The digital transformation that enveloped the world during the pandemic has been a Supernova moment, as I have vehemently believed. However, the pace at which technology is evolving to create a futuristic digital world, we may not have to wait decades before the next big groundbreaking explosion.
The 'Metaverse' is already creating noise, more so as Facebook has decided to invest $10 billion into this division this year.
But what is metaverse? Think of a shared virtual world, a convergence of the physical, augmented and virtual reality where users can interact with each other in real-time in scenarios that could be endless. Some may argue that we have already had a fair taste of the metaverse with virtual multi-player games.
Also, tech and gaming stocks are already harping on this trend to make profits, say for example game creation systems like Roblox.
But I do believe that this immersive, de-centralised spatial world will be more than that; it will have immense potential to revolutionise, yet again, how we live, work and use technology to interact with one another.
It won't be an exaggeration to say, if the concept is actualised, it will revolutionise the market the same way as mobile phones did in the late 80s and early 90s.
And it won't be restricted to user engagement within the virtual world, it is expected to exist as an extension to the real economy, allowing organisations and individuals to build, invest and trade in products and services.
The backbone of it all - new technologies such as Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (VR), Mixed Reality (MR) and Artificial Intelligence (AI).
New-age tech to propel the new immersive world
While it might not be entirely clear how the Metaverse will eventually shape up, but it is certain that new-age technologies will play an enabling role. Advancements in AR, VR which collectively create MR, make this interconnected virtual world possible.
The metaverse will be driven by software and the technology is what will provide us the rich experiences. Gartner's annual report on tech hype says that MR has already reached a plateau of productivity with significant adoption, despite metaverse still being a work-in-progress in many ways.
Moreover, Allied Market Research has pointed out that the MR industry is expected to reach $454.73 billion by 2030. Gartner also predicts digital humans to be prominent in the next level of immersion giving stimulus to Extended Reality (XR) in the next decade.
The genesis of a metaverse will also serve as a catalyst for the creation of blockchain platforms that are focused on decentralised governance or finance.
Cryptocurrency projects such as MANA already combine VR social aspect with blockchain technology to ensure transparency and fair governance.
Having their own currency also means that they have created a digital economy that also transitions into real-world creating real incomes.
Testing in the virtual world for the real world
The virtual that can transition into the real world will also enable organisations to prototype systems in this virtual world, test and analyse functioning to make optimal designs without needing access to actual hardware.
With the increasing usage of AI and robotics in supply chains, this will perhaps assume a critical role in safe and efficient operations.
Markets such as agriculture technology, autonomous driving are building simulations including environments, sensors and robots to test software in realistic virtual worlds and try physical integrations before finally implementing them in the real world.
The metaverse which mimics the real world can make this process faster, safer and more cost-effective. This could perhaps also allow real users to set foot in the industrial metaverse making them a part of the product development process from the very beginning.
Also Read: Disney looks to become the happiest place in the metaverse
The Consumer to not just engage but Co-create
This brings me to the metaverse not being centralised. This new space will be all-encompassing, empowering the users to co-create, engage and collaborate.
I see a future where we will be able to create a solid interface between brands and consumers which uses creative processes to effective design and test products of the future.
People will be able to access this world through any device and be able to create, own or invest in varied experiences. It can also provide an opportunity for people to engage with governance.
It was interesting to read how Seoul has become the first major city to announce its entry into the metaverse with plans to establish a platform for contactless communication by 2022 and a metaverse centre that will serve as a virtual city hall for residents.
Metaverse is set to impact the physical world across sections - services, products, leisure, education, governance and so much more.
In fact, of the many ways that AI and other technologies will mould the metaverse, the most critical will be the interface between the physical and the virtual world.
As we carefully navigate the future with metaverse, it will also remain essential to be cognizant of the challenges it might bring. Measures will have to be incorporated to avoid issues such as data privacy and misinformation to plague the metaverse.
Individuals and organisations alike must be ready to brace this new world order which makes the virtual world more real and the real world more enriched with virtual experience, transforming the future of work, life, leisure and governance.
(The author is Group CEO, WNS and Past Chairman, NASSCOM.)
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