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Friday, October 21, 2022

Applying the Metaverse, are we Ready?

Considerable piece. We experimented with the basic idea, and am skeptical  we are ready for it.  But deserves some realistic tests

Applying the Metaverse  By Keith Kirkpatrick

Communications of the ACM, November 2022, Vol. 65 No. 11, Pages 16-18  10.1145/3565470

three figures interact in the metaverse, illustration

Trying to distill and describe what is being called the metaverse today is a bit like trying to describe the Internet to people in the 1970s or 1980s: the framework and building blocks were there, but few pundits were able to accurately encompass, delineate, and predict the applications that gained traction, the wide-ranging technological achievements that would occur, and how everyday life has been impacted via the commercial use of a worldwide network of computer servers.

What Is the Metaverse?

The metaverse has been described as a network of virtual worlds, where augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and the Internet come together to provide a fully immersive, three-dimensional (3D) experience to users. Technology stalwarts such as Meta (the company formerly known as Facebook) have gone on a public relations blitz to depict a world in which doctors might be able to practice operating in a VR world before ever using a scalpel on a patient, or where people can feel immersed in remote locations and experiencing the sights and sounds as if they were there, while sitting in their homes wearing VR googles and headsets.

Indeed, AR, VR, holographic technology, and high-speed, low-latency communication networks are typically described as the foundational elements of the metaverse. Yet the specifics of which use cases, applications, and companies will drive the development of the metaverse and thrive in its new ecosystems remains an open question.

"No one knows what the metaverse is right now, other than the fact that people are speculating heavily because they're speculating on virtual property," says Jennifer deWinter, a professor of arts, communications, and humanities at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) in Worcester, MA. "I think Face-book is imagining it as a 3D digital environment. If you expand it out into a bunch of tech entrepreneurs or futurists, it's probably a grouping of applications still in and around the same idea of digitized selves."

The idea of immersive, digital communities was around long before Facebook decided to rebrand and capitalize on the metaverse. Nearly 20 years ago, virtual communities that allowed people to connect with each other in an immersive, fully digital environment, such as Second Life and Habbo Hotel, sprung up and introduced the concept and use of "avatars," digital representations of a real person depicted in a virtual environment. Not surprisingly, Hollywood got into the act as well, with movies such as the aptly named Avatar, as well as Jumanji, where children are sucked into the virtual world of the game itself and actually become their digital avatars.

The metaverse will require three elements in order to become as ubiquitous as the Internet itself: a robust communications infrastructure, powerful and easy-to-use development platforms and, perhaps most importantly, compelling applications that provide value to users that cannot be replicated or found elsewhere.

Building the Metaverse

The development and rollout of 5G and 6G communications networks will serve as the backbone for the metaverse, which will require fast, always-on, and rich data exchange among users, virtual worlds or environments, and applications. In particular, graphics-intensive technologies such as AR, VR, and holograms will not function optimally without robust, reliable communications networks.

The metaverse also will require platforms that allow content creators to develop the virtual worlds in which users will interact, as well as supporting the technologies that bring these digital worlds to life. Today, the most common platforms being used for metaverse VR platforms are Decentraland and Voxels, which are virtual-world, browser-based platforms where users can buy virtual plots of land in the platform as NFTs, but this will change as existing players enter this new space, explains Prashant Kelker, partner, digital strategy and solutions, for technology research and advisory firm ISG.

Kelker also observes that several large hyperscale companies (which have vast amounts of cloud-based compute, memory, networking, and storage resources) likely will support the initial infrastructure needed to support metaverse applications. For example, Kelker says Meta plans to develop a massive supercomputer to power the metaverse, and has selected the European Union to develop the metaverse technology in order to create more employment in Europe.

He also cites NVIDIA's development of metaverse-ready assets known as Omniverse, Apple's creation of a head-mounted display (HMD) virtual meeting application, and Unity Software's efforts to supply a development platform that supports 3D, VR, and AR-based environments.

"The key element in my mind that needs to be solved is kickstarting a parallel market between creators and consumers," says James Kaplan, co-founder and CEO of conversational AI company MeetKai. "There needs to be a major push from the entire ecosystem to make content easier to create."  ... ' 

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