Is this the next evolution of the internet?

The metaverse is more than a buzzword — it’s the promise of a virtual world that parallels our own.

By Andrew Bolwell, HP's Chief Disrupter and Global Head of HP Tech Ventures — March 15, 2022

The frenzy over the metaverse is new, but the idea of it is two decades old. In 1992, author Neal Stephenson coined the term for his virtual world in his novel Snow Crash. In the simplest description, the metaverse is the physical and digital convergence of experiences, services, and identity, enabled by an array of new technologies.

Think of it as the internet’s next evolution, where people can work, learn, play, shop, meet, and explore in interconnected communities. Websites become interactive virtual worlds, links are replaced by portals between those worlds, a digital avatar replaces your username, and the keyboard and mouse are replaced by mixed reality interfaces. Software and hardware will allow us to move seamlessly between physical and digital spaces, augmenting the real world and creating new shared digital experiences.

That vision is now leaving the realm of sci-fi pages and movies and coming closer to reality, thanks to new technologies, changing consumer habits, and the fact that businesses see massive economic opportunity ahead. Established brands are staking their claim in cryptocurrency, gaming, and NFTs. Facebook changed its name to Meta last year and announced its intention to be a metaverse company, not a social media company. This digital universe has also captured the growing attention of venture capital firms, with startups (including OpenSea, Animoca Brands, and Sandbox) attracting millions of dollars in funding.

The rest of us may wonder: Has the metaverse’s moment finally come? 

We think so, but only if the technology that underpins all of its future activities can replicate (or improve upon) what’s in the physical world. That means secure cryptocurrency that will enable us to buy and sell physical and digital items; customized avatars that can express our personalities, job roles, and moods; and interfaces that let us move in and out of digital worlds and interact with others where and when we choose.

Jump into the metaverse

Imagine your persona in this virtual space is as richly detailed and unique as the “real” you. Your work avatar might wear designer digital clothes, while your gaming avatar might don a custom pair of NFT-certified Nikes. Picture having a wallet filled with cryptocurrency, tied to your real-world money, to invest in virtual real estate, buy concert tickets to see your favorite band perform, or attend sporting events and conferences. Going to work might look completely different: Meetings won’t require getting in the car or launching Zoom; instead, you’ll put on your VR headset and proceed to your virtual office. In your off-hours, you might visit an NFT art gallery or dance to your favorite AI-powered DJ at a digital club.

The metaverse promises to be a digital twin of our physical universe but without physical limitations. It presents endless possibilities, but is the technology ready to deliver them?

Illustration by Satwika Kresna

The metaverse is leaving the realm of sci-fi and coming closer to reality, thanks to new technologies, changing consumer habits, and economic opportunity.

Building the foundation

While there have been significant technological advances since Snow Crash, we are still years away from a truly immersive virtual world. For the metaverse to be fully realized, internet connectivity, compute technology, 3D modeling, virtual financial systems, and other critical building blocks have to get faster, more reliable, and more secure.

If your avatar is to accomplish feats such as speaking and moving naturally in the virtual world while simultaneously purchasing or interacting in the physical world, it will require an incredibly sophisticated technological symphony to happen in real time, and to scale.

Avatars that move, touch, and speak as fluidly as we can require access to the high-bandwidth, low-latency connectivity offered by 5G and even 6G networks with multi-access edge computing. We will need widely available, augmented and virtual-reality hardware that enables hyper-realistic immersive experiences, and last but not least, a robust, trusted security infrastructure that can handle the demands of a blockchain-based metaverse economy. 

The metaverse promises to be a digital twin of our physical universe but without physical limitations. 

VR and AR headsets and devices will be the interfaces and gateways to our metaverse world. AR will overlay virtual worlds on our physical world, blending characters, environments, objects, and information that can help us find our way in a new city or fix a broken machine on the factory floor. VR devices will allow users to move throughout virtual spaces, play games, and interact directly with others in the metaverse.

Blockchain provides a decentralized and secure way for transactions to occur in the metaverse. It creates the transactional foundation, from proving ownership of an NFT collectible to a virtual real estate deed, enabling smart contracts, decentralized governance, and interoperability between worlds. Cryptocurrencies allow virtual currencies to be converted to fiat currencies, creating a bridge between virtual economies and real-world economies.

Where HP can contribute

HP, for its part, is looking ahead to bring its own vision of product excellence to usher the metaverse into being and empower its users.

VR setups like the HP Reverb G2, coupled with gloves and sensors, can offer hyper-realistic immersive experiences, allowing users to interact and transition to various virtual spaces, even “tunnel” from one world to another, and interact with others.

The metaverse offers a platform for brands to connect with customers on a much deeper level, with potential to co-create experiences and products.

Illustration by Satwika Kresna

The metaverse offers a platform for brands to connect with customers on a much deeper level, with potential to co-create experiences and products.

On the AR side, HP recently teamed with Microsoft to use the HoloLens 2 AR headset with packaged HP software, to allow HP industrial print engineers to train and troubleshoot industrial printers virtually. HP Tech Ventures portfolio company Mojo Vision aims to push the envelope further with AR contact lenses.

Building these robust digital environments also requires significant computing power, which can be costly and have a big impact on the environment. Z by HP, coupled with its recent acquisition of Teradici, looks to address this by offering metaverse creators and developers the ability to build a cloud-based digital twin of their workstation, reducing costs and climate impact.


RELATED: Can VR change people's behavior? Stanford scientists are finding out.


On-demand 2D and 3D printing will allow digital assets to be printed into physical assets and shipped anywhere. At the same time, immersive gaming peripherals such as those from HyperX will enable new gaming and entertainment experiences in the metaverse. HP also has a runway to build on its industry-leading endpoint and edge security solutions and add new capabilities to extend that leadership into the metaverse.

An economic lightning rod

The metaverse promises new revenue streams and business expansion, from hardware and software to social commerce, advertising, events, and a creator economy.

It offers a platform for brands to connect with customers on a much deeper level, allowing them to go well beyond just producing NFTs to co-create experiences and products in a virtual setting. It’s already happening. For example, the NBA is offering courtside seats in the metaverse. The Hyundai Mobility Adventure on Roblox allows users to race, play games, learn about Hyundai’s technologies, and take part in festivals. At the same time, brands can find meaningful ways to give back in both the virtual and physical worlds. American snack brand Slim Jim launched an NFT last year, with all proceeds going to World Central Kitchen, which provides emergency food relief programs.

While there is still a lot of uncertainty around how it will evolve, a mature metaverse should mirror the open, democratic ideals of the internet and provide a single immersive and interoperable platform. 

Like the advent of the web, the metaverse will have a broad impact on every aspect of our lives. We are just in the early stages, similar to the dial-up days. Yet with each NFT sale, new virtual world, crypto blockbuster, and 3D breakthrough, Neal Stephenson’s vision of a fully immersive world is growing closer.

The metaverse is coming, and fast, with a vibrant and expanding community shaping it. We now just need to open our collective imagination to its possibilities.