Emerging Technologies

Future of the internet: Why we need convergence and governance for sustained growth

The future internet will be characterized by a convergent set of technologies such as extended reality, artificial intelligence and blockchain.

The future internet will be characterized by a convergent set of technologies such as extended reality, artificial intelligence and blockchain. Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Thomas Beckley
Fellow, Metaverse Initiative, World Economic Forum Geneva
Ross Genovese
Project Fellow, Defining and Building the Metaverse, World Economic Forum Geneva
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Horizon Scan: Andrew Ng

  • Over the next decade, the convergence of technologies will give rise to new virtual experiences for consumers, the workforce and enterprise.
  • Companies will benefit if they can harness these technological combinations as organizations collaborate to bring novel capabilities to market.
  • We must advance guidance for trustworthy digital governance principles to ensure the future internet is safe, sustainable and equitable.

The Defining and Building the Metaverse initiative has, since its inception, engaged the concept of the metaverse as the nexus for the next era of the internet. The voices of our community have been clear that the future internet will be characterized by a convergent set of technologies.

Extended reality, artificial intelligence (AI) and blockchain will not exist in silos, but will be experienced collectively and concurrently by users and enterprises.

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Synergies between these technologies will add transformative use cases and elevate the internet experience for both enterprise and individual users. This will lead to significant economic and social value creation, while emphasizing the essential need for cross-industry collaboration to build more robust, trustworthy and widely agreed-upon governance frameworks.

Examining and advancing the opportunities for convergence and the governance required to realize its value in a safe and sustainable manner will be the major pursuit of the initiative as we focus on the future of the internet.

Value creation through technology convergence

Metaverse technologies, in combination with frontier technologies like AI, are innovating processes for consumers, the workforce and enterprise.

In the coming years, the convergence of these emerging technologies will accelerate the state of the internet in experience and infrastructure, creating a seamless interface between our real and digital worlds. This fusion will form new capabilities and use cases, creating new and innovative potential for social and economic value.

For instance, spatial learning experiences are showing strong success as tools in both industry and user contexts. These learning experiences can be further enriched by incorporating generative AI to improve quality and broaden platform scope and impact.

Similarly, frictionless integration and deployment of AI in immersive experiences can multiply the impact of the AI model’s value. Blockchain also adds an element of transparency, trust and potential for asset ownership within immersive spaces that fosters economies and the transfer of value across digital environments.

Companies have taken note of the revolutionary impact brought through the convergence of emerging technologies and have begun bridging solutions to expand the art of the possible across their enterprise functions and offerings, and in turn, multiplying their impact and value creation.

Early movers are demonstrating practical use cases and driving growth, through:

1. New consumer experiences with extended reality leveraging AI and blockchain powered smart contracts for more secure and agile payment and security systems, to immersive commerce with AI-powered avatars that offer human like versatility, servicing the full customer life cycle with on-demand support.

Convergence in action: Over The Reality is a Web3 project creating a decentralized virtual representation of the physical world where users can craft, explore and monetize augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) experiences. Powered by blockchain, users are incentivized to contribute to the project by being remunerated for their contributions through a native token.

2. New enterprise experiences through conversational AI-led avatar simulations and generative AI-enhanced VR trainings, to AI-generated avatars for simulations trained on data from real associates which are then used to test new workflows for enhanced worker ergonomics and efficiency.

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How is the World Economic Forum contributing to the metaverse?

Convergence in action: VirtualSpeech is a VR & AI-enabled enterprise learning platform used to train employees in workplace skills such as sales, public speaking and leadership. The platform enables users to practice newly learned strategies and provides instant feedback after each session.

3. New industrial experiences with enhanced supply chain traceability and transparency by utilizing blockchain, internet of things (IoT) and cloud, to AI-enhanced digital twins of factories and supply chains to generate synthetic data that can then be used to train AI/ML models. This is helping businesses to accelerate data-driven decision-making, improve performance and make predictive maintenance more actionable when visualized through facility or machine digital twins.

Convergence in action: ENGAGE XR and Lenovo are combining the power of generative AI and spatial computing to design and build virtual environments through spoken instructions. The conversational AI builds scenarios being verbally described, streamlining the creation process for digital environments and assets, resulting in hundreds of thousands of dollars in savings.

As technologies bridge together in more seamless ways, the resulting value impact could be much larger than the sum of their parts. Stakeholders stand to witness a multiplier effect if they can harness the combinations successfully. To this end, we will continue to see partnerships evolve, where organizations collaborate to combine each other’s strengths to bring novel capabilities to market.

Building trust to deliver a sustainable future internet

The imperative of robust internet governance is not new, but standing on the precipice of the internet’s next era offers an opportunity to take stock of progress made and opportunities to continue developing.

To bring about this future internet safely, sustainably and equitably, it is necessary to advance guidance for trustworthy governance principles in accordance with the evolving needs and rights of users.

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The Defining and Building the Metaverse initiative’s governance track will apply the World Economic Forum’s work on digital trust to create principals for governance, enabling stakeholders to make confident decisions that holistically benefit operational processes and end recipients.

The initiative will advance an understanding of the value of the next era of the internet, as well as guidance for pursuing and delivering that value in a safe, sustainable, trustworthy manner, but it will be up to the stakeholders to join us in delivering on that mission.

Governments, businesses, academia and civil society all have critical roles to play as the convergence of emerging technologies fundamentally transforms our internet experience, and the Defining and Building the Metaverse Initiative will aim to be a launchpad for these sector-spanning partnerships.

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Related topics:
Emerging TechnologiesFourth Industrial Revolution
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