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In recent weeks, many people have asked me the same question: Is the metaverse dead? This pessimism is not surprising, considering that Meta’s stock has lost more than half its value since its strategic pivot into the metaverse was formally announced. Adding insult to injury, Meta last week announced major company-wide layoffs, raising fears across the industry.
Trying my best to be objective, I see the current struggles in Meta as a reflection of their legacy business rather than an indication that their metaverse strategy is failing. I think it will take another year or two before we can really predict if Meta will succeed in this space, or if other big players will emerge as the true leaders of the metaverse.
My biggest 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 clear by now, but even simple metaverse definitions are hard to find. Personally, I blame the influencers in the Web3 space for creating the confusion, describing the metaverse in terms of blockchain, cryptocurrency, and NFTs. These are profoundly useful technologies, but they’re no more relevant to the metaverse than 5G, GPS, or GPUs.
The metaverse is No on any specific piece of infrastructure.
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The metaverse is not about NFTs
I point this out because of an experience I had at the Metaverse Summit in San Jose two weeks ago. During the event, I sat in on a panel discussion on the topic of “Metaverse Marketing.” Executives from many big brands attended. To my surprise, no one talked about topics that I would consider relevant to metaverse marketing. Instead, they mainly talked about NFTs and strategies to attract “Web3 natives” and “degens”. That’s not the metaverse. If the industry doesn’t roll back this persistent confusion, it will keep fighting.
Repeat after me: the metaverse is not about NFTs.
Instead, the metaverse is about transforming the way we humans experience the digital world. Since the dawn of computing, digital content has been accessed primarily through flat media viewed in the third person. In the metaverse, our digital lives will increasingly involve immersive media appearing all around us and experienced in first person. It will impact everything from how we work, shop and learn online to how we socialize and organize. It’s really that simple—the metaverse is the transition of the digital world from flat content to immersive experiencesAnd believe me, he’s not dead.
In any case, the metaverse is inevitable.
Born this way
Why is the metaverse inevitable? It’s in our DNA. The human organism evolved to understand our world through first-person experiences in space environments. It is how we interact and explore. This is how we store memories and build mental models. This is how we generate wisdom and develop intuition. In other words, the metaverse is about using our natural human abilities for perception, interaction, and exploration as we utilize 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 another long, dark winter?
Personally, I don’t think winter is coming.
I say this as someone who lived through the longest winter of all. After conducting 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. By 1995, the industry was on fire, with a level of media hype feeling similar to early 2022. But then came the dotcom bust. It sucked in all the virtual air from all the virtual rooms. That’s because the venture capital industry has sharply narrowed its focus, investing every penny in e-commerce startups. He couldn’t utter the phrase “virtual reality” to most investors for over a decade. This plunged the metaverse into a frigid winter that lasted from roughly 1997 to 2012.
That’s not going to happen this time.
The industry is too advanced. The metaverse is no longer fueled by startups or fueled by venture funds. Many of the world’s largest companies are now competing to bring virtual reality and augmented reality products to mainstream markets. Some say this will become a narrow industry targeting gaming, entertainment, and a handful of other specific verticals, but I think it will be much broader than that. In fact, I predict that by the early 2030s, the metaverse will become a central part of daily life.
No, I’m not suggesting that we spend our lives in virtual cartoon worlds using creepy avatars to chat with friends and coworkers. Virtual spaces will become much more natural and realistic. Still, I think purely virtual worlds will mostly be meant for short-lived activities, similar to the way we get lost in movies today. The true metaverse, the one that will transform our lives, will have its roots in augmented reality, allowing us to experience the real world embellished with immersive virtual content that seamlessly appears 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 one of the early pioneers of virtual and augmented reality. In 1992 he developed the first functional augmented reality system for the Air Force Research Laboratory. In 1993 he founded the first virtual reality company Immersion Corporation. In 2004, he founded the first augmented reality company Outland Research. He has obtained more than 300 patents for virtual reality, augmented reality, and artificial intelligence technologies and has published more than 100 scholarly articles. He received his Ph.D. from Stanford and was a tenured professor at California State University. He is currently the CEO of Unanimous AI, Chief Scientist of the Responsible Metaverse Alliance (RMA) and Global Technology Advisor of the XR Safety Initiative (XRSI).
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