The use of Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Realities (AR) technologies has been in the rise during the last decade, and the evolution of this path has introduced a new concept: the metaverse.
The term was first mentioned in a science fiction novel by Neal Stephenson named "Snow Crash" in 1992, which was a combination of two words, "meta" and "verse", which means beyond reality.
However, the concept of a metaverse reached its crucial stage of development in October 2021 when Facebook announced its new company name, Meta, and its intention to build "a 3D place where people can work, play, and connect with others in immersive, online experiences."
As we advance towards Web 5.0, I was asked whether I viewed the metaverse as the next version of the internet. In an interview with Bloomberg, Timothy John Berners-Lee, the World Wide Web inventor, said earlier this year that he expects virtual reality and technologies based around a so-called metaverse to be part of how people interact with his invention in the future.
He also restated his opposition to the world's biggest technology companies being in control of so much of their users' data." People ask about virtual reality, and if the metaverse is going to be the whole future, and the answer is that it's going to be part of the future," he said.
Some experts are determined that retooling the internet's most important functions are essential for the future of functional democracy. In contrast, others are sarcastic by describing it as an opportunistic cash-grab.
But what is metaverse after all? The metaverse brings together a range of next-generation technologies from cloud computing to artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain, cryptocurrencies, cyber security, the internet of things (IoT), virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and ad tech.
The metaverse has become the buzzword of recent times and promises disruptive outcomes soon. It refers to a virtual, digital, 3D universe formed by merging diverse virtual spaces and physical worlds. Virtual Reality (VR) has been one of the fascinating contributions of the technological boom in the past decade.
The metaverse, which is, for some, the most significant emerging tech trend of modern times, is set to elevate this experience to the next level. The concept will enable users to meet, socialize, play games, and work with other users within 3D spaces. As it is a space for creativity, it poses a wide range of opportunities for entertainment, business, marketing, products and services. In addition, it gives space for developing and selling users' goods that are specifically created and sold in this virtual reality.
With the metaverse, some groups of people may feel free and included in activities they otherwise couldn't experience. For example, "people with physical disabilities can move like ordinary people in the metaverse as long as they are conscious; there is no difference in physical strength between the elderly and the young; gender is no longer innate; looks can change at will, and skin color and race are no longer have to be known to others" (Usmani, 2022), so it could be said that "addresses" discrimination while interacting with others.
However, that does not mean interactions in the metaverse will always be well-intended. For example, criminals might want to use cryptocurrencies for money laundering. Scams, fraud, phishing, piracy, racism, discrimination, and bullying are common in online worlds. (Yogesh, 2022).
Furthermore, "since the possibilities of virtual simulation are endless, the metaverse is projected to have the potential to create multiple new avenues for the treatment of various mental health disorders" (Usmani, 2022). Such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, eating disorders, anxiety, phobias and post-traumatic stress disorder, autism, Alzheimer's disease, stress and pain management, delusions, psychosis, and schizophrenia. They use this kind of technology to expose patients to specific environments, which helps to track certain behavioural patterns, overcome fears, or even feel more comfortable with social interaction. However, studies have shown a lack of significant improvement over conventional, evidence-based approaches.
Nevertheless, there are concerns about the negative impact of the metaverse on several fields related to privacy, security, and user safety. The information collected by sensors, e.g., related physiological, physical, biometric, and social, is too personal not to be taken seriously. If it is leaked, it may significantly endanger the security and privacy of users in the real world and impact them in several aspects of their lives (Yogesh, 2022)
To have a virtual world does not mean that social problems will vanish. In the metaverse driven by users, "understanding of cultures, religions, and so on will inevitably vary. Therefore, the scenario will not meet everyone's wish and even cause misunderstanding for some avatars. For the latter, the influx of users will inevitably introduce malicious and immoral ones who may insult, track, or even sexually harass other avatars in the metaverse" (Zhao, 2022). Some groups, such as children, might be more vulnerable to this kind of abuse.
Finally, metaverse poses a challenge to communication because what is said on the platforms needs to be kept private and secure for its users. It is also a double-sharped tool because encrypted media and blockchain technologies may help malicious activities and cyber-crime flourish without restrictions and trace.