What happens when video games meet Web 2.0?
When virtual worlds meet geospatial maps of the planet? When simulations get real and life and business go virtual? When you use a virtual Earth to navigate the physical Earth, and your avatar becomes your online agent?
What happens is the metaverse.

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MVR Summit Attendees
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Co-Authors

John Smart, Acceleration Studies Foundation
Jamais Cascio, Open the Future
Jerry Paffendorf, The Electric Sheep Company

Contributing Authors

Corey Bridges, Multiverse
Jochen Hummel, Metaversum
James Hursthouse, OGSi
Randal Moss, American Cancer Society

Lead Reviewers

Edward Castronova, Indiana University
Alexander Macris, Themis Group

Richard Marks, Sony Computer Entertainment
Rueben Steiger, Millions of Us


Introduction

Over the past year the Acceleration Studies Foundation (ASF) and its supporting foresight partners have explored the virtual and 3D future of the World Wide Web in a first-of-its-kind cross-industry public foresight project, the Metaverse Roadmap (MVR). We use the term Metaverse in a way that includes and builds upon Neal Stephenson’s coinage in the cyberpunk science fiction novel, Snow Crash, which envisioned a future broadly reshaped by virtual and 3D technologies.

The MVR has “near-term” anticipation horizon of ten years (to 2017), a “longer-term” speculation horizon of twenty years (to 2025), and a charter to discover early indicators of significant developments ahead. Seeking diverse points of view, our process included an invitational Metaverse Roadmap Summit, public and expert surveys, a few workshops and roundtables at major U.S. conferences, social meetups, and a public wiki. Many helpful people from the IT, virtual worlds, professional, academic, futurist, and lay communities contributed ideas to the MVR.

In its inaugural version, the MVR focuses on defining and exploring this major new social space. In future versions we expect to add industry-developed timelines for Metaverse technology development. Our inaugural MVR budget was roughly $100K, paid for by our generous financial sponsors. With the resources provided we endeavored be as multinational and inclusive as possible.

The MVR comprises two documents, both available at MetaverseRoadmap.org: 1) a 75-page set of MVR Inputs, summarizing key insights in 19 foresight categories, and 2) this MVR Overview (22 pages + Appendix) which synthesizes some, not all, of the Inputs into a series of narratives to explain important features of the change and opportunity ahead.

If you appreciate this report, we invite you to help us with feedback, volunteer effort, and a small donation to ASF, the nonprofit behind the MVR. In these early days of the Metaverse, financial sponsorship is particularly helpful to improving the quality of future roadmaps. Questions? Email us at roadmap@accelerating.org.

Moore’s Law: A doubling of real computing power has occurred every 2.3 years, on average, since the birth of modern computing. Moore’s Law is one of several enabling technological trends for Metaverse development.

Metaverse Definition

The Metaverse is a complex concept. In recent years, the term has grown beyond Stephenson’s 1992 vision of an immersive 3D virtual world, to include aspects of the physical world objects, actors, interfaces, and networks that construct and interact with virtual environments. We have collected several definitions in the Glossary (Sec. 20) of the MVR Inputs. Here is one that seems as good a starting point as any: The Metaverse is the convergence of 1) virtually-enhanced physical reality and 2) physically persistent virtual space. It is a fusion of both, while allowing users to experience it as either.

There is no single, unified entity called the Metaverse—rather, there are multiple mutually-reinforcing ways in which virtualization and 3D web tools and objects are being embedded everywhere in our environment and becoming persistent features of our lives. These technologies will emerge contingent upon potential benefits, investments, and customer interest, and will be subject to drawbacks and unintended consequences.

In time, many of the Internet activities we now associate with the 2D Web will migrate to the 3D spaces of the Metaverse. This does not mean all or even most of our web pages will become 3D, or even that we'll typically read web content in 3D spaces. It means that as new tools develop, we’ll be able to intelligently mesh 2D and 3D to gain the unique advantages of each, in the appropriate context.

Although the "Web" technically refers to a particular set of protocols and online applications, the term has become shorthand for online life. It's possible that "Metaverse" will come to have this same duality: referring to both a particular set of virtualizing and 3D web technologies, and the standard way in which we think of life online. Like the Web, the Metaverse wouldn't be the entirety of the Internet—but like the Web, it would be seen by many as the most important part.

The emergence of a robust Metaverse will shape the development of many technological realms that presently appear non-Internet-related. In manufacturing, 3D environments offer ideal design spaces for rapid-prototyping and customized and decentralized production. In logistics and transportation, spatially-aware tags and real-time world modeling will bring new efficiencies, insights, and markets. In artificial intelligence, virtual worlds offer low-risk, transparent platforms for the development and testing of autonomous machine behaviors, many of which may be also used in the physical world. These are just a sampling of coming developments based on early stage Metaverse technologies.

In sum, for the best view of the changes ahead, we suggest thinking of the Metaverse not as virtual space but as the junction or nexus of our physical and virtual worlds.

Enabling Trends

The back story of the Metaverse is that its emergence is being enabled by a number of exponential technology capacity and performance growth trends. Together, these rapidly expanding digital capacities and abilities are creating the “soil” in which our 3D web computing ecosystem is emerging.

Moore’s Law is just one of a large family of accelerating technology capacity and performance growth curves.

See the Constants (Sec. 3) of the MVR Inputs for a sampling of their breadth and impact. Due to the special physics of the nanocosm (efficiencies of ICT, nanotechnologies, and process automation based on these technologies), it is most reasonable to expect the great majority of these technology trends to continue accelerating over the time horizon of this roadmap.

MVR Survey

MVR Survey Question 22. In 2016, how many hours per week (0-20+) will a typical member of the U.S. population ages 13-30 use interactive, internet-accessing, 3D visual environments (3D video, 3D virtual, or 3D mixed-reality) for EACH of the following activities?



In 2016 the Metaverse may be primarily a social and communication space, but experts suggest it will have many other uses as well.

A twenty-two question survey of key uncertainties in the Metaverse future was developed and administered to our 50 summit experts (30 responded) and also briefly posted for public input at the MVR website (115 to 136 responded). Some valuable insights emerged, and a number of responses are included in the discussion below. Please see the Appendix for the full response set.

Metaverse Scenarios

The complexity of the Metaverse suggests great uncertainty about how and when its forces and features will manifest in society. In such conditions, foresight professionals frequently use a scenario approach, creating a set of partly-unique and partly-overlapping stories of future conditions. Scenarios aren't a method of finding probable futures; instead, they're tools for exploring possible futures, and looking for less-obvious implications. Nevertheless, we do venture a few predictions in the following pages.

For those seeking additional opinions on probable Metaverse futures, we refer you to Cycles (Sec. 7), Trends (Sec. 8), and the many Predictions (Sec. 9), recorded in the MVR Inputs. Prediction analysis, another foresight practice, has repeatedly shown that even the best long-range technology forecasts typically have only a 50% success rate (Megamistakes, Schnaars, 1989). Assuming we have met that standard, which half of our MVR predictions are correct we leave to you, and the future, to determine.

To construct our scenario set we selected two key continua that are likely to influence the ways in which the Metaverse unfolds: the spectrum of technologies and applications ranging from augmentation to simulation; and the spectrum ranging from intimate (identity-focused) to external (world-focused).

Augmentation refers to technologies that add new capabilities to existing real systems; in the Metaverse context, this means technologies that layer new control systems and information onto our perception of the physical environment.

Simulation refers to technologies that model reality (or parallel realities), offering wholly new environments; in the Metaverse context, this means technologies that provide simulated worlds as the locus for interaction.

Intimate technologies are focused inwardly, on the identity and actions of the individual or object; in the Metaverse context, this means technologies where the user (or semi-intelligent object) has agency in the environment, either through the use of an avatar/digital profile or through direct appearance as an actor in the system.

External technologies are focused outwardly, towards the world at large; in the Metaverse context, this means technologies that provide information about and control of the world around the user.

These continua are "critical uncertainties"—critical because they are fundamental aspects of the coming Metaverse, and uncertainties because how they will emerge, their relative and absolute development in various contexts, is yet to be seen.

Combining the two critical uncertainties gives four key components of the Metaverse future:

Virtual Worlds

Mirror Worlds

Augmented Reality

Lifelogging

These four scenarios emphasize different functions, types, or sets of Metaverse technologies. All four are already well into early emergence, yet the conditions under which each will fully develop, in particular contexts, are far from clear.

There are of course other types and functions of technology likely to  influence Metaverse development which are not explicitly covered in our scenarios.

Several of these minimally mentioned or neglected topics are likely to be major near-term influences, such as Internet Television (ITV) and Videoconferencing. Others, such as the Conversational Interface (CI) to the web may become key drivers only in the longer-term speculation horizon of the roadmap (2016 to 2025).

For more on such important factors, and several mini-scenarios relating to them, see Positive Scenarios (Sec. 10), Negative Scenarios (Sec. 11) and Wildcard Scenarios (Sec. 12) in the MVR Inputs.

Recognizing the complexity of the Metaverse space, we nevertheless consider the following four major scenarios an excellent starting point for understanding our virtual and 3D digital future.

 

Citation: Smart, J.M., Cascio, J. and Paffendorf, J., Metaverse Roadmap Overview, 2007.
Creative Commons License 2007. Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 License.

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