Concepts and Issues for Congress
Congress has long paid attention to technologies for users to access computer-simulated environments and participate in virtual activities on the internet. These technologies include augmented reality, mixed reality, and virtual reality technologies (AR, MR, and VR respectively) that show potential for innovation in a variety of applications such as entertainment, healthcare, engineering, real estate, retail, military, education, and collaborative work. AR, MR, and VR technologies, some enthusiasts argue, may support new ways for users to interact, work,
socialize, transact, and access services in an immersive virtual world, which is often referred to as the metaverse.
Some business and technology leaders assert that the metaverse does not refer to any specific technology or set of technologies, but rather a shift in how users interact with online technologies, services, platforms, and each other. Under this framework, the metaverse represents changes that, if actualized, might eventually transform the architecture (e.g.,communications and network infrastructure, hardware and software, and human-computer interfaces) and operation of the internet (e.g., content production and consumption and user interaction with platforms and services). Some proponents assert
that the metaverse is inevitable, given the shift to virtual environments sparked by the COVID-19 pandemic and the expansion of online games. Critics maintain that the idea of the metaverse has been over-hyped and its promise and significance exaggerated. They argue that some companies are merely attaching the label to long-existing human-computer interaction technologies and their applications. Other critics have raised concerns about the potential inability of metaverse services to sustain user interest, the lack of sustainable business models, and prevalence of inappropriate and unlawful
Metaverse services are likely to feature three key characteristics that differentiate them from two-dimensional (2D) online applications: (1) an immersive, three dimensional (3D) user experience; (2) real-time, persistent network access; and (3) interoperability across networked platforms. The immersive experience provides users with an enhanced feeling of presence and immersion within a virtual 3D world. Users’ experience of presence in the metaverse could be further enhanced if the virtual environment is persistent, meaning it does not “disappear” when a user has finished using it. Achieving persistence
would require computing and data architectures capable of hosting always-on, interconnected virtual spaces as well as highbandwidth, low-latency, wireless networks to support user devices and access. Metaverse interoperability would provide users with an immersive and persistent virtual experience and allow them to move seamlessly across multiple networked virtual spaces, access different platforms and services, and interact with other users and objects using the same humancomputer interface devices and digital assets (e.g., digital identity, currency, and objects). Critics argue that the data infrastructure needed to support the volume of data that metaverse services and their users would generate and the speed at
which that data would need to be transmitted does not yet exist.