For the last twenty two months it hasn’t been too wonderful living in the real world. Covid-19, the delta variant, omicron, the killing of George Floyd, endless bickering in Washington, D.C., social unrest, violence, looting the disastrous pullout from Afghanistan, rising wealth inequality and raging inflation left us feeling afraid, stressed, fearful and anxious.
It’s not surprising that there is a fast-growing movement to find an alternative to the challenges of everyday life. Meta, formerly known as Facebook, has led the charge to create, build and grow a brave new world, called the metaverse. This is virtual and augmented reality in which people can live an alternative life.
In addition to Meta, there are a number of smart entrepreneurs working on the metaverse as it is the modern day gold rush. While Zuckerberg may make you think that it’s all his, the territory is wide open. Consumer, tech, entertainment and other companies are looking at this as the next frontier as people can live, work and socialize together in a virtual world. It’s predicted that the metaverse will be the next revolutionary transformative phase of the internet.
Instead of Zoom calls, you can interact with co-workers and clients in a virtual environment that feels real. You can purchase homes, play video games, interact with family and friends, attend concerts of your favorite bands along with friends, sporting events, shop, try on clothes at a store and buy items.
Lyron Bentovim, president and CEO of the Glimpse Group, a publicly traded startup focused on building and creating for the metaverse, extended an invitation to Forbes to check out how this works. He tells us that combining aspects of artificial intelligence, augmented reality and virtual reality, along with social media, online gaming, and other services, the Metaverse is a rapidly emerging space that adds a third dimension to the internet and makes it accessible in a richer, more seamless way.
Fitted with a Oculus Quest virtual reality headset, I’m instantly transported into a fully virtual 3D immersive environment. It takes a moment to get your bearings, then comfortably transition into an entirely new world. I walked through a virtual university, sat in a Wall Street trading room watching dynamic charts and graphs of stocks being traded, participated in a conference room meeting and wrote on a whiteboard. For a Gen-X guy who’s not a techie, it was easy to navigate. Within a minute of being in virtual reality, it was obvious to me that this will be the future.
Metaverse is a “blue ocean” and much of the technology to make it possible and engaging have yet to be developed. We still have a ways to go as most of the technology to make it possible and engaging has yet to be developed, Bentovim said. We’ve already seen this happening. Epic Games’ Fortnite, Roblox and Animal Crossing offers metaverse-type of experiences. It’s anticipated that cryptocurrencies or digital assets will be used to buy products and services.
The publicly traded New York-based firm has a diverse portfolio of companies under its umbrella within the virtual and augmented reality space. Each division focuses on a specific niche. The company has wide-ranging partnerships with a number of large technology, consumer, and pharmaceutical brands, as well as universities.
The metaverse will offer new, exciting opportunities to people. It could be an enhanced work-from-home experience that makes you feel part of the team and not isolated alone in your apartment. You can interact with co-workers, go on interviews, find a new job, communicate with clients and build businesses. It feels that there’s an unlimited possibility of what can happen in a new virtual reality.
Unlike earlier tech paradigms, the metaverse will be much more difficult to wall off and control. Blockchain will allow access to metaverse participants who can build and create in a decentralized technology—without needing gatekeepers like Google and Apple—and make money without giving a cut to toll takers.
When Mark Zuckerberg starred in the advertisements for Facebook’s reincarnation as Meta, showing what the metaverse would look like, many people cringed. Partly it was due to the overall dislike of him and the cartoonish characters he showed. Putting aside Zuckerberg, the metaverse may be one of the biggest transformational technologies. The possibilities are endless.
Bill Gates wrote about reasons to be optimistic on his 2021 year end blog. “Within the next two or three years, I predict most virtual meetings will move from 2D camera image grids—which I call the Hollywood Squares model, although I know that probably dates me—to the metaverse, a 3D space with digital avatars,” he said.
Gates explained to people unfamiliar with the metaverse, “The idea is that you will eventually use your avatar to meet with people in a virtual space that replicates the feeling of being in an actual room with them.” He expects that people will attend meetings in a virtual office space or other destinations, where they could interact with co-workers’ avatars.
Managing expectations, Gates notes that it will take time to build a virtual workplace in the metaverse. Meta and gaming platforms like Roblox and Microsoft’s Minecraft are still developing the virtual worlds that will make up the metaverse. Gates acknowledges “to accurately capture your expressions, body language, and the quality of your voice,” we’ll need tech devices, such as VR headsets and possibly motion-capture gloves. Most people don’t own these tools yet, which will slow adoption somewhat.
This seems similar to the trajectory of many tech products that we now take for granted. It wasn’t too long ago that we were making calls on rotary phones, then were amazed with chucky brick-like cell phones. “There’s still some work to do,” but it won’t be long before the metaverse is making remote work feel a little less remote, he says. “We’re approaching a threshold where the technology begins to truly replicate the experience of being together in the office,” he writes.
Companies such as Glimpse are hard at work. Bentovim, a Yale MBA and former hedge fund money manager, understands the concept of making big bets, but also believes in diversification. Since this is a wide open space, in an effort to take an open approach, Glimpse isn’t betting on only one company or one industry. He has a number of verticals focusing on different aspects running from augmented reality in education and the sciences to data and financial services.
Gil Perry, CEO and Co-founder of D-ID, who partners with Glimpse on projects, said, “The Metaverse is going to change everything, starting with the way humans interact with each other, the way we see the world, and the kinds of possessions we own.”
Founded in 2017, D-ID started off as a “de-identificaton” company, with software that aims to protect people’s digital photos and videos from unauthorized automated facial recognition technologies. The company has since gone on to create products that can animate still photos and facilitate high-quality video productions using AI and machine learning. These are the cool photos you’ve seen online of old black and white photos of people animated to look lifelike.
Online people expect to see each other as we are in real life. We want to see natural movements and realistic facial expressions. Currently, the avatars and backgrounds on the metaverse lack a realistic look.
Perry says that the success of the metaverse “depends on realistic digital personas in order for people to embrace it as an essential part of their daily lives. They will dance at virtual concerts, enjoy museums with friends, interact with brands, and more if they feel the experiences are truly immersive and the avatars are relatable.” His technology will bridge this gap by creating lifelike avatars.
The innovative Israeli entrepreneur added, “From commerce, to entertainment, from dating to healthcare, the success of the Metaverse depends on realistic digital personas in order for people to embrace it as an essential part of their daily lives. Our collaboration with Glimpse will shape and bring life to the Metaverse.”
Foto: Young man in a white t-shirt wearing virtual reality Headset during the VR experience in Neon fluorescent ultra violet purple and blue colors. Virtual reality glasses for create Metaverse in AR and VR. Close up.GETTY