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3 shared principles to maximize the value of the metaverse

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The metaverse promises to integrate the digital and physical worlds. Image: Getty Images

Peggy Johnson
Chief Executive Officer, Magic Leap, Inc.
This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting

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  • The metaverse promises to integrate the digital and physical worlds – enhancing and transforming our everyday activities, jobs and spaces.
  • Delivering the necessary innovation at scale requires shared principles and infrastructure in a robust ecosystem.
  • The greatest potential and fastest innovation lie with AR – an open, interoperable ecosystem – and enterprise investment in high-value applications.

Splashy ad campaigns and breathless headlines often portray the metaverse as a virtual panacea, home to an almost infinite set of new worlds. Yet the promise of the metaverse is actually more powerful, not to mention more practical, than these dreamy, sci-fi scenarios.

The metaverse’s most important opportunity isn’t to create a new virtual world; it’s to finally integrate our physical and the digital worlds.

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While the concept is simple, the implications are transformative. The metaverse is already bringing digital information from 2D screens into 3D spaces, where it is far more intuitive; the difference between seeing a blueprint and stepping into a building. At the same time, it will help translate knowledge about the physical world into the language of computing. The result will be a two-way bridge of spatially aware information – enhancing our how and where we work, while enabling our applications to understand the physical world.

The Challenge: Embracing the right principles

However, this vision requires incredibly sophisticated technologies – not just powerful chips, but advanced optics, headsets, sensors, spatially aware software, and cloud-based computing designed to render 3D data. To deliver the necessary innovation, we need shared principles and infrastructure in a robust ecosystem.

The rise of the internet offers a good analogy. Decades of innovation have produced extraordinary achievements, all rooted in open protocols and standards – but also pitfalls and controversy when shared principles have been less clear. In the same way, there are currently a range of models in the metaverse space. The ones we embrace now will determine what the metaverse becomes and how fast it evolves.

As we consider the path ahead, three action areas can accelerate innovation and maximize the value for users, businesses, and society overall:

  • Integrate the physical and the digital

Platforms for the metaverse typically either use augmented reality (AR) or virtual reality (VR). VR has come to life over the past decade through gaming, esports, and entertainment, with fully virtual avatars and environments. On the other hand, AR is a better fit for work in the real world.

While there’s room for both in the growing metaverse market, AR ultimately has the greatest potential. With AR, you can still interact with the objects, tools, environments, and people around you – making adoption easier, providing greater value to existing activities and speeding the path to ROI. Plus, this paradigm feels more natural and intuitive, since human evolution has equipped us to interact this way.

  • Build an open, interoperable ecosystem

As these technologies and applications emerge, industry players must choose the best model for bringing them to market: an open ecosystem or a walled garden.

Here, the internet shows the power of an open, interoperable ecosystem. Open standards enable developers, hardware manufacturers, MDMs and other partners to work in concert – accelerating adoption, fuelling innovation and letting users decide the best idea. This model can also serve confidentiality and data privacy. While a walled garden may fit certain use cases, communities or business models, these will serve best as “islands” within the wider ecosystem.

  • Unleash enterprises as first movers

Enterprises are primed to pioneer these advances, just as they did for mainframe computing, cellphones or cloud computing. AR is an ideal fit for essential, high-value work in real-world scenarios. These deployments justify the needed investment and unlock the greatest value – not just for companies and professionals, but for society through employment and inclusive growth.

We’re seeing advanced AR applications emerge here first, from surgeons planning complex procedures, to manufacturing technicians using remote expert assistance, to first responders training for crisis scenarios. These are some of the initial use cases that most clearly benefit from integrating the digital and physical – but there are many more. Enterprises are leading the way because they understand the case for productivity, competitive advantage and value to their customers.

A shared vision: Learning from the past, protecting the future

To develop and knit together the metaverse, we need a shared definition of what we’re building, clear rules for how we build it and compelling incentives to do so.

We can apply lessons from the rise of the internet to amplify benefits, while avoiding pitfalls. We need consensus in areas like data privacy and security, responsible governance policies and license agreements, and a standards-based approach to an open and interoperable ecosystem. We also need to make sure markets and business models are set-up to align with these principles and reward innovation.

The metaverse offers immense opportunities, but we must come together to decide how it can best serve our human potential.

The Challenge: Embracing the right principles A shared vision: Learning from the past, protecting the future

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