"Unfortunately, no one can be told what the matrix is, you have to see it for yourself." That's the line just before Morpheus gives Thomas Anderson (aka Neo) the red pill, finally opening his eyes to the tapestry of code that has veiled his eyes for his entire life.
It's a seminal moment in the film that is now being mirrored in the real world as many are finally becoming familiar with the idea of our own emerging Matrix, currently referred to as "the metaverse."
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The film debuted in 1999, roughly 20 years ago, but the concepts embedded in the science fiction epic have endured. A young hacker with an office day job is contacted by a rebel group of fellow hackers only to find out that his entire world is a facade made up of computer code.
In the film, unlike the positive outlook many have of the emerging metaverse, the Matrix is seen as a lever of control, subtly manipulating the lives of humans, making them move and feel as their AI masters see fit. During the film's release, the idea was mostly seen as a metaphor for breaking one's mind free of the control of corporations and governments rather than an actual computer network.
Subsequently, the term "red pill" has been popularized and often twisted over the years to serve the needs of cultural and political pundits who want to "free your mind" from the binds of conventional thought. But now that the real red pill/blue pill dichotomy has returned to reset the table on the dynamic's true meaning, it turns out that the film is no longer a mere allegory. In 2021, what we know as the Matrix is indeed emerging as a real thing. Technology, as is so often the case, has caught up to science fiction.
The Matrix is the metaverse. But what—in its very beginning stages of development—is the metaverse, really?
From the increasingly realistic virtual corridors of VR to the nascent layers of AR being dropped over the entire planet, both linked through the internet and wireless cell phone networks, the real metaverse is in its infancy. In the world of AR, insiders are referring to it as the AR cloud, but as VR and AR gradually merge via hybrid apps and devices, it will become increasingly obvious that AR is just one major component of the metaverse.
And that's where The Matrix film franchise comes in. Undergirded by the brilliant ideas of French philosopher Jean Baudrillard, the Wachowski directorial team crafted a narrative that served as a kind of warning against systems of control that use semiotics and avatars to influence our thought patterns.
So while those deeply engaged in the AR and VR space perceive the rise of the real Matrix/metaverse as a positive advance forward in harnessing the power of computing, some have begun to sound the warning bells. The quiet alarms are chirping about the mostly non-existent metaverse guard rails around privacy, tracking (both physical location and eye-tracking), representation, harassment, access, and opportunity as the virtual land grab has already started before many have even realized what's happening.
The latest installment in the film franchise, The Matrix Resurrections, appears to be going over some familiar ground in the new trailer, released just a few days ago. But the real question is whether director Lana Wachowski will weave two decades of tech advancement into the narrative and make the film a direct entreaty to the current masters of Big Tech, or keep the film's world knee-deep in its own rich sci-fi lore.
Hopefully, the result will be somewhere in between when the film is released on December 22. In the meantime, as the idea of the metaverse continues to go mainstream, now might be the time to revisit the original series and parse exactly how it may inform what we're all engaged in as we build the AR, VR, 5G, smartglasses, and blockchain frameworks around the real Matrix.
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