One can find an early, radical iteration of the metaverse in the cutting-edge sci-fi film The Matrix, written and directed by the Wachowskis in 1999. Set in a dystopian future where artificial intelligence (AI) has outsmarted the minds that created it, the film portrays human beings trapped in a fictional, computer-generated world. Neo, the main character, is a prisoner of the Matrix and is pursued by a group of mysterious, undercover rebels who want him to join them. But, instead, he is offered a blue pill and a red pill by Morpheus, the rebel faction leader. The blue pill would allow him to remain within the Matrix and erase the memory of the rebels, while the red pill would help him escape from the Matrix and experience the real world for the first time.
Neo’s curiosity and thirst for truth push him to take the red pill. He can re-join the Matrix from the real world through advanced technology, which wires the real human bodies into the digital universe through their brains. As a free man in the Matrix, Neo can bend seemingly unshakeable laws, such as gravity: his experience of the digital-cum-physical world is transformed through freedom. This limitless escapism underpins the Matrix, and it is the same concept that underpins the metaverse.
Much like the technology allowing Neo to travel back and forth between the Matrix and the real world, the metaverse bridges the gap between our virtual and physical realities. Doing so invited us to rethink the way we interact and communicate while using virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality to optimize our experiences in life.
The metaverse also marks a new chapter in our cultural history by offering an alternative mode of storytelling. Stories have sustained human culture and civilization for millennia. They teach us to speak, read and write; assimilate civil codes, and forge our identities. We learn about language and psychology, belonging and ownership, and the sense of right and wrong through them. They define the narrative of our lives and our communities and our circular socio-economic models, financial codes, and ethics.
Some of the most culturally powerful stories we have told are found in ancient and religious texts such as the Epic of Gilgamesh, the Rigveda, the Bible, and the Quran. These stories have shaped the course of history — from the wars we wage and the battles we fight to the dresses we sew and the art we produce. Yet, in a way, we embody our own stories and the collective story of humanity.
Nevertheless, the internet has revolutionised how we tell stories and share them. With the internet invariably transcending the geographical boundaries, those between the cultures have started to blur and blend. As a result, we have entered an era where the communitarian aspect of past narratives is gradually becoming obsolete. Today’s great stories are not just told in verse; rather, they are being told in the metaverse. Their digital plasticity ensures their exportable value.
As we tell more stories through the metaverse, we allow our dreams to come to fruition in more perfect and sublime ways than ever before.
Where the Matrix suggests that we fall prey to technology, the metaverse suggests that we realise our dreams through it.
If it was once the preserve of a niche audience, it is not anymore. The metaverse has exploded into the mainstream as the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the development and democratisation of modern technologies. Within weeks, we had swapped our physical interactions with online alternatives – communicating via video rather than face-to-face or even organizing Zoom pub quizzes for lack of the real thing.
While it felt like a downgrade for many, it was an unparalleled opportunity for others. As a result, blockchain projects flourished, as did online summits and video streaming software.
The result was exponential digitisation of all systems and structures, spanning health, education, finance, and property assets. It also led to the creation of digital twins for just about everything around us; nowadays, digital replicas exist for art, health, and assets. Yet, we have not found a way to certify and monetize our digital world as we have with paper technology. However, non-fungible tokens (or NFTs) may change that.
The metaverse NFTs are among the central elements emerging in this new, alternative universe. They have the potential to enable monetisation and certify the reproduction of physical assets as digital counterparts.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Metaverse NFTs augmented virtuality (AR), and related innovations have accelerated the creation of new digital twins. As a result, we are now on the cusp of critical change. Concretely speaking, the critical change in question concerns how new blockchain-driven economies are reshaping human relations. In the industry, this idea is becoming known as web 3.0 interactions.
– Dinis Guarda is an author, academic, influencer, serial entrepreneur, and leader in 4IR, AI, Fintech, digital transformation, and Blockchain. Views expressed are personal.
Also Watch // What is a crypto metaverse?
(Edited by : Yashi Gupta)