The global pandemic catalyzed a shift to remote communication, pushing both personal and professional aspects of our lives into the digital realm. Naturally, this shift affected human connection in unprecedented manners, including the move to remote education, digital gatherings, and a decrease in accessibility for all, forcing us to find new ways to communicate and carry out regular functions in our daily lives.
Negatives aside, these challenges have coincided with exciting innovations, including the formal introduction of the metaverse, a boom in artificial intelligence, and advancements in virtual reality and augmented reality.
The metaverse we know today is not an entirely new concept, but rather an idea that has existed and evolved since the early days of Web2. Creating and expanding upon a digital platform that would allow for revolutionized communication has been the goal of several innovators for decades. With increasing interest in Web3 technologies, we continue to see an increase in appetite for immersive, digitized communication as we pivot towards the future of the internet.
Evolution of the metaverse
Launched in 2003, Second Life is an online multi-media platform that many now refer to as the world’s first metaverse platform. What differentiated it from its counterparts was its embodiment of several social media-like features into its platform. While Second Life did go on to achieve some success, it was tailored toward the gaming community. Despite that, it served as a great entry point into what we now know as the metaverse, drawing people across age groups and corners around the world.
Second Life shows that the appeal of these immersive technologies existed decades ago and that these technologies offer immense potential to foster meaningful connections, enhance social interactions, and bridge geographical and cultural divides. Where Web2 technologies laid the foundation for a global village, the metaverse and other Web3 technologies seek to further immerse us in this interconnected society.
Another example of how virtual worlds have evolved is Decentraland, released as a proof of concept to demonstrate virtual ownership. This pivot into the world of Web3 demonstrated that users did not only want to have a virtual persona but to also uniquely differentiate themselves from other users with digital ownership of commodities and land.
However, while platforms like Decentraland have allowed for the integration of blockchain into a virtual social platform, they have not been successful in increasing their user base. To avoid similar outcomes, new and existing companies are continuously looking for new ways to increase activity on their platforms while finding the right balance of increasing immersion without decreasing accessibility.
Increasing immersion and accessibility
To further integrate the user into a metaverse, developers have taken to expanding the media through which a user can access its platforms, including mobile phones, laptops and next-generation hardware including virtual reality headsets.
Augmented reality and virtual reality technologies enable individuals to share immersive experiences, collaborate remotely, and communicate in ways previously unimaginable. From interactive virtual meetings to shared AR environments, mixed realities open novel avenues for collaboration. These advancements can boost productivity, stimulate innovation, and dismantle the barriers erected by distance.
Deloitte’s 2023 Digital Media Trends study found that Gen Zs and Millennials are more likely to embrace newer hardware, including VR headsets, for a range of experiences than more senior age groups. The same study found that about 50% of Gen Zs and Millennials find online experiences to be meaningful replacements for in-person experiences, and 40% socialize more through video games than in the physical world.
With continuous advancements in VR hardware, including the anticipated Apple Vision Pro set to launch in 2024, there is a strong potential for an upsurge in VR content production and its broader adoption across different generations in the coming months.
The amalgamation of the technologies’ use cases in the metaverse will entice more people to leverage the different hardware and software to connect with peers, decreasing a generational divide and helping increase an understanding amongst different age groups.
New uses for virtual worlds
The evolving landscape of the metaverse offers the ability for users to navigate virtual venues, such as art galleries, alongside distant friends and families. The shift toward virtual accessibility transcends geographical limitations and expands the reach of once-exclusive in-person encounters. This accessibility will also create new revenue streams and monetization for emerging artists.
Additionally, the inability to meet with family members, friends and colleagues who may suffer from illness or disabilities that prevent them from leaving their homes in the real world could significantly decrease.
Creating a more accessible environment via the metaverse ensures an increase in compassion, empathy and inclusion for users in the physical world.
Another great use case the metaverse provides is decreasing the barriers to education. While many schools have shifted to remote education, it has proven to be a failure for many. Adding in the metaverse as a component could further immerse students and educators to allow for a more effective schooling outcome.
Utilizing the metaverse to increase the different avenues to access education will revolutionize how the traditional system has looked and functioned throughout the 21st century. Homeschooling, tutoring and remote education could potentially no longer feel as distant.
Artificial intelligence enhancing experience
While the metaverse offers a great amount of opportunities to immerse its users, it is clear that it alone cannot provide its experiences to the masses without the necessary technologies that shape it. Among the useful advancements in technology is incorporating artificial intelligence technologies to bolster the user experience.
Artificial intelligence can be used to bolster the human experience in the virtual world, even going so far as to offer users the option of caring for an AI pet. For both former and current pet owners, this can provide users the opportunity to create memories with immortalized animal companions — complementing the experience of caring for a pet in the real world.
As it stands, generative AI technologies continue to advance as long as users continue to provide their input and preferences. When combining a growing number of metaverse users with integrated AI technology, experiences will become more tailored to users while eliminating legwork on the platform developer’s end. Thus, the number of features offered will increase all while being provided in a shorter amount of time.
Future without borders
By learning about human desires, the integration of AI and other Web3-focused technologies can evolve the metaverse to provide sensations that more closely mimic real-world experiences. This evolution includes creating a platform that complements users’ real-life desires and advancing the integration of metaverse platforms with other technologies in our daily lives.
The metaverse holds tremendous potential to positively impact human connection and communication. By transcending physical boundaries, enabling cross-cultural interactions, and enhancing collaboration, these immersive technologies can transform the way we connect and interact.
Using virtual reality, augmented reality and artificial intelligence technologies in the metaverse will not replace in-person experiences. Instead, by extending our reach and eliminating the barriers of distance, it invites us all to seize the ever-expanding opportunities it can offer.