We need a useful Metaverse. Here is how we can build it.

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“Metaverse” is the tech buzzword now. It is straight out of sci-fi books and movies and we are loving it. The 1992 sci-fi novel “Snow Crash” by Neal Stephenson first saw the term. The book created the cyberpunk genre — characters spend time in a virtual world, socialize, interact, explore, fight and save the world. Then came the movie Ready Player One, where almost everyone was hitched to a VR multiplayer game and abandoned real life.

Human-first technology

It’s rather become a debate now on whether technology is a boon or bane to society. An age-old argument against technology remains that it stops people from interacting in real life. One might even argue that we have to completely ditch technology and go the old-fashioned way. But we do not think that’s how we should go about it.

Technology sure does have its own ways to help us. We take the benefits and leave the disadvantages. It is so easy to keep scrolling through social media, shop online, and attend back-to-back video conferences. But imagine, is this a behavior we’d tolerate when we meet someone face to face?

We need to make sure we create technology that motivates us in a direction that’s good for us. It should give us ways to get out, meet people, make it fun and interesting. It should give people reasons to make plans. That is what we believe is the kind of technology that mankind needs now.

The real world Metaverse

We know what we want. The question comes to, how are we going to pull this off? We need a technology that connected the real world with the digital world. Think of it as a digital layer over our physical world, filled with data, information and services but in an interactive way. We could call this the real world Metaverse as opposed to the video game versions. We are going to experience reality in a better way. Pokemon Go was a great example of how this is possible. It’s not about just the computer graphic challenge of adding animations to the real world, but also finding ways to present experiences, services and information where the physical and digital worlds meet.

The first two steps to building a real life Metaverse is perhaps

  1. Create a consistent experience for hundreds of millions of users across the world.
  2. Tying this experience to the physical world.

What do we mean? The first is what we called a ‘shared state’ where everyone is seeing the same thing, the same experience in the world. If a change something, it should be reflected in what I see and also for the rest of the world.

What will be a bigger project is precisely tying this to the physical world. We will need a new kind of map, pretty much similar to what Google Map offers but this map is built for computers. A phone or a headset should be able to integrate and function accurately in this world, thus it requires a high amount of precision. The map is built to enable a different kind of coordination and digital coordination. This is like a GPS but without a satellite and a multiple times better accuracy. This will be the key to make this work the way we want it and also one of our biggest challenges.

Building wearables

There is a lot of skepticism around AR. A lot of innovation will be required to achieve the optical and computing performance that we expect. It should also be delivered in a way that is socially acceptable. Alan Kay accurately depicted the future of technology in his 1972 Dynabook paper. The past few years have evolved from mainframe to mini-computers, to PCs and laptops to smartphones. If you see, the performance has increased and the size has reduced thus proving Kay’s view. This trend was noted as early as the 1980s by Mark Weiser and other experts that ultimately the computer devices will disappear into the world. Weiser called this “ubiquitous computing”.

This is where glasses come in play. Creating outdoor-wearable glasses can make reality malleable and enable brand new experiences. Your favourite characters can be walking with you in the Metaverse. Games could be one of the preliminary use cases of this technology.