BY DR. MARTHA BOECKENFELD FOR ADELLO MAGAZINE
Now that we are at the rise of the metaverse, the metaverse will become more real than ever before. While understanding that the metaverse is not in its final state or just a new technology, but rather considering it as an evolution of a set of possibilities for how we will live our lives and shape our future. Up to now, it is a vision of the future of the Internet:
A massively scaled, persistent, interactive and interoperable real-time platform comprised of interconnected virtual and real worlds where people can socialize, work, transact, play, and create. (inspired by Matthew Ball).
Although the metaverse is currently only as far as the internet was at the end of the 1990s, in the coming years, thanks to the convergence of technologies, the metaverse will arrive at an exponential speed.
For ARK Investment Management LLC, the innovation driving the disruption is a $210 trillion market capitalization opportunity by 2030. Within that lies $40 trillion of blockchain enterprise value and $10 trillion of digital value. The value generation of the metaverse is estimated by Matthew Ball, a VC, and expert on the metaverse, to be as high as $10–30 trillion in the next decade and a half.
Gartner expects the metaverse (or the vision of it) to be fully realized by the end of this decade. They expect
that already by 2026, 25% of people will spend at least an hour a day in the metaverse for work, shopping, education, social, and or entertainment. The metaverse has enormous potential to expand further or divert screen time given digital consumption — Americans average 10+ hours/day on media, including 3+ hours on TV, and drive more bandwidth consumption. Internet traffic is already 80% video and has been growing at a 30% CAGR.
“There were humans long before there was history. Animals, much like modern humans, first appeared about 2.5 million years ago. But for countless generations, they did not stand out from the myriad other organisms that populated the planet. Fiction has enabled us not merely to imagine things, but to do so collectively.“
— Yuval Noah Harrari
We will not use mobile anymore as contact lenses with augmented reality from companies such as Moje are already far advanced or Neurolink, a chip in the brain developed by Elon Musk. As such, the metaverse will transport us to a new century, where Fiction becomes Reality — it can take several turns, as we have seen in ReadyPlayerOne or The Matrix. It has been 19 years since Minority Report was first released. Predicting the year 2054 — the background for the story in the film, many of the technologies in this sci-fi film are already part of our daily life. The Unmanned Car — now realized by Tesla; during his time in hiding, the key player John felt followed by personal ads — Facebook and the usage of personal data certainly feel at times the same; house with voice control — now smart homes; face recognition and biometrics in every smartphone — all demonstrated the exponential growth of these technologies. Raising technology can create a better life for us, but we need to be mindful of how it is created and who the beneficiary is.
There is a big challenge that Big Tech or even Investors are ruling the space rather than the creators. Critical voices like Jack Dorsey said that VCs really own Web3- big venture capital firms like Andreessen Horowitz, which alone has dedicated $7.5bn to invest in the space (and has made investments in several dozen crypto companies, including OpenSea and CryptoKitties/NBA Top Shot), which the latest news of a $600m investment in a gaming fund. McKinsey reports that $120bn was invested by VCs into the metaverse space in 2022, more than double what it was in all of 2021.
Beyond Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs), scarce experiences until now will become abundant: Games lead the way forward: in a game, you can dream of being anything else you might imagine in any environment you want to live. Imagine what happens when you apply this to your social life. Virtual concerts like the ones with Ariane Grande and 14 Million viewers in Fortnite can generate an impression of presence around each individual in which you always be close to the performance and have VIP tickets.
You can travel to places we can normally not travel to, discover unknown land, and create new worlds together. Games will evolve to incorporate more events that are informed by live entertainment, such as the music concerts that have already emerged in Fortnite and get together in the Recroom.
Esports are on the rise, and online communities will be part of our social life as it is for the Next Gen, who is already using games. The attraction of the games is less about gaming but socializing and being part of a community — one of the very fundamental needs of human beings apart from food and water.
Meanwhile, traditional industries such as travel, education, and live performance will be reshaped around game-thinking and the virtual economy of abundance. Virtual lands like Decentraland and Sandbox (blockchain-based) are trying to introduce virtual digital scarcity, and others offer unlimited meta spaces as we have in games or virtual spaces in Spatial. Today there are 3 billion gamers worldwide, generating $175B in annual revenue; 3.5x more than music and movie box office combined ($47B), replacing Netflix and other social media in the mid-term.
“One of the benefits of our creator community is that they constantly surprise us and things we would have never expected. I like that we donʼt have to be the geniuses, but they will be the geniuses for us.”
— Daniel Sturman, CTO Roblox
We need to use those to create experiences for all of us, which are not only a dream but become real to create a more sustainable and inclusive world. This, in particular, does not mean we create a virtual dreamland and forget about reality and challenges leading to a dystopian world, as we have seen in ReadyPlayerOne. The metaverse will be a game-changer for our society.
The age of convergence extends human capabilities and connections and extends the spectrum between human beings everywhere in the world. A global network of connected people and devices offers infinite possibilities for shared culture and creativity.
Meta Horizon, Microsoft Mesh, and Glue are already showing us how we can work together in new ways. Accenture is moving 150,000 people into the virtual world experience after testing this environment for the last 2 years. Beyond work, play, and socializing, new spaces in the metaverse will let us interact with clinicians, peers, and enterprises at a distance (“Internet of Place,” healthcare organizations will shift part of their operations to the metaverse, maintaining their own internal virtual environments so employees can work from anywhere and collaborate in new ways based on data that can be validated and authenticated by the employee and the patient (“Internet of Ownership”).
This might seem futuristic, but a number of companies and doctors are already actively using metaverse technology. Veyond Metaverse, for e.g., is bringing together worldwide healthcare professionals for concurrent education, training, and planning, as well as collaborative medical operations. In 2021, neurosurgeons at Johns Hopkins performed the hospital’s first-ever live patient surgery using an augmented-reality headset, thereby providing the surgeon with an interactive display of the patient’s internal anatomy. Dr. Timothy Witham, who performed the surgery and also directs the hospital’s Spinal Fusion Laboratory, compared it to having GPS. Other advancements use digital twins to improve our health. In the United Arab Emirates (UAE), health experts are integrating the world of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) into the healthcare experience. The world’s first metaverse hospital is set to be launched by the Thumbay Group in UAE this October to blur further the boundaries of access to healthcare around the world.
Visualizing the “Twin Earth” — creating a “Digital Twin” of the Earth using technologies like the NVIDIA Omniverse ParaView Connector allows scientists to analyze weather and climate data in 3D interactively, combine information from multiple sources, and explore “what if” scenarios to allow us to understand the state of the earth and help climate change and the exposure to natural catastrophes.
Creating awareness, developing knowledge, and designing literacy programs for users of all ages, gender, and culture is fundamental to reducing the missteps people made in the past with the launch of emerging technologies. Engaging in different communities to discuss and learn what it is and what avenues of opportunities and challenges it will create.
This year, The World Economic Forum, in collaboration with Accenture and Microsoft, announced to build a Global Collaboration Village as the virtual future of public-private cooperation. It will provide immersive spaces where stakeholders can convene, create and take action on the world’s most pressing challenges.
As society is moving toward addressing the Sustainable Development Goals for all human beings, Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, and Safety are becoming fundamental upon which to rebuild the physical world and interact and design the metaverse. A number of challenges are yet to be solved, like digital identity, privacy data, authentication, governance, and regulatory frameworks.
As we build beyond the universe with new experiences, technology is only the enabler, but we must not lose sight of the most important asset: People.
The Metaverse gives companies and educational institutions the opportunity to work and study in an immersive collaboration environment. What do you think are possible negative side effects or consequences of Metawork?
One of the big issues employees in surveys has been most concerned about is privacy and security. With the Metaverse and the Oculus Quest 3, for example, which are expected to track eye movement and haptic suits, more behavioral data can be collected than ever before. Employers are most likely to be interested in recording workplace meetings in the metaverse, time tracking, and in line with employees’ fears, tracking real-time location and screen monitoring. The data can be equally used by tech giants like Meta, which is already heavily collecting data to change and drive certain behavior.
Working in the metaverse for an extended period of time, according to scientific research, can also lead to higher anxiety, a perception of higher workloads, and even adverse physical effects for some employees. Depression, “brain drain,” and shortage in attention time that were noticed in the extensive usage of TV and screen already today is being accelerated. As with previous early technology, general health issues and long-term effects of using wearables like the Oculus have been questioned. Spending a long time in virtual worlds has caused some people headaches and feeling sick.
How do we know how my co-workers feel? Avatars are not (yet) reflecting the true feelings of a person, but rather the perfect self-casual conversations at the coffee machine, a major part of non-verbal conversation providing clues to our brains for our social interactions, are missing.
“When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but creatures of emotion.”
— Dale Carnegie
Do you see a danger, especially for young or immature minds, to start valuing virtual life higher than real? What should be done to prevent it?
It all starts with games when children switch from Lego blocks to Minecraft — technology plays an essential role in shaping youth’s communication and social interactions in online multiplayer games. Due to physical distancing restrictions during the COVID-19 global pandemic, online multiplayer games like Minecraft and Roblox were well-positioned to amplify healthy communication/social connections and mitigate the impact of social isolation. Taking away a game from a child, nowadays, is taking away social interaction. It’s, however, not clear how age-appropriate socio-technical design features (e.g., parental control, communication moderation) are implemented for youth across different developmental stages controls — these are often misaligned with the ways in which children develop communication and social skills. Rather than ignoring games, game design should reflect what we want to create as a responsible society.
Not getting lost in the virtual world also means more awareness and responsibility of all stakeholders (parents, schools, society) on how children’s education is being developed. In the first seven years, for e.g., children are copying their role models — are we always glued to the phone or engaging with each other and keeping in contact with the real world?
“It takes a village to raise a child,” and we all need to be mindful of how we interact with each other and children and grow them into a community that shapes a better world together.
A haptic suit can make the VR experience highly immersive and realistic. Therefore, even a virtual criminal act such as physical assault through groping or playing violent games can feel very real. In your opinion, what is the right way to go on about these criminal acts, and what criminal laws need to be implemented in the metaverse for it to become a safe space for everyone to enjoy?
The current criminal law cannot be easily adapted to the metaverse as new unknown experiences and scenarios might occur, such as — Can Murder happen in the metaverse if avatars are being destroyed? Certainly, the real person is still alive, but the avatar could be considered property, which needs to be protected, or is this more verbal abuse? Apart from the psychological effects, this might have. Rather than having fixed rules, laws need to be flexible-everything we can imagine can become true. Another very important point, as in real life, is prevention — Meta reacted immediately when a woman reported harassment in the metaverse and introduced a protective shield.
We need all stakeholders and players in the metaverse, lawmakers, developers, creators, and big tech working together to solve these issues with consciousness and taking responsibility to make this safe space, acknowledging that the metaverse will be evolving and bearing in mind that in decentralized worlds, we cannot pinpoint to one entity being responsible like we could with Meta or Microsoft. The more the virtual world converges with the real world, the more the virtual becomes real.