Davos Agenda

The first research of its kind: defining, building and governing a metaverse for all

The metaverse is set to revolutionise the internet. Davos 2023

The metaverse is set to revolutionise the internet. Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Cathy Li
Head, AI, Data and Metaverse; Member of the Executive Committee, World Economic Forum Geneva
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Davos Agenda

This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting

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This article was first published in Caixin.

  • The metaverse is an immersive, interoperable and synchronous digital world forecast to become an $800 billion market by 2024.
  • The metaverse presents a momentous opportunity, but also brings about new challenges.
  • The World Economic Forum is bringing together government, academia, business and civil society to guide the development of a safe and inclusive, equitable, interoperable and economically viable metaverse.

The next generation of the internet is coming with the convergence of technologies forging the 'metaverse' – an immersive, interoperable and synchronous digital world that is predicted to become an $800 billion market by 2024. The metaverse will rely upon the widespread adoption of extended reality (XR), the combination of augmented, virtual and mixed reality and the viability of digital assets, wallets and identities to conduct business and allow for social spaces.

Though a standard definition for the metaverse is still under development, experts agree that this new age of the internet will likely disrupt and transform current social and economic structures. From more immersive, empathetic social experiences to more universal access to health services and education, the metaverse presents a momentous opportunity, but also brings about new challenges.

It is within this context that in May 2022, the World Economic Forum presented its new initiative: Defining and Building the Metaverse. As the leading international organization for private-public partnerships, the Forum is uniquely adept at convening diverse stakeholders of government, academia, business and civil society to guide the development of a safe and inclusive, equitable, interoperable and economically viable metaverse.

The objective of this initiative is to advance consensus amongst the metaverse stakeholders via two tracks of work: metaverse governance and economic and societal value creation. The governance track focuses on defining a set of recommended governance frameworks that prevent potential harms and mitigate emerging risks, while ensuring equity and interoperability. The value creation track focuses on producing visionary insights and surfacing challenges in economic and social value creation. Since launching, the initiative has convened more than 150 partners and organizations in its two working groups to begin exploring themes across both tracks.

Governing the metaverse

On the governance track, the themes of interoperability, privacy, security, safety and identity, canvas a large swath of subject matter, ranging from questions of data privacy, infrastructure security, portability, accessibility and identity constructs, to those of content and conduct moderation, intellectual property (IP), data, assets ownership, international security and more. Consensus garnered on these topics will lead to the production of briefing papers on different themes, culminating in a white paper. These will generate insights on burgeoning opportunities to improve governance at national and regional levels to better respond to 21st-century challenges.

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Unlocking economic and societal value in the Metaverse

The value creation track focuses on exploring the concepts of economic and social value in the metaverse. It aims to provide concrete recommendations for equitable and sustainable value creation to creators, public and private organizations and the general public. It is hoped that this will contribute to stability and informed decision-making in metaverse enablement and adoption.

The value creation track starts with an exploration of the consumer-facing metaverse and will move on to the industrial and enterprise metaverses in the future. It will also research the opportunities and trade-offs in access, inclusion, sustainability and well-being for those seeking to use the metaverse. The overall aim of this track is to provide systems guidance for organizations to prepare for the inevitability of disruption and the creation of value that the metaverse will provide.

Upcoming outputs of the Metaverse Initiative. Davos 2023
Upcoming outputs of the Metaverse Initiative. Image: World Economic Forum

Ethics remain at the centre of the considerations for both tracks and are always circled back to when considering both governance frameworks and social and economic value creation.

Ethics remain at the centre of the considerations for the Metaverse Initiative. Davos 2023
Ethics remain at the centre of the considerations for the Metaverse Initiative. Image: World Economic Forum

The first output of the governance track is a briefing paper on Interoperability in the Metaverse, which is founded on the ability for users to participate across environments and technologies, for data to circulate freely and securely and for systems to exchange information seamlessly. For the metaverse to operate seamlessly, it will require interoperability for users to move, create, transact and participate across different platforms and localities.

For value creation, the first output is an insight report Demystifying the Consumer Metaverse. This explores the key components, foundational technologies, roles and paths to economic value and growth in a singular consumer metaverse.

Both outputs, which were written in collaboration with Accenture, explore the initial themes of the Defining and Building the Metaverse initiative.

A collaborative approach

Notably, the tracks and the overall initiative take a forward-thinking approach without operating in silos. Instead, they work collaboratively to ensure that value creation in the metaverse is considered within a well-established governance framework and that governance recommendations remain cognizant of economic and social opportunity. The Metaverse Initiative is also collaborative across other Forum initiatives. It works in tandem with the Global Coalition for Digital Safety, Digital Trust, Platforms for Artificial Intelligence, Blockchain and Digital Assets, Advanced Manufacturing, Health and Healthcare, as well as the Forum’s Global Collaboration Village.

Though the metaverse presents a myriad of potential challenges, it remains an opportunity for immense good — for greater social cohesion, sustainable creation and economic opportunity through new forms of value distribution, accessibility and more — especially when driven by purposeful and ethical public-private partnerships. Ultimately, this initiative seeks not only to define and guide but to design and build a metaverse for all.

For more information on this topic, read this briefing paper, Interoperability in the Metaverse and this insight report Demystifying the Consumer Metaverse.

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