The metaverse is here

One day the internet arrived, seemingly from nowhere, and we got used to thinking that it would be forever. It now seems clear that we are on the cusp of a successor: the metaverse. The metaverse has a lot in common with the internet, but it takes it to a completely new level. Mark Zuckerberg apparently prefers to call it an “embodied internet,” seeing it as the future of Facebook. In an internal call he gave at Facebook at the end of June, Zuckerberg explained that the internet will soon be replaced by a virtual or artificial world “where instead of just viewing content — you are in it.”

The metaverse has to be persistent, synchronous, and live. Just as in the inspiring vision put forward by Neal Stephenson decades ago, it has to go on all the time, even when you are asleep or living entirely in physical reality. You jump into the metaverse. And it has to be highly concurrent: this artificial world has to be continuously updated from the inputs of its millions or potentially billions of users.

I imagine it as a virtual world with some of the characteristics of a city. There will be stores where users can buy the products which will later be delivered to their physical homes (does Facebook want to beat Amazon in the metaverse?). There will be beaches and parks where we can meet our friends to chat and play, much like what Fortnite already offers today (but better). There will be concerts and art galleries. Is there a reason to travel to Venice in order to visit the Biennale instead of jumping into the metaverse and enjoying all the video art and installations with the latest fully immersive technology? Around these possibilities it is easy to imagine the development of a new digital economy where creators will be less dependent on mediators of all kinds.

The metaverse will not come about in the same way the internet did. There will be a much smaller role for public authorities. Companies like Facebook and Google are likely to take the lead. As the market grows, everyone else will be forced to join and hopefully that will be enough to guarantee a large area of interoperability, without which the metaverse will remain a dream.