So there’s this brilliant place called the metaverse, which has received renewed interest recently when the world’s largest social network, Facebook, announced that it has rebranded its corporate company name to Meta. I know the term has been used to a dizzyingly promiscuous level, but for those who know what the metaverse is, it refers to a combination of virtual, augmented and physical reality. For those who don’t know, it can seem like a vague place that is strange or foreign to the real world. But realistically, there is no single, unified entity called the metaverse; rather there are multiple mutually reinforcing ways in which virtualisation and 3D web tools are embedded into a virtual environment.
It’s common to be at a loss for what the metaverse is because there is still debate as to whether it really does constitute a significant chapter of human evolution or if it’s just another overhyped fad. In this moment, the vector of change points towards the metaverse being a revolutionary force that could permanently transform how we interact with the digital world.
While Facebook has rather aptly described the metaverse as “the ultimate dream of social technology”, this month Bill Gates went as far as to say that within two or three years, most office meetings will go from 2D camera image grids to a 3D space with digital avatars. I know what you’re thinking: “unlikely”. But if you told the owners of a Nokia 3310 mobile phone in 2000 that they’d have the entire contents of a computer sitting within their pockets seven years later in the form of a smartphone, they may have had the same reaction.
Here’s what Gates had to say in his blog post on 7 December:
“You will eventually use your avatar to meet with people in a virtual space that replicates the feeling of being in an actual room with them. To do this, you’ll need VR goggles and motion capture gloves to accurately capture your expressions, body language and the quality of your voice”.
Gates also mentioned that since most people don’t own the aforementioned tools as of yet, it could slow adoption somewhat, but Microsoft is planning to roll out an interim version of this next year, which will use a webcam to animate an avatar that’s used in a 2D set-up.
You might be wondering what the benefit of a metaverse-themed office meeting is. Well, data published by Altus shows that remote working can save businesses up to £10,000 annually per employee. The evidence is even more compelling if you look at how of the 17 million millennials living in the UK (a quarter of the total population), 70% prefer remote working to office-based roles — and since millennials will contribute to 75% of the workforce by as early as 2025, it’s clear that flexible working is the future.
To add to this, millennials have proven to be the most diverse generation yet, with most considering themselves to be politically independent and interested in a wide variety of different cultures and ideas. As the world of work becomes increasingly digital with many employees spending more time away from their offices as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, this youthful millennial open-mindedness could translate into new, productive and more rewarding forms of work being created as part of this digital transformation. If Gates is right, 3D avatars may well be integrated into your office meetings in such a way that it could change how you work forever.
Overall, Brits saved on average £500 a month working from home during the lockdowns, and while the impact of the metaverse does largely depend on the uptake of such new technologies, 3D avatars could lead the edge of the shift to more flexible and distributed work that is also exciting and technologically innovative. Personally, I don’t feel that Gates is too far off, and we will see teams collaborating in the 3D metaverse using customised avatars with the help of motion capture and spatial audio technology in the very near future.
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