I remember the 1990s when Netscape showed up — the walled gardens represented by firms like AOL and CompuServe came crashing down. Modem manufacturers failed and companies that developed unique skills and intellectual property to manage those modems suddenly went from being industry kings to footnotes in history.
We’ve had several waves like this over the years: the birth of the mainframe, the birth of the PC, the birth of the smartphone, followed by the birth of the iPhone, were all market disruptors where giant untouchable companies ceased to exist seemingly overnight. But it wasn’t that sudden. Behind the scenes the trends were there, but technology companies had blinders on and refused to see what was coming until it hit them like a train.
Well, there is another train coming. It is called the Metaverse, which debuted this year at Siggraph during the NVIDIA keynote. If you pay attention, you may find a way to ride this train rather than get hit by it.
Internet vs. Metaverse
The internet is a digital construct that behaves like a digital construct — numbers take physical addresses, and the analog world is represented, albeit poorly. The internet is much like how a book tells a story with descriptions of things. However, the Metaverse will be a digital construct that presents as an analog of reality — things have virtual weight and mass; they are ever more accurate 3D duplicates, digital twins of things that exist or that could exist.
However, just like the internet, reality doesn’t necessarily matter, and you can create things that don’t exist in reality and give them virtual weight and substance. You are unlimited in terms of your ability to create virtual duplicates of items with physical properties that once existed but now are gone, do exist now, will exist in the future, could exist in the future, that is simply probable, or that are improbable, and impossible in our current reality.
We can build these worlds, intermix them, connect them dynamically or semi-permanently, then run simulations in these worlds, populating them with virtual people or avatars of real people using mixed reality tools or just computer screens to make the result more realistic.
In the future, rather than going to a website, you might instead navigate to a virtual office that mirrors an actual office or exists in the Metaverse, navigating that space using mixed reality tools like you would in a physical space. You’d interact with avatars of real people or avatars of conversational AIs, which are already becoming hard to distinguish from real people.
Small companies can present themselves like large multinationals if they have the funds to create an impressive virtual presence; firms with these skills, much like their early internet savvy predecessors, will seem more advanced and get more access to customers and opportunities. Firms that get this early could bypass their powerful competitors who do not.
Once the Metaverse hits critical mass, many things will change very quickly. You don’t want to be a day late and a dollar short for this one.
Ramping Up to the Metaverse
This year, it looks like Siggraph may be the best place to go to see where we are in the birth process of the Metaverse. Starting with the NVIDIA keynote early in the show schedule, you’ll get a chance to see the hundreds of companies working on this, the thousands of developers frantically working on it, and tools like Universal Scene Description (the HTML of the Metaverse) that will create these fantastic virtual worlds.
You’ll see updates from significant car companies already using this technology to build factories, large multinationals using it for disaster prevention and response, and an unpredicted number of use cases that, altogether, showcase we are ramping up to a technology that will effectively transform the world ranging from how we build things to eSports.
If there was one don’t miss event this year, it is likely Siggraph. If you want to get a sense of where this technology is, go back and watch the end of the NVIDIA GTC keynote from this year, where what looked like their CEO’s kitchen turned out to be its digital twin created by Omniverse for the Metaverse. The keynote is worth watching, but the last two minutes of it showcase just how incredibly far we’ve come to rethinking reality. Siggraph starts next week. I recommend you attend.