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How the metaverse can be a force for good in an uncertain world

Metaverse has a potential to play a broader role in society through its ability to open our horizons; Pictured here is a man wearing a VR headset in an indoor setting

Metaverse has a potential to play a broader role in society through its ability to open our horizons. Image: Unsplash/Kenny Eliason

Subha Tatavarti
CTO, Wipro Limited
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The Metaverse

This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting
  • Metaverse offers a fundamentally transformative model of engagement in virtual and augmented spaces, promising to change the way we interact with each other and the world around us.
  • While much has been said about the commercial opportunities presented by the metaverse, the broader benefits of the platform have yet to be fully uncovered.
  • The metaverse could be a force for good in areas like healthcare delivery, education, and training – but only if its risks are mitigated and it is regulated safely.

Metaverse has a potential to play a broader role in society through its ability to open our horizons, interact with those that we could not have met in the real world, experience new places, access public services and healthcare, and, overall, create an extension of the real world that we live in, to help us discover ways to make it better.

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Over the past six months, we’ve witnessed an exponential growth in interest in the metaverse as businesses of all stripes lunged to the platform. Companies have started using the metaverse to host meetings, collaborate and brainstorm sessions, and host employee training, and events. Nike created Nikeland for its “fans to connect, create, share experiences and compete.” JP Morgan became the first major bank to open a lounge in the metaverse.

But we are in the early stages, and the full potential of the metaverse is yet to surface. Over the next few years, we will see the emergence of unique use cases that combine the digital and physical realms and enable seamless interactions and transitions between physical and virtual worlds.

How the metaverse can change industries for the better

The metaverse will make e-commerce experiences more realistic and immersive. Through 3D holograms or avatars, we will be able to have conversations in a completely immersive, real-world like environment. It will be possible for someone to go into a restaurant, pick their food—or in the case of Chipotle, roll their own burritos—in the metaverse and receive the order at home.

Metaverse will also transform education and training and make recruiting essentially location-agnostic. As interviews with avatars become commonplace and the ability to collaborate, interact and work in the metaverse becomes more widely available, companies will be able to push new frontiers in terms of diversity. Metaverse will help strengthen on-the-job training. Employers will be able to deliver ongoing training and upskilling programs in simulated real-life-like environments without risking their reputation or their employees’ safety. Training in the metaverse will have the potential to create better trained, better-skilled workers who are more likely to thrive in the real world.

Metaverse will offer limitless possibilities to deliver healthcare—efficiently, cheaply, and more widely—through telehealth, remote therapy, or remote treatments on the metaverse. Medical professionals will be able to use digital twins as “test dummies” to predict how an individual may recover from a surgery, how they may react to a certain treatment, etc., to help identify issues before they happen.

New travel experiences will be borne with increased adoption of the metaverse. Those who cannot travel—due to health, financial, or other reasons—will be able to experience their favorite destinations, visit relatives, or religious sites, all through fully immersive and interactive experiences.

Similarly, metaverse will level the playing field between urban and rural, developed and developing parts of the world by enabling access to public services in the remotest places.

We will also have a unique opportunity to tackle climate change with metaverse. Through digital twins, metaverse will allow for replication of buildings, cities, and even the earth to better understand our impact on the environment and help advance climate science. In fact, Nvidia has already announced plans to create a digital twin of earth to that effect.

Disadvantages and risks of the metaverse prevail

Yet, with all these enormous benefits, metaverse also presents some significant risks.

First off, we run the risk of creating a platform exclusive to a certain part of the society—those who have access to technology and the skillset to use it—thus fostering more homogeneity rather than diversity. In fact, we are already seeing imbalances in terms of the geographic distribution of VR sets. In 2019, North America and Western Europe made up nearly 90% of all VR set sales, and 38% of the expected metaverse growth in the next four years is expected to come from North America. We must do our best to ensure a more equitable distribution of technologies that enable the metaverse across the world. Particularly businesses with global operations have a huge role to play in that regard.

Second, over-dependency on and overuse of the metaverse can have significant societal implications—creating two parallel realities, leading to more division and resentment instead of more cohesion, inclusion, and collaboration. We must establish governance processes to ensure that metaverse augments the real world, not replace it.

Third, 3D environments can collect a much broader range of data about individuals than the two-dimensional Internet. To add to that, metaverse will enable the creation of multiple personalities, significantly complicating data privacy and creating a slew of challenges in terms of validation and authentication of identity. As an irreversible, traceable, and secure network of transactions, blockchains will be critical in managing identities, authentication, data ownership, and governance.

Further, just as metaverse can be beneficial in reducing bias, if the artificial intelligence (AI) which operates the platform is skewed, it can be the exact opposite. It will be imperative for organizations to create oversight processes that ensure ethical AI standards and build a diverse and inclusive workforce of engineers to address any biases in the algorithm during the development phase.

Unlocking the power of metaverse

Finally, realizing the full potential of the metaverse will require advancements in technologies ranging from core infrastructure to experiential capabilities. Like the Internet’s globally accepted Domain Name System and Internet Protocol standards, which catalysed user adoption, the metaverse will need similar standards for graphical, transactional, computing, and network capabilities. For an open, interoperable, and secure metaverse, it will be vital for consortiums of different enterprises, ranging from startups to Internet giants, to collaborate on protocol standards.

We stand at a crucial point in time where we still can guide the direction of this nascent platform. It is entirely up to us—those who are building the founding blocks and governance models—to take the actions needed to unlock the power of metaverse as a source for good, while establishing processes that will help mitigate its risks.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

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