The popular myth of the Metaverse is that moment in Ready Player One: putting on a VR headset (and maybe a haptic suit of some kind), there's a burst of stars (and music) as you enter another reality.
I spent a decade pursuing that myth.
Yes, one day we'll wear optical devices and get transported to a universe of connected worlds.
But the myth I was pursuing was that access to the Metaverse could really only have ONE form factor. It won't.
The Metaverse Is Already Here
The Metaverse is already here.
We can connect to it when we wear a VR headset or augmented reality glasses. Some of the worlds within that Metaverse are called Fortnite or Roblox or the Omniverse.
We're fond of quoting William Gibson: "The future is already here — it's just not very evenly distributed." (Which reduces our sense of agency - but I digress).
The reality is that the Metaverse isn't evenly distributed....because crossing borders is next to impossible. It's like we've decided on a system where every country has its own requirements for what constitutes a passport, operates on a non-convertible currency, and doesn't even let you wear the same clothes, insisting instead that you adopt the local garb.
But it's here. The tiny little islands that make up the 'worlds' of the Metaverse are growing. They're like federated groups of States, usually run by corporatist governments. Travel within those federated states is relatively easy, but no one has established the travel routes that allow you to pop between them.
But there is ONE federated world where there's some degree of cohesion in the standards, where its avatars are aware of each other, where there is a sense of, at least, a shared language.
It's the digital world that's layered on top of our own. And you've been in it every time you walk out the door.
What World Is That Driver In?
Two cars are driving down a road. Both of them are headed to...I don't know, a grocery store.
Both of them are, by all appearances, driving along physical roads with physical signs and very physical police officers.
But one of them (because of all of the technology packed under the hood) is driving through the Metaverse:
- The 'player' is moving through a digital reality. They don't SEE too much of that reality but they are. It's three-dimensional, it's semantically mapped, it has controls and response systems.
- The player shares that reality with other people. In fact, each player is helping to create a higher degree of resolution of the world they're moving through. It's as if each player was contributing computing power to make the 'world' more and more realistic and self-sustaining
- Each player has an identity and that identity is reasonably secure. Each of the players "logs in" to the system with a secure key.
- The system is capable of a transaction layer.
- And while it might not be the avatar you were expecting, the car itself is an avatar in this world.
This Isn't the Metaverse I Was Expecting
No, it's not how you typically think about the Metaverse.
But read through Cathy Hackl's latest piece in Forbes. She asked a bunch of thinkers to give her a definition of the Metaverse.
Here are a few:
“My general description: The Metaverse crosses the physical/digital divide between actual and virtual realities.”
“A nebulous, digitally mixed reality with both non-fungible and infinite items and personas not bound by conventional physics and limitations.”
“Well, the ideal definition is “full interactive reality” layered across every segment of our lives. It is the connective tissue between humanity that we have always literally lucid dreamed of but until recently haven’t had the infrastructure to make it real.”
“The Metaverse: a persistent, live digital universe that affords individuals a sense of agency, social presence, and shared spatial awareness, along with the ability to participate in an extensive virtual economy with profound societal impact.”
Sure, driving your car might seem like it's missing a few things. But I'd argue that if you think of your car as an avatar, it's a clear example of being able to "crosses the physical/digital divide between actual and virtual realities" and is "a persistent, live digital universe that affords individuals a sense of agency, social presence, and shared spatial awareness".
And all of this is true before your car begins to drive itself.
Because once it does, things will start to get really interesting.
Your Car Is a Media Platform
I recently produced a virtual event for Harman and Samsung. It was their vision for the car of the future.
And it was full of screens.
Screens popped up in the dashboard, the back seat, even the trunk. They envision watching previews of the game before you attend a sporting event, or watching music videos before you attend a conference.
But I actually think that something way more interesting will happen. That, instead of 'tuning out' as your car drives itself, we're more likely to "tune in" to the world around us. (How many decades will it take before we're willing to 'take our eyes off the road?)
We won't be staring at screens. We'll be looking at the 'world' through AR glasses or HUDs that overlay on the windshield.
And that's where all of the LiDAR scanning and world mapping that's happening now comes in. All of the technologies which make self-driving possible will also open up a new media space.
The world itself will be a channel. Driving through the 'real world' will be a fusion of the digital and physical. And it will include a seamless and shared experience with other drivers.
If you've ever played GTA online picture the same thing....just without the crime.
It's a world with lots of 'pop up' experiences, overlays, metrics, location-anchored content, and a bunch of ways to transact.
We're Not GOING To The Metaverse, The Metaverse is Coming To US
Maybe this is just a thought experiment. It's so easy to get caught up in semantics whenever you talk about something as nebulous as "The Metaverse".
I spent over a decade with a single model of how the Metaverse would look and feel. That it would be a seamless, smooth "place" that we all go visit.
But why do we believe that's going to happen when we have, say, the history of the Web to prove that the push for standards and 'solid' technologies often happens in fits and starts?
Instead, I've started to think that the Metaverse is coming for US. It will seep into the cracks. We'll glimpse it through AR glasses and VR goggles.
And we'll drive through it in our cars.
It's an industry that is spending billions to create a safe, seamless, secure 'world'. It's deploying scanning and mapping technologies that are light years ahead of what game companies can (or want) to deploy.
So take a drive. Enjoy the view. And welcome to the Metaverse.
Thanks for indulging me! I'd love to hear your reaction to this 'thought experiment'. Oh...and I need to hat tip Robert Scoble who thinks Tesla is on to something BIG with all this.
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