the metaverse business
Anyone who works with technology knows that it enters the business world in waves. And like all waves, it comes and goes.
Anyone who works with technology knows that it enters the business world in waves. And like all waves, it comes and goes. The wave of the metaverse has already walked this way. He promised a lot, he made noise, but he backed off and disappeared. Now come back. By the hand of heavyweights in the world of technology applied to business. Will it take off now? Better be careful not to be surprised, of course! And, to stay tuned, know that we are already in the second article on this subject. If you haven't read the first one, better start there.
In the first article, we explained in detail where the word metaverse came from, who its creator was and how it can evolve from now on. We even use examples to illustrate what the metaverse has to do with metalanguage and the universe. Therefore, it is better to insist: if you have not read the first article of this triptych, go back there and learn about the concepts that will certainly facilitate your understanding and support your decisions.
In the previous article, we also talked about the tendency to replace atoms with bits whenever such replacement is possible. And when it becomes possible, the process in which atoms are replaced by bits will become faster, cheaper and, above all, more controllable. This is a trend that has been going on since the end of the 20th century, when computers ceased to be instruments of calculation and control and became popular as instruments to support innovation.
Since then, the replacement of atoms by bits has materialized in several waves.
Some of these waves may even have passed you by without you even noticing! Because, sometimes, the wave of replacing atoms with bits walks in a marketing guise who uses other names and makes new promises. A good example to illustrate the previous paragraph is the wave of Digital Transformation. Essentially, Digital Transformation is the replacement of atoms by bits in all processes of a company. In order to carry out an effective transformation, it is not enough to replace the atoms of papers, objects and other inanimate things. It is also necessary to replace atoms of people. That's why a good digital transformation will change the company's workforce — both in quantity and in quality. Kind of scary, but very realistic.
Because it's a little daunting, the Digital Transformation process lends itself well to elaborate marketing and consulting speeches. In many of the proposals for carrying out Digital Transformation projects, the methodology is packaged in graphics, models, phases and supporting pillars. The most common of these packages speaks of pillars that support the six aspects commented below.
— Business vision: what is the vision and the strategy to achieve it. It is considered the most challenging pillar.
— Understanding the customer: this is the pillar that considers the customer at the heart of each company's digital transformation.
— Technology alignment: this is the pillar that promotes appropriate technology selection.
— People: this pillar assesses who remains in the transformed company and who will no longer be needed after the transformation.
— Culture: a pillar that, suitable or not, every company has.
— Governance: similar to culture, this pillar always exists.
But the wave of Digital Transformation, although quite voluminous, is not the only technological wave that replaces atoms with bits. Things like Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality are, in fact, solutions for virtualizing everything around us. And here, virtualization is a way of saying that the real object disappears and a virtual representation of that object appears.
One of the most successful applications of virtual representations happens in the elaboration of digital twins — or digital twins, as the definition was born. Digital twins is the name given to exact replicas of products in the manufacturing process or being tested in Industry 4.0. Digital twins almost always replace prototypes, as they allow us to observe how products work before they exist in the real world, the world of atoms. And it is worth mentioning that the cost of developing a digital twin is usually much lower than the cost of prototypes. Again, the atoms leave, the bits enter. Also again, this is a very current trend. So much so that controlling one of NASA's most sophisticated experiments, the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope, was only possible thanks to a digital twin built by Raytheon. And Boeing is also moving in that direction. All this is in the next article.
At the time of harvesting the crop of tech predictions for 2022, the least common multiple has a name: metaverse! This strong wave has an origin: the change in the name of the holding company that owns Facebook, in October 2021, from Facebook Inc. for Meta Platforms Inc. Of course, a change like this in a company that owns not only the Facebook website, but also the Instagram and WhatsApp apps, causes a tsunami! Like protect yourself or go surf the wave. Mainly because the conglomerate’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, declared that Meta’s main mission is to act in the expansion of the metaverse, defined by him as “(...) a set of immersive digital experiences that involve virtual reality, augmented reality and others. technologies that are not limited to 2D screens”.
And what shall we say now? The same thing we've said a few times throughout this text: Meta will work on transforming atoms into bits! But what, in fact, is needed to achieve this much-desired replacement to the point of arousing so much interest in the market? The answer to that question fits in one sentence: a metaverse is built on your platform! And like all other platforms, the one in the metaverse will also have attributes, capabilities, and limitations. It will have a design that, like all other platforms, will please some and displease others. It will have development tools that, like all other platforms, will be liked by some and hated by others. And as with all other platforms, it will have competitors. So much so that, shortly after the release of the Meta, Microsoft announced its metaverse. In that communiqué, there was a notable comparison with the Meta proposal.
That word comes from afar! In fact, it comes from Hinduism and represents “the moment of the descent of a sacred entity to Earth, usually assuming a materialized aspect, sometimes human, sometimes in animal form”. This definition refers to a metamorphic circumstance that corresponds to a transformation: the sacred entity arrives and becomes a representation of itself. It is from this sequence that informatics imports the concept of avatar, as a “representation of oneself or of someone, usually in virtual environments, with the aim of personifying oneself, to demonstrate the self-image in virtual environments, as is the metaverse”. In more direct words: in the metaverse, you will be their avatar. Your avatar will represent in bits what you are in atoms.
The possibility of the one-to-one association of humans and avatars creates a huge proximity between the metaverse and the world of games. After all, what is a game if not the use of a platform — Xbox, Playstation, Nintendo, etc. — where a human is personified by an avatar who represents and acts on his behalf? This is the reason that justifies the expectation and attraction of gamers whenever the discussion involves the metaverse.
So far, we've brought to your attention the components of the metaverse that can be applied to a business. Now, let's understand how to take the metaverse to business and how to take business to the metaverse. Note that not every business can be taken to the metaverse. And, if it is taken, we will have to understand very well how and for what this movement is being made. But, now, we already have all the necessary knowledge for this analysis.
Who's going & how's it going
At the beginning of this content, we commented on the six pillars that support a digital transformation. As the use of metaverses accumulates results and experiences, new protocols of use must emerge. At the moment, what we have to present are experiences based on studies of the formulation and support of a metaverse and the components used in previous attempts to build and use the Second Life metaverse, created by Linden Lab. Opened in 2002 under the name of Linden World, it was renamed Second Life in 2003. Between 2005 and 2008, it reached great popularity and, in 2010, it reached the mark of 21 million registered accounts. At that time, Second Life showed itself to be a promising metaverse platform that could support entertainment, social media, gaming and e-commerce activities. Linden Lab even created an electronic currency, the Linden Dollar. At that moment, Brazilian companies became interested in exploring Second Life, taking their brands into the virtual world with an explicit commercial interest. The goal was to sell within Second Life! I had the opportunity to work on the technical and strategic management of one of these projects, which was never completed, as, fortunately, we realized the fragility of the security mechanisms dedicated to supporting and protecting the financial transactions necessary for an electronic commerce that would take place in that virtual world.
Even so, in 2015, Vice magazine published an article claiming that, in the previous year, e-commerce in Second Life reached 60 million dollars. But he did not give many details of this operation.
Then Second Life suffered a deterioration in performance and prestige. The causes of this fall have never been fully clarified. One of the narrowest bottlenecks in maintaining that metaverse was the growing need for servers and the explosive demand for electrical power.
Now, the social isolation imposed by the pandemic has created a certain movement to revitalize the Second Life platform. In this new life, Second Life has undergone some adjustments. In this return, there are free accounts and paid accounts, with respective advantages and restrictions in each modality. The spaces frequented by avatars can be classified by level of maturity, which implies the acceptance of behaviors such as violence and nudity.
To enter the business world within the metaverse, it is highly recommended to answer a few questions. The first one has already been mentioned numerous times in this text: in your business, are there atoms that can and should be transformed into bits? If the answer is yes, we can move on, towards the metaverse.
Next, it's good to see if the first move into the metaverse will be from within the company—your company! — or from the outside, the market side. Each of these sides requires a different approach to deliver different results.
The next question entails a serious decision: which metaverse platform do you prefer to use? A more circumspect alternative or a more playful version? Today, it is already possible to count on the possibility of choosing in this regard. I've even heard opinions like “...platform X has very childish avatars while platform Y allows the construction of more circumspect avatars”. Who would say…
The following question is more of a recommendation than a question. An applicable recommendation not only for taking the metaverse but also for taking any new technology into business: work with people who know the theory and practice of novelty! Note that, in this case, a good metaverse strategist will need to know the platform that supports the product and be very aware of different possibilities for its application. These possibilities extend well beyond social media, e-commerce, and games. They reach Web 3.0, cryptocurrencies, NFTs — Non Fungible Tokens — and even the more exotic financial and commercial alternatives that are already out there.
On this path to take your business to the metaverse, note that, at some point, your company will occupy a “phygital” space, the name given to the mixture of physical processes with digital processes. Don't even think about backing off midway, but be prepared for the journey. Good planning is essential in this trajectory.
Of course, polemic discussions and opinions will arise regarding the metaverse. In fact, some of these opinions are already out there. One of them, quite radical, comes from Elon Musk, the millionaire owner of Tesla, SpaceX, OpenAI, SolarCirty and Neuralink. All of these companies have futuristic goals and strategies, some already in full operation — like Tesla and SpaceX — while others are still rehearsing their entry into the market. This is the case of Neuralink, which aims to install chips in the brains of human beings to take the human-machine interface to the extreme. According to Musk, the direct connection to the brain could provide a more effective immersive experience than the use of virtual reality glasses. Considering that these brain-connected chips would be produced by one of Elon Musk's companies, it remains to be seen whether the disagreement over the use of virtual reality masks is not just a marketing ploy in an attempt to promote the use of Neuralink products.
Another controversy arose around the announcement of a video made by Walmart at CES2022, which took place between January 5 and 8 this year. In this video, a customer appears shopping at a Walmart store, guided by a very humanized avatar. This avatar interacts with the customer and even suggests a wine to pair with the ingredients of a dinner. The video was the subject of a lot of criticism related to the purchase process, but the biggest controversy arose when someone discovered that this video was, in fact, released in 2017. It was a proof of concept that never materialized. None of this was said at the “launch” of CES2022.
Also in the field of controversy, a month ago, the news emerged that “Boeing wants to build a plane in the metaverse”. Yes, that may be true, but at some point, the plane has to leave the metaverse and appear in the world of real things, on the airport runway. What, in fact, happens in a complex project, such as the construction of an airplane, is the need for precision of processes and the also precise coupling of calculations and structures designed by different teams, at different times and places. Aeronautical engineering makes use of an effective methodology, but a little old to circumvent any mismatch, called clash analysis. The use of a metaverse holds encouraging promise for solving “mismatches” between components designed and produced by different teams. In a slightly different way, NASA uses a similar strategy on a platform developed by Raytheon. In this case, the metaverse serves to finalize the assembly of something that is already built, but travels at high speed on a trajectory far from Earth. We will come back to this in the next article.
This problem and some others can only be solved in a “phygital” scenario, which corresponds to the coexistence of the physical world and the digital world. The physical is represented in atoms and the digital is represented in bits. That's where, sooner or later, the business world goes. Go after and beyond. Go to the metaverse. We end here with a warning: the metaverse has nothing to do with the multiverse. Multiverse is a hypothetical concept that refers to all possible universes, real and imagined. In the most radical interpretations, it is said that there is much more beyond the observable universe... eventually, there is even another you. But that no longer has anything to do with the metaverse and its business.
About the author
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Uma conversa com o Presidente da I2AI - Onédio S. Seabra Júnior - para falarmos sobre os temas mais quentes de Transformação Digital e Inteligência Artificial, num bate-papo informal com