Metaverse technology has been receiving a lot of mainstream media attention. Outside the gaming and blockchain communities, which frequently overlap, many are still unaware of the technology’s current applications and transformative potential.
Although in-game virtual worlds populated with AI and human-controlled characters have existed for years, these aren’t metaverses. Even experiences without game-like goals, such as Second Life, don’t quite meet the criteria and are referred to as “proto-metaverses.”
Metaverse: What is it?
One of the most common descriptions of the metaverse is as a 3D internet. More specifically, it is a vast online world, a virtual and mixed reality space in which users can interact with each other in a computer-generated environment. Awareness of the metaverse has grown significantly in recent years, most notably since Meta Platforms Inc. (formerly Facebook) revealed plans to develop metaverse-specific hardware, experiences, and services. However, the concept has existed for over a century, and the actual term first appeared in writing over forty years ago.
The idea of the metaverse has roots in science-fiction novels going back to the early 20th century. In 1934 the book Pygmalion’s Spectacles, by American sci-fi author Stanley Weinbaum, was published. It tells the story of a protagonist who explores a virtual world using a pair of goggles that allow him to experience all five senses. Going back even further, in 1838, scientist Sir Charles Wheatstone conceptualized “binocular vision.” A combination of two images for each eye that would give the wearer the illusion of a single 3D image. This concept led to the development of stereoscopes, which use the illusion of depth to create an image which is the same concept used in modern VR headsets.