Clunky headgear, walled gardens and tech cul-de-sacs: the metaverse won’t have these bugs fixed until at least 2042, according to a chief scientist at software developer Unity.
Timoni West, who oversees augmented reality and virtual reality at the real-time 3D tools company, is refreshingly honest at not having a concrete vision for how the metaverse will pan out.
“We’re trying to envision what we’re going to do with this genuinely exciting tech,” she told Fast Company senior writer Mark Sullivan.
“We’re kind of applying it in that way where we’re assuming we’re going to take this way of doing things, and it’s going to be like this or that — but it won’t. It’ll be something completely different. It’s particularly hard to predict.”
A good example of that, West said, is how we meet in virtual spaces today with attempts at realistic avatars.
“That’s not going to be the way we’re actually doing it in 20 years,” she says.
She makes an analogy with 1982’s Blade Runner in which Deckard makes a video call from a bar, “but goes over to a payphone booth to make the call. [The filmmakers] were exactly right that we were going to do this, but they were exactly wrong about how we were going to do it.”
Unity recently acquired Weta Digital, but Sullivan doesn’t appear to have asked West about the new acquisition. Nor does he follow up on the most intriguing line of enquiry:
“I have an idea that the metaverse will be something akin to the internet, where there are protocols that allow users to move back and forth between different virtual spaces in the same way they move between websites,” he comments, adding, “My worry is that this vision is not aligned with the interests of the people who will fund this development.”
If he’s referring to Meta, West isn’t prompted for any additional thoughts, or what can be done about it. By implication, he seems to vote for more openness and interoperable standards.
However, West also thinks the internet’s next phase will include a period of proprietary portals just like the walled gardens of the early 1990s.
“I think we’re going to do that again,” she says. “And I think that, like last time, it will kind of implode: While all the companies are putting their resources into getting their particular stronghold and making sure they can generate revenue, it will get too big for any one company and it’ll kind of explode out again.”
West believes this is in part because “nowadays people expect things to be open. They’re going to get annoyed; they’re not going to want the world to work like that [closed model], no matter how convenient it is.”
The metaverse may be a wild frontier, but here at NAB Amplify we’ve got you covered! Hand-selected from our archives, here are some of the essential insights you’ll need to expand your knowledge base and confidently explore the new horizons ahead:
- The Metaverse is Coming To Get You. Is That a Bad Thing?
- The Metaverse Opens the Door to New Creative (and Commercial) Possibilities
- Does Anyone Actually Care Who Controls the Metaverse?
- How Do We Make Sure the Metaverse Is Equitable?
- Neal Stephenson: Who Cares About the Metaverse When We Have Real-World Problems?
As head of AR/VR, West is keen on developments that can track a person’s movement in real-time. Such “digital object-centric systems” will be important for creating the illusion of immersion but this tech has a long way to run.
“It’s kind of like a teenage growth period — getting from janky computers that are usable by a few people, or that require a lot of teaching to learn how to use, [towards] a more humane kind of computing,” she says.
“We’re very much in the awkward ‘everything is expensive, heavy, and doesn’t work that well [stage].’ But give it another good 20 years and a reasonable amount of investment, and I think we’ll kind of bridge that gap and really be in that next era of computing.”