Twenty years ago, artificial intelligence seemed like the stuff of sci-fi films such as “2001: A Space Odyssey” and “The Matrix.” Today, it’s so ubiquitous as to be virtually unremarkable and unnoticeable — integrated into everything from GPS traffic navigation apps on our phones to smart devices in our homes to security scanners at the airport.
In this issue, Virginia Business Associate Editor Courtney Mabeus explores how some of the commonwealth’s largest federal contractors and tech companies are developing this maturing technology for uses such as expediting medical diagnoses and providing real-time intelligence to troops on tomorrow’s battlefields. (See related story, “Artificial intelligence gets real”)
In a way not dissimilar to AI’s journey, by 2042 the metaverse may be passé. But to the average business executive outside the tech realm, the concept can seem a bit bewildering here in 2022, even though it’s getting more and more press lately.
Part of the problem is that there doesn’t appear to be any consensus on the meaning of metaverse. Science fiction gives us an idealized concept of it as a three-dimensional virtual world that would replace the internet and social networks. Instead of shopping by scrolling through a page of images, for instance, you’d stroll through a virtual mall, examining 3D wares, trying on clothes or test-driving cars in VR.
Despite the fact that Facebook Inc. changed its name to Meta Platforms Inc., we’re still a long way from living in the Matrix. Facebook’s metaverse vision so far is a VR network called Horizon Worlds that requires a bulky headset and features legless, cartoonish avatars that look more like characters from “The Sims” than real people. Horizon Worlds is also similar to Second Life, a virtual network that launched in 2003. So far, Horizon Worlds’ numbers have been underwhelming, The Wall Street Journal reported, with fewer than 200,000 users as of mid-October — less than the population of Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
Additionally, it’s unlikely that current VR rigs, which can cause motion sickness and neck pain in some users, will become de rigueur in offices and homes — especially considering that Meta’s latest VR headset, the Quest Pro, debuted in October at $1,500 a pop.
That said, as remote work continues to grow, making it possible to employ workers from practically anywhere, the demand for virtual and augmented (or mixed) reality platforms and technologies will grow, and more companies and products will arise to meet those needs.
As with any tech, there will be winners and losers, and some will be more comfortable adopting it than others.
Today, we think of digital natives as younger millennials, Gen Zers and members of Generation Alpha, people who know only a hyperconnected world of the internet and smartphones. But the metaverse will speak to a slightly different skill set.
The people who will be most comfortable navigating 3D interfaces are likely to be video gamers. And before you dismiss that population as nerdy basement dwellers, consider that gaming is a $60 billion industry in the U.S. alone, with more than 215 million Americans actively playing video games, according to the Washington, D.C.-based Entertainment Software Association.
About 48% of gamers are women and girls now. And while most children play video games, more than 70% of all video gamers are over age 18. About 36% of gamers are between ages 18 and 34, and 26% are between ages 36 and 54. The numbers drop dramatically, however, among people ages 55 and older, who could stand to be left behind or at a considerable disadvantage in navigating a vastly different cyberworld than the one we know today. There’s plenty of time yet to deal with that problem, though.
I believe Web3 and future social media and work platforms may well feature 3D environments and mixed reality objects, but I think it’s also possible that the American innovators who will create the best of those haven’t yet joined the workforce.
Confident pronouncements from the Mark Zuckerbergs of the world aside, be skeptical of those who claim the ability to definitively predict the future of the metaverse. And be more so of those spouting empty buzzwords and asking you to invest your money in it.