One of the misconceptions surrounding the creation of the metaverse is that it will become a better form of the internet, and there will be just one. But there isn’t just one internet.
We have internal internets called intranets, and internet alternatives like the dark web, both of which operate outside of the general internet, and even though they use many of the same tools, access is limited to a more targeted population.
The metaverse will also be a multiverse because the primary function of the metaverse is simulation. And when you are running a simulation, you typically run it in isolation, so other users, who are also running simulations, don’t compromise your results.
Let’s talk about the multiverse of metaverses this week:
The need for a multiverse of metaverses
Let’s start with the definition of the metaverse. A metaverse is a virtual reality (VR) space in which users can interact with a computer-generated environment and other users. This is the definition that comes up on Google when you search the term. It is sourced back to the book “Snow Crash” by Neal Stephenson, who defined it as a computer-generated universe. People have wrongfully assumed that this means there will be just one, but there can’t be just one if the concept is to function as it does currently.
There are also a lot of people who apparently believe the metaverse is a scam because it doesn’t yet meet Neal Stephenson’s representation of an explorable virtual world that operates as a modified copy of some digital aspect of the real world. While there will undoubtedly be efforts to do this, you could argue the Second Life platform explored these years ago. If you are using this technology predominantly for simulation, you’ll have to have multiple versions or the simulations will interact, lowering the predictive accuracy of the result. For instance, if I’m trying to simulate the weather, and Boeing is trying to simulate how plane design will work, my introducing a hurricane would have a material impact on Boeing’s test. The metaverse I use might be the same one that Boeing uses, but we not only wouldn’t use the same one at the same time, we are also more likely to both use copies of a metaverse template to secure our efforts. I might not want someone else to steal my work, and Boeing wouldn’t want another company to copy theirs, either.
And this multiverse of metaverses will be inaccessible to many people, much like we can’t browse internal websites or play on the dark web easily. Most of the metaverses will be proprietary and private to protect the work and eliminate competitive or premature regulatory problems. On this last, let’s say an architectural firm wants to prototype three building designs. They wouldn’t want neighbors of the proposed structures to gain access to preliminary designs and possibly raise objections to something that isn’t in the finished design stage, where their concerns may no longer be valid.
Autonomous cars are another example of why the majority of people will not have access to all metaverses. Say a manufacturer wants to test different crash or artificial intelligence (AI) damage scenarios to make sure they can mitigate future problems. Allowing general access to these virtual tests could scare away buyers who may see the tests as accurately representing their fears.
Regarding the concept of the metaverse replacing the internet, the old movie “Disclosure” (here is the scene) explored the resulting experience rather well. It showcased that it was far quicker and more efficient to gain access to data the way we do now than forcing a user to navigate a virtual office. Today, you put in a search term and then immediately get a list of relevant sources. With the metaverse approach, you’d virtually walk into a virtual library, look for a virtual index, virtually walk to a virtual filing cabinet, and then virtually search for your reference. While this is an extreme example, it shows how using the metaverse like we use the internet would create a lot of friction and would reduce productivity, while costing many times what a typical web data interface costs to develop.
A multitude of metaverses
I’m a fan of the Marvel Universe and have often accidentally used the term multiverse in place of metaverse, but the two work together because there will be a multitude of metaverses.
Yes, there will be those that allow you to explore a virtual world, like the one created in “Snow Crash,” and a copy of NVIDIA’s Earth-2 effort could form a foundation for that. But Earth-2 is being created to model weather, an effort that would be compromised if it were simultaneously used for other things.
It is unlikely the metaverse will replace the internet because the internet is more efficient, and there is no real need for a far slower, reality-based interface to the related information. Furthermore, as we move to more aggressive uses of AI, trying to morph the internet into a metaverse construct, much like it was demonstrated in the “Disclosure” movie, would slow down data access with no real offsetting benefit. In fact, we’ll probably use the internet, intranet, and dark web to connect to various metaverses, depending on the nature of the content. The two constructs are anything but mutually exclusive and not only will co-reside, but will likely enhance the other, once the metaverse concept matures and becomes more common.
In the end we’ll have a multiverse of metaverses, which will become another tool for sales, prototyping, simulation, and entertainment — or anything but a single construct.