The term “metaverse” was coined in the 1992 Neal Stephenson science fiction novel “Snow Crash,” which featured a character who was a pizza delivery driver by day and a powerful hacker in an immersive virtual world by night. Today, the idea of a persistent, real-time, three-dimensional, immersive online environment where people can interact with each other and create, buy, and sell things is no longer just the subject of speculative fiction: The metaverse is generating real-world headlines and attracting capital as technologists, companies, and investors eye opportunities in this emerging—albeit still somewhat vaguely defined—digital space.
While the concept is almost 30 years old, big advances in the ability of people to transmit and store information are starting to bring it to life. Other factors fueling interest in the potential for social and commercial interactions in a virtualized environment include better connectivity, improved network throughput, new financial tools, and a younger population that has grown up online and in virtual worlds that have some hallmarks of the metaverse. The trend toward entirely virtual experiences has been accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic, which forced millions of people to adopt digital alternatives to the office, school, and socializing.
It is still far from certain when and under what circumstances the metaverse will come together, how it will work, or whether it will amount to much more than an incremental improvement in the digital experience. However, the basic building blocks are now largely in place for a digital environment that, according to some industry observers, will be social, live, and synchronous, massively scalable, persistent, hardware agnostic, highly interoperable, content-rich, economically vibrant, and can act as a bridge between worlds. And the race is on to seize the economic and commercial opportunities that will be created by a virtualized online environment—or multiple environments—where people can interact with each other, create things, exchange goods, and share experiences.