Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently announced the long anticipated new branding of the Facebook umbrella corporation, which includes Instagram, Facebook, Messenger, WhatsApp, and Quest. “We just announced that we are making a fundamental change to our company,” Zuckerberg said in the Oct. 28 video. “To reflect who we are, and what we hope to build, I am proud to announce that starting today, our company is now Meta.”
That name refers to the Metaverse, a project of many of Silicon Valley’s most influential technologists, including some at Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Epic. They want to build a decentralized, multi-corporate virtual reality that many of them believe will be the successor to the internet as we know it. According to Facebook’s about page, “The metaverse is the next evolution of social connection. Our company’s vision is to help bring the metaverse to life, so we are changing our name to reflect our commitment to this future.”
“We’ll be able to feel present, like we’re right there with people, no matter how far apart we actually are,” Zuckerberg said. “Screens just can’t convey the full range of human expression and connection. They can’t deliver that deep feeling of presence. But the next version of the internet can.”
In Zuckerberg’s video, he and several of his collaborators present a detailed vision of what they claim the Metaverse will look like within the next five to ten years. Science fiction such as Ready Player One and Snow Crash (which is the novel that coined the term “Metaverse”) have often depicted advanced simulated worlds for people to enter and interact with, but this previously fantastical sci-fi premise is becoming more realistic by the day.
What the metaverse will look like
Most of us already spend much of our lives online; 6 hours and 42 minutes per day on average, according to a recent study. But according to Zuckerberg, “The next platform and medium will be even more immersive. An embodied internet where you’re in the experience, not just looking at it. And we call this the Metaverse. And you’re going to be able to do almost anything you can imagine.”
One of the announcements in Zuckerberg’s video was the introduction of the Presence Platform. Andrew ‘Boz’ Bosworth, Head of Facebook Reality Labs, explains that this new technology will give the powers of virtual spatial perception and environmental interaction to users of Meta’s “Quest 2” VR (virtual reality) headsets. Users will be able to handle virtual objects with real hand motions and talk vocally to other people’s avatars as though they’re interacting in real space.
Angela Chang, head of VR Devices at Meta, also describes a technology that will be out next year called Project Cambria. This will allow users’ avatars to reflect their real facial expressions and make natural eye contact with the avatars of others so that they’ll have a visual sense of people’s true emotions even in the Metaverse.
“When I send my parents a video of my kids, they’re going to feel like they’re right in the moment with us, not peering through a little window,” Zuckerberg explains. “When you play a game with your friends, you’ll feel like you’re right there together in a different world, not just on your computer by yourself. And when you’re in a meeting in the Metaverse, it’ll feel like you’re right in the room together, making eye contact, having a shared sense of space, and not just looking at a grid of faces on a screen. That’s what we mean by an embodied internet. Instead of looking at a screen, you’re going to be in these experiences.”
Just like websites on the internet, anyone with the knowhow will be able to create virtual spaces, as simple as blank digital rooms or as complex as entire worlds, for anyone granted access to explore, contribute to, and interact in. Teleporting from world to world will be as easy as clicking a link.
Benefits of the Metaverse
If the Metaverse becomes a widespread reality, it will have virtually countless benefits, because it will provide people with new opportunities and capabilities. Three major advantages stand out:
Affordability of experiences
The Metaverse will radically increase the affordability of a wide range of experiences and products, giving poor and middle-class people access to luxuries previously only available to the wealthy. Just like the internet has given much of the human population access to vast libraries of knowledge and entertainment, the Metaverse may allow most of humanity to virtually experience world travel, high quality interaction with family members stuck in distant countries, and so on.
This won’t just make goods and services cheaper; it will also make people wealthier by making their labor more productive. Many jobs that were once only available locally will now be available nationally or even globally because remote work will be much better than it is currently over Zoom and Slack.
And this new wave of innovation could create vast new job markets, as every large technological transition has throughout history. As Zuckerberg puts it, “Think about how many people make a living on the internet today, and how many of those jobs just didn’t even exist a few years ago. I expect that the Metaverse is going to open up lots of opportunities for people in the exact same way.”
Creation of new possibilities
The Metaverse will introduce new possibilities that don’t currently exist, even for the ultrawealthy. Right now, no one has a high-quality, virtual experience of traveling to distant solar systems, or the center of the earth, or past eras of human civilization. But after a few more years of rapid VR development, most of humanity may have access to these experiences.
This will have more than mere entertainment value. “Let’s say you’re a med student or a doctor. With apps like Osso VR, you can learn new techniques in surgery firsthand, practicing until you get it right,” suggests Marne Levine, chief business officer at Meta. “Or, if you’re studying earth science, you could swim through the Great Barrier Reef.” Would you prefer surgery from a surgeon trained in today’s medical schools, or one who has practiced his or her skills thousands of times in highly realistic simulations?
Providing new and often more efficient ways to achieve our goals, the Metaverse will be a huge boon for sustainability. By attending workplaces, schools, and social gatherings virtually rather than physically, we will save precious resources. “Dropping our daily commutes will mean less time stuck in traffic and more time doing things that matter,” Zuckerberg said. “And it’ll be good for the environment. Actually, if you travel for work, and working in the Metaverse means that you just take one less flight each year, that’s probably better than almost anything else that you can do for the environment.”
And when we’re operating in a more virtual world, fossil fuels won’t be the only consumption goods we’ll be less dependent on. Zuckerberg says that, “There are lots of things that are physical today, like screens, that will just be able to be holograms in the future.
You won’t need a physical TV. It’ll just be a one-dollar hologram from some high school kid halfway across the world,” predicts Zuckerberg. You’ll even need less material clothing and accessories to express yourself stylistically when you’re more frequently socializing in a virtual world where your avatar will have access to thousands of digital clothing options.
The limitless potential of technology
Many intellectuals since the Industrial Revolution have assumed that economic growth is fundamentally limited. But the introduction of the Metaverse is a good example of why this line of thinking could be proven wrong. In his book The Ultimate Resource 2, the economist Julian Simon explains why there is really no fundamental limit to economic growth, not even resource scarcity, because one resource can always be substituted for another, provided sufficient ingenuity is applied to the problem.
Using lead batteries as an example, Simon writes that, “What is relevant to us is not whether we can find any lead in existing lead mines, but whether we can have the services of lead batteries at a reasonable price; it does not matter to us whether this is accomplished by recycling lead, by making batteries last forever, or by replacing lead batteries with another contraption.”
In recent decades, technology has already substituted less efficient resource use for more efficient resource use in countless ways. Instead of using up more land to build new hotels, for example, Airbnb has found a way to house travelers in already-existing spare bedrooms that were often going unused. Telephone companies have utilized outer space, a resource that was previously mostly useless, as a facility for communication infrastructure when previous phone technology required filling Earth’s precious real estate with cables.
And now, the Metaverse may provide humanity with more technological options. By allowing us to fulfill an ever greater portion of our desires in digital rather than material space, it will allow us to do far more, and it will have us conserving rather than consuming resources such as fuel, building materials, and land.
The Metaverse won’t solve everything, and it will create some unforeseen hardships with some negative side effects just like any new technology. But if entrepreneurs and consumers are allowed to do what they do best, it is precisely technological progress like this that can help us solve the problems of the future and bring about more prosperity.
Author Saul Zimet holds a degree in economics from the City University of New York