Ask the Expert: Impact of the metaverse
"Ask the Expert" articles provide information and insights from MSU scientists, researchers and scholars about national and global issues, complex research and general-interest subjects based on their areas of academic expertise and study. They may feature historical information, background, research findings, or offer tips.
Rabindra Ratan, associate professor and AT&T scholar at Michigan State University’s Department of Media and Information, discusses how the goal of the metaverse is to be a virtual reality environment where you can shop, meet with friends and more.
What is the metaverse?
The metaverse is the idea of an interoperable set of virtual worlds that you can traverse quite easily. The same way as you can jump between one website to another, go shopping and meet with your colleagues in the internet space, you'll be able to do that in the metaverse. But you'll be wearing a virtual reality headset or maybe an augmented reality headset. And you'll feel like you're really there.
How does the metaverse work?
We already have a bunch of virtual worlds but the idea of the metaverse is that we can move between them – they will be interoperable. We'll be able to bring our stuff from one virtual world to another because we can prove ownership with blockchain technology like Bitcoin or Etherium. The cryptocurrencies that we currently can buy and sell will also be crypto assets, the stuff that you bring with you from one virtual world to another. And that's what really makes it the metaverse.
Who owns the metaverse?
No single company will own the entire metaverse, just like no single company owns the internet. Meta Facebook will own a piece of it. They'll build a piece of it, but many other companies will build. So, there'll be a large array of experiences in the metaverse that are quite diverse.
How will this impact the economy moving forward? Has this been attempted before?
The number of jobs that will be created by the metaverse is huge. It's hard to even imagine the economic activity around the metaverse in the next 20 years. When we think about previous virtual worlds like Second Life, it was inspired by the metaverse, and it really did a great job of showing us the potential for the types of activities that people could engage in virtual worlds. But the technological infrastructure just wasn't there. Internet speeds were too slow, video cards were slow, and user interfaces were too difficult to use in the Second Life world.
Now, we're in a 5G world where people can get an amazing video card on their phone on this device that you strap to your face. The virtual reality, or VR, headsets are just $300 or so for a pretty good quality metaverse experience. So, the entire world is a lot more ready for the Metaverse than it was back in Second Life days about 20 years ago.
Is the metaverse safe?
Security is extremely important with these technologies. Just like with social media, you have privacy settings. You should be concerned about the data that you're sharing with these metaverse oriented companies because just like with social media, but to an even greater extent, they will know exactly what you're interested in, they’ll have health related information, and will know what you're paying attention to. So be aware and be wary of the data that you're sharing.
Have the pandemic related isolations impacted the metaverse?
The pandemic pushed us forward ten years in our adoption and acceptance of Metaverse related technologies like virtual meetings or tools for organizing and communication. Because of that, we will undoubtedly have greater use of Metaverse related technologies in the future.
How can I get started?
Many people are interested in or worried about the metaverse. And if you want to learn more, I highly recommend that you go try it out. Borrow a VR headset, pick one up for a few hundred dollars, or go to your library they might have one and get into a virtual world, socialize with people. That's really what the Metaverse is for. It's not just gaming. It's about being together virtually with other people.
How do you keep your finances secure in the metaverse?
You've heard of cryptocurrencies and blockchain, maybe even a non-fungible token (NFT). These technologies are fundamental to facilitate the interoperability of the metaverse. You can take your virtual NFT, your avatar, your art with you from one world to another, and you can prove that you own it, and no one else can prove that they own it. And maybe you can make money by generating NFT and selling them or buying and selling them in this future metaverse.