What Is the Metaverse?
The metaverse is the next operating system, a more immersive version of all things digital heading to the matrix. The future of artificial intelligence must lead to something. It cannot just be to increase the advertising profits of a select few duopolies. That feels a bit like digital colonialism of the first internet, a primitive time indeed.
Silicon Valley sells you dreams to profit from your data. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg has hailed the so-called “metaverse”, describing it as the “next generation of the internet and next chapter” for the company. Ironically, in the future of technology, the real metaverse likely leaves Facebook behind entirely.
The metaverse is in a sense the goal and end game of surveillance capitalism. Many BigTech companies in China and the U.S. have different conceptions of what it will become. Facebook believes it will be VR/AR based, while ByteDance and Microsoft believe gaming is a significant aspect of how it might work.
In a sense YouTube today is part of the metaverse, where you can find content and education of all kinds and where engagement has risen considerably during the pandemic (Ad revenue jumped 84% in latest earnings). But what are the qualities of the Metaverse?
- It is immersive
- It is ubiquitous (like mobile phones or E-commerce)
- It is free to access
- It is digitally focused and can involve entertainment, social connection, work productivity and behavior modification at scale.
- It is an entire ecosystem for developers, apps, ads and new digital innovations
- It facilitates convenience, consumption and a frictionless access to services (e.g. WeChat)
Apple’s wearables also point towards the metaverse with AR glasses coming soon. Microsoft with Microsoft Teams and gaming is perhaps the most advanced company in the world regarding the Metaverse. Facebook is no longer the leader in app innovation, with ByteDance now taking that leadership role. WeChat’s ability to facilitate payments and access to a variety of services is the start of the metaverse, super-apps.
The metaverse is an idea about the future of technology that encapsulates an experience of more immersion. But is more immersion good for us? Apps like Instagram and TikTok are very poor for the mental health of young people. Gaming taken to an extreme obviously isn’t healthy as China has realized and moderates it with facial recognition.
However, whoever can gamify its stake on the metaverse the best, will be the most profitable technology company of the future. Very few companies today have a stake in the metaverse in any real sense. They are:
- Tencent (Super Apps like WeChat)
- Amazon (Twitch)
- Huawei, and many others
The metaverse starts to become more realized when digital immersion starts to codify human behavior with rewards and punishments like China’s social credit system. So companies in China that lead in facial recognition like SenseTime are really metaverse companies.
The pandemic accelerated the cash flow of U.S. BigTech leaders, but it may not be enough to stop the innovation of China to lead us into the metaverse.
Facebook’s vision of the metaverse is perhaps the only thing that can save it, as its revenue growth slows from 2023 onwards. Meanwhile ByteDance’s assault on gaming, ed-tech and B2B AI as a service really is setting itself up to be the winner of the metaverse. Facebook’s implementation of VR has not been great or ubiquitous in any sense. It’s probably going to be a failure.
The Digital Yuan and the Social Credit System Are the Beginning of the Metaverse
Facebook just isn’t innovative enough to create the metaverse. It requires the kind of coordination and collaboration between different companies like China is creating. China is thinking how AI can be harnessed to create something entirely new and unprecedented.
At the Last Futurist, I would argue that China’s CBDC might be the key element in the creation of the metaverse (the Digital Yuan).
This is because it facilitates a centralization of all digital consumption, regulation and algorithmic purpose. It’s very odd that what the West considers an authoritarian regime would be capable of creating the metaverse, but its emphasis on AI, social credit systems and innovation makes it nearly inevitable.
Facebook would want a metaverse that is Ad-centric, to increase its profits. However China might create a metaverse that’s gamified with a different business model at the center. China might create a metaverse that doesn’t allow any single business model to easily dominate over all others.
While TikTok monetizes Ads, it’s fundamentally changing the attention economy into less narcissistic but more inspirational themes. The mental health aspects between Instagram and TikTok would be interesting to study.
Apple has the deepest pockets to create a walled garden that becomes an aspect of the metaverse. It’s subscription services could become something more with wearables in a way that Facebook would be unable to accomplish. The best players in the autonomous car and software of the smart car would be part of the metaverse.
Again Apple, Baidu and Huawei could be part of that, as well as Amazon. Amazon’s lead in smart speakers shows an aspect of the metaverse, the kind of OS of AI that people connect with and that helps them connect with the real world.
Facebook’s VR might be a relic of the past, and there’s scant evidence people want to wear gigantic goggles. However Zuck’s marketing obsession with the Metaverse is an important idea for how the OS and platform of the future might evolve. The Brain-Computer Interface (BCI) is a more realistic next platform after mobile phones.
Facebook has also been failing in that regard and all things hardware. So who is rich enough to establish an effective BCI at scale with integrated services and apps? It’s China or Amazon or Apple. There’s very few other possibilities.
The metaverse is related to the future of:
- VR and AR
- Collaborative productivity (think Canva, Slack)
- Artificial Intelligence interactive systems (like smart speakers or smart earbuds)
- App and developer ecosystems
- Consumer tech products (like AR glasses or smart speakers)
- Social networks (apps that work together seamlessly)
- Educational Technology
- Health technology (e.g. Telehealth)
- Communication Technology (e.g. Zoom)
- Digital currencies (including CBDCs)
- Surveillance Capitalism including cognitive and morality programming systems
- Biotech and body enhancements (including mRNA or CRISPR designer babies)
- Convenience mobilization and on-demand consumption (e.g. Amazon, Meituan, Alibaba, JD.com, Shopify, FinTech and RetailTech)
- Intersection of quantum computing and AI. (i.e. the quantum internet)
- An echo bubble so pervasive it includes all of humanity (e.g. the matrix)
You could even argue that Amazon’s MMO called New World is its immature attempt to enter the gaming and metaverse industry. While Facebook wants to onboard people into VR, ByteDance has realized that gaming and Ed Tech will be more effective.
Microsoft’s strength in the productivity metaverse has become obvious in 2021. The metaverse is what results when BigTech has been consolidated into only a few or a single winner. We are already living in a world with two internets, the American and the Chinese.
America’s internet is splintered into dozens of duopolies, while China’s BigTech is becoming more harmonized by a central agency. Politics aside, who has the strategic thinking to create the future of the metaverse where apps and tech companies work together for a greater whole without exploiting consumers and each other for profit to invent the next operating system (OS) or platform? The recent Chinese regulatory cleanup points to its becoming more capable of achieving this.
Facebook’s Zuckerberg has hailed the so-called “metaverse”, describing it as the “next generation of the internet and next chapter” for the company. Ironically in the future of technology, the real metaverse likely leaves Facebook behind entirely.
While America glorifies greed and profit, China might glorify a technological dynasty that works in a harmonious competition that is capable of creating something more than the sum of its parts. Therefore there’s an over 80% probability that the metaverse will have Chinese characteristics.
Unfortunately for Zuckerberg, he deeply misunderstands what the metaverse is actually going to be. That’s essentially what happens when you don’t diversify your business model. It has no real long-term viability. Being a superpower in Digital advertising alone does not lead to the metaverse.