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Next Stop – The Metaverse

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Muscat – The journey from rough 56k modems and jerky www addresses to the mobile internet we constantly jump into has been short and intense. And it continues at full speed. The metaverse is coming – and it brings a suite of possibilities and dilemmas in its wake.

As so often with new alien technology, the debate over the metaverse is mostly characterized by caution. So, let’s start instead with the possibilities that the metaverse offers compared to the Internet as we know it today.

The metaverse is spatial. With the Metaverse, glasses will replace smartphones. Instead of holding the mobile phone in the hand, the screen moves up in the field of vision. We view the information we need as part of our environment. It’s more immersive and, in many cases, much simpler and more “natural” to use.

It will ultimately make no sense to distinguish between the physical world and the virtual world. We experience them together, they play closely together and we use both dimensions without asking ourselves whether one is more “real” than the other. We don’t want to be “on” the web, but “inside” the web.

The general expectation is that it will be filled with avatars and photorealistic chatbots, that it will integrate and be the interface for all the “smart” objects that will soon fill our homes and cities, and that it will be supported by an unimaginable amount of artificial intelligence. .

Everything is just around the corner, it seems. Investments are flowing in, hardware and software are improving, and super-fast networks are spreading. The COVID-19 pandemic has made billions more comfortable meeting, working and studying virtually. Countless companies around the world are considering how they can gain a foothold in the upheaval that is coming.

The wave of interest in the Metaverse began in earnest when Mark Zuckerberg announced last October that Facebook was changing its name to Meta. In 2014, Facebook bought the biggest and biggest VR headset maker, Oculus, and recently hinted at developing an operating system capable of supporting metaverse services.

Microsoft has for many years developed both software and hardware for the Metaverse, and Apple has, with each new version of the iPhone and iOS operating system, added features that can serve as building blocks for creating a world 3D graphic.

Today’s Internet is two-dimensional. It’s like reading a book and flipping from page to page. The Metaverse, on the other hand, will be characterized by real-time graphics like in a video game. There are good reasons to talk about “mixed reality”, a combination of virtual and augmented reality.

The metaverse will indeed blend our worlds and impressions well together – the streets are filled with avatars, the facades and walls are covered with decorations and advertisements targeted at the individual, and the operations of all our devices are done in pointing and gesturing at menus and screens that float in the air.

With all the possibilities of the Metaverse, there are a few issues associated with it. We know a lot of that from the internet today, but more powerful and immersive technology, more connected devices, an increasingly digital economy, and much stronger artificial intelligence will amplify the risks.

Internet services are characterized by the fact that they are largely financed by advertising. In the metaverse, advertisements will appear directly in our line of sight. We will see avatars, billboards, pop-ups and notifications that overlap with what we see in the physical world. The underlying data could potentially be misused to influence user actions and choices by altering the world the user sees and the objects within it.

Much like the internet today, the Metaverse could be used to spread fake news, propaganda, rumors and lies – but in a photorealistic virtual world; it may become even more difficult to distinguish right from wrong.

We are not going to wake up one morning and see the Metaverse as a reality. The pieces are laid and you can already feel it.

It will come. And over time, we’ll probably have “haptic” suits and gloves that can simulate the feeling of touching objects. Work is underway to integrate the screen into contact lenses – or why not have an implant in the brain that can connect our nervous system directly to the web?

Is Oman ready to embark on the Metaverse journey?

Syed Adil Abbas