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The metaverse and the future of VR/AR/XR

As a lot of people asked for my opinion about Facebook and the metaverse, and the impact on VR/AR/XR, I decided to write a short article about it.

The initial metaverse presentation video we are talking about

First things first: why now?

See what your table
One of our early tech demos from 2019, showing what is possible using Web AR tech

The boundaries between reality and XR will largely disappear sooner or later; that is a fact. Facebook is not the first company who is betting big on this; for example: Apple is betting big on creating "normal looking" AR glasses (available somewhere in 2023).

This is not the first time people expected these technologies to become more adapted by the general public, but up until now none of these waves caused enough stir, so why would it be different this time? Here is my bet:

The current generation of kids has grown up with tablets, and half of their lives are already passing online, albeit over Snapchat, Fortnite, Roblox, Minecraft, Instagram and others. As these people are turning into adults, and they will be more perceptive and familiar with the possibilities of AR and VR over the next decade.

About the video - hi Mark!

To me this feels a bit like those early blue screen effects from those movies in the sixties

The odd thing is the metaverse marketing campaign tried to be as accessible as possible to the general public, so they modeled everything as close to the real world representation as possible, which resulted in a watered down version of what to expect.

Trying to model the metaverse after the real world is stupid, and not only because of a hypothesis known as "the uncanny valley".

From wikipedia: The uncanny valley hypothesis predicts that an entity appearing *almost* human will risk eliciting cold, eerie feelings in viewers.

You need to find out which aspects of the real world are useful in a particular use case and create a new virtual representation that offers a clear advantage over the real world model for that specific use case.

This is just like in software development or art: all models are wrong, but some are useful. You need to find a model where your alternate representation provides an added value.

I didn't spot anything particularly useful in the metaverse video... Sure, there were some novelties, but nothing that said "this is why we need the metaverse".

I have a few ideas about certain metaverse models that might make a huge difference, but even for somebody who's been doing this professionally for years, it is hard to imagine what will come in the next decade.

How will VR/AR/XR evolve over the next decade

I sure hope the future will not be as dystopian as in this excellent video

I am glad that Facebook launched the metaverse, as it will help general XR adaptation by the public. At the beginning, it will look more like a toy with little added value, like the live face filters that you currently see everywhere: a novelty but the added value is limited.

Some interesting use cases are already emerging, like virtual clothing, - hairstyles, - makeup and our very own - product configurators, but in my opinion this is only a miniscule fraction of what to expect.

Our product configurators allow consumers to upload a picture and easily visualize your product on it, after they configured the product to their likings

However, use cases will evolve enormously once we get accustomed to digital twins, and the ways to interact with them will be considered public knowledge. Only then will we see digital twins emerging everywhere.

From wikipedia: A digital twin is a virtual representation that serves as the real-time digital counterpart of a physical object or process.

Right now we're still in the "assembly phase" of digital twins: too much low level stuff needs to be done before you can start adding value, and adding this value takes a lot of effort... In order to take off, the ability to build these digital twins need to be more accessible to the general public.

Simple annotations are happening right now, I imagine making these interactive and having a common way to manipulate them will come next... Annotations could be attached to both virtual and real world objects...

For now these annotations are highly coupled to an almost exact replica of the real world. The minute when these annotations become intuitive to the public, we can start building more abstract annotation models, and then these abstractions will have to become known to the public.

Eventually, as the common public will move up the abstraction ladder, more interesting use cases will emerge, as making your own digital twins gets more accessible with better interaction... Once everyone can do it and has a valuable use for it, adaptation will start booming.

In closing

It is not that hard to imagine that the initial Facebook/metaverse presentation will look outdated pretty fast, but I also assume that what they made was the best possible thing they could make right now; just wait and see what they will do in the next decade.

The age-old adage still stands: "people vastly overestimate what they can do on the short term, but hugely underestimate what they can do in the long term"; compound progress is real, so I have high hopes for the future!



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