Book review: ‘The Metaverse And How It Will Revolutionize Everything’
Image credit: Jae Young Ju/Dreamstime
Authoritative but lacking in style, this vision for the much-vaunted metaverse explains what must fall in place to enable it, and suggests how it could change everything.
The metaverse has very quickly found itself a topic of discussion by the world’s most influential newspapers, companies and governments. Facebook attracted headlines and derision in November 2021 when it rebranded as Meta, an acknowledgement of the centrality of metaverse services in its future. The only problem is that the metaverse does not yet exist, and no one is quite agreed about what it is.
Venture capitalist Matthew Ball has been influential in shaping what we expect from the metaverse. He posits in the first part of ‘The Metaverse And How it Will Revolutionize Everything’ (WW Norton, £22, ISBN 9781324092032) that the metaverse is the next phase of the internet. Or, to be more precise: “a massively scaled and interoperable network of real-time rendered 3D virtual worlds that can be experienced synchronously and persistently by an effectively unlimited number of users with an individual sense of presence, and with continuity of data, such as identity, history, entitlements, objects, communications, and payments.” Not to worry; Ball wisely spends an entire chapter explaining this definition.
The middle section of ‘The Metaverse’ examines what technology advances must be secured to realise the metaverse as Ball envisages it, ranging from latency to interoperability challenges. This is the most interesting and tangible part of the book. There is a particularly useful examination of 'Microsoft Flight Simulator', which – though not cited as often as 'Minecraft', 'Fortnite' and 'Roblox' as a primordial metaverse platform – is a great example of how we may be able to optimise data streaming for sensationally complex virtual worlds. (Microsoft Flight Simulator’s is a thousand times larger than Fortnite’s.)
There is also a pertinent discussion about open standards and their particular importance in the metaverse. At present, tech giants are in the process of closing their ecosystems to secure their user and developer bases, prophesising a fragmented ‘corporate internet’ – though Ball argues that ‘economic gravity’ could force rival metaverse companies towards standardisation.
The final section of the book examines the potential of the metaverse: what it could look like, its applications, and – as the title promises – how it will revolutionise everything. An overview of how the metaverse could reshape everything from education to sex work makes a stab at stirring the imagination, but comes across rather rushed, hackneyed, and too speculative.
More useful is Ball’s discussion of potential metaverse winners and losers. Though this is all guesswork, it is well-informed guesswork, and Ball acknowledges the limits of his own knowledge: “In time, it will become clear that many of the leaders in the metaverse weren’t even mentioned in this book – perhaps because they were too small to be of note, or unknown to its author.”
‘The Metaverse’ is a timely, authoritative, and accessible overview of the subject, which is as well-informed as is possible to be about something which does not yet exist. Though the writing never sparkles, it is easy to read and well-pitched for the interested non-expert.
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