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The metaverse does not have a specific definition, but venture capitalist Matthew Ball – who Mr Zuckerberg recommended on the topic in an interview with The Verge – sets out a number of features it could have: the metaverse is a space that is persistent, synchronous, spans both the digital and physical worlds, offers “unprecedented interoperability” and contains a fully functioning economy. It is intended as an “embodied internet”, as Mr Zuckerberg described it.
The metaverse, in Mr Zuckerberg’s vision, will be about “engag[ing] more naturally” with the behaviours we already exhibit – such as reaching for our smartphones immediately upon waking up.
“We have these phones. They’re relatively small. A lot of the time that we’re spending, we’re basically mediating our lives and our communication through these small, glowing rectangles. I think that that’s not really how people are made to interact”, Mr Zuckerberg said, saying that technology should emulate “some shared sense of space in common”.
Mr Zuckerberg has made such comments before, hypothesizing that humans should “be teleporting, not transporting ourselves” into various environments through virtual and mixed reality environments. This could be through a number of devices, and while many people think of the metaverse in terms of virtual reality headsets, Mr Zuckerberg proposed that VR, AR (augmented, or mixed, reality), PCs, mobile devices, and game consoles would all be connected.
“I think [it] is probably going to resemble some kind of a hybrid between the social platforms that we see today, but an environment where you’re embodied in it”, Mr Zuckerberg also said. One of the benefits of this ecosystem would be that, “if you go back 20 or 30 years, a lot of people’s individual opportunities and experience was dictated by their physical proximity”, and that easy movement through a virtual space could avoid such barriers.
Mr Zuckerberg did not address that, while technology has been greatly democratized over the years, there is still a substantial digital divide between demographics and increased digitization risks locking them out of further vital services.
Facebook has invested in virtual and augmented reality, most notably through its Oculus Quest headset, because “mobile phones kind of came around at the same time as Facebook, so we didn’t really get to play a big role in shaping the development of those platforms”, Mr Zuckerberg said. Smartphones mediating users’ access to Facebook has been a controversial topic recently, with Apple blocking off the advertising tracking on iPhones that generates vast profit for Facebook.
Current virtual reality headsets are “clunky”, but Mr Zuckerberg envisions that eventually we will have “normal-looking glasses” – although building an entire computer capable of “sensing and mapping out the world” into a five millimetre-thick glasses frame is a “real challenge”.
Technological developments aside, one issue that will need to be addressed is regulation of the metaverse – and oversight is an issue that has dogged Facebook for years.
“A good vision for the metaverse is not one that a specific company builds, but it has to have the sense of interoperability and portability”, Mr Zuckerberg said, adding that there should be protocols like the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) internet standards for defining how experiences will be built.
“The software that we build, for people to work in or hang out in and build these different worlds, that’s going to go across anything. So other companies build out VR or AR platforms, our software will be everywhere. Just like Facebook or Instagram is today.”