The metaverse can be understood as a blended virtual and physical space of computer-generated, networked extended reality, augmented reality, as well as mixed and virtual reality (AR, MR and VR).
The term and its associated technologies have become more visible largely due to a corporate rebrand of the social media platform Facebook to Meta in 2021.
But, what makes up the metaverse? How does the Internet fuel its progress? And, how do people see its role in society evolving? With rising public interest in these questions, Pew Research Center, in collaboration with the Elon Imagining the Internet Center, conducted a wide-reaching survey of over 600 experts in the spring of 2022 asking participants about where extended reality tools that make the metaverse possible and the trends seen today may take us by 2040.
The survey included familiar public figures and technology experts as well as professors, futurists, and members of the public. IHOF inductees Vint Cerf, David Clark, and Henning Schulzrinne were among those surveyed.
Clark, an IHOF 2013 inductee and senior research scientist at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, made an ideal candidate for the study since his career has largely been dedicated to exploring the potentialities of the Internet.
As he told IHOF in 2017, “It takes a long time to make changes, so someone has to think ahead.”
The 200 page Metaverse in 2040 report highlights the thoughts of many of those surveyed and clearly suggests that participants believe augmented-reality and mixed-reality tools will play a greater role in people’s daily lives by 2040.
Another clear message from the survey is that this imagined future may underscore both positives and negatives in human nature. As the report notes, mixed-reality experiences have the possibility of “magnifying every human trait and tendency – both the bad and the good. [Respondents to the survey] especially focused their concerns on the ability of those in control of these systems to redirect, restrain or thwart human agency and stifle people’s ability to self actualize through exercise of free will.”
When discussing how the metaverse might function in the future, Clark notes, “I think the three critical considerations are: Where the standards will come from? How open will the system be? Who controls it? My uncertainty about the metaverse is not whether we will have ‘something’ by 2040, but what character it will have.” He adds, “Between now and 2040 we have the time to try and perhaps fail several times.”
Explore the reflections from Clark, Cerf, Schulzrinne and more, in the full survey report.