Facebook, the social network, is not dead but the company is now called Meta. Mark Zuckerberg set course for the future on Thursday — trying to turn his back on today’s controversies — by unveiling a new name for the company he founded 17 years ago. “Our brand is so tied to one product that it can no longer represent everything we do today. Ultimately, I hope that we will be seen as a company of the metaverse “, he explained. So what is this “metaverse” (in French), which emerged from the imagination of cyberpunk science fiction 30 years ago? For Zuckerberg, this is nothing less than the “future of the Internet”. What the dividing line between the will blur the real and the virtual and could disrupt all sectors, provided the general public doesn’t overwhelmingly reject it.
Social: avatars and shared experiences
This metaverse is built brick by brick. By Facebook, but also by users. First step: create your virtual home, as in Second Life, the ancestor of stubborn connected worlds. Are you stuck in a two-room apartment of 20m²? With a virtual reality headset, you will be transported to a chalet overlooking a lake or to an orbital station.
With its suite of shared virtual spaces Horizon Home and World, currently in beta, Facebook offers easy-to-use creation tools, just like on Minecraft. You can then meet up with friends to play poker or just chat. Each is represented by a virtual avatar – Mark Zuckerberg’s is just as emotionless as the original. For now, the avatars remain very cartoonish, but in the long run, Meta promises photorealistic holograms with emotion tracking transcribed in real time.
Video games: a mix of virtual and augmented reality
The metaverse will also offer a “mixed” reality, which combines virtual and augmented reality. As in this chess game, with a player sitting in a park in Manhattan, who thanks to AR (augmented reality) glasses sees a synthetic chessboard on the (real) table, and challenges an opponent on the other side of the world, immersed in a virtual environment.
School and work: collaborative productivity
Horizon Workrooms wants to profile itself as the video conferencing of the future. Instead of having a video grid of colleagues’ heads, you can chat in a virtual room, admire a 3D model from all angles. Ditto for school, with huge educational and visual potential for biology or geography. It is also possible to work on virtual PC screens. And because the web is still 99% 2D, Mark Zuckerberg promises a library to easily import the “old” web into the metaverse.
The potential: Great technological and societal limits
Mark Zuckerberg has acknowledged that building the multiverse will take “years”. Some products, such as a real pair of augmented reality glasses called “Project Nazare”, don’t even have a release date. Hand tracking has progressed, but the gestures with the raised arm remain exhausting. Meta relies on his Neural Interface project on the wrist to write with micro-movements, and ultimately only by thinking.
The economics of the metaverse has yet to be invented, but the elemental bricks are there, with cryptocurrencies and NFTs that can serve as proof of ownership for a virtual object. Ultimately, the main obstacle remains social: some are enthusiastic about this vision of the future, others are terrified of the scarcity of human interactions in the flesh. Especially if that future is built by a company with the obligations of Facebook. It takes more than a name change to regain the long-lost trust.