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Over the past few weeks, many people have asked me the same question: Is the metaverse dead? This pessimism is not surprising, given that Meta stock has lost more than half of its value since the official announcement of its strategic pivot to the metaverse. Adding insult to injury, last week Meta announced major company-wide layoffs, raising fear throughout the industry.
Doing my best to be objective, I see the current struggles at Meta as a reflection of its legacy business rather than an indication that its Metaverse strategy is failing. I think it will be another year or two before we can truly predict whether Meta will succeed in this space, or whether other big players will emerge as the true leaders of the Metaverse.
My biggest concern is that the general public is still confused about what the “metaverse” is and how it will benefit society. You’d think that would be clear by now, but even simple metaverse definitions are hard to come by. Personally, I blame influencers in the Web3 space for creating confusion, describing the metaverse in terms of blockchains, cryptocurrencies, and NFTs. These are deeply useful technologies but no more relevant to the metaverse than 5G, GPS, or GPUs.
The metaverse is not on specific elements of the infrastructure.
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Metaverse is not about NFTs
I’m pointing this out because of an experience I had at the Metaverse Summit in San Jose two weeks ago. During the event, I participated in a panel discussion on the topic of “Metaverse Marketing”. Leaders of many major brands were present. To my surprise, no one mentioned issues that I would consider relevant to marketing in the metaverse. Instead, they mostly talked about NFTs and strategies for attracting “web3 natives” and “degens.” It’s not the metaverse. If the industry doesn’t fend off this lingering confusion, it will continue to struggle.
Repeat after me: the metaverse is not about NFTs.
Instead, the metaverse is about transforming the way we humans experience the digital world. Since the dawn of computing, digital content has primarily been accessed through flat media viewed in third person. In the metaverse, our digital lives will increasingly involve immersive media that appear all around us and are experienced in first person. It will impact everything from how we work, shop and learn online to how we socialize and organize. It really is that simple—the metaverse is the transition of the digital world from flat content to immersive experiences– and believe me, it’s not dead.
If anything, the metaverse is inevitable.
born like this
Why is the metaverse inevitable? It’s in our DNA. The human organism has evolved to understand our world through first-person experiences in spatial environments. This is how we interact and explore. This is how we store memories and build mental models. This is how we generate wisdom and develop intuition. In other words, the metaverse is about using our natural human abilities for perception, interaction, and exploration as we engage the creative power and flexibility of digital content. It will happen. The only question is: will it happen soon, or will the industry fall back into another long, dark winter?
Personally, I don’t believe that winter is coming.
I say this as someone who has had the longest winter of all. After doing my early research in virtual reality and augmented reality in government labs, I founded Immersion Corporation in 1993 to bring the natural power of immersive experiences to major markets. In 1995, the industry was on fire, with a level of hype that felt like the start of 2022. But then came the dotcom bust. He sucked all the virtual air out of all the virtual rooms. That’s because the venture capital industry has sharply narrowed its focus, pouring every last penny into e-commerce startups. You couldn’t utter the term “virtual reality” to most investors for over a decade. This submerged the Metaverse into a freezing winter that lasted from approximately 1997 to 2012.
It won’t happen this time.
The industry is too advanced. The metaverse is no longer driven by startups and fueled by venture capital. Many of the world’s largest companies are now competing to bring VR and AR products to consumer markets. Some say it will evolve into a narrow industry focused on games, entertainment, and a handful of other targeted verticals, but I think it will be much broader than that. In fact, I predict that in the early 2030s, the metaverse will become a central part of everyday life.
No, I’m not saying we’ll spend our lives in cartoonish virtual worlds using creepy avatars to chat with friends and colleagues. Virtual spaces will become much more natural and realistic. Still, I believe that purely virtual worlds will mostly be for short-lived pursuits, much the same way we get lost in movies today. The real metaverse, the one that will transform our lives, will be anchored in augmented reality, allowing us to experience the real world embellished with immersive virtual content that appears seamlessly all around us. This is by far the most natural way for us humans to integrate the digital world into our lives. For this simple reason, the metaverse is inevitable.
Dr. Louis Rosenberg is one of the first pioneers of virtual and augmented reality. In 1992, he developed the first functional augmented reality system for the Air Force Research Laboratory. In 1993, he founded the first virtual reality company Immersion Corporation. In 2004, he founded the first AR company Outland Research. He has been granted over 300 patents for VR, AR and AI technologies and published over 100 academic papers. He received his Ph.D. from Stanford and was a tenured professor at California State University. He is currently CEO of Unanimous AI, Chief Scientist of the Responsible Metaverse Alliance (RMA), and Global Technology Advisor to the XR Safety Initiative (XRSI).
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