Artificial intelligence is proving to be one of the pillars on which the metaverse will be built. Starting with the processing of user-generated data, continuing with generative AI models that create photorealistic virtual environments and avatars that resemble users, as well as the ability to recognise body movements and thus make the metaverse experience more natural.
But AI will also spark new life into the digital characters that populate virtual worlds, such as non-human characters and personal assistants, and enable everyone to understand each other in their own language by translating speech simultaneously. Artificial intelligence could help create increasingly engaging and user-friendly experiences to maximise activity and engagement time as is the case in social networks today, and could act as a watchdog, stopping harassment before it even happens, as long as we don’t have a problem with an intrusive AI listening to all our conversations and judging our every move.
What definition for the metaverse
One of the difficulties we have today is to define with sufficient accuracy what the metaverse is, a term that has come to the fore more for marketing reasons than anything else. Those of us who were already online in the early Nineties will remember similar problems in defining “cyberspace” during the years of the Internet boom; a dilemma that’s been long forgotten, since the pervasive and continuous use of the medium makes naming and definition issues fade into the background, an adjustment that will probably also affect the metaverse in the years to come.
However, if we insist on settling on a definition, we can consider the metaverse as a series of digital environments with various levels of immersiveness – from a simple browser or smartphone, to fully virtual reality environments – allowing interaction between many users (an environment limited by design to a single user does not fall under our definition). The metaverse, however, isn’t simply a multi-user video game, but rather will assume such an important and engaging role to represent a whole new piece of human existence or, if you like, a digital layer that will overlap and interconnect with the physical one.
One of the fundamental elements of this new environment will be the interactions we will have with other users, which will lead us to invest resources – time, yes, but also financial resources – to improve our status and our experience in the digital world. We will buy digital goods and services, perhaps in the form of NFTs, from companies and other users, feeding a parallel but interlinked economy.
We will be able to assume identities other than our physical one, that in some cases may be more fulfilling and engaging than the one we already have: think of William Dafoe’s character in the 1999 film eXistenZ, who was a petrol station attendant in the real world but a deity in the digital reality. In fact, this is something that has already been happening for years with MMORPGs, Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games, where millions of people shed their everyday clothes to become wizards, warriors, elves, and where many spend a fortune buying digital goods and services that are useful only for the game.
The metaverse, given its immersiveness, the greater involvement between users and an ensured network effect triggered by the huge investments of several Big Tech companies (Facebook/Meta first and foremost) could represent a new way of enriching one’s existence, or a colossal waste of time, depending on how the various implementation phases will be handled and how the society at large will respond.