Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg announced this week he was hiring 10,000 workers to develop metaverse technology, the latest development in the tech executive’s plan to transition Facebook from a social media platform into a metaverse company.
The term “metaverse” refers to a virtual, digital world or environment in which people can interact with one another, often through avatars, across multiple platforms and devices. Facebook described it as a “new phase of interconnected virtual experiences using technologies like virtual and augmented reality,” and that the company hopes ”interacting online can become much closer to the experience of interacting in person.”
Practically, the metaverse is a kind of “extended reality” that integrates elements of both virtual and augmented reality, video games, social media platforms, and communications tools. For example, popular video game Fortnite has been characterized as having elements of the metaverse, as characters can shop, play games and communicate in a virtual environment.
Video game developer Roblox’s eponymous online gaming platform describes itself as part of the metaverse, integrating voice and text chat functions into a digital world in which people can interact with one another, buy virtual goods and create virtual objects.
To Zuckerberg, the metaverse represents the future of interactive technologies.
“You can think about it as the successor to the mobile internet,” Zuckerberg said in a July interview with The Verge. The Facebook founder said he hopes the tech giant will be known more as a metaverse company, than a social media platform, in the coming years.
“The metaverse isn’t just virtual reality. It’s going to be accessible across all of our different computing platforms; VR and AR, but also PC, and also mobile devices and game consoles,” Zuckerberg said.
The tech executive said he believes the metaverse will serve as a new medium of interpersonal communication and interaction, in the same way that social media does today. For Zuckerberg, the metaverse is more immersive and all-encompassing than social media platforms, bringing people closer together.
“I think that this is a persistent, synchronous environment where we can be together, which I think is probably going to resemble some kind of a hybrid between the social platforms that we see today, but an environment where you’re embodied in it,” Zuckerberg said.
Yet some experts worry Facebook’s interest in the metaverse could be a bid to control the future of new technologies.
“For Facebook and other large corporations, determined to embrace the ‘next big thing’ before their competitors, the metaverse is exciting because it presents an opportunity for new markets, new kinds of social network, new consumer electronics and new patents,” wrote Dr. Nick Kelly, researcher and senior lecturer at Queensland University of Technology.
“It offers us limitless possibility to overcome the constraints of the physical world; yet in doing so, only replaces them with constraints imposed by what the metaverse will allow,” Kelly added.
Facebook is the owner of Oculus, a technology company that makes virtual reality hardware and video games, including VR headsets. The tech giant has also slowly been transitioning more of its workforce to VR-related research and development.
Facebook is also currently buying up virtual reality studios, according to a report by The Information.
“[I]n this new world we will probably be interacting with one another even more than we do already. This points to even more revenue opportunities for the gatekeeper,” wrote Dr. Daniel Broby, Director of the Centre for Financial Regulation and Innovation at the University of Strathclyde.
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