The Metaverse - right now, it’s all anyone can talk about, whether it’s online or offline. It may seem like a recent buzzword, but the idea has actually been around since 1992, first appearing in a sci-fi novel. It’s hard to define exactly what the metaverse means, as the technology behind it is evolving to include many aspects of virtual reality. Put simply, it’s an all-encompassing digital world that exists in parallel to the real world.
The company Somnium Space was one of the earliest open source metaverse platforms on the market. The Exchange spoke to its founder and CEO Artur Sychov to find out more about what it's like to live, work and play in this alternate environment.
"When you are in virtual reality like I am right now, I'm fully connected to the environment. I am here mentally and let's say physical mentally, right? Because my brain, my eyes, everything I see, I believe that I'm inside the space," said Sychov.
Growing metaverse economy
Somnium Space may have been one of the pioneer metaverse platforms, but it’s seen many rivals joining the race in recent times.
Facebook recently rebranded itself into Meta, showing its commitment to making the metaverse a big part of its business strategy. But the likes of Microsoft, Alphabet, Roblox and NVIDIA have also invested heavily into VR.
The metaverse economy offers the potential of a wide range of revenue streams, with some estimates predicting it could become an $800 billion-dollar market in just two years and that it could contribute $3 trillion dollars to the global economy in the next decade.
It’s not all fun and games in the metaverse. The vast world of virtual reality can also offer companies opportunities to find solutions online to apply to the real world. And these solutions are what consulting firm PwC is hoping to create through its newest tech lab in the Middle East in Doha.
"The idea of the metaverse with PwC is to understand that we look at it as an evolution and not a revolution. So, kind of with the metaverse that’s the approach we’re taking. We’re very agile with it. We’re understanding that things are changing, that the needs of our clients could differ," says Rahaf Abutarbush, Lab Technologist, PwC Middle East.
By harnessing robotics, artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and more, PwCs tech experts are increasingly finding innovative ways to transcend the physical world without losing the human connection. It means little can't be done today in the metaverse, for example business meetings, large-scale collaborations, key presentations, and media interviews.
“Our clients have moved way beyond looking at just coming in and providing advice or providing Powerpoint decks, and all of those sorts of things. They want to see things put into action, and emerging tech is really important around that," says Stephen Anderson, Strategy and Markets Leader, PwC Middle East.
As the popularity of virtual reality grows, so do the concerns over its impact on human interaction, social isolation and mental health. Children are spending more time online. And while they can have a lot of fun in the metaverse, the lack of clear rules could also make it a dangerous place. So how can VR platforms address these issues?
Tami Bhaumik is the Vice President of Civility and Partnerships at Roblox, a global platform with more than 40 million daily users. She says Roblox is committed to regulating its VR platforms and providing young users and their caregivers with the skills they need to play in a safe way.
"We're a technology platform that allows people to create experiences and publish it out on our platform. You need to have a civil environment in order to really express your imagination fully. So many times there were parents who would ask about, you know, What is this Roblox? How do I keep my kids safe? How do I know that it's safe? And so I realised there was not only a responsibility but an opportunity, given how large our community is to educate."