By Jaydeep Saha, Contributing Writer, HCL Technologies Ltd.
Thirty years after the term metaverse was coined by author Neal Stephenson in his 1992 sci-fi novel Snow Crash — an alternate digital reality where people interact with their virtual avatars to work, play, and socialize — we are now on the threshold of creating a world where the real and the virtual connect seamlessly, giving us new ways to experience life.
However, in the current virtual reality (VR) platforms, the user experience is lacking in terms of creating life-like simulations. Technology analyst Rob Enderle said we have already started the journey toward human twinning, but these are currently rather clunky and primitive. “The emergence of human digital twins will need a significant amount of thought and ethical consideration,” Enderle told the BBC. He thinks that ownership of digital twins will become one of the defining questions of the impending metaverse era.
“Technologists have recently tried to infuse computational systems with cognition, intuition, emotion, and perception. Fuzzy logic was amongst the initial methodologies used to approximate human thinking. Now, we need to supplement ‘human thinking’ with ‘human emotion’. Several encouraging developments can aid in interpreting human emotion and responding to it. One of them is using visual analytics to interpret micro-facial expressions. Metaverse environments that can emote normally will stand head and shoulders above others,” said Kalyan Kumar (KK), Global Chief Technology Officer & Head of Ecosystems, HCL Technologies.
In Meta’s Starburst product, the company’s chief executive Mark Zuckerberg admitted the prototype is “wildly impractical” in its current form. But for a company that wants to give its users virtual experiences that are nearly indistinguishable from the real thing, these enormous VR binoculars are still an important development, reported The Washington Post. “The goal of all this work is to help us identify which technical paths are going to allow us to make meaningful enough improvements that we can start approaching visual realism with,” commented Zuckerberg at a press conference.
Verisimilitude – the appearance of being true or real – is a crucial part of VR industry leaders’ vision of the metaverse: an immersive “embodied internet” where users will feel like they are inhabiting a space instead of just looking at it. As the metaverse matures, the lines between the real and the virtual will blur. And to truly blur the lines or pass the “Visual Turing Test,” as some researchers say, VR headsets and current prototypes offer a palpable sense of just how far the industry is from delivering on that promise. These must clear some significant hurdles in both hardware and software.
Multiple headsets available in the market today provide handsfree AR experiences that are very useful in industrial and commercial applications. However, in most cases, the augmented content doesn’t interact well with what’s happening in a real-world environment. That’s when advanced merged reality (MR) headsets such as Microsoft Hololens and Magic Leap One are powerful machines that harness these machines’ hardware and software capabilities to provide believable MR experiences.
HCL Technologies already bridging the gap
HCL Technologies has designed a training simulation of various shop-floor scenarios using an HTC Vive application that allows trainees to have a hands-on activity in a virtual 3D environment. This improves visualization of the actual job situation and speeds up learning. The trainee is graded on adherence to instructions, tool selection, and task completion time in the simulation.
As expert technicians are increasingly needed in the market, this augmented reality-powered training solution can be utilized to lower training and travel costs. Organizations are pushing to develop immersive training modules for new workers and reskilling experienced personnel – including a digital library for on-demand learning using XR technologies. This solution helps reduce training costs by up to 50 percent, saving time, and improving retention rates.
Usually, a headset like the HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, or even Google Cardboard is used to experience VR applications. VR has been in the market for a long time and has been extensively used by the entertainment and gaming industry. Why so? In VR, our actions cannot have direct consequences to our real world. And thus, VR has found its footing in the entertainment and gaming world. An extremely engaging, immersive, relatable, and believable world providing thrill and entertainment, but with no direct relationship with the real world around the gamer. All elements of this experience, such as presence, stimulus, interaction, etc., are all simulated and hence can only be experienced virtually.
“The metaverse is limitless. There are no barriers between real and digital. It is reasonably evident that the metaverse is not just the intersection of technologies, but will use AI, ML, AR, VR, MR, XR, IoT, 5G, blockchain, brain-computer interfaces to create a more human experience. It can’t be unplugged or reset. It is always active, always on, always dynamic and extends reality. It builds a new type of world, rather than simply creating a representation of reality as we know it. No single entity will control it and as a result, virtual economies will flourish, and digital currency will gain traction.
"The metaverse fuels sharing. It does this by allowing linkages to be created between users and AI-driven/virtual entities and events,” said Kumar.
“In India, we have Aadhaar [the 12-digit identification number issued by the Unique Identification Authority of India, which has created a digital identity for people in India] and others are building applications around it. The payment model has drastically changed over the years with the government’s Digital India initiative. And now India is on the threshold of launching 5G. Ubiquitous connectivity with high-speed internet and secure digital access is the key to digital transformation in India for years to come. This technology will enable India to build digital highways,” he continued.
He added: “HCL Technologies has already built interdisciplinary capabilities, industry-specific products and solutions, and partnerships to become a leader in the XR technology space. We continue to invest heavily in future technologies with a vision to lead transformation in the next decade.”