics regard unsafe behavior (data leaks, unsafe interactions with avatars of real people, etc) as a large concern. Its prioritization might be able to sway more people in favor of the metaverse. 

To accomplish their safety goals, safety managers must be aware of the possible uses of different features on the metaverse and ensure that there are no loopholes that can be bypassed and unsafe content which could be exposed to a large scale audience. 

Along with this self-check, comes the need for beta-testers. They will have prior access to items in the metaverse and check their functionalities to make sure there are no bugs or incomplete aspects. 

Perhaps the most important job of all is to build the world itself. Code must be written to program different features: cameras and headsets to access, enter and live in the virtual world must be built. Budget planners must work alongside builders to allocate a sum of money towards building each part. Each job is equally as important to ensure that the virtual transition runs smoothly. 

Due to the number of distinguished roles available, the unemployment rate around the world will slowly begin to decline. If the prospect of improved access to entertainment, forms of communication and additional attention paid to safety have not already steered critics in favor of the metaverse, perhaps the eradication of a global issue will.

When so many opportunities coming out of the virtual world can rival the restrictions set by the physical world, the choice between machine and reality seems even clearer.”

Creating the metaverse

The metaverse is far from fully formed but many prominent technology companies have a clear vision of what they want to contribute to the virtual world. 

One of the largest technology companies in the world, Meta – who rebranded to prove themselves as pioneers in the development of the metaverse – have already expanded their line of Oculus headsets to access the world of VR. Apple is following up with headsets that will support both AR and VR capabilities. Platforms such as Microsoft and Epic Games have pledged to aid in the creation of the metaverse while Nvidia agreed to lay the foundation for the code. Each of these creations is necessary to model the metaverse.

Unfortunately, some large companies have been hit with allegations about breaches of privacy in the past. However, I am confident in their ability to redirect their collection of data towards areas such as user engagement instead of the personal information of users. This will aid research scientists in continuously improving features on the metaverse and protecting the safety of individuals at the same time.

Another prominent concern by critics is their belief that spending hours in VR will work against the need of reducing the time most people spend online. I see why this is a concern, as the mental health of individuals on the platform is a priority. However, as Zuckerberg stated in his 2021 Founder’s Letter, “this isn’t about spending more time on screens; it’s about making the time already spend better.” His words resonate with my opinion: the time we spend online can be just as productive as the time we spend in the physical world.

The transition to the metaverse is only possible with the cooperation of the biggest forces in the field, including Meta, Microsoft, Apple and Epic Games. Their collaboration will be able to make many of Zuckerberg’s ideas come to life as well as begin a new era in time in which we are no longer limited by who we are, where we live and what we know.

When so many opportunities coming out of the virtual world can rival the restrictions set by the physical world, the choice between machine and reality seems even clearer.