Saturday, November 27

The original creator of the term ‘Metaverse’ wants nothing to do with Facebook: this is how Neal Stephenson reinvented virtual environments


“Metaverso”, the term used by Facebook To define your next steps in building a virtual universe that works like “the next version of the internet”, it is so popular that it functions as a noun with a life of its own. In fact It has existed since the nineties, apart from the “Meta” brand in which Zuckerberg wants to reconvert his social emporium. And it has a creator, Neal Stephenson, who is freaking out.

Stephenson conceived the metaverse in his 1992 novel ‘Snow Crash,’ and he tweeted on the subject last Friday: He said “there seems to be growing confusion about this,” and clarified that “I have nothing to do with anything that FB is doing in relation to the MetaverseApart from the obvious fact that they are using a term that I coined in Snow Crash. “And he concludes:” There has been no communication between FB and me or any commercial relationship.

There is nothing strange about it: Stephenson’s books have always had a highly subversive component and contrary to large corporations, in works like ‘Criptonomicon’ or ‘Anathema’. Beyond the fact that Stephenson is unlikely to have “sold” a concept that is already part of popular culture, it is understandable that he was not too amused by the Facebook movement.

And that, according to his own words, the concept of “metaverse” it does not come from any rigorous research he did in 1992 on the future of the virtualInstead, he was just “making up shit” for his novel. He commented on it in an interview with ‘Vanity Fair’ in 2017, at a time (four years ago!) in which the Metaverse was already being talked about as a future possibility for digital communication, especially seeing the leaps and bounds to which video games such as ‘Minecraft’ or the MMROPG genre were advancing .

‘Snow Crash’: this is how the metaverse was born

The metaverse that Stephenson raised in ‘Snow Crash’ is literally the same one that has been evolving since then to accommodate digital spaces and that has ended up curdling in the idea of ​​Facebook: a virtual area in three dimensions in which humans, represented by avatars, they interact in various ways. It is an evolution of the internet that, although Stephenson did not copy from any specific site, was in the air: the writer himself recognized in a text with which he closes the book that after finishing writing it, he heard about ‘Habitat’, a proto-MMORPG that advanced these themes.

Stephenson’s Metaverse is a familiar environment for its users, a street of 216 kilometers in the shape of a spherical planet. A corporation owns it and its space, completely empty, is for sale so that its customers can buy space in it. Access to the Metaverse is completely controlled by a cable television company that has a monopoly on information and communications. In other words, calling Stephenson a “visionary” is an understatement.

Plus: Metaverse users access the environment through terminals that project them into the virtual environment, and with which they can interact with special glasses. And of course, there are cases of addiction of people who decide to be continuously connected, among other phenomena. All this in a very complex novel that touches on many other topics (that is, that goes beyond being a mere ‘Ready Player One’) related to history, religion, cryptography, philosophy and many other issues.

The Metaverse AZ (Before Zuckerberg)

Clearly, Stephenson knew what he was talking about: since the late 1970s, thanks to video games, Anyone interested in technology had been able to control avatars that represented them in a digital world. And although the explosion of ‘DOOM’ did not arrive until 1993, there were already previous games that recreated 3D environments: in the eighties, games with vector graphics like the arcade of ‘Star Wars’ or on home systems, titles like ‘Sentinel’. And in the same 1992 ‘Virtua Fighter’ and ‘Wolfenstein 3D’ would arrive.

Stephenson evolved what was then known as cyberspace, which William Gibson created just a decade earlier, in his short story ‘Burning Chrome’, and that he developed in all its depth in the total classic of cyberpunk ‘Neuromancer’. But while in Gibson’s novel there is a space with many forms of representation of the users (nominal, based on simple avatars, with abstract forms), Stephenson’s metaverse poses a “tangible” virtual area, so to speak.

After ‘Snow Crash’, pop culture has reflected on the Metaverse on different occasions. Perhaps the best known cases are ‘The Matrix’, with a virtual environment in which we do not know that we are submerged, and of course, ‘Ready Player One’, where the connection with video games is clear and direct. But none have the visionary charm of ‘Snow Crash’, that kind of sum total of all virtual worlds, including internet and augmented reality.





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