The idea of meeting friends and family in a virtual world is a rather daunting phenomenon for many people but seems inevitable following on from the coronavirus pandemic. We began to see the future of socialising when something called the Metaverse was announced by tech billionaire and CEO of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, late last year. The Metaverse is essentially “a whole new 3D interactive internet,” as labelled by Faisal Galaria, Blippar CEO and is something that comes with both positives and negatives.
Imagine a place where you can hang out with friends and conduct business meetings from the comfort of your bedroom. Not only is this a huge change in the way we interact with others, but it is also a vast and endless way for businesses to promote their latest and greatest products. The world of exchanging money will be altered too as a more decentralised way of banking comes into play in the form of cryptocurrencies such as Ethereum – a currency on which many metaverses will likely be built on thanks to its diversity and established space in the market.
Chau Le, lecturer in banking and finance at the University of Lincoln believes this way of life is the future of the internet and explains what she thinks the benefits and downsides of Facebook’s Metaverse are. “This is the future for the internet and perhaps an inevitable trend given the exponential development of technology,” she said.
“Metaverse has both positive and negative impacts on our lives. Metaverse allows people to interact and communicate without spatial constraints. We could explore new pieces of knowledge and entertainment through experiences that would be impossible in the real world. Academics may use metaverse for meetings, conferences and teaching… and still feel they are in the right room.
“We can do banking and other financial transactions via virtual locations rather than using branches and websites. However, the downside is that people may get addicted to this virtual world through games and this also gives rise to increasing mental health concerns,” Chau Le added.
Building the Metaverse isn’t as simple as designing a mobile app or coding a game, instead, this will require a large number of companies to work together to ensure that what is being built is viable and ideally decentralised. A centralised virtual space probably isn’t the best way to go because it would mean one company controlling everything. Instead, a decentralised one would allow thousands of companies and brands to co-exist, meaning it isn’t controlled by a single currency or state.
Once the Metaverse is created, it won’t come without its problems, mind. Three of the biggest concerns with the creation of the Metaverse are its effect on health, cyber-attacks, and lack of regulation leading to bigger issues down the line. In terms of mental health, the main concern is what ‘living’ in the Metaverse would do to someone’s mental and physical health. Nobody knows what ‘living’ in it will actually entail but we can assume it would involve VR headsets allowing users to be disconnected from the real world for hours on end.
Sure, there might be the chance to move around on treadmills and other fitness equipment, but not everyone will have access to those facilities. Not only could this online universe be a breeding ground for bullying, but as soon as someone leaves this virtual world, they are then left alone in some circumstances, and you can’t live in there forever – at least not for the start.
Another branch of health concerns is sexual harassment which is already an existing issue in Meta’s virtual world game, Horizon World – which is still in its beta stage. There was a report of a woman who had been virtually groped in the game, and despite it being a game, this is still a concern for thousands and many claim ‘VR sexual harassment is still sexual harassment’.
David Reid, professor of AI and Spatial computing at Liverpool Hope University thinks the metaverse, however, will offer many benefits including to those who aren’t physically able to leave their homes.
“A lot of people when they started talking about the metaverse automatically think you will be wearing VR headsets and being isolated from the rest of the world but there’s no reason why the metaverse can’t be used in a mixed reality format where actually you can move around a real environment.
“Imagine you’re a kid in a hospital bed. The metaverse will basically allow you to meet up with your friends and go places with them. So, you can go on virtual trips with people that you know and share experiences with them. It means that anyone who is physically isolated doesn’t need to be mentally isolated anymore.”
There is, however, no doubt that cyberbullying will exist in the metaverse but this has existed in all forms of social interaction from the beginning of civilisation, through to the internet and now into the growing beast that is web3.
Overall, it looks as though there are many potential dangers with a place like the Metaverse, with lots of niggles to resolve before it develops any further. However, there are also a lot of upsides to this inevitable next step in technology to help businesses reach new global sales levels and to create an easier way for people to connect with others around the world. It’s going to be a really interesting shift to watch over the next decade and beyond and one where adoption is going to rapidly grow as time goes on and as the technology develops.