Spotlight: Metaverse (not yet another one!)

In this 7th column of the series called Navigator MasterClass on Emerging Technologies, we will find our way through the myths and realities of Metaverse.

Only time will reveal the extent of Metaverse utilization and its impact on business and society. But the excitement spurred by the renaming of Facebook has already gone beyond the individual life.

No one needs any more reading material on Metaverse. After all, the 283-page report (“The Metaverse in 2040”) published last year by Pew Research Center opens with “Hope? Hype? Hell? Maybe All 3”. And of course, it is difficult to take seriously a concept created by a sci-fi novelist in 1992 (“Snow Crush” by Neil Stephenson). And depending on one’s personal point of view, the Pew report could be seen as positive or negative since it includes thoughts from not just eminent technologists, but also journalists, politicians, sociologists, philosophers, intelligentsia, and psychologists. So, in this 7th column of the series called Navigator MasterClass on Emerging Technologies, we will find our way through the myths and realities of Metaverse.

And we start with McKinsey’s six myths about Metaverse, and later examine what IEEE, EU Commission, MIT, and Gartner have opined, ending with the challenges facing this technology’s emergence.

Myth 1: No one knows what Metaverse is. It is quite simply the natural next step for the quasi-immersive technology we all already live with.

Myth 2: It’s just a fad. Myth #1’s response applies here too.

Myth 3: It’s only for Gamers. It is true that it started there for obvious reasons, but then it would be premature to be dismissive, just as it would have been to dismiss eCommerce and streaming video as ‘merely’ inventions for the adult entertainment business (only).

Myth 4: It is geared to GenZ. Original internet and AI were also initially perceived as geared for younger generation. More later on why Metaverse is different from the promise of other currently Emerging Technologies.

Myth 5: There is no money-making opportunity. Two simple responses: Metaverse is already a significant (and growing) portion of digital assets delighting customers; and, GenZ has purchasing power, which will become the majority demographic in a few years.

Myth 6: Speed of Technology advancement with set the pace of growth here. Let us not get distracted by the glitches and crashes, or the clunkiness of VR equipment; or disheartened by the experience of crypto and NFT.

The reason Metaverse has a strong chance of becoming mainstream quickly is that it is what McKinsey calls a ‘combinatorial technology’. It combines the top trends of today, like AI, Spatial Computing (AR and VR to use light, sounds, images, trackers, sensors, and haptics), IoT, Edge Computing, Digital Twins, and Web3.

And it is remarkable that Pew report thinks that VR part of Metaverse might lag the AR part of it. If we take this a good predictor trend, then Metaverse’s appeal immediately spans generations, geographies, and genders. Add to it the increasing spend on digital assets, customer delight driving investments, and significant infrastructure investments in Metaverse’s backbone; and we might be looking at a significant trend. Gartner thinks that the C-suite must think about Metaverse if it worries about at least one of the following: Digital Humans, Gaming, Virtual Spaces, Shared Experiences, Spatial Computing, and Tokenized Assets. It would be hard for any IT department to ignore ALL of these.

Let us now look at the thoughts of some respectable non-business entities. In IEEE Transactions on Computational Social Systems, F. -Y. Wang, R. Qin, X. Wang and B. Hu, published "MetaSocieties in Metaverse: MetaEconomics and MetaManagement for MetaEnterprises and MetaCities,". They opine that ACP (artificial society, computing experiment, parallel execution) and CPSS (Cyber-Physical-Social Systems) technology provide an important theoretical and technical foundation for the development of MetaEnterprises and MetaCities; regarded as the mapping of real enterprises and cities in the virtual cyberspace. This in turn generates a MetaEconomic system; regarded as the virtual economic system corresponding to the real economic system. With the computational economic experiment approach, small economic data in the real economic system can be converted into large virtual economic data in the MetaEconomic system. And then artificial intelligence algorithms such as machine learning, deep learning, and reinforcement learning can be used to transform virtual economy big data into deep intelligence. It is not a huge leap of faith to see that a new MetaManagement model needs to evolve.

In another IEEE publication, “A Metaverse: Taxonomy, Components, Applications, and Open Challenges”, Sang-Min Park and Young-Gab Kim opine that ‘With the technological development of deep learning-based high-precision recognition models and natural generation models, Metaverse is being strengthened with various factors, from mobile-based always-on access to connectivity with reality using virtual currency’. They go on to list the components to be hardware (head-mounted, hand-input, haptics, motion), software (scene/ object/ sound/ speech recognition, generation, synthesis, motion rendering), and content (multimodal, persona modelling, entity generation, scenario generation/ population/ evaluation). The approaches will be of User Interactions, Implementations, or Applications. AND they list the applications as Simulation, Gaming, Office Space, Social Identity, Marketing, and Education.

Finally, a brief look at A Thematic Report, prepared by the European Union Blockchain Observatory & Forum for the EU Commission. It lists the use cases to fall in the realm of Recreation- Gaming and Socialisation, Virtual Work and Collaboration, Virtual Learning, Virtual Markets, Advertising/ Marketing/ Sales, Smart Industry/ Smart Manufacturing, and Extended social media.

All the above analyses also highlight the challenges staring the IT departments in the face. Most of them are carry-forward from today’s IT challenges: Security, Privacy, Ethics, Regulation, Governance, Misinformation, widening Technology Gap, Distractions, and Negative Interactions. We are not going to dwell on these, but will highlight the fact that the Metaverse has already compounded the social problem of inappropriate behavior.

What we must do is look at what MIT says are derailers for Emerging Technologies, and are compounded in the case of Metaverse:

  • Hoping to Run Before You Walk.
  • Forgetting your Core Customers of Today.
  • Avoiding Tough Decisions and Necessary Conflicts.
  • Revering Only the new Star Talent.

Only time will reveal the extent of Metaverse utilization and its impact on business and society. But the excitement spurred by the renaming of Facebook has already gone beyond the individual life. The technological advances in the backbone platforms of Metaverse make it a task of INTEGRATION of already advancing and usable technology. And hence more likely to succeed than not.

- The author, Akash Jain, managed large IT organizations for global players like MasterCard and Reliance, as well as lean IT organizations for startups, with experience in financial and retail technologies.

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