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POTUS can make the Metaverse a (virtual) reality

Speed read
  • Metaverse advice to the next president from Ben Fineman and Chris Collins
  • Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality set to add $162 billion to economy by 2020
  • Internet + VR = Metaverse: A new mode of social and economic interaction

The general election is looming in the US. Who will be the next President of the United States? The answer to that question will have a wide range of effects, including on the national role of science.

Science Node has solicited opinions from leading thinkers from across the scientific domains, and we will host their advice to the next POTUS over the remaining days left in the campaign.

In the third installment, Metaverse pioneers Chris Collins and Ben Fineman encourage the next president to hasten the next iteration of the internet — the Metaverse — as an economic engine of innovation and workplace of the future.

Why should the next POTUS care about Virtual and Augmented Reality technologies?

Chris: The simplest answer is that virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are new forms of media that have the potential to be as culturally transformative in the 21st century as radio or television were in the 20th century. 

Ben: If they live up to their promise, augmented reality will literally change how we see and experience the physical world, and with investments in infrastructure and open standards, virtual reality will open a portal to the Metaverse.

Sounds impressive and important! Any evidence this will happen?

Chris: From an economic perspective, VR and AR represent a growing market and innovation engine, with analysts predicting combined VR/AR market growth from $5.2 billion in 2016 to more than $162 billion by 2020. 

<strong>Chris Collins</strong> — founder and technical lead for the <a href= 'http://ucsim.uc.edu/blog/'>Center for Simulations and Virtual Environments Research (UCSIM)</a> at the University of Cincinnati.

And, contrary to the current hype, that growth will not just come from the entertainment sector. Goldman Sachs Global Investment Research recently predicted that VR/AR will impact a host of sectors, including healthcare ($5.1B), engineering ($4.7B), education ($0.7B), and military applications ($1.4B) by 2025.  

That sounds promising. Like the Von Neumann machines, will we have to invent a bunch of new stuff?

Chris: It’s important to note that the underlying technology is not new – researchers have had access to high-end experimental VR/AR for decades, and we have more than 20 years of research on the efficacy of simulations in education, research, and prototype design. 

Ben: What is new is the lightweight form factor and the price point for entry. Today, a college student can visit their local electronics store and purchase a VR device for a few hundred dollars with similar or even better visual quality than VR researchers could purchase for many thousands of dollars just a few years ago.

Chris: It is the democratization of AR and VR technologies that is so exciting to me. Broader access outside of the research lab opens the possibility for applications that could revolutionize education and training, healthcare and telemedicine, engineering, manufacturing, and many kinds of team science.

You mentioned the Metaverse. What is that, and what should the next POTUS know about it?

Ben: Conceptually, the Metaverse is a future application layer of the internet in which persistent, fully immersive computer-generated worlds are linked into a perceived virtual universe.

It is no coincidence that Google, Facebook, and Twitter were invented by students at American universities. The next president can prioritize federal investment to ensure that American students continue to be technology leaders. ~Ben Fineman.

Instead of browsing a series of linked web pages, imagine putting on a pair of glasses and teleporting from virtual place to virtual place, walking around each space, interacting with virtual objects and data, and meeting with other people to work, shop, or watch a film or concert together.

It may sound like science fiction, but the higher-end VR headsets released this year give us a glimpse of how close we are to that possibility, and that has profound implications for our technological and economic competitiveness in the coming decades. 

What role should the US play?

Chris: Without US ingenuity and leadership, the global internet of today would not exist, and the same could be said of the Metaverse of tomorrow. We need our next president to have the vision and foresight to help make the Metaverse a (virtual) reality.

What can the next POTUS do to accelerate and foster this technology?

Ben: At the most basic level, the next president can champion increased investments in our telecommunications and cyberinfrastructure systems to prepare for the oncoming onslaught of high-bandwidth, low-latency applications that virtual and augmented reality require. 

<strong>Grounded in (virtual) reality.</strong> Some locations are too dangerous, remote, or expensive to visit — virtual reality circumvents these obstacles, providing an educational advantage previous generations lacked. The next president can call for sustained investment in VR technology and ensure US students are prepared for the Metaverse.

The next president can also play a uniquely powerful role in coordinating domestic and international efforts to build a next-generation global network architecture that will make a unified Metaverse possible. 

Chris: In the regulatory arena, the next president should task federal agencies to explore and encourage the kinds of open standards and protocols that will allow interoperability between Metaverse-capable virtual and augmented reality devices, systems, and software platforms. 

Is there precedent for this type of investment?

Ben: As with ARPANET and NSFNET in the pre-internet era, federal funding for prototype Metaverse networks could foster coordination between research universities, commercial entities, and government agencies.

The Metaverse will also need forward-facing intellectual property and cybersecurity policies that balance protecting inventors, consumers, and infrastructure while still encouraging the entrepreneurship and user-generated creativity that drives innovation.  

What else could the next President do to hasten the arrival of the Metaverse?

Chris: The next president should embrace an ambitious education and research agenda in Metaverse-related technologies. Teachers are already exploring the 'wow' factor of virtual and augmented reality as a spark to ignite students' imaginations and interest in pursuing STEM careers. 

But more research is urgently needed to understand the physical safety and long-term cognitive implications for children, as well as how VR/AR technologies can be used effectively in STEM curriculum.

<strong>Ben Fineman</strong> — program manager for <a href= 'http://www.internet2.edu/vision-initiatives/initiatives/internet2-netplus/'> NET+ Video, Voice, and Collaboration Services</a> at Internet2.

Ben: It is no coincidence that Google, Facebook, and Twitter were invented by students at American universities. The next president can prioritize federal investment in research universities’ cyberinfrastructure, — disciplines like computer processing, vision, and graphics, machine learning, artificial intelligence, and human computer interaction — to ensure that American students continue to be the technology leaders and scientists inventing next-generation VR/AR applications like the Metaverse to come.

Chris: The Metaverse offers one of the most transformative technology opportunities for the 21st century US. But as with any technology, it will reach its full potential only through appropriate investment in our infrastructure and our people, in combination with a careful balance of open standards, interoperability, and security.

The US is positioned to help launch a new age of global human interaction and collaboration – if we have the courage and foresight to lead the way.

Want to read more Science Node virtual reality articles? We've got plenty!

Check out part one and part two of our unsolicited advice to the next POTUS series.

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