It feels like when it comes to big technology revolutions with everything else going on – especially everything that has happened over the past few years – we wish we could just shout into the void “We’ll deal with it tomorrow.”
We have proven it repeatedly. With things like networking in the cloud – people resisted and said, “We’ll deal with it tomorrow” and then it came to bite them.
Obviously, there have been some extreme circumstances in recent times which have accelerated certain technologies – although they had been around for some time. That feeling of being bitten by a technology that you were not expecting to have to deal with is something of a pattern.
The Metaverse and friends in all their different guises are the next of these things which we cannot just say that we will deal with tomorrow.
If we do, it is going to come and give us a nasty virtual shock.
In the movie (or the much better book), Ready Player One, there is a virtual synthetic future world that we will one day be living in, connected to suits with feedback gloves and reclining gaming chairs. Basically, plugged into a virtual world for much of our day – for work, play, education, and all the other things that we do with the internet.
That is what we are all expecting to have arrived by now and we are all somewhat disappointed…… or maybe you’re not disappointed whatsoever.
We had this idea that we were going to be doing a lot more already in these virtual spaces, and it feels like 2022 may be where we are beginning to see this stuff come to some fruition. None of it is particularly new. Let me give you this example. There is a video easily found by a search from the US shopping chain, Walmart, giving a sense of what shopping in the Metaverse might be like in the future.
We see a shopper/user travelling around a virtual experience, talking to a synthetic avatar who is guiding us. You would think this is quite recent. Actually, this video is from 2017 and then it went no further, there was no advancement whatsoever.
Virtual worlds are not a new thing. Second life, The Sims, we’ve all played around with them and more recently, you’re probably much more familiar with watching kids play Fortnite or Call of Duty.
These are all ‘Metaverses’ and they ladder up into a broader train, which is maybe a more useful way of framing it – we are talking about Web 3.
Let’s take a quick tour of the history of the internet.
First, we had the early days of technology used by governments, we had programs and we were connected through data that was predominantly cables. The first real generation was the browser with websites, and we had servers and then more lately, over the past couple of decades, we have had bits of glass and plastic that we carry around with us since the mobile revolution began.
This new Metaverse revolution of technology is what is coming for us next.
It is made up of a few different components. XR, a mixed reality. You will hear Augmented Reality, AR, you’ll hear Virtual Reality, VR. We are going to go with a mix. XR. Mixed reality. This is the end of keyboards and mice, or glass and thumbs. Instead, moving entirely to virtual environments that we end up wearing in some way. AI is the logic that manages all of it, taking in many more senses and making predicted judgements on how we will interact with the spaces and then the blockchain is the underpinning of many of these new services. Particularly, as we think about the more centralised Metaverses. The tipping point has been the Augmented Reality and virtual reality headsets. Think Oculus, now most recently named Meta Quest 2. There was a moment over Christmas 2021 where everyone thought that suddenly everyone had gone out and purchased one of these because the Oculus app was top of the iTunes app store and then it dwindled away very quickly after that.
So, we have these Metaverses, that are centralised and owned by the likes of Facebook, slash Meta. (You can see what they are going for there) and obviously Microsoft and others.
Whether or not we want it isn’t really the question. The reality is that the future is going to be a hybrid one, and we have to get used to it.
There are also new decentralised worlds here as well. In particular, Decentraland, or Sandbox where you can buy virtual land and start staking claims of virtual goods. There are a couple of these emerging technologies that are living on the blockchain, powered by smart contracts. There is no particular big, centralised owner of them. Whether you’re going to go hang out in one of these or the other, it does present an opportunity. In many ways, this has been our lives for the past couple of years.
Many people have started a new job or moved virtually in recent times. There are people who have taken up their first ‘proper’ job out of college or leaving university. Now, imagine you don’t have 10, 15, or 20 years of career history, before you, where you worked in rooms with other people or dealt with the wonderful commute and being underneath somebody else’s, armpit on the Jubilee Line.
For some of the workforce, this is their only known existence and asking people to come back into these office spaces and do life like this is actually a very different thing. Whether or not we want it isn’t really the question. The reality is that the future is going to be a hybrid one, and we have to get used to it.
Perhaps the Metaverse provides the next step that will make that juncture between online and offline and that hybrid / virtual lifestyle easier to digest. Microsoft seems to think so.
Air pods have overcome one of the biggest training wheels for the voice ecosystem. If you were to take Air Pods away from Apple today and list it as a separate business on the stock market, it would be bigger than Nvidia or Adobe. That gives you a sense of how many they are shipping.
So, this is where Microsoft and Co seem to think we’re heading and there are already virtual Metaverses for all sorts of things. The largest church in America, LifeChurch.TV has hosted their Metaverse church services on Sundays, where you can go in as a Metaverse avatar and watch a live worship service with other people and chat alongside them.
You can go into the virtual coffee shop before and after to have discussions with people. It is going to change the way in which we meet together and not just in the professional sense but in all sorts of different ways.
Of course, virtual is a hard thing to get our heads around. You have to wear it on your head and so there’s a high likelihood that this is actually going to be a lot more augmented than virtual reality. Ray-Ban spectacles, in collaboration with Meta, have now been developed which have a little camera on the top that allows you to get digitalisation.
The future versions of these will be living with digital objects and hanging out in these spaces and playing or socialising with digital experiences overlaid upon the real world and also intellectual world and be reliant on a way of managing and exchanging data. This leads us to the world of NFTs which will be one of the core parts of managing these Metaverse experiences. For good reason.
NFTs have made the press for the big-money deals and glamour more than their practical uses. You could join a virtual club with celebrities to hang out with cool people – a possible outcome should you pay out for an NFT. Some of them have some interesting leverage such as appearing on podcasts which go out to a wide audience and helping NFT owners to build their own social following.
Some of these contracts that are being set up have some interesting opportunities indeed. This is also true in the world of business where we are beginning to see smart contracts, blockchain and NFTs.
A real example of this is a company called Imparta which is beginning to produce employment contracts entirely on the blockchain. When a job seeker wants to be employed, they would have their own digital certificate and their own employment passport, essentially, a version of their CV, plus their credentials. Maybe some biometric data to prove who they are as well. The job seeker can then validate that via a smart contract with the employer, it gets logged on the blockchain and the disclosure of that information is made public and recorded for all time. Helpful, particularly if there’s a tribunal down the line, or just to pass on employment history proof in the next company along the line.
Running at he speed of voice
Then we have an additional layer on top of this, which is voice. This is particularly interesting for the world of connected devices. We are all spending a lot more time with these things in our pockets and in car holsters. A study for the voice consumer Index with 2,000 participants each from the UK, US and Germany looked at the way in which people are using voice assistance and voice devices today. Over one-third of them are already using these at least daily and over half of them are using them at least once a week. What they are doing with them is a plethora of things from asking virtual assistants like Alexa or Google Home devices for help with search queries, starting and ending meetings and managing a lot of their day-to-day to-do lists, calendars, and many other tasks that we managed around our lives.
Air pods have overcome one of the biggest training wheels for the voice ecosystem. If you were to take Air Pods away from Apple today and list it as a separate business on the stock market, it would be bigger than Nvidia or Adobe. That gives you a sense of how many they are shipping. The more hours that we wander around with these in our ears, talking to virtual assistants, we are training ourselves to have these conversations aloud. The virtual assistants that’ll help us manage our day-to-day tasks.
They are getting us onboarded through a virtual future.
What we do know is that when we go into the Metaverse, with these digital avatars, is that it is not going to run at the speed of fingers on keyboards or thumbs on glass, it is going to have to run at the speed of voice. Trying to virtually type with two big things in your hand is quite difficult and if you are going to be wandering around with virtual spectacles, you can’t be swiping. We are going to need to be able to talk to these devices and have them talk back to us.
We’re seeing these new examples of contracts begin to emerge and as they do, they will interact with the blockchain and digital immersible spaces.
These types of validating contracts exist because when we’re in the virtual world, how are we going to manage who’s there? How do we manage voting rights, large corporations, and connections, and be able to prove that the persona at the other end of an endpoint really is that person they claim to be?
We are beginning to see some interesting examples of how that might be managed in the future and NFTs will be at the core here.
This is an interesting opportunity to talk about deepfakes, which will also feature in this next revolution. Not so much in recent times when we have been stuck at home, but we are used to putting on these different looks in places that we are going to be, such as the office or if we go to a restaurant, but, of course, when you are living in a Metaverse world, you don’t need a different look. Or do you? Virtual avatars that look the same for all interactions? Perhaps we don’t necessarily want our avatars to be wearing the same if we wander into the virtual church service on Sunday as we do going into a big business meeting or playing virtual volleyball with somebody. We are going to see an evolution of these avatars in many ways.
Dolce and Gabbana recently held a virtual fashion show not to view the latest in real-world clothing designs, but to showcase digital avatars.
We think of avatars as being very low polygon, cartoon-like and basic. Easy to render. But what we are going to see over time is, as more time is spent in the Metaverse, a deeper and more interesting space is going to emerge where we are going to have a lot more attention paid to what we look like and how we sound. An interesting evolution here is the development of virtual voices and virtual audio which will and already is emerging in things like call centre technology. Synthetic voices, essentially, digital deepfake voices can be created in a matter of just a few minutes. Synthetic copies of a real voice to scale for customer service sounds useful but will again come with security and misuse concerns. Especially in the voice authentication space.
This again will connect with the world of NFTs. You see, in the Metaverse everything is synthetic. The one thing that is live and in person at that moment is your voice.
If we are going to begin using these things for tasks like banking transactions, taking meetings, holding town halls and so much more, one of the important things we need to know, is that the voices we hear from one another are real.
When we live in a world where our image and our voice can be deepfaked, how are we going to be able to prove that our voice is our voice? And, if anything can be faked, surely we will start to question reality.
We’re going to see an evolution and we’ve already seen a couple of projects start recently on this with the exchanges of non-fungible voices. Not just non-fungible tokens because we are going to need a way to prove the ownership of our own voices in the Metaverse.
Deepfake expert Nina Schick
Internationally renowned author, advisor and speaker
From election meddling to Covid-19 being linked to 5G networks, disinformation campaigns have enjoyed a revival in recent years.
Specialising in how technology is transforming society, Nina Schick is an expert in deepfakes and synthetic media, cybersecurity and the geopolitics of technology.
She has advised global leaders including the President of the United States and the former Secretary General of NATO. Nina is also the author of ‘Deep Fakes and the Infocalypse: What You Urgently Need to Know’.
Nina Schick was our first keynote speaker at Frontiers 2022
“When we consider the tech solutions, there are two ways to look at it: detection and provenance, or authentication".
"On the authentication side, some major tech giants are hoping to set industry standards to authenticate media from the point of capture. On the detection side, while there are many efforts already underway, given the nature of the AI behind synthetic media, every time the detection capability gets better, so does the generation. We still don’t even know if, eventually, the AI will become so smart that it will be able to fool any detector.” - Nina Schick
The Metaverse is going to be our future and we need to make sure that it happens in the right way. Whether that means that we stay alert to these new versions of connected devices that we are going to wear and question the ethics of what data we are giving away to the companies that manage them or whether it’s thinking about new forms of identity, contracts, and their exchange. We have to keep our eyes open and co-create the future, together.
All of these elements are going to make up the next version of Web 3.0 from 2.0. For all of us that work with businesses and connect businesses, this is something that we do not want to be sitting around waiting and saying, “We’ll deal with that tomorrow”. We need to be dealing with it today and getting ahead of it today to ensure that it is something that we can truly cope with in the years to come.
Credit: James Poulter | CEO | Vixen Labs
Nina Schick was our first keynote speaker at Frontiers 2022
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