AUSTIN (KXAN) — As the internet continues to welcome new social platforms and burgeoning creativity, Meta founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg is looking to expand his company — formerly known as Facebook — into the worlds of augmented and virtual reality.
But what, exactly, is the “metaverse,” and what is Zuckerberg’s plan for its use? During a South by Southwest Conference & Festivals panel discussion Tuesday, Zuckerberg dubbed the metaverse the “next generation of internet.”
Just as Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp — all of which Meta owns — create social platforms for people to engage on, his vision for the metaverse is a social environment where people can meet for professional, personal and entertainment opportunities.
“I think the ability to basically have these social environments and bootstrap a lot of these behaviors that are going to be bigger in the metaverse but now in these platforms, already know have this emphasis on what people are building and people are using, I know that’s going to be pretty powerful,” he said.
Virtual reality is a form of three-dimensional technology that simulates a visual environment for users to experience, or engage with other people through. VR headsets place screens in front of a user’s eyes to restrict their visual connection to the physical world, while autofocus lens track eye movement and pair with the screen to conduct a visual play-by-play scene.
Augmented reality, meanwhile, uses the physical world’s environment but pairs it with sound, visual elements or other stimuli to modify it.
VR technology has been around for years, notably used for entertainment and immersive gaming opportunities. Under the metaverse model, Zuckerberg said he wants to expand it to everyday workspace environments and commercial opportunities.
Examples given included “teleporting” to work courtesy VR, where users wear headsets and interact with colleagues as avatars in a digital system. For commercial offerings, he noted the ability to “try on” clothing in a virtual setting, as opposed to shopping in-person for an item.
When asked about how opportunities like VR workspaces differed from Zoom, Microsoft Teams or other digital video conferencing platforms, Zuckerberg said the avatars can help enhance simple things like virtual eye contact to build a digital connection.
“We’re looking at tools to be able to do realistic eye contact — that trades off to some degree around maybe making the device as thin as possible, or maybe that’s cost so now the price is going to be more,” he said. “So there are all these different trade-offs that people make, but we will always make trade-offs in the direction of what can help people connect with us.”
With VR connections, Zuckerberg said users will be able to explore beyond traditional geographic boundaries that have tethered them to a place, such as where they live or where they work. The timeline of that technology, he said, varies depending on whether it’s VR or AR-based.
With the foundational blueprint of VR technology already in place courtesy of the Meta Quest headsets, Zuckerberg said he sees VR offerings advancing in the relatively near future. With AR technology, that is more of a reality a few years out before it’ll be in mainstream circulation, he said, working on cramming extensive technology into thin, attractive frames.
From there, he said he believes creatives will be able to see and engage with the world from new vantage points.
“I think at some level, the future sort of belongs to people who believe in it more than others,” he said.