Guest Post — Brittan Heller on Where do we go from here: Experts Discuss the Future of the Metaverse


The Metaverse panel recently sponsored by TDK Ventures’ DX Week 2022 brought together industry leaders — including Amber Allen (CEO and Founder of Double A Labs), Tae Ashida (Fashion Designer, Jun Ashida Co., Ltd), Edgar Auslander (Senior Director of Meta), Pearly Yihsuan Chen (VP Business Development & Partner of HTC VIVE), Julie Larson-Green (Chief Technology Officer of Magic Leap), and Rio Kurokawa (Director of IBM) to discuss some of the most pressing issues in the metaverse.

Two questions dominated the conversation: What will be the most impactful innovation in the next 5 years? What is the most challenging innovation that will disrupt the market in the next 10 years?

From this dialogue, 10 take-aways stood out as guideposts for companies, XR (extended reality) enthusiasts, and policymakers.

· The metaverse is still being defined.

There is currently both enthusiasm and fear of amongst consumers of what the metaverse will be and how this will impact children, work, play, and personal relationships. What does it mean to have an embodied internet? Will the metaverse be subjected to arguments like those originally made about video games, will we end up with youth addicted to XR? Or will XR be a new medium for arts, education, medicine, and exploration?

With the right forethought, XR platforms that bridge the mental and the physical can bring about new human experiences. This will depend on creating an interoperable and interconnected metaverse. This unified virtual space, once it is realized, will allow for more interactivity and collaboration — and more adoption of digital worlds.

· We need to determine how youth will engage in the metaverse.

Best practices across the industry for devices rated 13+ are include parental controls or teen modes, to ensure a safe and fun experience for youth. More studies are needed about the cognitive and social impact of XR, and in particular, the impact on childhood development. But youth are learning XR coding languages and using it to build upon their favorite games, which means that this medium has a bright future.

· XR both expands and contracts our world.

The ability of XR to connect us all should not be underestimated. XR makes our world both larger and smaller. The ability to create intimacy with friends is counterbalanced with the ability to meet strangers from across the planet, as if they are in your living room. We first saw that in the gaming space, and it will be even more enhanced with the presence and immediacy of XR.

A bridge product, like web XR, can be a valuable user-acquisition tool and create multiple entry points to immersive worlds. This will be vital for deepening and broadening our world through XR.

·Digital transformation will continue to create new market differentiation for XR.

Innovations like pass-through XR, especially for enterprise, will not remove us from the world, but instead may help us experience it more fully. The opportunity to bridge physical and digital spheres, in vital applications like surgery or remote industrial applications, will eventually make its way from enterprise to consumer applications.

However, it is important to remember that at this point, enterprise and consumer markets have different needs — from looking good to having enhanced functionalities — so product focuses may be different in different markets. Similarly, looking at AR and VR applications, one may be better suited for certain tasks than another. There will be different price structures and different rules for different products, which is a sign of a maturing market.

Additionally, the trend of no-code/low-code XR to create customized training modules will create even more low-friction ways for enterprise to impact commerce today, while forging a path toward tomorrow.

· Increasing a user’s presence in XR can be done with already existing technology.

We have a limited hardscape in XR headsets, so companies should invest their resources in what will increase presence for users. Companies are already looking at increasing visual resolution and integrating haptics. But taking preexisting technologies could also push forward the field. This could include enhanced spatial audio, which research has shown creates an increased sense of immersion for users.

· Ethics will be essential for digital worlds to create safe and fun experiences for all.

Companies need to be transparent about how content moderation regimes will operate in the metaverse. This means not only clarifying the rules, but also helping the public understand how enforcement of these rules will work. Trust and safety is actually a large innovation gap in the industry, as there are more questions than solutions at this point.

Additionally, a human rights centric approach to the metaverse is predicated on offering users more choices. This means prioritizing accessibility and diversity in design, so that we can create a metaverse for all. Industry should help define best practices, proactively, so that the metaverse can embody the best of human potential.

· More sensation will help us engage more fully with the metaverse.

Looking to haptics, work can be done on texture and other feeling-based sensations. Since these cannot exactly replicate the tangible world, it may actually make us more present with physical reality. The ability to have enhanced senses are like “superpowers” that can help expand our human experience and our connections with each other. We don’t need to replace the real world, but we can augment it, and give people capabilities like enhanced memory or navigation capabilities for the visually impaired.

· Our brains interpret XR as an actual reality — which comes with a responsibility.

XR experiences are processed by our minds in the same way we create memories. This means that we can create what we perceive as entirely new environments or we can surpass our physical limitations. This also means that innovators and companies — and the industry at large — have a responsibility to make sure XR products are safe for all users. Part of this could be creating trust and safety regimes, or standardizing the design of reporting features for users.

· Healthy living can be enhanced by XR.

XR applications in the health sphere are an area for huge impact. This can enhance well-being and physical health. Applications like mental health treatment, meditation, pain management, and physical therapy have already resulted in vast improvements in peoples’ lives.

· The metaverse will change our concept of identity.

In the metaverse, the type of physical characteristics we all carry in the physical world will be changeable. Individuals will be able to try on different personas in XR in the way we currently try on clothes. This can be socially beneficial and may help us understand more what it would be like to live as another, and may increase empathy in us all.

— Brittan Heller, #DXWeek2022 Metaverse Panelist

Brittan Heller works at the intersection of technology, human rights and the law. She is currently a fellow at the Atlantic Council, with the Digital Forensics Research Lab, examining XR’s connection to society, human rights and privacy, and commerce. As former counsel in Foley Hoag LLP’s Global Business and Human Rights practice, Heller advised companies, investors, NGOs and governments on integrating public safety and human rights. Heller was an inaugural AI and Technology Fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School, studying content moderation and security risks in VR/AR/XR and emergent media. Heller previously founded ADL’s Center for Technology and Society. Her key projects included creating AI to study hate speech and analyzing disinformation that targeted minority communities. Additionally, Heller prosecuted grave human rights violations at the U.S. Department of Justice and the International Criminal Court and initiated landmark anti-cyber harassment litigation. She is a graduate of Stanford University and Yale Law School.

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