Virtual Reality (VR) has been an idea in science fiction since the 80s. Still, it was just after Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook Connect conference and Facebook’s rebranding into Meta that it really took off.
But what is Meta? And what’s the vision of the in-form technophile inspiring him to ‘work all the hours that God sends’ to bat at the forefront of this cyberspace?
What is Meta?
Meta is a new technology that will be used to bring people together using:
- Augmented Reality (AR) – which is the superimposition of computer-generated images on a user’s view of the real world.
- Virtual Reality (VR) – which is about creating an immersive environment by shutting out the real world.
With AR, you could be at home looking through your phone or glasses and see things projected into your actual surroundings.
Whereas with VR, you can still be at home, but you wear glasses that put you into an entirely different world where you are no longer in your living room but rather in your own personal movie theater. You can travel to any destination and see anything that has been programmed into the glasses.
And this is what Mark Zuckerberg has been working on for quite some time now.
“Imagine you put on your glasses or headset and you’re instantly in your home space. There are parts of your physical home recreated virtually, it has things that are only possible virtually and it has an incredibly inspiring view of whatever you find most beautiful,” says the founder.
Understanding Meta’s Mission
It’s been since 476 AD when the Romans fell from their seat of power, and their empire crumbled. In the upcoming years, Meta will be bringing us back to a time when people used to dress up as if they were in a Roman Empire.
While there seems to be no way to get our eyes in the events that led to the fall of the Roman Empire, except the transcripts in our history books, Meta may be able to make you feel that centuries-old history in your bones by teleporting you in that era!
Not only this but…
We will be able to watch live concerts from the audience, feel like we are really living in other people’s bodies, and visit places too expensive or remote for most people to ever travel to. And that too without our actual physical presence there.
Why They Named It “Meta”?
Meta is derived from the word ‘metaverse’
The word metaverse is a combination of the prefix “meta” and “universe.” It refers to something bigger than and, in some sense, encompasses the universe.
The first use of the term ‘metaverse’ in a virtual reality sense came from Neal Stephenson’s 1992 novel Snow Crash, where he imagined a kind of persistent online world that could be used for commerce and socializing.
Fast forward to 2021, Mark Zuckerberg’s Meta is putting together a metaverse of a different kind.
People in the 1992 Snow Crash explored the metaverse through their own bodies, logging on to virtual worlds with physical avatars.
By contrast, in today’s metaverse, users are more likely to explore with digital avatars — character representations of themselves and their friends — in virtual worlds built by Meta.
Once inside this universe: you can feel yourself in any place of the world you want, live or travel through time, communicate with other people, and feel the happiness of real life.
“We’ve gone from desktop to web to mobile; from text to photos to video. But this isn’t the end of the line. The next platform will be even more immersive — an embodied internet where you’re in the experience, not just looking at it. We call this the metaverse, and it will touch every product we build,” said Mark at the 2021 Connect conference.
What Distinguishes Meta from Other VR Platforms?
Is Mark Zuckerberg’s Meta something cutting edge OR just a new wine into old bottles?
One could argue that the idea of a virtual world is not new and that this idea has already been implemented by Second Life, IMVU, and MVRsimulation.
These companies have already proven their mark in the VR realm, but they have different goals and target markets compared to Meta. Most of these metaverses offer their users a platform to interact with other users, buy virtual items, and play games for money.
[But Mark Zuckerberg’s Meta marches to the sound of a different drum]
It will be better than real life because nothing will be able to spoil it – neither weather nor physical pain. Everything in it will be perfect and fascinating.
It isn't just a game or simulation; it's a whole new way of living. You can think of it as an alternative to the real world. People will live their entire lives inside this world, and they will never want to go back.
Meta wants you to do everything you do in real life, but in a VR world with real like experiences. That way, you will feel like you never left! You will be able to work, eat, sleep, and even go out on dates all inside this virtual reality world.
Speaking highly of Meta, the 37-year-old founder says:
“The defining quality of the metaverse will be a feeling of presence — like you are right there with another person or in another place. Feeling truly present with another person is the ultimate dream of social technology. That is why we are focused on building this.”
The most important features of this metaverse that Mark Zuckerberg and his team are working on are:
- Immersion – The virtual world should feel as real as possible. The illusion is broken when information is presented to us outside of our current context without appropriately processing this new information.
- Interactivity – The user should be able to interact with the surroundings and other entities within this environment. This can range from a simple mouse click to full motion capture body tracking, allowing complex physical interactions with the virtual world.
- Tangibility – The entities within the environment should behave physically correctly and have realistic mass, force effects, friction, etc.
- Natural interaction – Users should be able to interact with objects using natural gestures, such as using a controller or their hands and body movements.
When Will We Get To Experience The Metaverse?
Is this game-changing metaverse coming soon to us?
The development of Meta’s metaverse is difficult and costly, especially when its technology has to generate experiences that are so real and technically close to our current human experiences that they will be indistinguishable from reality.
Therefore, it will take anywhere between 10 to 15 years before becoming a reality, say Andrew Bosworth (the VP of Facebook Reality Labs) and Nick Clegg (the VP of Facebook Global Affairs), in their collaborative blog post.
To create a complete VR environment, it has to be built collaboratively by different people who specialize in various areas – graphics, sounds, programming, and physics simulations are examples of fields where input is needed. Therefore, “the metaverse isn’t a single product one company can build alone,” said both VPs.
“To really create a fully-realized digital environment, we must first successfully develop the core technology that powers the experience and then scale it across the globe,” says the company in another blog post.
“That’s why we’re investing in more than 1,500 engineers this year to bring more immersive and engaging experiences to people around the world.”
To achieve its mission, Facebook says it will also partner with industry leaders, civil rights groups, governments, nonprofits, and academic institutions to determine ethical ways of creating the metaverse. And the company has already announced a USD 50 million investment along those lines. 
The Project Initials: How is Mark Zuckerberg getting his metaverse off the mark?
While the company made it clear that “even with all the resources,” building out this new platform will require “a lot of time” for reaching its full potential… the initial steps are already being taken.
The company’s founder is currently embarking on bringing AR glasses that will host the metaverse. Called the Quests, this AR headset will be the entryway into Meta’s metaverse.
As for now, they are working on the following features that will be integrated into the Quests:
Once you’re in your AR headset, you’ll first see the “Horizon Home,” a virtual space that serves as your personal living room. It is the first place new users will go when they start the app. At launch, it will include a number of things to do, including meeting other avatars, playing games, and watching 360-degree videos.
Meta is designing it to provide a more intimate experience than many other VR social spaces. Rather than walking around with a group of friends or strangers, everyone will be represented by an avatar—and the physical space will be comfortable and well-lit.
They’re also experimenting with different types of events that take place there—live concerts, for example.
Meta wants to make sure that newcomers feel welcome when they start using the app. So the developers are working hard to make this a great introduction to social VR and something that feels like home right away.
From home, from a hotel room, from a park bench, or any place that provides wifi access – you can work alongside your colleagues and friends with Meta’s AR technology that lets you see them and interact with them as if they were in the same physical space.
What makes Horizon Worlds unique is that the AR headsets can teleport you into your colleagues’ reality and let you experience it as if you were really there.
Meta’s suite of augmented reality (AR) headsets and software will allow you to feel as if you are working in an office environment, even if you are sitting on your couch in your pajamas. By “virtually” transporting you into an office space full of other workers, Meta lets you interact with them much like you would in a physical office.
Most education takes place in a classroom in our day, with the teacher at the head of the room and the students in rows facing her. When, as often happens, all the students are not equally interested in what is being said or equally able to follow along, there is a tendency for them to lose interest or fall behind.
Therefore, the ideal alternative would be the ‘Education’ part of the Meta. It will give each student an individual experience of learning. The student goes into VR alone and finds herself in a scene representing the environment she wants to know about.
For example, a street scene in Paris. As she moves around in this scene, she encounters things that represent ideas and facts relevant to what she is studying: people walking and talking; cars driving or parked by the curbs; cafes and stores selling goods related to what she is studying. The sounds and visual details of these objects are chosen so that she can learn from them as if she is inside the topic that she is studying.
In addition, it can also be used as a non-formal way of learning. Students can visit museums or other places where they can touch exhibits or communicate with historical figures from the past; they can also meet people from different countries, cultures, and backgrounds.
The Challenges for Meta
The virtual reality (VR) world is full of exciting features, but there are potential problems and challenges for the team Meta to overcome.
For example, legal and moral issues are involved when you connect a virtual world to the internet, namely, who owns what? In the virtual world, who owns the buildings and landscapes and trees? Who owns the content of any user’s mind?
Also, if a person goes on to your property or breaks into your computer and steals information from you, then that’s illegal. But if someone does the same thing in the VR world, what laws apply?
Therefore, Mark and his team would have to address all such issues before their metaverse becomes mainstream.
Founder’s letter, 2021. Meta. (2021, October 29). from https://about.fb.com/news/2021/10/founders-letter/
Building the metaverse responsibly. Meta. (2021, November 15). from https://about.fb.com/news/2021/09/building-the-metaverse-responsibly/
Mohanty, K. (2021, November 8). Explained: What is metaverse and why Facebook/ Meta thinks it’s the future of internet. News18. from https://www.news18.com/news/tech/explained-what-is-metaverse-and-why-facebook-meta-thinks-its-the-future-of-internet-4416881.html