Its presence can be felt everywhere: its name is on everyone's lips and its potential on everyone's mind. Yet, the metaverse remains largely unknown. Its social impact, economic ramifications, technological requirements, and ultimate cost to the environment are all being questioned. Our think tank - AD Positive - wanted to feed into this discussion, with three expert participants – Frédéric Bardeau, co-founder of Simplon.co; Philippe Rodriguez, founder of Metacircle; and Mahasti Razavi, August Debouzy’s Managing Partner – taking questions from Nicolas Narcisse, executive vice-president of Havas Paris and founder of the NewDeal movement.
Below is an overview of our guests' contributions.
The metaverse is a virtual world that can be accessed online for immersive real-time experiences. It is based on the concept of continuity: we can access it, interact with it, and leave, to we find it as we’d left it once we come back. The origins of the concept can be traced back to science fiction, with author Neal Stephenson first using the term "metaverse" to describe the virtual environment in which his characters live, in his novel Snow Crash.
The first metaverses were gradually deployed as computing performance improved. Players of massive multiplayer online games like World of Warcraft, EverQuest, or Second Life were able to play in coherent and consistent worlds, in real time. Today's metaverses however rely on far more advanced technologies – such as 3D, augmented reality, artificial intelligence, blockchain – that enable unprecedented immersive experiences.Experiences for which there has been an increasing need since the pandemic, with lockdowns fueling a new inclination to “try the experience of virtual and virtual collaboration" according to Phillipe Rodriguez.
"For the time being, immersive collaboration in the metaverse is reserved for companies that had already rolled it out before the pandemic," observes Frédéric Bardeau, “such as Cisco, whose employees around the world meet in immersive rooms."
However, other applications emerged, notably to respond to lockdown constraints. With the help of 60,000 virtual reality headsets, Accenture enabled tens of thousands of recruits to immerse themselves in the company's culture from their homes. These virtual exchanges have focused on people and human relations: "the virtual space encourages the creation of relations that differ from those we build in the physical world", according to an enthusiastic Philippe Rodriguez, “it has the potential to increase inclusion and remove barriers”. The president of Metacircle went on to explain how Carrefour had recruited data scientists through the metaverse, amusingly using an avatar of their CEO Alexandre Bompard, which the candidates could question and converse with.
It’s complicated. On the one hand, the metaverse could reduce travel and therefore represent an eco-friendly solution. On the other hand, Frédéric Bourdeau's assessment is unambiguous: "the metaverse is real-time 3D streaming in the cloud; it’s extremely energy intensive".
Philippe Rodriguez explained that we are not yet able to reliably calculate the impact of the metaverse on the environment due to the array of technologies involved. Questions therefore remain on the sustainability of these metaverse solutions, and about how to best settle the cost vs. benefit question.
Et qui pourrait s’ériger en arbitre de ce développement technologique ?
The metaverse is still in its infancy and therefore in constant evolution. However, the interactions that take shape there already occur within a defined legal framework. According to Mahasti Razavi, the metaverse “is not a universe of lawlessness but is, on the contrary, already subject to a body of general principles (international or national, such as GDPR and intellectual property law) and to platform-specific rules”. However, some fine-tuning will be required to adapt existing legal frameworks to issues unique to the metaverse, such as the legal status of the avatars or data they generate. The metaverse’s administrators are already hard at work, contributing to this regulatory framework with various technical solutions, aimed at ensuring their virtual realities are secure.If you are interested in learning more about the metaverse, the entire webinar can be found here.