Much is being made of ‘metaverse’. Here’s sifting through the hype to understand the tech inflection

By August 5, 2022Metaverse
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We’ll certainly see a huge amount of iniquitous innovation involving identity theft, fraud, religious and political polarisation, and exploitation in this journey.
Anil Nair
Anil Nair

Ever since Facebook changed its company name to Meta, possibly to reposition a social media company to a futuristic tech one, metaverse has become a buzzword. Prominent metaverse players include chipmakers AMD and Nvidia, 3D software maker Unity Technologies, content delivery player Cloudflare, data centre company Marvell Technology, platform and social media entity Tencent Holdings, Epic Games and Microsoft. The market, however, perceived Roblox, an immersive world for gamers, as the first metaverse IPO in 2021.

The wide swathe of metaverse solutions encompasses hardware like displays, sensors, smartglasses and headsets, programming and asset creation software tools, technologies, virtual platforms and marketplaces. Grand View Research estimates the global market size at $47.5 billion in 2022, growing to $679 billion by 2030, at a CAGR of 39.4%.

Web3 is an imperative in this space - infrastructure built on technologies like augmented/virtual reality (AR/VR), blockchain, 5G, artificial intelligence (AI) and the cloud - that enables functional systems like governance, economic and social models, as well as cryptocurrencies and non-fungible tokens (NFTs). To comprehend this tech inflection better - and go beyond the hype - here are five potential use-cases in verticals we must look at:

Fashion. Imagine a high street lined with attractive storefronts, inviting your digital persona in. The in-shop experience, transformed with AR/VR, will have store sizes and enhancements extending well beyond what budgets in the real world would permit. Product displays would have much greater variety, and your virtual avatar could try on clothes and shoes without any physical exertion. The shop could offer exclusive limited-edition versions, even styles still on the drawing board. Online checkouts would enable physical delivery.

Real Estate. The metaverse option can create unprecedented interest, eliminating the physical tedium of multiple house-hunting visits. A virtual replica could recreate the dwelling - and the surroundings. Now, your virtual persona can get a better feel of the stores next door, where your morning walk will take you in the campus and outside, what equipment your gym has, and what the common amenities are. Within the house, you can reorganise spaces, rooms and colours, limited only by engineering constraints. And then there's digital real estate offered by entities like The Sandbox, Decentraland and Cryptovoxels, bought using NFTs, which can be designed, and then retained or monetised.

Let's Sing the Metaverse
Sport. In a metaverse sports arena, your avatar could snap pictures with stars, chat, train or party with them, with other sports enthusiasts, and with friends in other countries. You could run alongside players, step on the pitch, or join the cheerleaders. Special cameras in the VIP box would enable panoramic, zoom-in views and playback options. It also opens up avenues for sportswear, equipment, merchandise and souvenirs. Interactive gamification and pre- and post-match entertainment opportunities add to the list of possibilities. As does content creation, enabled by real-life spatial audio effects.

Healthcare. Metaverse needs to be a perfect amalgam of physical, virtual and augmented reality in healthcare. In countries like India, grappling with an acute shortage of medical personnel, telemedicine consultations got a fillip thanks to Covid, with tests getting administered locally. Now, the remote interaction gets almost real with AR/VR, as if the doctor is in the same room, perfect for patients consulting psychologists or psychiatrists. Digital twins of humans can be created to probe various what-if situations including reactions to medicines, or simulating future hazards.

With the use of blockchain, electronic health records would be secure, transparent and easy to share across multiple organisations. Immersiveness will further enable automated surgeries involving expert surgeons at different locations, unhindered by the lack of information, detail or collaboration tools. Virtual hospitals are on the cards for accident interventions, physiotherapy and counselling.

Gaming. The video gaming industry has grown rapidly. Metaverse is changing the rules of the game. If participation created excitement, imagine the enthusiasm when your own digital avatar plays to win. Being restricted indoors during Covid boosted gaming substantially. But chip shortages and the undersupply of gaming devices had temporarily curbed growth. Renewed investments are now spurring innovation in products, services, brands, merchandise, collectibles and customer communities. And in NFTs too. Wearables and bodysuits to simulate sensations and provide sensory feedback will be yet another important constituent here.

Little wonder we have recently seen

Infosys

NSE 1.05 % launch a metaverse foundry,

TCS

NSE 0.30 % investing in an extended reality lab,

Tech Mahindra

NSE 0.20 % starting TechMVerse, and Accenture begin to onboard 150,000 metaverse resources.

Can't Get More Metaworse
It all started in 1992, when Neal Stephenson's science fiction novel, Snow Crash, envisioned a world run by a few powerful corporations, after the collapse of governments and the global economy. The metaverse, an alternate world accessible with goggles and earphones, offered people an escape.

We'll certainly see a huge amount of iniquitous innovation involving identity theft, fraud, religious and political polarisation, and exploitation in this journey. While there's no doubt that metaverse must definitely promote the highest levels of comprehensive data security, it will have to provide comprehensive emotional safety too.

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this column are that of the writer. The facts and opinions expressed here do not reflect the views of www.economictimes.com.)

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