Imagine scaling Everest, swimming with hammerheads or skydiving over the Grand Canyon — without ever leaving your living room. All will supposedly be possible in the metaverse, a new level of virtual reality being developed by the world’s top tech gurus.
“I want to walk through the grounds of Trinity College, Dublin, to turn the pages of the Book of Kells, and I’ll be able to do that in VR,” said British futurist Andrew Curry, referring to the 800-year-old gospel scrolls housed at Ireland’s top university.
In its fully realized form, the metaverse promises to offer true-to-life sights, sounds and even smells, where a tour of ancient Greece or a visit to a Seoulcafé can happen from your home, Curry said. Decked out with full-spectrum VR headsets, smart clothing and tactile-responsive haptic gloves, the at-home traveler can touch the Parthenon in Athens or taste the rich foam of a Korean dalgona coffee.
You wouldn’t even have to be you. Members of the metaverse could prowl the Brazilian rainforest as a jaguar or take the court at Madison Square Garden as LeBron James. The only limits are your imagination.
Some will simply use it “only to fulfill work or educational obligations,” she said. Others “will live the majority of their waking hours ‘jacked in.’”
Using a “blend of physical and behavioral biometrics, emotion recognition, sentiment analysis, and personal data,” the metaverse will be able to create a customized and enhanced reality for each person, she said.
In the future, “AR wearables may be as pervasive as smart phones are today,” said Patrick Cozzi, who runs the 3D tech company Cesium and is heavily involved in enhancing the metaverse.
He and others see a future where headsets like the Oculus — a popular holiday gift this season that invites you to “defy reality” — replace the cell phone altogether, used 24/7 as a go-to device for people to hang out with friends, shop or travel through the virtual stratosphere.
But the current version of the metaverse, for now, is somewhat less grand.
Several companies, including Snap, Amazon, Microsoft and Mark Zuckerberg’s company Meta (formerly Facebook), have their own competing versions of this new digital world. (Meta says it will dedicate $10 billion to the effort, and it plans to hire 10,000 workers just for their European operation.) But while the VR spaces they’ve developed — mostly for socializing and gaming — are colorful and cool, none has created an all-encompassing experience that blurs what is real and imaginary.