Tech companies make a lot of promises about the metaverse, specifically how we’ll watch movies, hold work meetings, buy virtual real estate and more in these immersive online spaces.
Meta — formerly Facebook — and others are investing heavily to create their own territory in the metaverse, which, we’d like to remind you, still doesn’t exist in a complete form.
At this stage, companies are developing proto-metaverse platforms. Our own Kai Ryssdal, host of “Marketplace” and co-host of “Make Me Smart,” explored one of the more business-oriented spaces, fashioned by a company called Engage. He was guided by Michigan State University professor Rabindra “Robby” Ratan.
Marketplace’s Kimberly Adams, the other co-host of “Make Me Smart,” spoke with Kai about his experience. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.
Kai Ryssdal: Well, so two key things — No. 1, and this is going to sound flip, but it’s not — when I did a [virtual reality] experience 10 years ago, I walked out of it and I was barfy, right? It was like the worst carsickness you can imagine. That did not happen this time, so that has changed. The other part, though, is that if you have to strap these goggles to your head — and forget for a second that they’re not comfortable, right? We’ll all eventually figure out, you know, what our head sizes are. But it’s isolating. It’s challenging just in a sensory way. And it takes some practice, right, to pick up a dry marker and write some things on a wall if you’re having a brainstorming session. There’s a learning curve here that I don’t think people are ready for.
Kimberly Adams: Right because some companies are pitching these spaces as the future of work. I mean, do you think that’s possible, given your, albeit brief, experience?
Ryssdal: Is it the future of work? Yes. Is it the future of work tomorrow? No chance. And look, I asked Robby Ratan about this in two regards. No. 1, about the equipment, right? The goggles cost $300, which we paid for, out of Oculus, but the other one is, there are many metaverses right now. And here you go. We’ll play this clip. And he answers that question.
Robby Ratan: We need these things to get cheaper. And we also need them to be less of a walled garden. You know, if you have to buy one radio to listen to “Marketplace” and another radio to listen to another show, that doesn’t work.
Ryssdal: Yeah. So you know, [Meta CEO] Mark Zuckerberg is building his metaverse, and there are other companies building their platforms. And there has to be some kind of commonality if this is actually going to work as a business proposition.
Adams: All right. So let’s talk about the specifics of your experience. What’s one thing that stuck out to you when you and your guide, professor Ratan, were exploring these metaverse spaces?
Ryssdal: I think the thing is that — and this is gonna sound ridiculous, but it’s almost true — almost anything is possible. You can conjure up, and we did, bulldozers and dinosaurs. And I conjured up a helicopter, right? Which is all fun and games, if you’re just playing around with a newbie in the metaverse like I was, but you could see this being a really good instructional tool. And also conceivably a business and oh, by the way, moneymaking tool. Here’s Robby Ratan one more time.
Ratan: For example, if it’s an architecture-related class, we could bring up buildings and people could bring things in that they design. We can look at them from different angles, etc., using the medium to our advantage.
Ryssdal: I think the key point, though, Kimberly, is that the learning curve is really steep on this still, I think.
Adams: You know, I have an Oculus, as you know. I got one because my mother got one, and therefore she wanted me to get one. And I’ve used it for working out. I’ve used it to play games. She’s used it to watch immersive videos. Is that more of the future of this technology? Or is it really something that is going to be useful for business? Are those two things kind of intrinsically linked?
Ryssdal: I think they are kind of linked because there’s going to be a moneymaking part of this, and we didn’t even get into, Professor Ratan and I, did not even get into the whole bitcoin and cryptocurrency and buying virtual things in a virtual world where there’s virtual real estate and virtual objects, right? I think the start now, the on-ramp, is you working out and you playing games, but at some point there’s going to have to be real money to make companies and businesses invest.
Adams: What do you think is the biggest barrier, though, remaining for getting over that hump?
Ryssdal: Yeah, I, look maybe this is just me because I’m really inexperienced with this, but I think the sensory isolation is no joke, right? I had five people around me. I mean, yes, they were recording me on video and audio, but they weren’t going to let me walk into a wall or bump into the coffee table with a mug of coffee on it and create a disaster, right? The sensory isolation is real. And it’s going to be tough to get over that.
Adams: Because, you know, I’m awful. I probably would have just watched it happen.
Ryssdal: That’s a whole different thing. That’s a whole different interview.
Adams: So now that you have this headset, are you going to keep using it? And for what?
Ryssdal: I think so. So we’re going to go back to Robby Ratan in a couple of months, and we’ll talk, you know, other aspects of the metaverse. I would be curious, though, to mess around with it in gaming. I mean, we’re not big gamers in my house, but I’d give it a shot just to, I mean, you got to experiment with his stuff, right? When the internet first came, we all didn’t know what we were doing. We just got to click around, and I think that’s the way it’s going to be for this too.
Related links: More insight from Kimberly Adams
You can check out Kai’s foray into the metaverse and his conversation with Professor Ratan about the potential in this growing space here. We’ve also got photos of what nonvirtual Kai looked like in his VR headset.
And even if we aren’t that close to a functioning metaverse, just the concept is already big business. A recent report from Acumen Research and Consulting estimates the global market value of the metaverse will hit over $1.8 trillion by 2030.
Of course, the metaverse has more potential than just office meetings or video games. VentureBeat has a story about the digital wellness platform Tripp, which says it recently raised over $11 million in funding to create apps and services for a “mindful metaverse,” where you could potentially have “meditative experiences.”
But some of the investments in this space aren’t quite paying off yet. CNBC has a piece about Meta’s reality labs division, which is in charge of the company’s metaverse projects and reported losses of $10 billion in 2021.
So while the metaverse isn’t real yet, the pressure to make it happen is very real.
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