This Internet of the future promises us a revolution. But what is it really about? What will change that? How can we access it? The point in five questions.
Ever since Facebook announced its name change to Meta last October and its intention to create a metavers in five years, everyone has been talking about it. This Internet of the future has invaded conversations and magazines, invited the stock market, and aroused the enthusiasm of some and the concern of others. But what does it really promise us?
What does metavers mean?
The term, a contraction of “goal” and “universe,” means “beyond the universe.” It first appears in a science fiction book, The Virtual Samuraipublished in 1992. The metavers (metavers in English) is a parallel virtual world, where each user can lead a digital life in 3 or 4D, through an avatar, a character that represents him. “The real difference with a simple virtual reality experience is that we will do things there: discuss, move, and of course buy,” says Guillaume Moreau, a computer science professor at IMT Atlantique and co-author of Virtual reality and augmented reality. Myths and facts (2018, ed. Iste). Launched in 2003, the platform Second life can be considered an ancestor of the metavers. But access to this game, which is always online, is done through a simple two-dimensional computer screen. In the metavers, the degree of immersion will be infinitely greater thanks to the use of a virtual reality headset connected via wi-fi to the Internet.
Why are we talking about it today?
Several factors explain this occurrence. First, the computing power of computers has multiplied by more than 100 since 1980, allowing for unprecedented graphical realism. Another element, helmets have become much more affordable. “They have gone from several tens of thousands of euros to 350 euros on average,” says Guillaume Moreau. At the same time, the use of virtual reality has spread, especially in the professional field. “Aviation pilots, for example, have been training in flight simulators for a long time and testing every conceivable problem during their training,” he continues. At the same time, society has become hyper-digitalized, with smartphones and social media. Combined with all this, “containment and health restrictions were a huge accelerator. We’ve probably won a few years, ”says Alexandre Bouchet, director of Clarté, a technology resource center specializing in virtual reality. But what really changed the situation was the development of the blockchain (see chart). By enabling the purchase and possession of virtual objects, this system creates a bridge between the real world and the virtual world.
What will we do next?
As was the case with the Internet twenty-five years ago, it is difficult to guess all the uses that will come. But we can predict the generalization of virtual video conferencing. “A professional meeting in the metavers really gives the feeling of being together, because it also allows you to transmit body language – raising the eyebrows, looking at the gestures, gestures – because certain helmets have cameras,” says Alexandre Bouchet.
In terms of entertainment, there will be more and more virtual concerts, where the artist equipped with a combination of motion capture (motion capture, the process used for cinema), will perform his show in a 3D decoration where the imagination will be the only one. limit. The audience will move around the “room” as they please and approach the artist. Similarly, tourist sites will offer their “mirror” version on the metavers. Thus, a Brazilian visitor will be able to walk around the Sistine Chapel, away from the crowds and whenever he wants. You can now climb to the top of Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris, visit the International Space Station or admire Lascaux Cave as if you were there. These experiences give a taste of what can be done without leaving home.
Finally, the training offer is very likely to increase. “Since the health crisis, students are already experimenting with distance education, but with rudimentary technology,” recalls Alexandre Bouchet. Soon, we will be able to continue our course at Harvard, while we remain in France. »
Worlds at risk?
The risks of harassment, verbal abuse and addiction are real. “In fact, the dangers are the same as those of video games and social media,” says Alexandre Bouchet. In December 2021, a woman reported sexual assault on the beta version of the Facebook metavers. Since then, the platform has implemented a personal shield to prevent avatars from being touched without their consent. In order to resolve disputes, the question of the competent jurisdiction will be raised. “What law will apply? European law, jus soli or service provider law? Questions that are already being asked on social media “, explains Guillaume Moreau.
Similarly, if social media already raises concerns about the use of our personal data, the metavers will amplify the phenomenon. All actors offering a virtual experience will retrieve data. “We will share much more than we think: what we look at, what surprises us,” explains Alexandre Bouchet. However, the US jurisdiction, on which most of the web giants currently present in the metavers depend, is much less protective than Europe. »
Finally, the hours spent in these digital worlds could be detrimental to eye health. “Follow a screen. However, the screens are tiring for the eyes, ”says Guillaume Moreau.
During the release of Second life, hundreds of businesses and political parties believed in the new Eldorado. Bad. Will the same happen? “Contrary to what the founder of Facebook thinks, I don’t think users use metavers for everything,” says Guillaume Moreau. Why buy a train ticket instead of the internet? And then the pandemic showed us the limits of the virtual. Having a drink with friends online is not the same thing. With a helmet, you can’t even drink anything. In addition, technical problems arise. The technology, based on visual and sound, does not allow you to reproduce the touch or smells at all. And “haptic” (tactile) dresses shouldn’t hit the market for at least ten years. “I rather believe in the rise of augmented reality as a tool,” he continues. In fact, thanks to the connected glasses, the information is superimposed on the real world: distinguishing the offside area in front of a football match, seeing under the skin for a surgeon, showing an itinerary for people who suffer from Alzheimer’s. “For my part, the development of the metavers seems inexorable to me,” says Alexandre Bouchet. Because it promises new experiences and the emergence of a new economy. It remains to invent the art and ways in which this virtual world will be combined with our real world.
First, equip yourself with a virtual reality headset. Then clean the space around you to avoid colliding with furniture, especially if you want to play a sport. Then download one of these applications to the headset:
– Eleven Table Tennis to play table tennis with other players. Sweat assured!
– Facebook horizon to attend concerts (see the Foo Fighters concert which combines video recordings and virtual ceilings).
– Facebook workspaceto organize professional meetings.
– Brink Travelerto visit the Grand Canyon or the Waterfalls of Iceland.
– Cryptocurrency : a digital currency, linked to an encryption system, that operates outside of banking networks. Examples: bitcoin, ether or tether.
– blockchain (or blockchain): a digital protocol that securely tracks transactions using encryption.
– NFT (non-fungible token, non-fungible token): This is a digital token, the authenticity of which is guaranteed by the blockchain. Obviously, it is the title, considered counterfeit, of the original of a digital object. Artist Beeple’s digital mosaic, under NFT, sold for 58 million euros at auction in 2021.
> Understand NFTs and metaverses, by Laurent Gayard, ed. Slatkine & Cie, 2022.
> Ready player 12018 film directed by Steven Spielberg, based on the book Player One. In 2045, the inhabitants of the earth, immersed in chaos, find refuge in the Oasis, a virtual world.