Fairly recently, Facebook hit the headlines while revealing its plan to rebrand as META, which brings all the various features and applications under one parent company. It was part of Mark Zuckerberg's keynote speech at Connect'21 as his business empire started to venture beyond social media apps and into the design and manufacture of new technologies.
What is Meta?
Meta in Greek refers to after or beyond. This rebranding symbolizes the company's shift of focus. Even though the Facebook app will retain its name, its other constituents are all under the umbrella company 'Meta.' It is similar to how Google and its products are under the parent company 'Alphabet.'
For Mark Zuckerberg, the term refers to the fact that there is always more to build. He outlined his vision for Metaverse as 'a virtual space to meet, interact and create with people and communities that aren't in the same physical space as you’. He explained that changing the company's name was essential to reflect the multiple services and platforms, including WhatsApp, Instagram, and Messenger. According to him, the name Facebook was so tightly linked with one of their services that it only represented a fraction of what they were working on, and hence it did not represent what the future has in store for the company.
A plethora of use cases
Mr. Zuckerberg painted a picture of the Metaverse as a clean, well-lit virtual world, enriched with virtual and augmented reality hardware at first and more advanced body sensors, later on. People will soon be able to play virtual games, attend virtual concerts, go shopping for virtual goods, collect virtual art, hang out with each others' virtual avatars and attend virtual work meetings.
The concept of literally living in the Metaverse has caught the eye of many alternate reality enthusiasts. People have started to spend hours together in the virtual world—so much so that recently, a couple, who met on the Metaverse, had a full-fledged virtual marriage, complete with their virtual avatars and a proper marriage ceremony!
How was this built?
The concept of the Metaverse dates back to 1992, when Neal Stephenson, an American author, coined the term in his seminal and highly influential science fiction novel Snow Crash to describe a virtual reality-based version of the Internet.
Inspired by the notion of this interconnected fictional vision, the likes of Facebook wants to make the Metaverse a (virtual) reality. Money to the likes of $50 million is being pledged on making the Metaverse the next big thing in the world.
But this shift and change, which seems sudden, has been gradually underway for years. The company already has more than 10,000 people working on augmented and virtual reality projects in its Reality Labs division—roughly twice as many people on Twitter's entire staff—and has said it plans to hire 10,000 more people in Europe soon.
Privacy—a virtual existence?
Meta says it will involve the human rights and civil rights communities from the beginning to ensure that their technologies are built in an inclusive and empowering way. It is said that the Metaverse will require people to put many more sensors in homes and workspaces, which will undoubtedly raise questions on people's data and their privacy.
Meta is looking into how it can minimize the amount of data used, build technology to enable privacy-protective data uses, and give people transparency and control over their data. Part of the idea of Facebook's Metaverse is an immersive mixed reality business meeting space via a virtual meeting software called Horizon Workrooms. This could potentially be another privacy nightmare.
Additionally, AI and machine learning give companies like Meta the ability to aggregate and analyse vast amounts of data that influence every aspect of our lives. Thus, regulators and the public demand transparency to trust that their data is being used and protected appropriately. Considering their troubled history, people's trust in Facebook is particularly low, and experts remain sceptical about the safety and privacy implications of the Metaverse.
It is a complex issue with multiple aspects to it, but the Metaverse isn't something that's going to be built overnight—it will take Meta 10 to 15 years to reach its vision for itself. In the meantime, people only need to watch out for the brand that has sprung up—a new name for Facebook, accompanied by its dubious claims of privacy.
Envisioning the future with Meta
Meta hopes to find a future beyond its current existence, aiming to solve social media problems that still haven't been solved. The Metaverse might be another buzzword in the myriad of trends that float around in the tech world, but unlike many others, it has already found a grip on society. With Covid-19 speeding up large-scale digitization and forcing people worldwide to immerse themselves into the digital world, the Metaverse is no longer a fictional, sci-fi commodity set in an unrealistic future. It is one of the most exciting possibilities that can holistically revolutionise the way people lead their lives.