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What is the metaverse? Is the metaverse dead or just evolving more quietly than anticipated?
When Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg launched the metaverse in October 2021 he called the immersive virtual world “the next chapter for the internet.” But some say the metaverse didn’t just fail to live up to its promise to revolutionize human interactions in the virtual world, it actually died.
We’ll take a look at what the metaverse is and the concerns for its welfare.
What Is the Metaverse?
The metaverse is a virtual reality (VR) platform where people can socialize, work, and play. Some say the elusively defined metaverse isn’t so much a specific type of technology as an evolution in people’s interaction with technology.
The metaverse includes both virtual reality—where virtual worlds theoretically exist even without people’s participation in them—and augmented reality (AR)—where the digital and physical worlds coexist. People can access the metaverse not just through dedicated VR and AR equipment, but also with phones, PCs, and game consoles.
Zuckerberg signaled his company’s all-in commitment to the immersive digital realm when he announced the renaming of Facebook to “Meta” during the metaverse’s launch. At that time, he touted the metaverse as “the future of the internet”—an alternate reality where you could experience being ”right there with people” regardless of how physically far away you were from them.
Concerns About the Metaverse’s Welfare
In March of 2023, less than two years after launching the metaverse, Mark Zuckerberg dramatically shifted gears amid an unexpected, explosive global race to dominate the burgeoning Artificial Intelligence (AI) landscape. He began publicly pitching Meta as a major player in the AI sphere—and he stopped talking about the metaverse.
Media outlets and analysts speculated about the change: Is the metaverse dead? Has Zuckerberg turned his back on the project into which he’d sunk billions of dollars?
View 1: The Metaverse Is Dead
Some argue that Zuckerberg has abandoned the metaverse and is no longer putting resources behind it. They cite a host of factors as contributing to its demise, including:
- Overhyping: Overzealous media outlets, tech enthusiasts, and venture capitalists breathlessly reported on, and prematurely invested in, the allegedly revolutionary technology without tangible evidence of its greatness.
- Vague purpose: It lacked a clear vision or road map.
- Equipment problems: Users criticized headgear and glasses that enabled them to access the virtual reality space as bulky and uncomfortable.
- People simply didn’t want to use it:
- Just 9% of the metaverse’s user-constructed worlds saw at least 50 visitors—and most saw none.
- Many of Meta’s own staff wanted no part of the bug-riddled platform.
But the biggest factor was probably the rise of generative AI (technology that creates human-like original content). In early 2023, as Microsoft, Google, and a host of start-ups released popular AI chatbots, major investors withdrew from metaverse-related projects. Zuckerberg quickly pivoted, announcing that Meta’s top investment priority was now to advance and incorporate AI into all its products.
View 2: The Metaverse Isn’t Dead
Mark Zuckerberg maintains that the metaverse is still a part of Meta’s long-term focus, and that his pivot to AI is part of that plan: AI is a key metaverse building block that will enhance virtual reality accessibility.
Some compare metaverse doubters to people who, not long ago, viewed wildly popular platforms YouTube and Instagram as impossible fantasies.
For now, the world waits to see whether Zuckerberg took tech enthusiasts and venture capitalists on a multibillion-dollar roller coaster ride off a cliff or if he’ll make good on metaverse promises.
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