After the hype - what’s next for the metaverse?
When Facebook changed its name to Meta and presented its big plans for the metaverse to a major media buzz, many believed the technology would radically change our lives. Now the dust has settled, what comes next?
“Real life is all about encounters” – wise words by German writer Martin Buber, but what if in future the nature of encounters were to change completely? What if people started running into each other less and less in everyday life, “meeting” instead in virtual worlds? Would that change the way we interact with each other – indeed all kinds of social interaction – and could it even change the parts we play in our economy?
These are all questions that have been raised – at the latest since Meta announced its plans for the metaverse. The consequences? Views differ greatly – as can be seen from the conversations we had with Stanford professor Fred Turner or with Liz Hyman, CEO of the XR Association, an organisation at the forefront of the development of augmented reality and virtual reality technologies.
The many facets of the metaverse
This issue of our What Next web magazine explores how the metaverse could develop in the future. Our authors looked at completely different fields like art, banking, fashion, medicine and soccer.
Criticism comes from Fred Turner who says immersion in virtual worlds does not make people behave in a more engaged way; rather, because it primarily serves commercial interests, it stimulates the most primitive part of our brain. Ultimately, Turner even sees the metaverse, if aligned with economic objectives that serve only few individuals, as a threat to democracy. He fears that mixing the real and virtual worlds could actually encourage a way of thinking and acting that is the opposite of rational, creating, he says, a place that is the very antithesis of a state in which people can engage in rational debate and make decisions – a state on which every democracy depends.
Liz Hyman’s view of the metaverse is a more positive one. She highlights the much more intense and personal contact companies can have in the metaverse with their customers, partners and employees. She is also upbeat about the recent sharp drop in attention the metaverse has been getting and believes that once the hype has died down, a more realistic and balanced approach will become possible.
That's exactly what we looked into for our dossier – for completely different fields of application: art, banking, fashion, medicine and soccer. Our research shows that a number of industries are already implementing ingenious ideas and have promising approaches. For example, Sabih Behzad, Head of Digital Assets & Currencies Transformation at Deutsche Bank, sees major fashion brands are already setting up stores in the metaverse. Behzad outlines how they can connect with their customers there in ways never seen before – and what that means for the real world.
Stadium atmosphere with TV commentary
Another future use case Behzad is fascinated by is the idea of watching soccer matches in the metaverse. While today you have to choose between experiencing the great atmosphere of the stadium on the one hand and the commentator and replays on TV on the other, the metaverse could offer a mix. Without having to travel, you could enjoy a stadium-like atmosphere from your armchair. "Creating additional experiences is interesting for the big European clubs who have fans all over the world," says Behzad, himself a Manchester United fan.
Artists like Cao Fei and LuYang could also make their art accessible to even more people with the help of the metaverse as virtual worlds create new opportunities. "The boundary between the physical and the virtual is increasingly blurred and entangled," says Cao Fei. "Rather than viewing them as separate entities, they are often integrated. And it allows for a multi-dimensional and immersive encounter, where the boundaries between the real and the virtual are intertwined."
What the metaverse could mean for banking, industrial processes and consumers
Enabling encounters in virtual worlds is also something banks are looking into. They want to use it to open up new ways of interacting with their clients and accompanying them on their journey into the metaverse. This is one of the reasons why Deutsche Bank opened a 3D lounge on Decentraland, one of the leading metaverse platforms, with another lounge coming soon. "The metaverse is where our target group of tomorrow is”, says Tim Alexander, who heads Global Brand & Marketing at Deutsche Bank.
This is not only true for banks, DWS fund manager Manuel Mühl believes. He launched a metaverse fund at the beginning of 2023, which invests in around 50 companies. Mühl knows the market well. In some parts of the industry, he says, the metaverse has become indispensable. This mainly involves highly complex processes that can be simulated in the metaverse without much effort. This is much cheaper and less error-prone than testing them in reality. Medicine in particular is already benefiting from this: VR applications can be used, for example, to practice surgical procedures and train medical professionals.
It will probably be a while before private individuals visit virtual worlds on a large scale, though. According to a study by Capgemini last year, nine out of ten consumers worldwide are interested in the topic, but only a few have actually immersed themselves in a virtual world. Mühl expects the technical possibilities of the metaverse to mature over the next ten years. So, until then, companies still have some time to experiment.
… is interested in the opportunities the metaverse offers today – and how the technology will develop in the future.
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