Metaverse: Beyond Human

Imagine a world where you wake up, head to the office in the morning, to a party with friends in the evening, and then a live concert at midnight. All while sitting in the warmth of your home or from the comfort of your bed. 

That might just be part of humanity’s future. A world where time and space mean nothing. Where we will all partially exist and function in a virtual world. Where we can all live, work, and play, in the Metaverse. The Metaverse has been discussed everywhere lately, and it is difficult to understand or explain because it isn’t a place or a specific technology, nor does it exist in any static way. The Metaverse, instead, is an attempt to describe the way the world will interact with technology in the future in an ever evolving manner.

Right now, we tap screens, we type on keyboards, we use physical input devices to interact with technology. However, these input devices have limited functionalities. They’re stuck in one place for the most part, and you need to have them within physical reach at all times. In the Metaverse, interacting with tech could feel real. We’ll be able to squeeze, pinch, punch. We won’t need to learn a different set of input methods because we would interact with tech just like we would with anything in the real world. 

The Metaverse describes an interoperable digital universe. Right now, on the internet, you need to create accounts on whatever platform you want to use. Your avatars or your “digital existence” on YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram are completely different from one another. In the Metaverse, however, the dream is to be able to create one virtual avatar, one address, one “identity” to be used across all platforms. From social networking apps to work meetings to school, it could all be done in one package, just like in the real world.

You’ll also be able to buy virtual items like clothes or art and take them with you across multiple different platforms. The Metaverse could potentially completely change the entire world economy as we know it. It could change the way we perceive value, physical versus digital. You might think that the reality of this kind of technology is far away, but you’d be wrong. The main technologies required to create the Metaverse already exist, albeit in their infancy.

Cryptocurrencies, virtual reality, augmented reality, virtual world-building, NFTs; these are the main tools that will be used in the Metaverse, and they’re all around us today. With NFTs, in particular, you can now create, sell, and buy digital items that can be completely unique, and whose ownership can be traced back to you. 

If you leave your sweater at a random party, anyone can pick it up, take it home, and claim it as their own. But NFTs essentially tie that unique sweater to you. Anyone can, publicly, look up and see who owns that sweater, and the best part is, it cannot be taken from you. You own it, and everyone can see that you own it, and there is no central authority who can, at their own will, decide they want to take it from you. The use cases for NFTs are rather high and can actually provide a lot of value to people, giving a whole new meaning to what it means to truly “own” something, despite it being a pretty debated topic recently. 

Contrary to what you may have heard, buying NFTs do not, in fact, burn down entire forests. In fact, depending on how much you value decentralization, there are options to purchase NFTs on certain platforms that have nearly zero energy costs. But honestly, NFTs, crypto, and the arguments for and against them are deserving of an entire video themselves, so back to the Metaverse.

Even little things like Apple using AI to make sure your face is always in the frame when on FaceTime that might seem like nothing, are actually telling of where tech is headed. Face tracking will be one of the most important pillars of the Metaverse. 

As humans, we communicate a lot using facial expressions. When we’re sad or happy, flustered or concerned, it shows in our faces before we even open our mouths to speak. So with good facial tracking, digital communication will be a lot more seamless than it currently is. You won’t have to guess a person’s tone through a text, or their mood through a phone call. You’ll be able to see and tell exactly what they’re feeling. Right now, it’s FaceTime and Zoom calls, but eventually, imagine being in a room where you visibly feel like you’re in the same room as your classmates or colleagues, when physically they could be across the planet.

The world has been slowly moving towards a fully digital future. Mark Zuckerberg first bought the domain name back in 2017, and only just a few months ago has officially changed the company name from “Facebook” to simply “Meta.” The brand still has the same goal as they always have, but in the public eye, the Metaverse is now everywhere. But with that being said, the pandemic has fast-tracked the coming of this technology. 

As the need to stay indoors to prevent the spread of the virus grew, so did the need for technology to figure out ways to do things virtually that we previously had to do in person. So everything from work meetings, school, therapy, and even musical concerts moving to the digital world.

In 2019, the first concert on Fortnite, yes, Fortnite, was held. Marshmello took the world by storm as he performed a 10-minute set for around ten million Fortnite players, which is genuinely insane when you think about the scale of it.

In 2020, Fortnite again took this one step further with their Travis Scott concert. Leading up to the event, players could see the stage being built out in the Fortnite universe. As the days passed, the stage became more and more complete. This gave players the feeling of a real-life concert coming to life days before the event. 

When the event did happen, 27.7 million people from all over the world attended this concert, making it technically the largest concert to have ever been attended… by a factor of nearly ten. This is far more than any physical concert the world has ever seen. People who would otherwise not have had access to listen to and experience their favorite artist live got the opportunity to do so from the safety and comfort of their own home during a global pandemic.

Funny enough, Fortnite is currently the closest thing we have to the Metaverse. Apart from concerts from some of the biggest artists in the world, you can also buy skins to design your avatar, and even learn about historical figures like Martin Luther King Jr in a virtual environment. 

However, saying Fortnite is the Metaverse would be like saying Google is the Internet. Right now, this is how most people access the Metaverse, but it doesn’t even remotely come close to the scope of what the Metaverse can be. 

VR Chat is another largely popular instance of what the Metaverse could look like in the future. In VR Chat, you can pretty much do whatever you want. Choose your own avatar, talk with your friends, meet new people, it’s honestly kind of mind blowing. 100 years ago, we could hardly speak with someone across the planet. Nowadays, you get to see a virtual representation of people, in really any form of their choosing, from all around the world and genuinely learn about them. 

Think about other virtual experiences like going back in time to live with the dinosaurs as you learn about them. Or going up in space in a completely virtual environment to learn about our solar system. Think about practicing a surgery before the real work is done, or meeting up with your colleagues to work on a tangible product you’ve been building.

Elon Musk, the CEO of Neuralink, recently said that the company aims to start implanting computer chips in humans this year, 2022. With this microchip, in a sense, we’ll be able to control computers with just our minds. 

Again, you might think this is just a child’s dream, or depending on your views, a dystopian nightmare. But in 2021, Page, Neuralink’s test monkey, successfully played a game of Pong with its mind. If this is what a monkey has been able to achieve, think of what a human can do. We may be able to control prosthetic limbs like they’re a part of our body, and because the machine can also send signals back to the brain, we’ll also be able to feel stimuli from these limbs.

We’ll talk to computers with our minds, we’ll interact in the Metaverse without a physical input device. Just think about what you want to do, and it’s done.

There are two things humanity has been trying to fight from the beginning, space and time. However, we’ve only been semi-successful with one of those things, space. And the Metaverse might just be our biggest success yet.

From camels and donkeys to horses, carts, cars, trains, ships, airplanes, and now spaceships, we’ve always looked for ways to essentially bend space. To make the world feel much smaller than it is. To be able to get from point A to point B as quickly and as efficiently as possible. 

From writing letters to phone calls, video calls, and now virtual interaction, we’ve always created ways to be there, even when we can’t be physically. Man is a social animal, and living in a social group is essential for survival. So of course, most of our inventions will simply be looking for new ways to communicate with each other, regardless of how far apart we are. 

It’s no wonder that a lot of science fiction talks about the idea of teleportation. But the truth is, physical teleportation might never be a real thing. The physics of breaking us down to our individual atoms and then reorganizing us somewhere else is uh… a stretch. Because we aren’t sure what exactly makes us human. 

However, with the Metaverse, we’ll never have to physically teleport. Why do something that dangerous when you can go anywhere on Earth or beyond using the internet? In an instant, you’ll be able to see, hear, and experience everything without ever having to be physically required to be there.

Want to see the bottom of the ocean? Done. Want to explore Mars and view Earth from the red planet? Done. Want to attend a concert without fearing for your life and safety? Done. 

We’ll be able to travel through the entire universe in an instant, except it’ll be a universe made by us. It’s as if the simulation is recurring on itself. 

Humanity’s battle with time, on the other hand, has not been as successful. We still can’t travel through time, and we can never get back lost time. However, the Metaverse might change that.

Yes, we won’t be able to physically travel through time, but we’ll be able to experience events, live through times, and observe the world as it was. We’ll be able to simulate the ice age to say catch a glimpse of the Wooly Mammoth, or perhaps go back to the Victorian era to understand life as an 18th-century young adult, with a simulated population that mimics the language of the time.

The Metaverse also has the power to make us immortal, or at least some of us. Think about it, celebrities like Tupac and Michael Jackson still have functioning social media accounts. These accounts post regularly about their music, relevant days in their lives, and all of that. Seven of Tupac’s platinum albums were released after he died. This means there is a tremendous amount of unreleased content that these artists leave behind when they pass.

Imagine if we could all exist in the Metaverse where avatars can be created in the likeness of these celebrities. With the amount of information we have about them, from how they look to how they speak, perform, and act, together with all their unreleased art, we’ll be able to recreate life-like expressions of them in the Metaverse, indistinguishable from who they were when they were alive.

Physically dead artists will host concerts singing to millions of fans as if they were right there. Everything from interviews, to shows, to communicating one on one with fans could feel so real that it could be like they never died. 

Through existing information on their creative process and the rapid advancement of Artificial Intelligence, they might even be able to create new music.

Recently we’ve seen videos of children showing their parents pictures of dead relatives with moving facial parts thanks to the power of AI. And we’ve seen how emotional these parents get to experience their loved ones once again. Now imagine how much more touching it’ll be to not just see a moving picture, but to fully experience a digital expression of a dead relative.

What’s dead may never truly remain dead anymore. 

If you’re like me, then all of this sounds very exciting, but also extremely terrifying. Because just like all of humanity’s inventions, the Metaverse will simply be a tool. And as with most tools, it can be used for good, and can be used for evil. And to say I’m scared for the evil the Metaverse might bring is an understatement. 

Think about all the problems with social media today and increase them exponentially. Those are the potential dangers of the Metaverse.

One of the biggest problems with social media today is misinformation. People use fake screenshots, photoshop edits, websites, and deep fakes to peddle lies and misinformation. If you don’t know what to look for, or how to identify those things, the spread of misinformation will just continue to grow.

Facebook, or Meta, the largest company that is now, in a sense, leading the march into the Metaverse, has been accused several times of aiding misinformation on its platform. Now imagine how much more believable these lies would be in the Metaverse where it’ll be difficult to differentiate what’s real from what’s not.

When it’s not misinformation, you have the problem of confirmation bias. If the Metaverse will be serving us content through the algorithms that currently exist on platforms like YouTube and TikTok at an advanced scale, then we are in danger, or are we? 

The problem with these algorithms is that they keep feeding you the same kind of content once they realize you’re interested in it. They’re actually genius in their design. Soon, the only things you see or hear are the things you already believe. No challenging ideologies, no opposing views, nothing. And for you, this is perfect. But if you’re existing in a world that you know isn’t real, but feels real, are there any repercussions to your actions or your beliefs? If anywhere, this is where you would feel the most safe, where you could truly express yourself to the largest extent.

It’s a double edged sword.

The irony of humanity’s desire to use technology to improve our connections, to amplify the human experience, is that the same technology is what keeps us apart. Mark Zuckerberg during his Metaverse speech said this new technology will help “improve human connection.” While on paper it should make it easier to talk to people from around the world, if history is anything to go by, it will only worsen the human connection.

Today, you can see a group of friends hanging out in real life, but none of them seem to be interested in what the other has to say. Many of us know people that, oddly enough, seem to just hate their friends, but remain connected for social gain.

And on social media apps, how many of us are actually looking for genuine connections? Or isn’t it just a numbers game now? How many followers, friends, or subscribers can you rack up? Are we interested in sharing our lives with others, or just trying to prove we’ve got the best one?

How will the Metaverse make us think and feel about ourselves? If you walk around with your prince charming avatar, throughout the day, how would you feel when you take off the headset and look at yourself in the mirror with all of your imperfections that you know best?

Right now, people can’t post a picture on Instagram without first taking 100 versions just to find the perfect shot, then adding layers of filters to make that look even better, and that’s fine if it makes you feel better. But little by little, we’re becoming less impressed with our natural selves because of how much better technology can make us look. 

With the Metaverse, these standards for ourselves are only going to continue to evolve, ones potentially worse than what currently exists. And slowly but surely, we might actually start to hate the human experience.

Yet with all of these things, the scariest thing of all is a rather simple question: will the creators of the Metaverse make money? Is the Metaverse financially motivated, or socially motivated?

Say they do, and they do so by selling our data like many companies of today do. Most of us know this and kind of just deal with it. That data that’ll be collected in the Metaverse won’t just be what you like to watch on YouTube or your spending habits on Amazon. It’ll be your most private thoughts, desires, and ambitions. Your literal brain waves. That is simply way too much information to let a centralized company do as they please with, but at that point, will you even care? Will money have value to you still if you’re allowed to live through every desire you’ve ever dreamed of? Will that dopamine attachment to the green paper still matter?

The reality of the matter is that the Metaverse, whatever that even means, is still a fair bit away. A lot of people still get dizzy from wearing even a VR headset, and the prices for these devices are still far too expensive to make them ubiquitous just yet. For all we know, this could just be the first step.

However, we can never know for sure. Because we were all moving on with our lives like normal, when Steve Jobs dropped the iPhone in 2007. Look around now, and imagine what the next “iPhone” level of technology will be in another 15 years.

As exciting as this all sounds though, we can only hope we don’t exchange our humanity for a place in the Metaverse. Humanity has never achieved anything without a bit of risk involved, but in the end, the reward could be limitless.

- EE, MM