How to build an economically viable, inclusive and safe metaverse

Not everyone understands what the term 'metaverse' actually means and encompasses
Not everyone understands what the term 'metaverse' actually means and encompasses.
Image: Unsplash
  • During the COVID-19 pandemic, an increasing number of people have relied on media and technology to inform, entertain and educate themselves, do business, and socialize.
  • Not everyone understands what the term 'metaverse' actually means and encompasses, even though a number of young people say they are familiar with the metaverse.
  • This lack of common understanding leads to a necessity to define and build the metaverse. Here is what seven business leaders had to say about which challenges we need to focus on.

Public opinion research finds that almost two in five (38%) of Americans consider themselves very or somewhat familiar with the metaverse - a figure that rises to more than half (53%) among young people (18-34-year-olds) and those with children in their households.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, an increasing number of people have relied on media and technology to inform, entertain and educate themselves, do business, and socialize. But the shift in usage patterns does not automatically mean that everyone understands what the metaverse is. Fewer than one in five (16%) of Americans can define the term: some call it a new social networking platform, while others describe it as “a new internet experience which links together multiple sites and platforms”.

Even the leaders of businesses building the metaverse recognize a lack of common understanding about what the new medium will represent. Many of them are bullish on the prospects of the metaverse to create economic growth, improve collaboration and transform social experiences, but highlight emerging challenges of ethics, access, security and governance. Here is what seven of them said:

“An entirely new precedent for work and collaboration”

Peggy Johnson, Chief Executive Officer, Magic Leap

“We believe the real benefit of the metaverse is the ability to integrate and overlay digital content into our physical world through augmented reality. This will benefit creators, architects, engineers, even educators and students, as well as many applications that are hard to fathom right now as the technology works to catch up with the vision.

The metaverse will deliver the earliest benefits to enterprise, establishing an entirely new precedent for work and collaboration and allowing businesses to operate at greater speed and scale than we’ve ever seen. The metaverse has the opportunity to increase productivity and efficiency of manufacturing lines, enhance military training, and provide real-time visual data within an augmented operating room.

Today many extended reality (XR) experiences are single-user, single-platform. As the tools, libraries, and platforms mature, bringing shared experiences together in the metaverse across disparate devices will be not just desirable, but necessary to connect workers together and revolutionize ways of working across various sectors.”

“Completely novel digital assets will start to emerge”

Dr. In Hyok Cha, Group Chief Digital Officer, CJ Corporation

“We are striving to become an important player in the global creative economy. Our mission as a business will be to provide the many creators of the world with mixed-reality tools and environments to realize their visions and aspirations, both individually and in communities, while engaging and interacting with others.

As this happens, digital assets will evolve beyond their analogues in the physical or non-metaverse world. In the meantime, great economic opportunities will be found in creating, financing, distributing and utilizing the metaverse versions of traditional asset classes, such as real estate, finance and collectables. In the longer term, completely novel digital assets, likely to be defined in metaverse terms rather than real-world terms, and which may not have clear analogues to traditional assets, will start to emerge too.

In the metaverse, privacy and data protection will be even more important than now, but it may not become easier to provide the technological and societal means to uphold rights and enforce regulations. Regulators will have to pay attention to bullying, marginalization, and destructive stereotyping and discrimination. Finally, financial transactions need to be governed and regulated since the metaverse transcends traditional boundaries such as national borders.”

“A key task for humanity this decade”

Artur Sychov, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Somnium Space

“Forming a strong foundation for metaverse development is one of the key tasks humanity has to fulfil this decade. The concept of interoperability is what we want to develop further and would like to see decentralized solutions to make sure that users have technical abilities to move freely between virtual reality worlds, while keeping their digital identities and belongings truly theirs.”

“The next version of the internet must be designed with children’s wellbeing in mind”

Julia Goldin, Chief Product and Marketing Officer, LEGO Group

“For us, the metaverse describes a world of connected digital experiences that are creative, social and playful. People of all ages will take part in the metaverse, so it is important to build with all audiences in mind. It is not designed to replace in-person interaction – it’s about unlocking real-time 3D experiences that are uniquely suited to a digital world.

We want to ensure that the next version of the internet and digital experiences are designed with children’s well-being in mind. This means creating a world in which we can give kids all the benefits of the metaverse – immersive experiences, creativity, self-expression, building social connections and collaboration – in a way that is safe, protects their rights and promotes their well being. Experiences need to also consider parents – making it easy for them to ensure their children are in the places and experiences that are appropriate for them; ensuring that parents have appropriate controls; helping parents to curate the best development and play for their kids.

Our approach is underpinned by three principles. First, protect children’s right to play by making safety and wellbeing a priority. Secondly, safeguard children’s privacy by putting their best interests first. Finally, empower children and adults with tools that give them control over their digital experience.”

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“A vital public space supported and regulated as public commons are today”

Philip Rosedale, Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder, High Fidelity

“The most important meaning of 'metaverse' is the mission to make the internet a live experience with other people always there, as opposed to the largely individual experience it is today. Making this work in a way that is positive and humanistic is a huge and existential challenge. We must establish ground rules that create an inclusive public commons, recognizing that such live, always-on spaces are vital public spaces that must be supported and regulated as town squares and parks are today.

If surveillance-based, behavioural targeting advertising is extended from the web into 3D spaces where you cannot tell who or what the ads are listening to you and recording your movements, civilization is likely to fail. We must, as a first defence, collectively agree to protect privacy and ban many types of advertising business models.”

“The community and ecosystem surrounding the metaverse are foundational to its health”

Nuala O’Connor, Senior Vice President & Chief Counsel, Digital Citizenship at Walmart

“The metaverse is a dynamic environment; its shared spaces are supported by decentralized groups of people. The community and ecosystem surrounding these spaces are foundational to its health and sustainability.

The metaverse will become a commerce channel for digital and physical goods and will fuel the development of the creator economy. A metaverse that is built upon platforms that creators can leverage with content, experiences and commerce will drive value for small businesses and individual creators. Walmart’s ability to bring people together, along with its scale and expertise connecting the digital and physical shopping experiences, offers an opportunity to help drive inclusiveness in future metaverse commerce experiences. Everyone should have an opportunity to partake, not just some.”

“A positive force for inclusion and equity”

Nick Clegg, President, Global Affairs, Meta Platforms

“The metaverse is the next evolution in social technologies and the successor to the mobile internet. It is a set of virtual spaces where you can create and explore with other people who aren’t in the same physical space as you.

It isn’t a single product one company can build alone. And it won’t be built overnight. Many of these products will only be fully realized in the next decade or so. While that’s frustrating for those of us eager to dive right in, it gives time to ask the difficult questions about how they should be built.

The metaverse has the potential to bring us closer together in increasingly immersive ways and provide opportunities in job training, education, healthcare - and new careers in the ecosystem for creators. This is a long-term vision. It is going to take investment over years before the metaverse reaches scale and requires people, companies and governments to rally around it together.

The metaverse is at a critical early stage in its development. Done well, the metaverse could be a positive force for access and diversity, bridging some of the divides that exist in today’s physical and digital spaces. It needs to be developed openly with a spirit of cooperation between the private sector, lawmakers, civil society, academia and, most importantly, the people who will use these technologies.”

“The metaverse will produce exponential growth in content and commercial activity”

Cher Wang, Cofounder and Chairwoman at HTC-VIA

“Our vision of the metaverse is a world where technology fades to the background and experiences come to the forefront; a world of opportunity to learn, create, play, train, relax and explore. HTC has aligned the whole company around this vision - all our innovation is focused on enabling, expanding or enhancing the experiences available in the metaverse. Moreover, we have worked with thousands of content developers to bring good, meaningful content to the metaverse that provides great experiences.

The metaverse includes boundless worlds where people can work, play, learn, socialize and dream. Real world experiences can be shared and reproduced in the virtual world to enhance lives, solve problems and improve efficiency for a wide range of consumer, education and enterprise applications.

The metaverse will undoubtedly boost the ownership economy, where virtual spaces and objects can be tokenized as digital assets for transactions, encouraging content creation and facilitating markets. With the metaverse available on any connected device, the addressable market will grow exponentially to billions of people, with a corresponding proliferation in content generation and commercial activity.”

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