Video mock-ups of the metaverse showed us that it revealed Facebook founder Mark ZuckerbergWhat the magic of telepresence might look like through 3D technology. But it overlooked the reality of most current virtual reality.
The metaverse project aims to bring more of our lives into the world of 3D games. The vision is to free our digital presence from the confines of the screen, restore our freedom of movement on a more “embodied” Internet, and enable deeper connections between people in a social environment, where we can see and interact with others.
“When you’re in a meeting across the metaverse, you feel like you’re in the room with others, make eye contact, and have a shared sense of space rather than just looking at a web of faces on a screen,” Zuckerberg said.
This is true, however, at the moment the metaverse is not “embodied” at all. It is an out-of-body experience where your senses take you elsewhere and leave your body behind on a chair or sofa or standing as a blindfolded prisoner.
Also, current headphones often block out the “real world”, sometimes causing dizziness, headaches and even nausea!
Mixed reality and augmented reality technologies promise to address this rift, and make 3D work and play a more physically mobile experience. There are recent efforts in this direction, such as some fitness applications. Zuckerberg praised the “Beat Saber” game in his speech, and the experimental pass-through video features, which blend real and digital fields of view, that Oculus introduced last summer.
In the meantime, safety will always be a concern. We may remember the videos of Wii users smashing their TVs! This is just a preview of what can go wrong when our bodies move around real things while our minds are in virtual space.
In the future, augmented reality glasses could help blend the real world and metaverse more seamlessly. But challenges posed by these devices, such as light weight, affordable prices, and battery life, remain far from Zuckerberg’s vision, according to an analysis by Axios.
In the meantime, observers expect it to be partially delivered to the public, as it will appear first in game worlds like Roblox and Fornite and crypto-based products like NFTs, rather than in 3D virtual offices and parties.
Zuckerberg says he envisions people accessing the metaverse sometimes in full 3D, sometimes through augmented reality glasses, and sometimes only through “computers and phones”.
“Privacy, Security and Ethics”
Meta (formerly Facebook) – along with the rest of today’s virtual reality makers – promises to launch a new 3D internet with due diligence on “privacy, security and ethics”. But makers of the virtual world will feel the same motivation to promote engagement and hold the eye of users in the metaverse, as social platforms do now.
And that could leave us all feeling nostalgic for our current age of blurry screen vision, and news feeds full of misinformation and privacy compromises, according to the Axios article.
Since the invention of VR 30 years ago, its makers have always dreamed of fixing the “mind/body” Cartesian divide that many tech products promote.
In sum, it is possible “at best” to imagine a scenario where virtual reality – powered by more fluid technology and transit features that blend real and digital fields of view – becomes truly embodied.
But the commercial realities of the social internet and the potential for slow, incremental improvements in today’s devices make the worst case seem like a much better bet.