The metaverse is arguably the most talked about technology trend of 2022. It presents the potential to immerse users in a virtual world that has infinite possibilities for B2C and B2B brands, as well as consumers. The metaverse is not a reality, yet. There are still technological, infrastructure, connectivity, inclusivity and regulatory hurdles that must be overcome and clarified, as well as a lack of understanding around the practical applications.
Understanding the potential of the metaverse and making it a reality was discussed during an FT Live panel hosted in partnership with HCLTech on the last day of the World Economic Forum in Davos.
Kalyan Kumar, CTO and Head of Ecosystems at HCLTech was joined by Valérie Beaulieu, Chief Marketing & Sales Officer at Adecco and Don McGuire, Chief Marketing Officer at Qualcomm. The panel was hosted by Rana Foroohar, the Financial Times’ Global Business Columnist and an Associate Editor.
What is the metaverse?
“There are lots of different points of view and from a Qualcomm perspective, we don’t know what it will end up being. It could have a significant impact on the gaming and entertainment industries or be used for enterprise productivity. There are numerous possibilities,” said McGuire, whose company makes the technology crucial to building the metaverse.
At this stage, the metaverse is hard to define – but it’s evident this new reality will create new opportunities.
Making it a reality
“Low latency technology with high bandwidth and ultra-reliable connectivity is needed to make the metaverse a reality,” continued McGuire. “We need [next-gen] technology and connectivity to build it.”
This includes the development of more user-friendly hardware, such as future iterations of Microsoft’s VR Oculus, and a network or infrastructure capable of processing huge amounts of data at speed and low latency – 5G.
This new environment needs to be secured. “The security of the metaverse needs to be pushed down to the edge, and that can only be facilitated by 5G,” said Kumar.
On top of these network, infrastructure and connectivity transformations, “we need new skills to create the content and applications of the metaverse. These will rely on advanced coding programs with new coding languages. The key to enabling this is to engage future talent from a high school level,” added Kumar.
Considering the digital divide
By accelerating the adoption of the technologies that will enable the metaverse, it’s important “we’re not widening the gap with those that don’t have access to broadband,” said Beaulieu.
“Until we achieve ubiquitous connectivity, we will widen the digital divide,” added McGuire.
In such a technology-driven concept, it’s crucial that no one is left behind as the current gap will accelerate. Mitigating this relies on a digitally inclusive society.
Going further into this challenge, Kumar highlighted that there are currently five generations engaging with technology. “As workplace’s modernize, we need to carry all these users and demographics along on the journey,” he said.
He added that another potential risk or challenge is the problem of technology addiction. “We’ve seen this on mobile and must build a behavioral model that focuses on the right level of time spent on devices. This should be implemented because we’re in a multi-device society in the transition to Web 3.0.”
Practical applications and the opportunities
Beaulieu highlighted the collaborative applications of the metaverse. She envisions a scenario where employees can wear the next iteration of immersive reality glasses that automatically translates the users’ native language to their colleague’s native language in a virtual environment. “This is the next stage of communication and can serve as bridge between the cultures.”
Beaulieu also mentioned that the hybrid working model could discriminate against those groups who want or have to work from home. During conference calls “they only have a voice,” whereas “this technology allows everyone to be on an equal footing when it comes to interaction – there is an application of inclusivity.”
She added: “Working in a virtual world can “accelerate skilling, re-skilling and the onboarding of talent.”
McGuire referenced the importance of being able to run real-world simulations in the metaverse for risk mitigation.
“In high-risk jobs or industries, users can iterate and take risks in a safe virtual environment,” he said.
'Don’t make the same mistakes as social media’
When it comes to regulating the metaverse, McGuire urged the creators and makers “not to make the same mistakes as social media.”
This is a significant challenge, because “if you look at social media, they haven’t been able to regulate it,” commented Kumar.
When it comes to regulation of these type of environments, “there is pull between decentralization and centralization and there needs to be a middle ground,” he added.
The system of Web 3.0 and the metaverse is designed in a way that it can’t be overly regulated – “the moment you police it is when you move to centralization. It needs to be self-governed,” said Kumar.
This self-governance needs “multi-party bodies across industries and users and move away from dependency on any one platform,” according to Beaulieu.
Within this self-governing body, however, “clear rules and structures need to be put in place, otherwise it will be chaos,” said McGuire.
Technology for good
Despite the regulatory and inclusivity challenges, all the panelists are optimistic that the metaverse can be a technology for good, if it’s built in the right way from the beginning, which is now.
“It will present a new layer for marketers to engage with their consumers,” said McGuire, while Beaulieu looks forward to the “acceleration of inclusion and skills for people” facilitated in the metaverse.
In making the metaverse a reality, Kumar emphasized that “large platform companies and creators need to work together for continued innovation in the metaverse.”