Some call the metaverse the evolution of the internet. To others, it's the evolution of computing itself. And to even less, it’s the singularity—a point in time where civilization is changed so radically by technology that there’s no turning back. According to Professor of AI and Spatial Computing David Reid, all of these might be right.
The metaverse could accelerate human evolution at an alarming rate thanks to improvements in haptic technology, VR and AR—but these won’t come without serious risks.
Haptic Feedback—Creating Common Sense
One thing seldom talked about in relation to the metaverse is haptic technology. Haptic tech is anything which can simulate the senses—usually touch—by applying motion and forces like vibrations or temperature. This tech will be especially useful for those in virtual worlds that need to interact with virtual objects. Moreover, in the event of another global quarantine, it might allow us to hug our family and friends—and feel it—while in VR. Reid is working on this technology—technology to create senses for the metaverse.
Reid and his team are especially interested in senses and interactions. They want users to be able to feel in real life what their avatar feels in the virtual world. To do this, they are working on a haptic glove that will use braille sensors to recreate the experience of touch. They’re also creating a first-of-its-kind exo-glove that will give users the ability to feel heat:
“The technology we’re using, dual side sensors, can make the transmission of the heat to the glove as fast as we can perceive it in real-time”, says Reid. That means if you’re cooking in the metaverse and you touch a hot pan, you might even feel it searing your fingertips if your reflexes aren’t fast enough—and if someone tells you to touch grass, you’ll be able to oblige without having to leave the comfort of the indoors.
The Metaverse: The Point of No Return
The synergies of haptic with mixed reality technologies will create virtual experiences that, in the future, might be indistinguishable from real ones. This could push us past a point of no return—the technological singularity, where tech and AI advances so much that human civilization is no longer what it once was. At this point, we might not be able to tell apart the physical from the virtual, and the familiar from the simulated. Perhaps this will be for the better, or it might be for the worse.
There is a potential risk that cybercriminals and cybersyndicates make use of these technologies and sabotage them to cause harm to individuals. Haptic gloves could be hacked to cause serious burns, or a VR headset might blind someone. Cyberwarfare will become more like real warfare, with serious dangers of physical harm as opposed to stolen data or financial loss.
On the other hand, the potential of MR and haptic to change lives is momentous. VR Therapy is being used to cure phobias; the AR game PokémonGO led to a reduction in depression-related search terms, and haptic will allow people to feel and interact with their loved ones across unfathomable distances.
No matter what’s what, one thing’s for sure: The metaverse is coming, and it’s going to change more than we know.