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Metaverse: hopes, promises and unknowns

Do we know which metaverse we are talking about?

Jean Zeid, Journalist
On July 6th, 2022 |
3 min reading time
Raphaël Granier de Cassagnac
Raphaël Granier de Cassagnac
CNRS researcher in particle physics, holder of the "Science and Video Games" chair at École Polytechnique (IP Paris), and writer
Key takeaways
  • Many people think of the metaverse as a virtual space that can entered through virtual reality headsets and controllers, such as Oculus.
  • But there are other possible metaverses, accessible using devices that we already have access to like in Manzalab’s Teemew solution.
  • The main challenge now is to find the uses and demands for which virtual reality will provide a “bonus” that will make it a worthwhile investment.
  • However, a major question remains unanswered: isn't it vitally important to ask ourselves in advance about the ecological and social cost of our metaverse in a world hit hard by the ecological crisis?

Everyone is talking about it, but which metaverse are we really referring to?

To some extent, we already live in a meta­verse. Play­ers of League of Leg­ends or World of War­craft will tell you they have been trav­el­ling through vir­tu­al worlds for a long time – meet­ing, trad­ing, and hav­ing great adven­tures. Our cor­po­rate net­works can also be seen as meta­vers­es. We share con­tent, and have meet­ings on Teams, on Zoom; all in spaces that don’t phys­i­cal­ly exist. The same goes for our social networks.

What is the next step? And how far will this go? With the rebrand­ing of Face­book as Meta, many see the meta­verse as Mark Zucker­berg does: a vir­tu­al space that we will enter through vir­tu­al real­i­ty head­sets and con­trollers, such as Ocu­lus. It is pos­si­ble, and will very prob­a­bly become a real­i­ty for cer­tain pur­pos­es, for which this meta­verse will make a real difference.

We may think of train­ing spe­cial­ists in envi­ron­ments that are dif­fi­cult to access (off­shore plat­forms, nuclear pow­er sta­tions, etc.), or vis­it­ing muse­ums from a dis­tance where the han­dling of works of art and sci­en­tif­ic objects would be cap­ti­vat­ing. But it seems unlike­ly that the bil­lions of users of social net­works or smart­phones will con­vert to a hypo­thet­i­cal glob­al meta­verse. There are too many obsta­cles: pro­duc­tion, cost, and com­fort of head­sets; inter­op­er­abil­i­ty of plat­forms; and added val­ue com­pared to mobile inter­net, to which we are already accustomed.

Oth­er meta­vers­es are pos­si­ble on the devices we already have via the third per­son, as in Man­za­l­ab’s Teemew solu­tion – a cor­po­rate meta­verse spe­cial­is­ing in the world of busi­ness and train­ing. Or even in two dimen­sions, such as with the Gath­er­Town plat­form. It allows vir­tu­al events to be ani­mat­ed on a 2D map that can be con­fig­ured and is inspired by pix­el-art video games, with web­cams that pop up as soon as two par­tic­i­pants pass close by. Many of the func­tion­al­i­ties we need to inter­act remote­ly are already acces­si­ble on these small­er platforms.

This is the chal­lenge today: to find uses and pur­pos­es for which vir­tu­al real­i­ty will offer some­thing extra that will make it worth­while invest­ing in it. Pan­dem­ic lock­downs have pro­vid­ed us with plen­ty of them, but haven’t we already felt their lim­its and the need to see peo­ple in real life? And isn’t it vital­ly impor­tant to ask our­selves what the eco­log­i­cal and social costs of our meta­verse are? 

Beyond that? Is the Oasis of the Ready Play­er One book and film, a vir­tu­al world of refuge on a plan­et con­cerned about cli­mate change, with­in our reach? In addi­tion to see­ing and hear­ing through head­sets, this type of meta­verse requires that it speaks to our oth­er sens­es, in par­tic­u­lar with touch. While hap­tic (a phys­i­cal or mechan­i­cal tac­tile-kinaes­thet­ic sys­tem) and force feed­back tech­nolo­gies exist, there do not seem to be any plans for them to enter mar­kets in the near future. More­over, motion will remain a major tech­ni­cal hur­dle, often over­looked: how to feel motion with­out mov­ing or get­ting motion sickness.

And since we have just opened the doors to sci­ence fic­tion, let’s men­tion the ulti­mate meta­verse, the Matrix of which we would not even be aware… Some peo­ple think that we are already there. The accel­er­a­tion of com­put­er pow­er would mean that in the dis­tant future many sim­u­la­tions of our descen­dants’ past could exist. From then on, as Nick Bostrom has sug­gest­ed, the prob­a­bil­i­ty of liv­ing in the ‘orig­i­nal’ past would become ridicu­lous and we would log­i­cal­ly already be liv­ing in a metaverse.

The French and the metaverse

Although the meta­verse mar­ket is expect­ed to be worth $800bn by 2024 accord­ing to Bloomberg, France’s vision of the oppor­tu­ni­ties and uses of this vir­tu­al future remains unclear.

A sur­vey car­ried out on a sam­ple of 1,022 peo­ple by Ifop1 this year shows that only 35% of respon­dents say they under­stand what the meta­verse is about, and only 14% say they under­stand “pre­cise­ly”. The gap between gen­er­a­tions is sig­nif­i­cant. Younger peo­ple are more aware of meta­verse, with 42% of 18–24-year-olds hav­ing heard of this inno­va­tion, com­pared to 28% of those aged 65 and over. 

There is also sig­nif­i­cant social dis­par­i­ty. 59% of high­er edu­ca­tion grad­u­ates are aware of the meta­verse, com­pared to only 27% of peo­ple with­out qual­i­fi­ca­tions. A dou­ble gen­er­a­tional and social divide can be seen in the rep­re­sen­ta­tions shared with this inno­va­tion. The peo­ple ques­tioned do not per­ceive the diver­si­ty of pos­si­ble out­lets for this future of the Inter­net and most often reduce it to the enter­tain­ment aspect. More­over, 21% con­sid­er these new func­tions to be useless.

Last­ly, the meta­verse is feared by a clear major­i­ty of French peo­ple (75%), even among the pop­u­la­tion cat­e­gories most at the fore­front of the sub­ject: 49% of 18–24-year-olds year are wary.


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