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The ‘Metaverse’ was first conceptualised by science fiction writers as a hypothetical version of the Internet that takes the form of an immersive world that is facilitated by the use of augmented reality. The term was coined by sci-fi writer, Neal Stephenson, from ‘meta-’, meaning ‘transcending the normal’, and ‘-verse’, as in the universe. Appropriately, sci-fi writers originally introduced the concept of the Metaverse as science fiction, but what was once fictional, is today a reality.

In 2021 when Mark Zuckerberg announced that Facebook’s Group of companies would rebrand to ‘Meta’ and that he would invest over $10 billion in the project. This sparked a widespread interest in the metaverse. Google, Microsoft and Nvidia, soon followed suit.

In everyday usage, the ‘Metaverse’ is a digital universe that exists parallel to our real, physical world. It is a network of augmented, virtual worlds that will become the major hub for social connection and interaction. It will be a massively scaled suite of platforms that supports the full transfer of data and digital assets and will allow users to seamlessly exchange information across a growing network of virtual places and experiences. This will only grow to a stage where potentially everyone will be sharing information in real-time. The Metaverse will always be ‘on’ and will be constantly evolving.

The potential of the Metaverse is massive, with McKinsey & Co. predicting that the Metaverse economy will be worth over $3 trillion by 2030. Millions of virtual avatars will be able to exist within the Metaverse at the same time across multiple VR spaces. Furthermore, each user will create their individual unique experience by controlling their own point of view and destiny through their augmented and virtual reality.

The Metaverse will strongly promote the development of artificial intelligence (A.I.), virtual reality, augmented reality, and machine learning.  It will require major advancements in smartphones, gaming devices, and VR/AR headsets. While it is anticipated that the Metaverse economy will transform the retail and gaming sectors, major opportunities will be created in the entertainment and education spaces. It has the potential to change people’s lives as it will transform the ways in which we communicate, entertain ourselves, and learn.

We anticipate that edutainment will be one of the main beneficiaries of the Metaverse as it will allow people from all levels of society to access the latest information, trends, advice, and predictions through their smartphones and other personal devices. We predict that interactive displays and educational experiences in science centres and museums will be revolutionised by the technology that the Metaverse will bring about.

The Metaverse will not only allow science centre visitors to travel in time and space but also into virtual macro- and micro-environments that are more realistic than ever before. It will also confront the serious issues that face humankind in a way that is palatable and accessible to people from all walks of life. This will be possible as the Metaverse will demystify complex issues in an entertaining and emotionally charged way using AI, augmented reality, and virtual reality.

Issues such as the threat of climate change, the tragedy of biodiversity loss, the digital divide, and the risk of further pandemics, will be addressed in a way that users of all ages and cultures will be able to understand. The multiplying effect of the Metaverse will be unprecedented and will accelerate a massive shift in awareness of these global issues through our personal technology.

Science centres are likely to be among the first non-formal educational institutions to take full advantage of the Metaverse, as their modus operandi focuses on using the latest technology to explain complex issues. They will also teach their visitors how to make optimal use of the Metaverse in their homes, workplace, and classroom. The hyperconnectivity that humankind has experienced in recent decades arising from the Internet will be surpassed by a Metaverse.

Like all technologies, the Metaverse needs to be used and adopted in a responsible way. It could give rise to a generation of sedentary, unhealthy young people who are rooted in a virtual world and potentially oblivious to, and unable to cope with, the real world. On the other hand, it may be just the tool we need to develop a balanced, grounded, and informed lifestyle that helps us to learn to live within the limits of our planet’s resources.

formula D_ looks forward to developing Metaversal exhibitions and interactive displays that will be a quantum leap from what has gone before. We regard the Metaverse as a stepladder beyond the known into unexplored territories in which our horizons will be limited only by our own imaginations.