On August 6 pop star Ariana Grande will launch her latest concert on Aug. 6. The show will be filled with people, but it won't be in front of a packed arena. Instead, she'll perform in front of thousands of fans via Epic Games' Fortnite.
The Rift Tour, as the concert is called, will run from Aug. 6 to 8 and feature five shows that 'Fortnite' players can join and watch virtually with their friends. Grande joins a growing number of artists like Travis Scott and Killer Mike entering the tech industry's most newest obsession: the metaverse.
A persistent and virtual world accessible through augmented reality, virtual reality, or even smartphones, the metaverse is hyped by CEOs ranging from Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg and Microsoft’s Satya Nadella to Epic’s Jensen Huang and of course, Epic’s Tim Sweney.
The Pandemic and its associated social distancing have also made the idea of a virtual world more appealing, especially as the Delta variant spreads. I have used a number of virtual and augmented reality apps since the pandemic. While they are still in early days, these apps reveal a sneak preview of the metaverse.
However, the metaverse comes with risks. Experts warn that metaverse hosts like Epic and Facebook need to address digital concerns before they create full-fledged worlds. Political disinformation, user harassment and crypto scams already pervade the digital world, and they'll only become bigger problems with every entry in metaverse unless companies tackle them head-on.
To help visualize the metaverse, it's best to think of it as a digital version of reality. The online simulator 'Second Life' is a form of metaverse where you create your own avatar and explore a massive multiplayer version of the real world as are virtualized online games like World Warcraft. The gist of the math is that you have an avatar that you customize and can use to interact with other people's avatars in a virtual setting.
But as the 3D digital world becomes more interactive, people will need to be held accountable for their behavior in that universe, NYU Tandon School of Engineering professor Carla Gannis told Yahoo Finance.
'We really need to think, as we are thinking about the metaverse, about accountability, thinking about: Are we going to perpetuate the problems we have in base or ground reality into this metaverse? Gannis explained. 'The ills of human culture and society can be ethical, unless we think ethically about these things.
Look no further than Facebook for an example of the kind of double-edged sword the metaverse could wield. Facebook has allowed people to connect with long-lost friends, find life partners and meet other people with similar interests. It has also amplified online harassment and the spread of denial on topics ranging from election to COVID - 19 vaccines.
In a social media world, harassment is far more powerful than the one you get on virtual platforms. Instead of someone writing comments on your profile page or sending you direct messages, they could walk up to you and scream at you or follow you across different metaverse regions.
But 'humans are human beings and, I don't know how you escape that simply because you make it slightly different in a digital sense.'
The metaverse as conceptualized by films like 'Ready Player One' is a one place where users can interact in an uninterrupted world. For now however, Gannis explained that the metaverse is divided into a series of fiefdoms, whether those are 'Fortnite, Mozilla Hubs, or some other form of virtual world.
For metaverse to truly take off, metaverse operators will need to address how users purchase items in their worlds, create and sell goods, and turn virtual cash into fiat currency.
While non-fungible tokens, or NFTs, came along at the right time to allow artists and creators to sell their works in the Metaverse, a centralized source will need to serve as the backbone for how currency changes hands in these new virtual worlds.
'You need to have certain fundamental social blocks underneath the metaverse in place or it's all built on quicksand, Ward explained.
The metaverse will be the world you want, whatever it is.
While the Metaverse will need rules to protect users, a new virtual world could also bring unique experiences for users — like playing basketball with LeBron James, flying across the planet, or conducting a symphony in front of a packed house in Lincoln Center.
'There's a beautiful lack of attachment to a fixed identity in VR that can give people freedom when they feel unbounded, explained Caitlin Krause, founder of the XR studio MindWise and a technology and wellness educator at Stanford University.
For now, the metaverse is still in its infancy and a game with LeBron might not seem in the cards for most people. But major companies staking their futures on it. Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg has called it the successor of the mobile internet and one of the most interesting projects that we're going to get to work on in our lifetimes.
If the metaverse brings along the kind of problems that plague social media, it may never be the type of paradise experts and consumers dream it could be.
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