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Stephen King said it best when he wrote, “sooner or later, everything old is new again.” And that’s precisely what’s going on when it comes to the metaverse. It’s true; the technologies driving this incredible space forward are anything but old. However, the concept itself dates back nearly 30 years.
Love them or hate them, Facebook deserves a ton of credit for bringing the metaverse mainstream after they rebranded themselves as Meta. But the idea is anything but original. The metaverse’s origins can be traced to 1992. The same year Kris Kross was making us “Jump,” and dial-up internet access first became available.
The creation of the metaverse
1992 was also the year Neal Stephenson first used the term “metaverse” within the pages of his dystopian novel “Snow Crash.” But regardless of who gets credit, the metaverse is now as much a part of popular tech culture as things like blockchain, AR/VR, AI and quantum computing. All of which, by the way, are now combining to drive what the metaverse will eventually be. And that’s exactly what makes it so exciting.
As Dating Group chief strategy officer KJ Dhaliwal explains it:
The metaverse is here and now
Sound too philosophical or futuristic? Then you aren’t seeing what’s before your very eyes. Many of us are already meeting in virtual spaces, daily. But we’re only scratching the surface of what’s to come. However, there is much work to do in order for the market to mature.
There is no industry standard for what the metaverse really is at the moment. The metaverse is still very much an open frontier. And that is a big reason why people are so confused by it.
So what is the metaverse, anyway? Many feel it is simply a 3D model of the internet. At the same time, others take a more extreme view. They see it as a parallel universe of sorts, where the physical completely connects to the digital in a singularity known as the “phygital.”
The market opportunity
However, going from the simple to the extreme will take a lot of technology. And new technologies and services are where the market opportunity is for entrepreneurs and investors wanting to strike gold within the metaverse. And it seems there is a lot of gold to be had.
According to Statista, we are just barely scratching the surface of what the metaverse’s market value will one day be. The company pins its 2022 market value at a few shades north of $47 billion. However, they anticipate it will surge to $678.8 billion by 2030. That means there will potentially be a few more billionaires over the next eight years.
That’s exciting math, no doubt. But it makes one wonder where the real opportunities are. Should you create a new AR or VR startup? Will AI bring the magic? Or, maybe supercomputing is where you should spend your cycles?
Where to stake your claim
To come to any conclusion, one must first understand where the market is right now, the obstacles that stand in the way of progress and where the market is naturally positioned to go. And virtual reality (in its current shape) is probably not where you should spend your time and resources.
A recent report by Piper Sandler found that 50% of the Gen Z’ers surveyed don’t plan to purchase a VR headset any time soon. And it’s not because they already have two or three. A mere 26% admitted to owning a single VR device. But it gets worse. Less than 5% of those that have a headset use it daily.
The key phrase to remember is, “daily use.” If only 5% of the youngest generation with buying power is using something, run away from it. And run away fast. But what are they using daily, you ask?
Consider Gen Z
According to the Los Angeles Times, Gen Z spends a lot of time on screens (mostly their smartphones). According to the paper, they watch an average of 7.2 hours of video a day, which is nearly an hour more than the 6.3 hours spent by Gen X. And, as the saying goes, old habits are hard to break.
Given the wide adoption of mobile and the incredible number of hours that generations old and new spend on their screens, smartphones have a good chance of reigning supreme when it comes to the metaverse. But they cannot do it in their current state. There needs to be a new technology that connects our smartphones to our realities in a way that doesn’t tether us to a headset or similar apparatus.
And that next big thing is already in the works. The blossoming of 5G, the evolution of computing and the smartening of AI have opened the door to the next big thing. Brain-computer interface (BCI) technology is the thing that will complete the marriage between the physical and the digital. But the fledgling field needs more experts and investors to help push its advancement along.
The future is BCI
There is momentum, however. NextMind, which VentureBeat covered at the end of 2020, was recently acquired by Snap for an undisclosed sum. And in a company statement, Snap wrote, “NextMind has joined Snap to help drive long-term augmented reality research efforts within Snap Lab. Spectacles are an evolving, iterative research and development project, and the latest generation is designed to support developers as they explore the technical bounds of augmented reality.”
Unlike its annoying VR headset cousin, AR — or better yet, MR (mixed reality) — done well can be a discreet technology that blends our physical and digital worlds in real-time. And this will be made more profound with advances in BCI technology. Don’t misunderstand, though. There are still a lot of picks and shovels to be sold before finding the motherload with BCI.
Veljko Ristic is Chief Growth Officer at SDV Lab.
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