The metaverse, the Internet of tomorrow

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The metaverse, the Internet of tomorrow

Immersion in a parallel world.

The metaverse doesn't really exist. Yet everyone is talking about it. For Facebook, renamed Meta, the metaverse is the Internet of the future, nothing less.

This new El Dorado is under construction. And web giants are investing billions to be the first to establish its foundations and rules.

The passport to accessing this parallel world is the virtual reality headset. The proposed immersion will fool the brain.

This world is full of promise. It is said to be where we will go to entertain, work, consume and even interact with our loved ones.

“It's okay to be a space of incredible innovation. All spheres of our lives will have a window on the metaverse, whether it's the world of work, the businesses we frequent, civil society. All of this is going to have a space in the virtual as well as a space in the real. »

— Joëlle Pineau, Director, Artificial Intelligence Research Laboratory, Meta (Facebook)

Quickly, we understand that the metaverse is a mixture of existing technologies: virtual reality, augmented reality, 3D immersion, etc.

On this future platform, you literally dive into an immersive and interactive experience. It's a playful world populated by avatars.

Joëlle Pineau, Director, Artificial Intelligence Research Laboratory, Meta (Facebook)

“What we are creating is a lot for Mr. and Mrs. Everybody. The quantity and quality of experiences will touch all spheres of interest. In the early days of the Internet, it was mostly computer people who were interested in it. And then it became more democratic. »

— Joëlle Pineau, Director, Artificial Intelligence Research Laboratory, Meta (Facebook)

In this world, nothing is static. The avatar is not a spectator. He interacts with his environment, with others too.

“That's the great novelty: not only can we interact, but we can also live 3D experiences, interact with our environment, with our friends or our colleagues. »

— Marc Petit, Vice President, Unreal Engine Ecosystem, Epic Games

Marc Petit, vice -President, Unreal Engine Ecosystem, Epic Games

The avatar creates its own environment. His house, for example. He decorates it according to his tastes. He affixes a work of art to his wall. He can even buy a virtual table whose design was created by a real artist. In short, in his own way, he brings his virtual home to life.

The helmet, an essential tool for traveling the world virtual.

But THE promise of the metaverse is entertainment. We forget it, but video games are a monster industry. Almost three billion players. Imagine participating in a 360-degree immersive concert, a show that brings together five million admirers, including your best friends. Everyone has a ringside seat.

If the metaverse is a techno project, it is also a mercantile project from which companies want to profit.

The majority of consumer goods will end up in the metaverse. Within five years, 70% of major brands will be there. It will be possible to dress your avatar in fashionable shoes or designer clothes. It is now possible to buy a virtual piece of land to build your house on, but in any case, you will have to get out real dollars.

“It's all for profiling. Advertising profiling, but also targeting of offers. By knowing you very well, we will be able to know when to offer you this thing to buy or this offer. It is manipulation to increase buying behavior. »

— Maude Bonenfant, Canada Research Chair in Big Data and Gamer Communities, UQAM

The metaverse will be more than a universe that will amaze you. Thanks to smart clothing, a glove for example, it will soon be possible to perceive the texture of virtual objects. As if they were touched for real. It will even be possible to feel the hug given by another avatar.

“We have touch sensors, for example, which have several thousand mini-sensors inside and which give us a little bit of the pixels of touch, which allow us to feel all kinds of surfaces with much, much precision. »

— Joëlle Pineau, Director, Artificial Intelligence Research Laboratory, Meta (Facebook)

The metaverse promises to outsmart all senses. And to push back its limits, we will call on artificial intelligence. It is she who will give objects and avatars their natural look.

“To truly immerse yourself in a new experience, it has to be reproduced in a believable way for our senses. The algorithm must be able to generate, for example, the conditions of passers-by walking around you. Your avatar should be able to walk with them at the right speed. »

— Joëlle Pineau, Director, Artificial Intelligence Research Laboratory, Meta (Facebook)

Artificial intelligence will bring realism to this virtual world, but it will also animate the behavior of certain avatars, those generated by computer. Creations that could cause problems.

“With AI, we will be able to have avatars that will detect our emotions and modify their behavior. So there is a very strong power to manipulate our decisions. »

— Laurence Devillers, Professor, Applied Computer Science – Artificial Intelligence, Sorbonne University

Laurence Devillers, Professor, Applied Computer Science – Artificial Intelligence, Sorbonne University

Manipulation: the word often comes up among metaverse specialists.

“A lot of researchers are working on addiction mechanics. We know very well what works. And so, there could be very clear tags that would say: This mechanic is not allowed because it has negative effects. »

— Maude Bonenfant, Canada Research Chair in Big Data and Gamer Communities, UQAM

Maude Bonenfant, holder, Canada Research Chair in Big Data and Gamer Communities, UQAM

Rightly or wrongly, some fear that this future world will be so stimulating that it becomes a refuge to escape reality. Professor Laurence Devillers believes that people are unaware of this danger.

“I think there is a real risk that should not be underestimated. It's a parallel life. The risk is dependency and isolation, but also the risk of greater vulnerability, mental and physical. Immersion will put us in a situation where we will no longer be able to discern physical reality from immersive reality. »

— Laurence Devillers, Sorbonne University

Marc Petit is more optimistic: Indeed, if we isolate ourselves from reality to move towards a better world, that will cause major problems for society, but I don't believe it. Maybe I'm too optimistic. I think it's going to be fabulous for everyone.

Laurence Devillers clarifies: I think we're going to have extremely useful innovations, but for it to be useful, it you have to protect yourself from the dangers, which you have to anticipate.

Travel in the virtual world

Right now, the Metaverse is a land without beacons or framing…just like when the internet was taking shape. And Laurence Devillers is worried about it. Citizens in general, in these virtual universes, arrive really defenseless. I think there is a huge lack of education on these subjects. And that's why I call for rules within the metaverse.

Same story with Maude Bonenfant: Private companies take the lead, impose ways of doing things, economic models, rules. Going into a metaverse isn't going to be the problem. It's going to be some practices. Some mechanics. Some economic models.

“My biggest wish in 20 years is that we manage to move forward at the same speed in social technological terms. »

— Joëlle Pineau, Director, Artificial Intelligence Research Laboratory, Meta (Facebook)

Will there be one or more universes? Can we pass from one world to another? The metaverse is in the making…

It is already possible to live certain experiences which, according to several experts, give a successful foretaste of what this new dimension could offer.

The report by Danny Lemieux and Christine Campestre is broadcast on the show Découverte on Sundays at 6:30 p.m. on ICI Radio-Canada Télé.

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