Metaverse by Matthew Paul

  • In “The Metaverse,” Matthew Ball provides an entertaining guide to the upcoming alternate virtual world.
  • The book is optimistic about the potential impact of the metaverse, but describes the enormous obstacles standing in its way.
  • This column is an opinion of the ideas expressed are the author’s ideas.

Today’s polarization extends beyond traditional politics to include questions of taste, technology, the environment, and economics. The result is an inability to engage in civic discourse on any number of topics that have major implications for our collective future. The title of a new book that explores the potential impact of virtual and augmented reality technologies – “Metaverse: And how it will revolutionize everythingIt appears to reflect this tendency toward controversy and exaggeration.

But fortunately, the book — written by advisor and investor Matthew Ball, former global head of strategy at Amazon Studios — shows that a true believer can still make a meaningful contribution to everyone’s understanding of an important topic.

Ball achieves this feat by being clear and transparent in his assumptions and by basing his discussion on real data and facts. His analysis was then able to incorporate logic, humor, and an appropriate degree of skepticism into the most extreme claims, often made by vested interests. The result is an entertaining and thought-provoking guide to the upcoming alternative virtual world that should prove indispensable not only to users and developers but to investors, competitors and regulators.

The “Metaverse” is organized into three parts that explain what it is, and what it really is for it

Metaverse: And how it will revolutionize everything


Liveright


to existence, and, finally, why should we care.

The term “metaverse” itself was coined 30 years ago in a science fiction novel called “Snow Crash” written by Neil Stephenson. Although it has been around for a long time, there is still little consensus as to what exactly it is. Paul suggests that this may be in part because the same companies who view the metaverse as both a threat and an opportunity to their existing businesses — Facebook and Microsoft being two extreme examples — each propose starkly conflicting definitions that fit their “own views of the world and/or the capabilities of their companies.” “. The resulting confusion encourages conflation of these concepts with blockchain and Web 3.0, of which the “Metaverse” does a particularly good job of untangling.

Defining the roughly 50 words from Ball’s metaverse might be fun, but it usefully highlights all of the key attributes needed to create a fully functional, ubiquitous 3D virtual ecosystem that can accommodate an unlimited number of simultaneous participants. Ball closely examines the technical and practical limitations of achieving each of these core features. This exercise may appear too painfully detailed to some – the longer chapter examines the propulsion mechanisms needed to support a parallel metaverse economy – but it is crucial to gaining an informed view of what the metaverse could actually be.

Despite his general optimism about the eventual revolutionary impact of metaverses, Paul does not underestimate the formidable technological obstacles to achieving this vision. “Its reach is still a long way off,” Paul admits, “and its implications are largely unclear.” Some limitations, such as bandwidth and computing power, may eventually be overcome through creativity and perseverance. Others, such as the speed of light, which is so challenging to maintain interactive real-time displays of multiple individuals several thousand miles apart, are likely to remain resistant to human innovation.

The biggest challenge of all

As existing platforms and newcomers scramble to build their own unique piece of virtual real estate, Ball is also grappling with what may be the biggest challenge of creating an overarching metaverse – a cacophony of independent virtual worlds communicating with one another. Solving the interoperability problem will require the creation of a set of agreed technical standards and possibly a meaningful dose of government intervention. We’ll get a very simple taste of what the latter might look like as EU interoperability requirements for messaging apps come into effect in the coming years.

As effective as “The Metaverse” is in describing the underlying drivers and key elements of the billions being invested in what he refers to as the “next internet,” it is less persuasive in claiming that it actually “will revolutionize everything.” The vast majority of the economic value generated today from these technologies is related to gaming applications. While it’s true that gaming is essentially no longer the domain of antisocial teens – the sector has now overtaken Hollywood and the music industry combined – the relative dearth of masked use cases thereafter makes one question how revolutionary it really is. Indeed, for most of the other applications described or envisaged – whether in medicine, education, or otherwise – it is not clear that a full metaverse is actually needed.

What’s more, for those of us concerned with increasing antisocial behavior in the wake of a pandemic that has discouraged face-to-face human interaction, the eventual rise of metavir raises many alarms and dread. Ball is right to focus on organizational methods to avoid the gatekeepers of dominant corporations in the virtual as well as in the physical world. But the economically important parallel universe that facilitates anonymity raises a host of organizational and social concerns along with competition and innovation that demand just as much, if not more, attention.

Fortunately, given how long it will take for the metaverse to become a reality, we have time to make its organization fit for change. Anyone committed to trying to do this could do worse than start with a copy of metaverse.

Jonathan A. I was Professor of Professional Practice at Columbia Business School and Senior Advisor at Evercore. His most recent book isThe podium illusion: Who wins and Who loses in the age of tech giants.

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