Within a decade we’ll all be spending part of our lives in a virtual world called the “metaverse”. People will hang out with friends in virtual cities or venues, using digital currencies to buy clothes and goods for their avatars, play games and conduct work meetings.
At least that’s what Mark Zuckerberg thinks. He recently told investors that Facebook is dedicating “billions” of dollars and 10,000 staff to the project, says the FT. Horizon, Facebook’s metaverse software, is up and running (although not yet released), and “augmented reality” glasses that overlay objects and information on the real world are on the way, as is a wristband that can interpret complex hand movements.
No one outside Facebook has much clue how all this will look or feel. But Apple is working on something similar, as is Microsoft. “It’s a bit like the auto industry was in 1905, with hundreds of companies coming at it with all sorts of solutions,” says one tech investor. There are problems: competing metaverses, “plumbing” issues (the technical challenges of bringing huge numbers of avatars together in one virtual venue) and Facebook’s Achilles heels, online abuse and privacy. But Zuck seems unfazed. “This is going to lead to entirely new experiences and economic opportunities,” he said. The metaverse is going to be “ubiquitous”.
The perils of peak humanity
Nearly half of the world’s population lives in a country where the average number of babies per woman is lower than the “replacement rate” of 2.1, says Sarah O’Connor in the FT. Studies suggest that the global population will peak below 10 billion between 2060 and 2100. This is “good news for the planet”, but it could cause a “vicious” social cycle. In South Korea, where the fertility rate is below one, “people are having fewer babies than they say they want” because of long working hours and expensive housing and education. As young people become more stressed and financially insecure, the risk is that they’ll have fewer children – and governments will shape policy “around the needs of the increasingly populous older generations”.