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Conquering Everest: Mankind’s Exploration into the Metaverse


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First coined in 1992 by author Neal Stephenson in his science fiction novel “Snow Crash”, the term “metaverse” has drastically transitioned from serving as a mere thought experiment, to a live research area with uncountable working platforms and billions of dollars' worth of corporate funding being poured into unrelenting research and experimentation. Stephenson’s novel first introduced the concept by describing a hypothetical scenario where humans would adopt the personas of programmable virtual avatars and interact with each other in a three-dimensional virtual space, that is largely modeled after the real world.

 

The advent of virtual reality, augmented reality, and mobile computers that followed soon after expedited mankind’s endeavor into the metaverse, laying the foundations of the mega-projects we see today, such as the likes of Meta’s Metaverse, Roblox, and The Sandbox. Movies like Ready Player One and the commercialisation of relatively-affordable virtual reality equipment such as the Oculus VR and Google’s Cardboard device not only galvanised public interest towards the metaverse, but also served to lower significant barriers of entry and onboard more into these virtual realms.

 

To learn more about the metaverse, we spoke to Lim May-Ann, Director of the Fair Tech Institute at Access Partnership, and Emeritus Director at the Asia Cloud Computing Association.

 

“I think what we’re gunning for, with most metaverses at least, is that we may find a digital twin of ourselves within the metaverse,” she says. “The big question of interestis really how can we virtually represent ourselves, protect ourselves, and live our lives in a different world parallel to this one?”

 

While the Asia Cloud Computing Association (ACCA) focuses on the promotion and support of different use cases for cloud computing, the Fair Tech Institute (FTI) works on providing research and insight for questions along the intersection of technology accountability mechanisms, and governance.

 

Funding for metaverse projects have indeed been astronomical, particularly by larger players in the industry. Meta for instance, has put its annualised metaverse investment for the year at almost $15 billion, despite expenses that are projected to grow by 14% within the next year. US-based freight company Flexport raised $935 million in February, while India-based platform Verse Innovation raised $805 million to develop their own respective metaverse platforms. With this volume of cash being funneled into metaverse research, we ask: “What is the point in all of this? What are we really working towards?”

 

“The existentiality of metaverse research is a little bit akin to that of climbing Mount Everest; you climb it because it’s there, and you explore the metaverse because it is a relatively unexplored realm,” May-Ann tells us. “I view the development of the metaverse concept as an extension of where we, as humanity, as people, are dedicating ourselves to the pursuit towards exploring the limits of digital technology.”

 

As part of its research agenda, the FTI launched “The Metaversality Index 2022” this year, a scalable framework that measures the strength of any one particular metaverse ecosystem – essentially evaluating to what extent products are metaverse-compatible. Some examples include how well a system is able to convert audial, text, and touch input into meaningful and accurate output variables.

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