Report - Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School

Technology Primer: Augmented and Virtual Reality for the Metaverse

  • Micaela Mantegna
  • Tibor Merey
  • Greg Pryor
  • John Yang
| Apr. 24, 2023

Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) refer to computer-generated content that integrates into the real world (in the case of AR) or is entirely self-contained (in the case of VR). These technologies, typically accessed through smartphones and headset devices, allow users to access a shared virtual environment, often referred to as a metaverse.

It has been three decades since the term “metaverse” was coined, but a convergence of market factors and a level of sophistication of AR and VR technologies have created a new emphasis on the metaverse. In 2021, Facebook invested $10 billion in its Reality Labs division and renamed itself Meta Platforms, Inc.1 Microsoft made a $70 billion dollar bet in 2022 on the metaverse in its acquisition of gaming studio Activision Blizzard.2 Advancements in AR and VR have been made across several industries with notable use cases in gaming and entertainment, education and training, and virtual work.

While investments such as these have created enormous hype, significant technical limitations exist such as computing power, user discomfort, and interoperability challenges. Non technical barriers, including high hardware costs and supply shortages, have also created problems. Further, most of these platforms are being developed in isolation. To achieve the metaverse that many evangelists for this technology envision, significant coordination would need to occur between firms.

Governments have acknowledged the important role AR and VR will have in society, but regulation and governance structures are still underdeveloped. Many public purpose concerns related to current internet issues such as user privacy, intellectual property protection, and market power apply to AR/VR platforms and the metaverse. However, virtual experiences also pose new regulatory conundrums that will need to be addressed. While the European Union and China have taken some steps toward creating a regulatory framework for metaverse-related internet policy issues, the United States will need to make significant progress toward the many open legal questions that exist.

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Boyd, Jacob, Sandra Lam, Stephan Florian Rihs, Li Sun, Ariel Higuchi and Amritha Jayanti. “Technology Primer: Augmented and Virtual Reality for the Metaverse.” Edited by Micaela Mantegna, Tibor Merey, Greg Pryor and John Yang. Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School, April 24, 2023.

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