Media, Entertainment and Sport

Experts Explain: How will the metaverse change our lives?

Anna Bruce-Lockhart
Editorial Lead, World Economic Forum
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  • The metaverse has gained increasing attention, but its real potential isn't obvious.
  • In this episode of Experts Explain, Stanford University’s Jeremy Bailenson helps us understand the fast-evolving technology.
  • He says the metaverse is still a work in progress whose development will be "driven by use cases that make sense".

We’ve all heard of the metaverse - an immersive virtual world that’s a digital twin of the real world - or a bit like ‘climbing into the internet’, depending on who you talk to. But how many of us know exactly how it works?

Despite the increasingly slick headsets, the hype and bold predictions, the real potential of the metaverse is not obvious.

To help us understand the technology, we talk to Stanford University’s Jeremy Bailenson. He’s been researching the metaverse and virtual reality for decades. He started Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab and co-founded the VR-focused tech company Strivr.

In this episode of Experts Explain, Bailenson paints a compelling picture of a virtual world where you can be any size, shape or gender you wish, where you can interact with 3D projections of real people and non-fungible objects, experience haptic sensations and have ‘intense experiences that solve hard problems’.

This intensity is part of the reason why the metaverse is especially useful in management training, says Bailenson. "You have an experience while wearing another person's body and you get to walk a mile in that person's shoes. We've worked with governments and companies and schools all around the world where we are building VR simulations to increase empathy and to do diversity training."

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But Bailenson isn't offering a vision of unbridled tech utopianism. The VR expert is candid when it comes to the platform’s shortcomings, and sees it as a work in progress whose development will be "driven by use cases that make sense".

“The metaverse is not going to change your life tomorrow," he says. "There was a moment when we thought all of us were going to be in the metaverse - and the media was promoting it as an everyday thing. But we're not going to have that for some years."

A new reality: building the metaverse

To find out more about how the metaverse can be made safe, accessible and economically viable, watch this Davos 2023 panel session featuring Rwanda's ICT Minister, Paula Ingabire, Meta CPO Chris Cox, HP chief Enrique Lores and Neal Stephenson, author of Snow Crash, where the term 'metaverse' was coined.

Making the metaverse open and inclusive

In May 2022, the World Economic Forum launched Defining and Building the Metaverse, an initiative that aims to guide the creation of a safe and inclusive metaverse by bringing together governments, business leaders, academics and civil society.

It's divided into two tracks:

1. The governance track focuses on defining recommended governance frameworks to prevent harm, mitigate risks, and ensure equity and interoperability.

2. The value creation track focuses on how economic and social value can be created in the metaverse. It also provides guidance for organizations to prepare for disruption. Both tracks work collaboratively to balance governance with economic and social opportunities.

To hear how companies and regulators can build a safe, engaging and useful metaverse, listen to this episode of the Radio Davos podcast featuring Cathy Li, Head of Media, Entertainment and Sport at the World Economic Forum.

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For more information on the World Economic Forum's work in the metaverse, visit our metaverse page. Or to track how the metaverse is connected to governance, commerce and gaming, check out this Transformation Map.

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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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