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The Metaverse and why it can redefine life as we know it

2022-03-28

Key Takeaways:

  • The term ‘metaverse’ has created waves globally as major companies rush towards establishing their own presence in this virtual universe

  • In this article, we discuss the future scope of the metaverse and the benefits it offers to various industries and government policy

  • Apart from entertainment and private uses, the metaverse can be revolutionary for public services and reducing inequality in fields like education

A complete introduction to the Metaverse

Author Neal Stephenson coined the term "metaverse" in his 1992 science fiction novel, marked by digital avatars and virtual reality. The word ‘Meta’ came from Greek, meaning “beyond” – referring to the whole new universe of possibilities waiting to be explored. 

Fast forward to 2021, the metaverse is either the greatest buzzword of all times or the future of the internet. Mentions of the word jumped by 135% in Q4 of 2021 with tech giants Facebook, Microsoft, Google all hopping on the digital bandwagon. Meta (erstwhile Facebook) brought the term metaverse to the limelight, defining it as “The metaverse is the next evolution of social connection”. The metaverse is all set to redefine internet as we know it today, marked by an immersive, embodied internet where users will be part of the experience. Virtual environments, mixes of XR and personalised digital avatars would allow users not just to generate content but ‘fly digitally’ transcending geographical, physical, economical, and other barriers to connect with fellow users worldwide. The metaverse is an integrated universe, not unlike logging on laptops as we do today, paired with headsets and XR glasses using which one would know that they have entered the virtual universe. 

Just like the introduction of the internet seemed surreal in the late 1980’s, the metaverse seems too advanced to be real. However, a recent survey showed that 42% of millennials and Gen Z interviewed saw the metaverse as a very real innovation waiting to be launched within a few years, and unlike in the 1980s, the tech giants have already invested big money into the field, making the metaverse a potential $800 billion market by early 2024 and worth $2.5 trillion by 2030. 

Metaverse and its applications in industry

What is attracting this investment is the bounty of use cases metaverse has to offer. The metaverse can enhance social interactions as we know them and create new forms of entertainment. The possibilities are endless for businesses too. Some of the world’s largest companies in consumer discretionary sectors like Dolce & Gabbana, Nike etc have already started making big money through sales in the virtual metaverse and one-of-a-kind NFT designs. Gucci even introduced a ‘limited Gucci Garden’ to facilitate user try-ons and digital shopping. Looking at the supply side, the metaverse can streamline operations, minimise costs through optimum factory location and inventory management and leveraging latest trends in manufacturing like flexible hybrid electronics, AR/VR and digital twins etc. Firms in the consumer staples industry can drastically enhance R&D while reducing costs related to pilot testing, launch and advertising.

There are several other sectors that also stand to gain a lot from the inception of the metaverse. Healthcare worldwide can improve with easier quality training, technical advancements like injury location, transplants & rehabilitation, efficient treatment decisions etc. Design and art-based fields like architecture, interior décor, music will be empowered despite geographical obstacles, exposing professionals to new markets, ideas, and opportunities. Economies hit by the pandemic can leverage virtual tourism and even create digital twins of their finest resources (e.g oceanography) to maintain competitive advantage while preserving their environment. 

Use in social relations and diplomatic communication

The most attractive use of the metaverse is perhaps social interactions. Microsoft launched its Mesh platform, envisioning a work environment heavily reliant on XR while the gaming industry is already deep into the idea of the metaverse. Epic Games has already hosted Ariana Grande concerts virtually and is currently developing customizable photorealistic digital humans to give users the feeling of being right there with friends and family, regardless of where they are. The realm can even host features non-existent today. The online haven, Nowhere, has launched temporary virtual spaces for private celebrations, conferences etc. Roblox has launched user generated games where individuals can try out jobs, build homes and play put various scenarios for better decision making.

Apart from entertainment and private uses, the metaverse can be revolutionary for public services and reducing inequality in fields like education. The push towards online during Covid-19 brought to light the overwhelming lack of digital infrastructure, especially in emerging economies like India. A virtual world can redefine learning through ‘gamified’ education and introduce a dynamic curriculum. Integrating technology with education can enhance performance grading, interdisciplinary learning with practical applications. 

The AR/VR conference held in January 2022 outlined how governments can leverage the scope of the metaverse for domestic policy as well as international relations. It could be a convenient way for citizens to access public resources, ensure availability & quality, and facilitate timely communication between all concerned stakeholders. For major developing economies like India and China, platforms like the metaverse can create employment, organise labour, deliver public healthcare, improve enforceability of contracts and plan urban spaces. The metaverse can also aid development of industries of national importance, e.g., using digital twins of railways, defence, post offices for regular inspection and upgrades.

The key to the success of the metaverse would be equitable penetration and interoperability. The vision of an ‘integrated world without an off switch’ would only be possible through accessibility across channels – PCs, wearables, consoles etc. While the sector is in a nascent stage, widespread digital adoption of advanced blockchain technology and efficient energy utilisation is critical not to add to the existing burden of rising inequality and environment degradation. Further, with rising concerns about privacy within the hands of a few big firms and personal safety especially for women, minority groups etc., the rise of the metaverse would have to be accompanied with nuanced digital privacy protection regulations which cannot be circumvented easily.

Notwithstanding these, there is no doubt that the global economy is moving fast towards a world where boundaries between real and virtual worlds will blur. Developments like the metaverse can transform industries, enhance inter-organisational communication, support governments, and redefine social interactions. Just one question remains, what won’t the metaverse be able to do?

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