This week was International Men's Day and the Global Institute for Women's Leadership...read more
Matthew Ball’s new book on the Metaverse outlines our emerging future and charts how it will affect so many aspects of our lives, including the way we work.
If you’ve spent the summer worrying about your kids spending a lot of their time – or wanting to – on Minecraft, Roblox and the like – it may be that that anxiety is slightly misplaced. Maybe they are just preparing for working life in the future.
A new book on the Metaverse tracks its beginnings back to computer games, from Dungeons & Dragons through to Second Life, Minecraft and Roblox which blazed the way for global online interactive platforms that focus on collaboration, mainly because they were able to design a place “where someone would actually want to spend time in” and where engagement was vital.
The book, The Metaverse and how it will revolutionise everything by Matthew Ball, CEO of angel investment firm Epyllion and former global head of strategy at Amazon Studios, cites Microsoft’s Bill Gates saying that in the next two to three years most virtual meetings will move from 2D camera image grids to the metaverse. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, who renamed his company ‘Meta’, has also said that much of what will make up the Metaverse will become mainstream in the next decade. Other tech entrepreneurs think it will take longer. What they all say is that that day will come. Ball predicts moves toward it will be gradual, as it was with the mobile phone takeover, and that those moves have been accelerated by Covid and the mass movement to online working, particularly by the older generation. “There will be no clear ‘before Metaverse’ and ‘after Metaverse’ – only the ability to look back at a point in history when life was different,” he writes, adding that “nearly everyone born today is a gamer”.
The risk is that the tech giants close down the global online space and seek to control it for their own benefit. Ball cites video game programmer and businessman Tim Sweeney who warns that if one central company gains control of the Metaverse, “they will become more powerful than any government and be a God on Earth”.
The book begins by defining what the Metaverse is – a massive interoperable network of real-time rendered 3D virtual worlds that can be experienced synchronously and persistently by an unlimited number of users with an individual sense of presence and continuity of data.
Ball refuses to succumb to the more dystopian views of the future and says it is all still to play for. He argues that “it’s essential that we – users, developers, consumers and voters – understand that we have agency over our future and the ability to reset the status quo”. He adds: “The Metaverse can seem daunting and scary, but it also offers a chance to bring people closer together, to transform industries that have long resisted disruption and that must evolve, and to build a more equal global economy.”
In his book, he goes through the different aspects that need to come together to move us towards a world where the potential benefits of the Metaverse can be felt by all. They include technological progress of course [including ideas such as how we could earn tokens allowing us to share any computing capacity we don’t use], interoperability between platforms, hardware advances [VR headsets and the like that can connect to multiple devices] and payment rails, including the potential and challenges of blockchains. Ball says that while blockchain may be hyped by some, it remains that one of the central lessons of the computing era is that “the platforms that best serve developers and users will win”.
So how will the Metaverse affect industry in the near future? In the closing chapters, Ball outlines all sorts of ways, from the simulations used now to design and understand a building or project to how store design will be selected and altered in real time based on how customers use the space; the use of digital twins in the aerospace and defence industries to how medical students might use 3D simulation to explore the human body.
The economic drivers are there though. Some, such as Nvidia’s Jensen Huang, predict the economic gains of the Metaverse will eventually be more than those of the physical world and Ball adds that any attempt to put a figure on its value will be imprecise, given that its influence is in every area and its power to disrupt, even to overthrow some of the current tech giants.
What is needed, he says, is proper regulation. Ball ends with an assertion that he is certain that the future will be increasingly centred around real-time rendered 3D virtual worlds. Technology will improve, regulators will scrutinise the big tech companies more and interoperability will be achieved slowly. There will be hype as companies overpromise and underplay technical difficulties, but, he says, it is coming. What is needed is not just technological improvements but the imagination to visualise better how the Metaverse can be used for good. He concludes: “Whenever a technological breakthrough occurs, consumers, developers and entrepreneurs respond. Eventually, a thing that seems trivial – a mobile phone, a touchscreen, a video game – becomes essential, and ends up changing the world in ways both predicted and never even considered.”