April 15, 2024

a vision of the future of the Internet that combines utopia and dystopia

The film begins with the protagonist taking stock of the time in which he lives. 2045: After a series of environmental and economic crises, humanity has stopped trying to solve its problems. People have gone into survival mode, simply dealing with reality as it is. In fact, everyone is trying to escape reality into better virtual worlds, where everyone can be whatever they want to be, being able to freely decide their own gender, form, origin and destiny, big or small.

Ready player oneChina’s virtual worlds also offer an answer to disillusionment, endemic poverty and unemployment, pollution and climate disruption. Everyone can access these parallel worlds, giving them the opportunity to enjoy an ideal life, or rather a dream of social advancement through an extreme “gamification” of reality.

However, this begs the question: what are these virtual worlds? What are these metaverses that are the core of the film? To try to find some objective answers, we must start by adding the adjective “persistent” to the term “virtual worlds.” The special thing about these digital spaces is that, depending on the material resources made available to them, they continue to evolve whether you are connected to them or not.

Secondly, there is a strong link between these virtual worlds and the business world. This film – like the novel on which it was based – owes part of its fame to the multitude of pop culture references that abound in it. Evokes video games, music and cinema. This link goes through entertainment.

Different conceptions

Already in 2020, the heads of Microsoft and Meta, Satya Nadella and Mark Zuckerberg, were betting on a rapid increase in this new way of consuming virtual services through avatars. It would cover everything from gaming and education to public, private, business and government services. We should also remember that this was when Zuckerberg changed the name of Facebook’s company from him to Meta, in reference to the “metaverse.”

The main difference between these two approaches lies in the professionalization of how the metaverse is used at Microsoft, which emphasized the educational and academic potential of the technology, while Meta took a more general public approach. However, in late 2022, a surprise guest shattered all these expectations with a completely different type of service: generative, conversational, and other algorithms.

It is true that the prospect of being able to interact with a machine in a fluid and coherent way or of being able to generate the wildest images in the most refined styles was much more attractive than the experiences offered to the public. The thousands of euros spent by various brands, more or less high-end, to establish a presence in these virtual spaces seemed like a guaranteed way to spark enthusiasm, or at least interest, in these persistent places. Meanwhile, NFTs (non-fungible tokens, blockchain-based non-duplicable digital keys) allowed people to own, and therefore exchange, virtual objects made unique.

All the gauges seemed to be glowing green, but nothing went as planned. Generative AI and its many uses proved to be the breakthrough innovation of the early 2020s. Why did the metaverse fail when a movie like Ready player one Did you portray him in such an attractive way?

A relative failure

First, let’s put this fiasco in perspective. If there is a failure, it is in the strictly public sense. Private metaverses are used by professionals in a wide range of fields and have been for many years. An example is Dassault Systèmes, which projects virtual twins into its metaverse so that its army of engineers can work together simultaneously in constant interaction. These conditions are necessary for the design of systems, even complex ones like airplanes, that remain virtual from start to finish. This allows the first product to come off the assembly line, ready to use, without the need for prototyping.

For the general public, we have to admit that we were not surprised the first time we logged into a metaverse. Nothing like how we were first introduced to OpenAI’s ChatGPT. What happened? Perhaps the designers of the metaverses forgot that human-machine interfaces are not natural and cannot be taken for granted. The user experience depends on them. But the graphic design and initial experiences were so disappointing that they led to the rejection we saw.

Does this mean that getting lost in an exciting metaverse like in Ready player one Is it just a chimera? Or do we just have to wait a little longer? There is no absolute answer to these questions, although legitimate. However, we can try to draw some conclusions from the comparison between the 2022 and 2045 metaverses.

First, there appears to be only one metaverse in Ready player one. It’s called Oasis. He is a character in his own right. Secondly, everyone seems to know how to use it, regardless of their age or physical condition. The interface seems to adapt to each user, offering them an optimal experience, although this depends on the equipment you use.

During the climax of the film, when good and evil collide, these same users, wherever they are, remain completely immersed in the world without thinking about the reliability of the connection that provides them with a good quality of experience. They also don’t have to worry about charging their batteries in Ready player one. In contrast to these positive points, it should be noted that Oasis appears to be a monopoly. There is no competition in Ready Player One. This is, in fact, one of the plot points of the film.

New rules

The previous paragraph allows us to draw up a list of rules that our modern and digitalizing societies should follow for a peaceful transition to the digital world. The first rule could be that everything depends on reliable access to communication networks so that users can free themselves from the stress of disconnections that interrupt any of their services.

Another would be that the systems must be interoperable. Users should not be prisoners of a proprietary protocol; They should be able to move from one system to another, without difficulties, restrictions or stress. Another rule would be that interfaces should adapt to people, and not the other way around. This is where new generative algorithms could be of great help, creating agile interfaces and appropriate intermediaries that adjust in real time to the specific needs of each user.

However, there is one last point: guarantee hybrid access to any digitized system that must maintain a physical point of contact. This is especially vital when it comes to public services. The film offers its interpretation of the issues of hybrid access to services offered in the metaverse. While the protagonist and his girlfriend tenderly embrace each other, we can hear a voice saying that, although the virtual world is extraordinary, the real world is also beautiful.

Will these good intentions be enough? At the very least, we can rephrase the “real versus virtual” question in other terms. At the turn of the millennium, we set out to close the digital divide by ensuring everyone has equal access to and use of digital tools. Going forward, we must ensure that we do not allow an analog divide to form. Will we need to organize real-world training sessions to learn how to walk barefoot on grass? In the rain? Read a printed work? Draw on paper with pens and pencils?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *