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In recent weeks, many people have asked me the same question: Is the metaverse dead? This pessimism is not surprising given that the Meta stock has lost more than half of its value since formally announcing its strategic pivot to the metaverse. To make matters worse, Meta announced last week important laid off across the company, increasing fear across the industry.
I’m trying to be objective and see the current problems at Meta as a reflection of the legacy business rather than an indication that the metaverse strategy is failing. I think it’ll be another year or two before we can really predict if Meta will be successful in this space or anything other big players will emerge as the true leaders of the metaverse.
My bigger concern is that the general public is still confused about what “the metaverse” is and how it will benefit society. You’d think this would be obvious by now, but even simple definitions of the metaverse are hard to come by. Personally, I blame influencers from the Web3 space for creating the confusion, describing the metaverse in terms of blockchains, cryptocurrencies, and NFTs. These are extremely useful technologies, but are no more relevant to the metaverse than 5G, GPS, or GPUs.
The metaverse is not on specific pieces of infrastructure.
The metaverse is not about NFTs
I point this out because of an experience I had two weeks ago at the Metaverse Summit in San Jose. During the event, I sat at a round table discussion on the topic “Metavers Marketing.” Executives from many major brands were present. To my surprise, no one spoke about things that I would find relevant to put into the market the other way around. Instead, they mostly talked about NFTs and strategies to target ‘Web3 natives’ and ‘epipers’. That’s not the metaverse. If the industry doesn’t push back this lingering confusion, it will continue to struggle.
Repeat after me: the metaverse is not about NFTs.
Instead, the metaverse is about transforming how we humans experience the digital world. Since the dawn of computer science, digital content has been accessed primarily through flat media viewed in the third person. In the metaverse, our digital lives will increasingly consist of immersive media appearing all around us and experienced in the first person. It will affect everything from how we work, shop and learn online to how we socialize and organize. It really is that simple—the metaverse is the transition of the digital world from plain content to immersive experiences– and believe me, it’s not dead.
In any case, the metaverse is inevitable.
Born that way
Why is the metaverse inevitable? It’s in our DNA. The human organism has evolved to understand our world through first-person experiences in spatial environments. It’s how we interact and explore with each other. It’s how we store memories and build mental models. It’s how we generate wisdom and develop intuition. In other words, the metaverse is about using our natural human abilities for perception, interaction and exploration when we use the creative power and flexibility of digital content. It will happen. The only question is, will it happen soon, or will the industry fall back into a long, dark winter?
Personally, I don’t believe winter is coming.
I say that as someone who has lived through the longest winter of all. After doing early VR and AR research in government labs, I founded Immersion Corporation in 1993 to bring the natural power of immersive experiences to major markets. In 1995, the industry was on fire, with a level of media hype that felt similar to early 2022. But then came the dotcom bust. It sucked all the virtual air out of all the virtual rooms. That’s because the VC industry abruptly narrowed its focus, dumping every last penny into e-commerce startups. You couldn’t pronounce the phrase “virtual reality” to most investors for over a decade. This led to the other way around go inside a freezing winter which lasted from about 1997 to 2012.
That’s not going to happen this time.
The industry is too far. The metaverse is no longer driven by startups and fueled by venture capital. Many of the largest companies in the world are now compete to bring VR and AR products to mainstream markets. Some say this will evolve into a small industry focused on gaming, entertainment and a handful of other focused industries, but I think it will be far wider than That. In fact, I predict that the metaverse will become a central part of everyday life by the early 2030s.
No, I’m not suggesting that we will spend our lives in cartoonish virtual worlds with scary avatars to chat with friends and colleagues. Virtual spaces become much more natural and realistic. Still, I believe that purely virtual worlds will be mainly focused on short-term activities, similar to the way we lose ourselves in movies today. The true metaverse – the one that will transform our lives – will be rooted in augmented reality, allowing us to experience the real world embellished of immersive virtual content that appears seamlessly all around us. That is by far the most natural way for us humans to bring the digital world into our lives. For that simple reason, the metaverse is inevitable.
Dr Louis Rosenberg is an early pioneer of virtual and augmented reality. In 1992, he developed the first functional augmented reality system for Air Force Research Laboratory. In 1993, he founded the early VR company Immersion Corporation. In 2004, he founded the early AR company Outland Research. He has been awarded more than 300 patents for VR, AR and AI technologies and has published more than 100 academic papers. He received his PhD from Stanford and was a tenured professor at California State University. He is currently the CEO of Unanimous AI, the Chief Scientist of the Responsible Metaverse Alliance (RMA), and the Global Technology Advisor of the XR Safety Initiative (XRSI).
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