About the Author: Louis Rosenberg is the CEO of Unanimous AI, Chief Scientist of the Responsible Metaverse Alliance, and Global Technology Advisor to the XR Safety Initiative.
Believe it or not, it’s only been a year since
announced its name change and strategic change in the metaverse. Over the next 12 months, Meta Platforms stock lost more than 70% of its value, prompting Altimeter Capital to demand that the company cut its workforce by 20% and reduce its investments in the Metaverse. at least half. Meta said Wednesday it would cut 11,000 jobs. These are not good facts, and the pain is not exclusive to Meta. Recent data from DaapRadar suggests metaverse startups are struggling to find active users and are falling well short of expectations.
Does this mean the metaverse is dead?
No, but it is deeply misunderstood. As someone who has been involved in this for decades, I have lived through several periods of ridiculous hype followed by equally absurd winters. Yet, I remain convinced that the metaverse will happen and that it will transform our lives in the near future. That said, the metaverse that will become a ubiquitous part of modern society will look nothing like today’s marketing videos that show creepy avatars gathering in cartoonish worlds.
To explain why, let me go back to 1991. I was doing my early research at Stanford University and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration on how to optimize depth perception in virtual reality. My most important insights came not from academic results, but from the countless hours I spent using early virtual reality hardware. I found the experience remarkable in concept but unpleasant in practice, bordering on misery.
At the time, everyone said it was just growing pains – the hardware didn’t have enough fidelity and was too heavy and too uncomfortable. They said not to worry, these issues would eventually be resolved. Sure, I knew the hardware would improve, but I didn’t buy into the argument that virtual reality would become the computing platform of our lives. It wasn’t the image quality or the physical comfort that troubled me. The reason I found VR unpleasant was that I didn’t like being cut off from the real world. Sure, it was great for giving demos, but for an extended period of time it was claustrophobic and isolating.
What I really wanted was to take the power of virtual reality and splash it into the real world, providing the benefits of immersive content without being cut off from reality. The idea was that the real world and the virtual world could be seamlessly combined into one experience so natural that you could perform normal tasks in a normal way with virtual content to guide, inform and entertain you, not replacing your actual experience. but embellishing it.
So I pitched the idea to the US Air Force and was lucky enough to get funding to explore the concept. This was before expressions like “augmented reality” or “mixed reality” were used. Instead, I described the benefits from the perspective of a human surgeon who could perform delicate procedures while making realistic virtual devices and tools appear around the patient, even inside the patient, guiding and informing the doctor during an actual surgery.
This project was a success, resulting in the first augmented reality system allowing users to interact with a mixed real and virtual world. And it wasn’t just sight and sound, but also touch and feel. Users could move real objects into virtual objects and feel the collision. This created a true suspension of disbelief, immersing users in a single unified reality where they could skillfully complete tasks.
But again, it was not the school results that affected me the most. The key insight for me was that not a single person came out of the system and said they felt claustrophobic or isolated or cut off from reality. In fact, it was the opposite – people told me they could easily imagine technology improving all sorts of real-world tasks and experiences. The key word was to improve, does not replace.
30 years later, VR systems are profoundly cheaper, smaller, lighter and better. And yet, the same barriers exist. People don’t like being cut off from reality for long periods of time. Sure, VR is great for short-duration activities like gaming, shopping, and exercising, but it won’t become the computing platform most people spend their days in. At least, not for very long.
That’s why the Metaverse, when widely adopted, will be an augmented world that allows us to live our normal lives while enhancing and beautifying our surroundings with magical immersive content. It will be seamlessly integrated into our business, providing informative and creative content in the most natural way possible, within our physical environment.
As for the growing pains some metaverse companies are having, where they can’t seem to fill their worlds with enough users, that’s also addressed by an augmented metaverse. After all, the real world is already populated. What’s missing are stylish and comfortable AR glasses from big name brands. I think we’ll see this come to market from 2024, and the real metaverse will finally take shape.
Guest comments like this are written by writers outside of Barron’s and MarketWatch newsroom. They reflect the views and opinions of the authors. Submit comment proposals and other feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.