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What is the Metaverse?

The metaverse has been a charged topic of conversation recently, with Facebook and Microsoft both staking their bids. But what exactly is the metaverse? And when will it finally arrive?

Author Neal Stephenson is credited with coining the term metaverse in his 1992 science fiction novel “Snow Crash,” where he envisioned lifelike avatars as stand-ins for real humans behind screens who meet in virtual 3D buildings and other VR-based environments.

Since then, strides have been made on the way toward a real-life metaverse, an online virtual-reality world which incorporates augmented reality, virtual reality, 3D holographic avatars, video and other means of communication. As the metaverse expands, it will offer a hyper-real alternative world for people to coexist in. Additionally, the metaverse is closely linked to Web3 developments, the blockchain and non-fungible tokens (NFTs).

Inklings of the metaverse already exist in online games such as Fortnite, Minecraft and Roblox. And, the companies behind those games have talked on multiple occasions about their ambitions regarding the metaverse.

The metaverse should function as a combination of multiple elements of technology, including VR, augmented reality, and video, where users “live” within a digital universe, similar to movies such as “The Matrix.” Supporters of the metaverse say they envision its users working, playing and staying connected with friends through everything from concerts and conferences to virtual trips across the globe.

Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of the newly named Meta (formerly Facebook), estimates it could take five to 10 years before the key features of the metaverse become mainstream. But aspects of the metaverse already exist. Ultra-fast broadband speeds, virtual reality headsets and sprawling online worlds are already up and running, even though they are still accessible only to a few. It remains to be seen what will remain the same and what will change, but it seems like whenever the Metaverse arrives, it will be here to stay.

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