Imagine a world where you could sit on the same couch as a friend who lives thousands of miles away, or conjure up a virtual version of your workplace while at the beach.
Welcome to the metaverse: a vision of the future that sounds fantastical, but which tech titans like Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg are betting on as the next great leap in the evolution of the internet.
The metaverse is, in fact, the stuff of science-fiction: the term was coined by Neal Stephenson in his 1992 novel "Snow Crash", in which people don virtual reality headsets to interact inside a game-like digital world.
The book has long enjoyed cult status among Silicon Valley entrepreneurs -- but in recent months the metaverse has become one of the tech sector's hottest buzzwords, with companies pouring millions of dollars into its development.
Facebook fuelled the excitement further Monday by announcing the creation of a new team to work on Zuckerberg's vision of the metaverse.
"This is going to be a really big part of the next chapter for the technology industry," Zuckerberg told tech website The Verge last week. Over the next five years, he predicted, Facebook would transition from "primarily being a social media company to being a metaverse company".
As with many tech buzzwords, the definition of the metaverse depends on whom you ask. But broadly, it involves blending the physical world with the digital one.
With the help of augmented reality glasses, it might allow you to see information whizz before your eyes as you walk around a city, from traffic and pollution updates to local history.
But metaverse enthusiasts are dreaming of a future in which the idea could be extended much further, allowing us to be transported to digital settings that feel real, such as a nightclub or a mountaintop.
Our IP Address: