With all of the new changes Facebook is making, I think it's important to talk about this topic. I've been a long time fan of VR, and I would consider myself an early adopter of the technology. You can never forget that first experience you have in a VR headset where you realize how amazing the possibilities are. But not much has changed since I bought my Oculus Rift in 2018. There's been some hardware upgrades from HTC and Oculus, and some new players entering the space with nice headsets like the Valve Index. However, the only application for this technology has largely been gaming and very few productivity applications. Now that Facebook (Meta) has announced there new direction with the "metaverse", I think it's important to talk about what that should look like beyond just Meta's products.
The metaverse has been described as a place where you can virtually meet, work and play using a VR headset, glasses or your device. The easiest way to catch up on what that really means is to watch this video of Meta's recent announcements:
From what we've been shown, it seems like they want to focus on social experiences through virtual meetings and work. Because they own Oculus, the largest player in the VR space, it's obvious they will be making the first machines that make this stuff possible. However, what empowers this technology is the world we build around it, which should not be left up to the largest corporations in America.
If you've read any of my other posts, you'll know that I believe in open-source technology and its ability to innovate properly. From what Meta has shown us, they seem to already be starting to build the applications that will power the metaverse. Although their announcements will push for more developers to invest in the metaverse, there are some large implications for 1 company developing what could end up being our day to day lives.
In the couple decades that open-source software has existed, it has been obvious that security and privacy has been an overarching benefit. We all know Microsoft and Apple don't have our best interests in mind when we use their operating systems. When it comes to security, Linux has dominated every other operating system, because the code is openly available to anyone. That means more people see the code, understand the problems, and fix it. It's quite possibly the most simple and effective benefit of open-source.
A few parallels to the early days of the internet can be made here. Contrary to public belief, the metaverse will create more ways for humans to collaborate and socialize. A lot of the comments I've seen are along the lines of "This is sad. No one will talk to each other in person anymore." If the past two years have shown us anything it's that more and more people don't care about working in-person for the "social benefits". Additionally, we live in a world where we can take our computers anywhere and interact with other people wherever we want. This technology will only make this interaction more realistic and normal than it already is. There's no evidence for us to think this will be any different than the introduction of computers to the masses.
Beyond the social aspect of the internet, we can compare the current vision of the metaverse to the early days of the internet. The internet was really nothing without protocols. There's no way we could have come this far without things like TCP/UDP and HTTP. Similarly, we need protocols for how experiences in the metaverse will be served. What file formats to support? How do we ensure a secure connection? What software will act as the "browser" between virtual worlds? These types of questions need to be tackled before a bunch of large corporations start making their own incompatible versions of the metaverse.
This is something Meta addressed, but I want to change the way they are looking at this piece of the puzzle. We shouldn't rely on Meta to create the tools for developers to create virtual experiences. I would look more towards technology like Unreal Engine or Unity which are freely available to anyone. If we take this a step further, we should create open-source tools for us to create virtual experiences, so that there is the same standard for quality and security at every point in the pipeline. The internet could have never succeeded if there were not some level of agreement on how to develop websites that are compatible with browsers.
Well for starters, a couple massive corporations are investing billions of dollars into the metaverse. If developers standby and let them call the shots for too long, there is a possibility for our virtual experiences to be flooded with ads and privacy invasion.
Beyond the dystopian commentary, let's think about how national governments have regulated technology. We've been shown that corporations will unethically use their power over our social networks and devices in order to sell our data for profit. Whether that data has larger implications in other parts of society never mattered to these companies. All the while, our governments have done nothing to stop it. If we build the metaverse upon the foundations of open-source technology, we can largely prevent corporations from invading our privacy.
My belief is that the metaverse is inevitable. It's only a matter of time before people adopt this technology, which I think will benefit society for the most part. However, I think it's important that developer communities take some time to deliberate over how the metaverse should work, so we can get around some of the mistakes that have been made before.
Personally, I want to contribute to building the metaverse. Ever since I first used VR, I understood how far the technology could go, and I'm sure there are many other applications we cannot begin to understand yet. I believe this technology could empower new ways of working together that would drastically increase productivity and collaboration in the workplace. It has the power to change how we socialize on the internet and bring more empathy into the conversations we have with strangers. My hope is that the metaverse will make us understand that there's someone behind a profile picture, and they are worth more than just their data.
If you're looking for more information about this topic, check out this article.