The metaverse is the latest sci-fi-like vision of the future to emerge from the world of technologists and venture capitalists.

The latest of these is called “the metaverse”.

You can either call it a dystopia or a utopia, depending on who you ask. Some see it as overhyped and already obsolete, while others see it as an inevitable future.It has attracted tons of investment. And a host of powerful companies believe it will be completed just in time for you to inhabit and use it. It doesn’t matter if you’re new; they’re going to construct it regardless.

Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg outlined an ambitious vision for the company two months ago. By helping the “metaverse come to life,” Facebook’s ad sales division and virtual reality division would work together toward a single goal.

The trillion-dollar social media company would transition to “a metaverse company”.

The metaverse he envisioned was a virtual world in which users interact in real-time (via digital avatars).

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A one-stop-shop where users can play games, buy digital goods like real estate and watch the news, interact with others, and so on. One might say that this is the next version of the internet.

Another way of looking at it is just as good as the online world Second Life (which is still going strong today). The arrival of the metaverse is also being hyped by other companies.

In April, Epic Games raised $US1 billion in funding to invest in the metaverse. Epic makes Fortnite, which looks like a proto-metaverse: as well as a hugely popular game, it’s a social network, a virtual showroom for intellectual property, and a marketplace for in-game currency.

In Fortnite, for example, Disney-approved Star Wars avatars rub shoulders with avatars wearing NFL-approved player uniforms. These in-game items have been bought with Fortnite’s “V-Bucks”.

The popular metaverse thinking often portrays a common interface, assuming we will all enter as Player One ready to play the same game by the same rules. But what we will see is a myriad of different business models, content types, and classes of experiences. Individuals will orchestrate the interfaces for these into workflows that bring productivity, entertainment, or socialization in the manner they want. The common thread is that all of these applications will amplify the capabilities of the individual users.

If you were to watch the data flow in the modern internet, you would see some of it flowing into a pool like Facebook. But you would see far more flowing in many different directions, creating unique patterns of activity that begin to approximate us as individuals. This kind of hyper-personalization is extending into all parts of our digital lifestyles. The tools are becoming us. In the data is a meta me that is becoming every bit as real as us.

How will Metaverse affect the end-user?

Metaverse is based on the idea of creating an immersive digital place that duplicates reality without physical constraints. Nevertheless, this does not mean that metaverse rules do not apply to the real world. In the words of iconic Morpheus from The Matrix, “some rules can be bent, others broken”, and even when the laws of physics don’t apply, that’s not going to be the case with intellectual property rules and other regulatory frameworks. 

There are similar governance challenges among the Internet, but they are augmented by the invasive and intimate nature of this immersive technology with sensors and devices attached close to the body and extracting biometric sensitive data -like eye-tracking devices – that can be abused. Consideration should be given to virtual embodiment representations and their effect on digital wellbeing.

This is positive for humanity itself. The very devices we use will share our disposition on sensing the environment around us, amplifying us.

The metaverse has dystopian connotations because we live in an age where technology doesn’t always promote the betterment of the human condition. We are sensing a competition here and rightfully so. We don’t want to enter the machine. We want it to meet us on our terms.