TechKNOW Tomorrow – The Metaverse: A Digital World That Feels Real

Image by The New Indian Express via The New Indian Express.

Remember The Matrix? It was a fantastic movie that illustrated a dystopian future, one in which humans live in a depressing world ruled by machines that harvest them for energy. Why would humans choose to live as servants to these machines? Well, they’re unaware of the alternative because they’re living in a completely fake reality, one that looks very similar to our own. It’s a digital world that feels so incredibly real that it’s practically impossible to tell the difference between reality and simulation.

While The Matrix can be boiled down to an intriguing science fiction movie with a horrifying reality, it did help inspire some of the technology being created today. Enter the metaverse.

The Metaverse

The metaverse is a concept that’s difficult to explain or define due to the fact that it doesn’t quite exist yet. The term originated in Neal Stephenson’s “1992 novel Snow Crash, where it referred to a 3D virtual world inhabited by avatars of real people“. An avatar is essentially a 3D representation of yourself that you create with numerous customization options.

Image by XR Expo via Unsplash.

It’s probably best to think of the metaverse as a realistic 3D digital world that you can actually become a part of, a virtual society that allows you to identify however you want, look however you want, and do whatever you want… within reason, of course. Just like in our real world, you could interact with objects and other people using all five senses, purchase goods, study that world’s history, and even travel across the world! Your digital currency would theoretically be linked to real money or assets. The world would always be “on”, events would happen live, and “experiences and content [would] be created by individual users and huge corporations alike“.

In other words, the metaverse could be the next evolution of the internet. It would be a world with its own laws and moral quandaries, meaning crimes could still be defined and punished in various ways. For example, authorities (in this case, likely the world’s developers) could potentially fine you for stealing money from other users or altogether ban you from reentering their world.

That said, the digital world wouldn’t perfectly emulate reality. If it did, what would be the point of entering this 3D environment? The metaverse could potentially blend the realms of science fiction and fantasy with reality. Technology that exists only in theory in reality could be utilized and tested in a 3D simulation.

To get a better idea of the metaverse, think of Ready Player One, a Steven Spielberg film that was released in 2018. In the movie, the main character (Wade Watts) inserts himself into a virtual reality simulation in which his avatar looks and feels like his actual self.

Video by Warner Bros. Pictures via YouTube.

Anything and anyone Watts interacts with leaves an impression on his real self thanks to sensors on his body and his virtual reality headset; for example, if someone touches him in the simulation, it’s as if he was touched in real life. The virtual world is designed to immerse the user so that it actually feels like a real world.

While the simulation has its own rules, giant monsters, pulse/laser weapons, and the ability to fly (none of which exist in our reality… right?) flourish in this environment as if it was a video game. To the average user, however, the simulation feels incredibly realistic.

Ultimately, people seem to plug into the metaverse in order to escape from the harshness of reality, to build memories and share experiences that they otherwise wouldn’t be able to. And though this could be chalked up to be the silly fever dream of an imaginative writer, technology giants in our actual world are embracing the concept of the metaverse. In fact, its existence might be just around the corner…

Technologies that Are Building on the Metaverse

Though the metaverse doesn’t quite exist yet, many technologies over the last two decades were designed around features of the metaverse. Roblox, for instance, is “a venue for free games, a creation engine that allows users to generate new activities of their own, and a marketplace to sell those experiences, as well as side products like outfits for a personalized avatar“.

Video games, particularly MMO (massively multiplayer online) or VR (virtual reality) games, offer a level of immersion and social interaction that’s synonymous with the metaverse concept. Likewise, video games that allow you to build your own fictional world or series of levels have flourished over the last decade. These worlds or items built can be shared with other users for free, and even sometimes for a fee: “Eve Online, released in 2003, once prompted a user to spend the equivalent of $30,000 on a virtual spaceship“!

Virtual shopping, casinos, and concerts also combine digital experiences with ways to spend actual money. Non-fungible tokens (NFTs) –  ““one-of-a-kind” assets in the digital world that can be bought and sold over the internet” – allow users to actually own the digital goods they buy instead of purchasing a license to a product/service that can later be revoked (e.g., a subscription to Netflix).

Social media also utilizes elements of the metaverse, and many companies ultimately seem to think the metaverse will be attainable within the near future. Think of Facebook’s recent name change to Meta, for example, as the company works to integrate VR into their platform. Imagine interacting with your friends or coworkers online from different countries, yet each of you has a 3D avatar in the same virtual space! The metaverse would offer the opportunity to connect and communicate with people in a new way.

Video by Meta via YouTube.

The main struggle of introducing a true metaverse, however, is in combining all of these elements. In a capitalist society that thrives on competition, getting companies and individuals to cooperate on a massive scale may prove to be difficult. Could Disney and Warner Brothers ever collaborate on an interactive film in which you play the hero? What about video game skins that can be used in multiple different video games? Could banks work together and approve a digital currency to be used for every single purchase made in the metaverse?

At the moment, these seem like impossibilities, or at least decades away from coming to fruition to build a fully integrated metaverse. But never say never.

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At techKNOWtutors, we realize that adapting to technology isn’t easy. Although most services have closed, we remain open – digitally – to answer your internet-related questions. If you need help with improving your digital literacy, send us an email at techknowtutors@cscnl.ca or join our Facebook group and send us a message.

Better yet, sign up for one of our online classes that we offer for FREE every week! Until then, stay in the techKNOW.

TechKNOW Tomorrow – 3D Printers That Can Create Almost Anything Imaginable

While it only took the world by storm about ten years ago, there’s a technology that’s existed for over forty years and can create virtually anything you can imagine.

3D printers use “a manufacturing process that creates a physical object from a digital model file“. The object is designed within software that allows you to create and render fully 3D models. The technology adds layer upon layer of material (often thermoplastic) and shapes it into a complete object. Through light and/or heat, this process allows it to be developed much more affordably and efficiently.

So how exactly did this technology come to be? More importantly, where might it be heading? Let’s dive in and take a look!

Early Beginnings

The idea behind the 3D printer’s manufacturing process can be traced to a short story written in 1945, but it wasn’t until 1981 that experiments with thermoplastic had begun: “a photosensitive resin was polymerized by a UV light“, allowing the plastic to melt and solidify into a new shape.

That said, the first 3D printer wasn’t created until 1987. The machine made the process of adding complex layers to an object much faster, though the process was incredibly expensive due to the fact that this was essentially a brand new technology. Popular plastic polymers tended to warp as they set and the machines also cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to develop, making them far from accessible to the general public.

The 1990s saw experiments with a selective laser melting (SLM) process that brought forth a new evolution in 3D printers. One of the coolest innovations during this period was the ability to melt and mold metals.

Image by Pelayo Arbués via Unsplash.

Unfortunately, the machines were still massive and unaffordable for anyone but large companies and research institutions. The 2000s saw these machines become more precise in addition to the numerous developments in the fields of bioengineering and medicine. In fact, some 3D printers such as the ‘Darwin’ RepRap 3D Printer were actually able to replicate themselves!

What was initially a simple idea in 1945 had finally come to fruition. The world was almost ready for the 3D printer to come to the home market… it just needed more time.

Modern Practices of 3D Printing

Today, modern 3D printers are compact and incredibly accessible to the general public. They’ve also evolved from producing miniature figurines and toy cars to many more practical applications.

For example, prosthetic limbs have been crafted through 3D printing methods since 2008, allowing children born without specific limbs to have a better quality of life. The best part – it doesn’t take several months for the prosthetic to be designed for the child!

Additionally, 3D bioprinting (creating living tissue and organs using bioinks primarily made of cells) is on the rise. Scientists have already successfully 3D printed skin that replaces skin grafts, ensuring a less painful and faster recovery. Other medical breakthroughs are still years away, unfortunately: while 3D printed hearts, livers, and lungs have been successfully reproduced, which is great practice for medical students or even for replacing animal testing, these artificial organs aren’t quite ready for organ transplants.

Similarly, some 3D printers are actually capable of printing food! Everything from candy to pizza to synthetic meat products can be created by mixing ingredients into one of these devices. This would definitely free up some counter space, particularly with the diminished prep work required, and can speed up the time it takes to prepare food. It can also prevent us from wasting food “because it can more closely meet exactly what a consumer wants as measured by calories, ingredients, or shape“.

Video by New Story via YouTube.

This is only the tip of the iceberg, of course. Many parts in racing cars developed by the Williams Formula One company are generated via 3D printers. Some recent buildings have been 3D printed rather than traditionally constructed, making them cheaper, much faster to build, and better for the environment (in terms of letting no parts added go to waste). There’s even a habitat on Mars that can withstand the extreme conditions there, and it was constructed by robots using 3D printing methods!

With all of this in mind, it’s not hard to believe that our near future will largely consist of physical materials that are developed through digital files. And in case you’re interested in learning more about the history of 3D printers, take a look at this article!

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At techKNOWtutors, we realize that adapting to technology isn’t easy. Although most services have closed, we remain open – digitally – to answer your internet-related questions. If you need help with improving your digital literacy, send us an email at techknowtutors@cscnl.ca or join our Facebook group and send us a message.

Better yet, sign up for one of our online classes that we offer for FREE every week! Until then, stay in the techKNOW.

TechKNOW Tomorrow – How Nanotechnology is Improving Healthcare

Image by k_e_n via Medical Device Network.

Since the 1980s, nanotechnologies (materials and devices created on the scale of atoms and molecules) have revolutionized the speed at which technology progresses. Look at the computer, for example. Between the massive computer mainframes built fifty years ago to the mobile phones that can easily fit in our pockets, nanotechnology has clearly made technology in general more accessible than ever.

Today, nanotechnologies have made major leaps in a number of fields. Nowhere is this more prominent than within healthcare. In fact, it’s possible that nanotechnologies will soon be able to cure diseases that we’ve struggled to eradicate for thousands of years.

With all of that said, you might be wondering…

What is Nanotechnology?

Many nanoparticles and nanostructures are naturally occurring in nature, from things like volcanic ash to an insect’s eyes. Structures like these are microscopic and undetectable by the human eye – “one nanometer is a billionth of a meter“!

Nanotechnology, then, is a field of science and engineering that focuses on developing materials and devices on a microscopic scale by manipulating atoms and molecules into new structures. Why is this important? Interestingly, “at such scales, the ordinary rules of physics and chemistry no longer apply“. A material’s properties can literally be altered by rearranging its atoms to make it stronger, lighter, smaller, cheaper to produce, a different colour, or even more conductive.

For example, kevlar vests are created for military and police personnel by using nanotechnology. It’s how these vests are able to block bullets while remaining incredibly light to wear.

Advances In Healthcare

From food monitoring to curing diseases, nanotechnology has a ton of potential in wellness and healthcare. For instance, a grain of salt could be broken down into even tinier fragments, more efficiently adding flavour to our food without the health risks. Silver could be added to food packaging or toothpastes to reduce the risks of harmful bacteria. Nanotechnology could also potentially absorb or neutralize toxic materials that are found in water, ensuring that everyone has access to clean water worldwide.

That said, nanotechnologies are capable of so much more when it comes to healthcare. One of the major developments in medicine has been in delivering drugs effectively. When someone takes medication for depression, for instance, some of the pill is broken down before it reaches its destination, making it far less effective than it would otherwise be.

Researchers at MIT have recently demonstrated that it’s possible to produce a drug directly at the target location – the protein compound that makes up the drug could be produced by nanoparticles after reaching its destination (e.g., the brain).

In addition to this, studying nanocells and nanomolecules was previously impossible due to the limitations of microscopes. Thanks to a recent glass-like innovation that can be added to traditional microscopes, it may soon be possible to “stop disease outbreaks in their tracks, allowing pharmaceutical companies to design better drugs“.

One of the major areas of funding in nanotechnologies has been in cancer research: “researchers at Harvard Medical School in the US . . . made an “origami nanorobot” out of DNA to transport . . . molecules containing instructions that make cells behave in a particular way. In their study, the team successfully demonstrated how it delivered molecules that trigger cell suicide in leukemia and lymphoma cells.

Other researchers have been hopeful of future breakthroughs in cancer treatments that will have a higher success rate than chemotherapy.

Imagine a patient with a cancerous tumour that is removed in surgery. Some cancerous cells remain behind, which are weakened with chemotherapy. These cells, unfortunately, might not die; it’s a gamble whether the patient will survive.

Instead of chemotherapy, researchers are looking into injecting DNA strands with gold particles at the target site. The DNA binds to the remaining cancerous cells, killing them without affecting nearby healthy cells. With more advances in nanoparticles, “scientists hope to be able to not just turn off specific signals in cells, but also eventually insert genes to correct for defects and cure more complex diseases“.

So how long before nanotechnologies are regularly employed in healthcare facilities around the world? Unfortunately, there are a couple of challenges. For one, the debate on whether humans should be “playing God” with gene therapy and cancer cures is a point of contention in the medical community. Another major concern is the long-term effects and safety of planting nanotechnologies in the body. These concerns alone may delay how long it takes for them to be approved.

For more information on some potential advances in healthcare thanks to nanotechnology, check out this infographic!

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At techKNOWtutors, we realize that adapting to technology isn’t easy. Although most services have closed, we remain open – digitally – to answer your internet-related questions. If you need help with improving your digital literacy, send us an email at techknowtutors@cscnl.ca or join our Facebook group and send us a message.

Better yet, sign up for one of our online classes that we offer for FREE every week! Until then, stay in the techKNOW.