Opinion
Emerging Technologies

Why we must ground the metaverse in the 'humanverse'

The humanverse is a lens through which businesses can model their strategies and operations to align with and prioritize humanity.

The humanverse is a lens through which businesses can model their strategies and operations to align with and prioritize humanity. Image: Pixabay/Tumisu

Devry Boughner Vorwerk
Founder and Chief Executive Officer, DevryBV Sustainable Strategies, LLC
Komal Dadlani
Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder, Lab4U
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The Metaverse

  • The metaverse presents an opportunity for global progress, it enables humans to experience life in ways they could not in the physical world.
  • But while the metaverse calls us to enter a technological infrastructure that is not accessible to all, the physical world needs our attention and investment.
  • This is where the 'humanverse' can be vital counterbalance as a lens through which businesses can model their operations to prioritize humanity.

The metaverse is moving at “meta-speed”. There is as much reason for intrigue about the evolving platform as there is for scepticism. Those fuelling the metaverse bear responsibility for its negative impact on humanity, as much as they also want to take credit for the spectacular outcomes being advertised.

Elements of the metaverse are powerful tools to drive society forward, yet a cautionary tale is being written about its downsides. Today, the world is intimately connected and more disconnected than ever.

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How is the World Economic Forum contributing to the metaverse?

The repercussions of technology have instigated loneliness and social cascades, artificial intelligence is shifting the job catalogue, and inequality is exacerbated at the hands of the digital divide. Businesses and financial players capitalizing on the technology need better tactics than simply building the plane as they’re flying it.

Being “well connected” in technology is only as good as the wellness of humanity. We cannot escape the human condition, which means we must learn to properly sequence our priorities by investing in the humanverse first.

The pathway forward is the alignment of shared priorities, ethics and values in both the metaverse and the humanverse.

A core tenet is that humanity – i.e. people and nature – is placed at the centre of the metaverse. If business, government and society can move with intention together, the humanverse and metaverse can meet at the epicentre of human empathy.

Here we seek to shed light on both “verses” in hopes of moving forward together towards a better future for humanity.

The metaverse vs the humanverse

The metaverse is a “space where humans experience life in ways they could not in the physical world”, according to Tech Target. Today, the metaverse has moved us from imaginary worlds in science fiction to tangible, realistic experiences.

Applications and platforms such as Meta, Roblox, VRChat and ChatGPT abound in the metaverse movement, which continues to grow. According to McKinsey research conducted in 2022: “While the metaverse continues to be defined, its potential to unleash the next wave of digital disruption is clear.

“In the first five months of 2022, more than $120 billion has been invested in building out metaverse technology and infrastructure. That’s more than double the $57 billion invested in all of 2021.”

In addition, and as outlined in the World Economic Formum’s Metaverse Transformation Map, there is not really an inch of industry that lies outside of the impact of emerging technologies such as augmented reality, virtual reality, artificial intelligence and so on.

But as billions are pooled into the metaverse, we ponder long-term returns and whether the adjacent investment is made into human’s most basic needs: food, water and shelter.

Is this investment adequate? The United Nations estimates that between $3.3-4.5 trillion per year needs to be mobilized to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Humanity needs strategic investment. While the metaverse calls us to leave the physical world into higher realms, it is the very physical world that most critically needs our attention, our urgent action and our capital investments.

Enter the humanverse, a counterbalance that needs adoption and deep absorption into the metaverse culture. The humanverse is a lens through which businesses can model their strategies and operations to align with and prioritize humanity.

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What is the World Economic Forum doing to champion social innovation?

Beyond being a core tenant and guiding value, the humanverse offers a business model for all humanity. Whether a product or service-based company, industry can solve tangible problems for people and nature with the outcome being a healthier workforce, economy and society – all factors that business needs to be successful in the first place.

The bridge between the metaverse and the humanverse

There are ever-present distinctions between the metaverse's systematic domains and the humanverse's emotional and social realities.

Developers and researchers are working hard to balance innovation, efficiency and speed without eliminating creative thinking and natural instinct of the workforce.

We applaud the work being done to find a metaverse-humanverse counterpoint. For example:

  • Traditional learning has evolved into immersive learning opportunities, distilling global connections and serving as a powerful medium.
  • The metaverse is attempting to address mental health solutions, while shedding light on ways to manage digital fatigue.
  • Various internal platforms promote inclusivity, diversity and accessibility.
  • Virtual spaces are fostering the prioritization of real-world and real-time connections.
  • Virtual gatherings, events and the rise of avatar-based socialization are helping translate virtual relationships to genuine human connections and emotional intelligence.

Accountability in the metaverse and humanverse

We believe harmonious coexistence could occur between these two worlds of the metaverse and the humanverse. To be successful in both, we must ensure we act with intention and truthfulness and extinguish the opportunity for greed to take hold.

First, businesses are responsible for being introspective about their impact on humanity. As innovations such as the metaverse are developed, is human-centric and nature-centric design being leveraged from the start?

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Are stakeholders, investors and start-ups ensuring their technology serves humanity, and accounting for diversity, assistive features and equality across demographics?

There are not only positive externalities created by business, but negative externalities. The humanverse holds businesses accountable to identifying the second and third-order consequences of their products, services, technologies and practices before they are launched into the marketplace.

Secondly, businesses must seek, face, follow and share the truth before launching a product, service or technology in the metaverse, and consider the following:

  • Is my business action in the metaverse harming people or nature?
  • Can our company deploy our finite resources more effectively in the humanverse?
  • Are we operating from a point of greed or from a point of empathy for humanity?

Moreover, businesses have an inherent responsibility to shareholders to accurately declare risk on the balance sheet. If not accounting for the impact on humanity, the risk to shareholders increases over time.

By surfacing the potential risks, businesses can address them early on, while not restricting the advancement of positive externalities created by business.

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We must keep focus on humankind

We, as humankind, have the capacity to solve the world’s biggest challenges.

Currently, much of the capital being deployed in technologies, such as metaverse, is at the expense of addressing very human problems that exist here and now, like extreme poverty, chronic hunger, malnutrition, mental health, climate change, natural disasters and inequality.

Businesses cannot escape the human condition and leave humanity behind by deploying capital in the future of the metaverse and turning a blind eye to current human suffering.

So instead, let’s get grounded in the humanverse as a place where people and nature are valued and prioritized to achieve societal impact and profit.

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