Unreal Reality of Metaverse and its Societal Impacts

Metaverse is a name given to a collection of virtual reality and augmented reality. It also entails artificial intelligence and holographic content. It is a network of various technologies from diverse domains coming together to form a cohesive, immersive, and persistent alternative world. It is a future where it is possible to create, maintain, experience and live multiple identities in the alternative reality.

The concept of Metaverse was first introduced in the novel ‘Snow Crash’ by Neal Stephenson [1]. In the article, he described metaverse as a series of interconnected virtual reality platforms. Metaverse takes the form of different virtual worlds where users can create their own identities and explore the virtual world. The idea of metaverse was not new to the world of science fiction. It was first introduced by science fiction writer, Julian May in her book ‘The Many Colored Land’ as the Pliocene metaverse [2].

The idea of metaverse is based on a number of assumptions. One of the assumptions is that, the XR technologies of the future will have the ability to handle complex artificial intelligence routines, a requirement for a fully functional metaverse. The other assumption is that the AI will be able to create virtual worlds with the same level of richness and complexity as the real world. It will also be able to simulate real world interactions between real and artificial entities.

With the advent of XR technologies, the distance between the real and the fictional world has reduced. It is now possible to generate photorealistic avatars that are already being used in the gaming industry. The advancements in the field of AI specially in the speech and natural language processing, it is becoming possible to see an eventual emergence of a Metaverse.

While a fully functional metaverse is a thing of the future, some of the effects of these disruptive technologies have already started to emerge. These effects are apparent in private, social and economic aspects of an individual’s life.

Social and Economic Impact:

Human beings are social creatures. They like to interact with other people, nurture relationships, share their interests and knowledge, get entertained, etc. Even though the traditional social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram provide an avenue for socialization, but it is not immersive enough to disrupt the physical realities. The XR technologies is set to change this.

The metaverse is a shared, persistent, and dynamic virtual reality. It is a 3D space where people can create, connect, and interact with others in a virtual world. The potential of the metaverse is huge. The metaverse provides a platform where people can come together to interact, socialize and express their creativity. The virtual reality is not limited by the physical constraints of the real world. It is a parallel universe where everyone has the same access and opportunities. The metaverse is also not limited to a single dimension. It is a multidimensional universe where people can experience different realities. With the emergence of AI and Blockchain technologies, the Metaverse will become a decentralized platform where people would create and exchange virtual assets. A decentralized platform where people can share their virtual assets and monetize their content. These digital assets will not be limited by physical constraints of the real world. These assets would be traded, exchanged, transferred or monetized.

Environmental Impact of Metaverse:

The emergence of metaverse and its integration with AI is set to reshape the way humans consume, interact and socialize. It will also reshape the way humans travel and showcase themselves and/or their assets. With the concerns of climate change and the dwindling natural resources, it is becoming very clear that if we have to sustain life on the planet the major consumer behaviors will have to be modified. This will affect fashion and travel industry the most as these are the ones that are most unsustainable. As the metaverse matures and becomes widely accepted, all these activities shall shift to virtual world. The effect on travel industry has already started to reveal itself. Due to the COVID pandemic, travel behaviors were changed to virtual touring. Fashion industry has started to take initiatives in this direction as well. A fully virtual Fashion show and conference recently took place where futuristic concepts of fashion (e.g. Virtual garments and jewelry) were showcased [3].

Conclusion

The emergence of AI and XR technologies is reshaping the way humans live and interact. A Metaverse is set to emerge, where people would create, connect and socialize. It would be a parallel universe where people would experience alternate realities. The emergence of metaverse will have significant social and economic impact. Whether it would be a technological marvel that would free them from the shackles of physical limitations, or it would turn out to be an Orwellian nightmare, the world has yet to see its true impact. However, one thing is evident that the technology is a powerful force that finds its way regardless of suspicions and concerns. Maybe it would be like any other advancement in the science with the potential for both the good and the evil. The question should then be ‘how to use it?’ rather than ‘should we use it?’.

References

[1] Neal Stephenson, “Snow Crash”, 1992

[2] Julien May, “The Many Colored Land”, 1982

[3] “Fashion in Extended Reality Conference (exthereal)”, https://www.exthereal.com, 29 Nov 2021–1st Dec 2021

Research Scientist (AI/ML/CV), Educator, and Innovator. Writes about Deep learning, Computer Vision, Machine Learning, AI, & Philosophy. bit.ly/MLMethodsBook

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J. Rafid Siddiqui, PhD

Research Scientist (AI/ML/CV), Educator, and Innovator. Writes about Deep learning, Computer Vision, Machine Learning, AI, & Philosophy. bit.ly/MLMethodsBook