The Future of The Metaverse
The internet has evolved over the years, and the fruit of this evolution is the metaverse. We exist in a time where a significant change in the history of humanity is happening, and our real lives are bound to spill over to the metaverse. In this episode of The Future Of, we look into the metaverse and the implications of this transition on society at large.
Joining us this week to explore this topic is Dudley Nevill-Spencer, Head of Research and Virtual Human Development at Virtual Influencer Agency. He founded the world’s first virtual influencer avatar and metaverse marketing agency. He’s also the Head of Research and Technology Director at Live & Breathe creative agency. In addition, we were able to speak with Tony Tran, Founder of Peer, Inc., a company whose mission is accelerating ambient computing to unlock the metaverse. Also in this episode is Johnny Rodriguez, Director of Strategic Innovation at Fresh Consulting. With his skills in UX design and software development, Johnny has worked on AI, VR, robotics, web development, and much more in the tech space.
Dudley: The way I would look at it is we’re where we are now before there was Windows. Right now, anybody who wants to be involved in this basically has to be a programmer. If you want to create your own token or a DAO or whatever, you’ve got to know a whole bunch of different programming languages that’s complex. Soon, to take part in this, there’ll be effectively an operating system like Windows but for the NFT ownership and tokenizing things, and that then means anybody can do it.
Jeff: Welcome to The Future Of, a podcast by Fresh Consulting, where we discuss and learn about the future of different industries, markets, and technology verticals. Together, we’ll chat with leaders and experts in the field and discuss how we can shape the future human experience. I’m your host, Jeff Dance.
Jeff: In this episode of The Future Of, we’re joined by Dudley Nevill-Spencer of Virtual Influencer Agency and Johnny Rodriguez from Fresh Consulting to explore the future of the metaverse. Welcome, it’s a pleasure to have you with me on this episode focused on the metaverse. We’re excited to have not only two leaders but two serious technology evangelists that think about and really work on the future.
As far as just a quick intro, Dudley founded the Virtual Influencer Agency, the world’s first virtual influencer avatar and metaverse marketing agency where he’s head of research and virtual development. He’s also an expert research and technology director at the Live & Breathe agency, which has been around for 30 years. He leads avatar and metaverse integration strategies there, in addition to AI and data insights. We’ve listened to some of his webinars on the metaverse, NFTs, and virtual humans.
We’re excited to have him. He was recently named one of the top 50 players in the world of influencer marketing. He likes to tell everyone that ADD is his superpower.
Dudley: Bring it on.
Jeff: We definitely want to ask him about that. Next up, we have Johnny Rodriguez who is the director of innovation at Fresh Consulting with a background in UX design and software development, a rare breed of two amazing skill sets. Johnny’s teams are responsible for working on testing and developing what’s next in the technology realm. In the process, they’re designing and building and deploying internal and external-facing products. Some of his innovator work involves AR/VR, AI, robotics, web and mobile development, chatbots, and more.
He’s also a real human and has been a professional beatboxer. He’s been a singer in our very own Fresh band. Outside of work he really enjoys spending time with his wife, Alyssa, and his three kids. Johnny, great to have you.
Johnny: Yes, I appreciate being here.
Jeff: Excited to get your insights since you’ve been deep in this space for the last four years.
Dudley: Hopefully, some dope beats too, Johnny.
Jeff: Seriously, can you give us a little beatbox to– Some intro music to the episode.
Johnny: Sure. Yes, I’ll throw something down really quick.
Johnny: I don’t know, there you go. [chuckles]
Dudley: I’m going to leave now because that’s just– There’s nothing I can say that’s going to be more exciting than that.
Jeff: [chuckles] I love it. We’re going to have to use that for our podcast intro music.
Jeff: Well, it’s amazing to have you both here again to talk about the future of the metaverse. Let’s dive right in. First, we want to talk just about the 101 for those that are new to the topic. Then, talk a little bit about the future and jump back to the present. For those that are new to this concept, we’ve seen a lot in the news really, what is the metaverse?
Dudley: At its simplest form, it’s a way of you as a human being able to interact from a first-person point of view or as an avatar with other humans in digital realms, that could be through AR, could be through VR, or from your desktop. In a slightly more complicated manner, it’s come to mean universes which are continuous, so that is when you jump out of them and come back in, they’re still there, but the world is as it was when you left it and other people are in there. That’s it in general.
Johnny: Wow, I love that. I don’t know how much I would add to that. I loved the convergence. You mentioned some of the different devices that you might use, the mediums by which you can be in the metaverse. I do like that convergence of the physical, augmented, and virtual reality in that shared online space.
Dudley: I think people make a mistake thinking it’s one thing. It’s only VR, it’s only that, and it’s not. The whole point is that you could be in and out of it in practically any way you like.
Jeff: It’s really flexible-
Jeff: -in how you engage is what you’re saying?
Dudley: Yes, completely. You’ll read in a lot of media they’re always talking about VR and does everybody want to be in VR all the time? VR is extremely important for the future of the metaverse, but you don’t have to be in VR. When I’m playing on Decentraland and Somnium or whatever, I’m never in VR on those. You can be and it’s a richer experience, but a lot of people tend to talk about not wanting to do it because they’re not sure about VR. That’s actually almost completely irrelevant.
Johnny: I’m interested to see where the 2D part will come in, where Mark Zuckerberg talked about social media being the entry point. You might see that somebody is at a concert, and you’ll click in and then join. It’ll be really interesting.
Dudley: Yes. Social is still massively important. We talk about social when we’re making avatars as the place where you can almost talk about the history of your personality. You can almost show on your socials where you’ve come from, who you are, what’s important to you. Then in a verse, so in a continuous verse where you are there and you are present, that’s for engaging within that moment. It’s not for necessarily posting content that talks about what you’ve done. There are two. One’s almost what’s happened and who you are, and one is where you are right now. They are both really important.
Jeff: I think for a lot of people, it’s still an abstract concept if they haven’t really experienced it. Obviously, the metaverse has been around for a little bit. As I understand it, the term was coined in Neal Stephenson’s science fiction novel in 1992, but there’s a lot of hype right now about this concept and this new frontier. What are some of the big players in the space right now?
Johnny: Yes, it’s been interesting to watch this especially over the last few years. Even just the last few months, we’ve seen Facebook announce their brand, change their brand name from Facebook to Meta. They spent millions of dollars last year, $18.5 million. This year, they’re claiming they’re going to hit $10 billion alone for just this division, creating 10,000 jobs in Europe to help build the metaverse. There’s a lot of investment from a hardware and software perspective coming from Meta.
They’re definitely players. They claim that in the next five years they’re going to be a metaverse-first company, so that’s definitely a bigger one. Their specific things that they’re building there are like Horizon. It’s been interesting to see some of the stuff there, Horizon Home, Horizon Worlds, Workrooms, Marketplace, all different elements of Horizon. It’ll be interesting to see what comes from there.
If you just take a step back from them, if you think about what Fortnite and Roblox has done and think about them as a form of their games, definitely their games, and Fortnite has something like 350 million users, 3 billion hours every month that people are spending in their games. What’s interesting is that there are live events happening in Fortnite. Travis Scott did his show, 12 million users, and earned $20 million. Just a small example of Fortnite and consuming entertainment in this virtual environment.
Think about what Epic Games has from Unreal Engine, their actual game engine used in popular shows like The Mandalorian. I really liked that one. The Lion King, and they have MetaHuman, which I know, Dudley, you’ve done some stuff with MetaHuman.
Dudley: It’s a beast. It’s a beautiful beast. You need a massive, massive machine to use it.
Johnny: Oh, really?
Dudley: You can’t use it on a Mac because it’s so big, but it is beautiful.
Johnny: Yes, it’s been really interesting some of the stuff that’s coming with MetaHuman. That’s Epic Games. There’s a lot more coming from them. Roblox is essentially a game, but they essentially have a virtual world on top of their game. It’s kind of that lego brick style, not as rich as what you would see in something like Fortnite, but they’re in the 40 million user range. If you think about Gen Z, they’re spending a lot of time there. It’s a $45 billion publicly-traded company.
Again, where it connects to the metaverse is they have digital currency, they have digital assets that they’re selling. You have things like Gucci bags being sold for $4,000. They have a $300 million fund.
Jeff: Virtual Gucci bags, essentially.
Johnny: A virtual Gucci bag that you can have as an accessory that’s built as a self expression from this virtual world. Again, blocky lego brick style blocks with a Gucci bag, and you’re paying $4,000, the equivalent of $4,000. They have this $300 million fund that they’re giving to creators. I guess, they gave creators last year in 2020. They’re encouraging the building of this community. They also have entertainment. They’ve had Lil Nas X, has been consumed 37 million times. It’s just been interesting to watch some of that.
Dudley, you mentioned Decentraland. I’m really excited, and I’ve been really, really interested. I’ve been following pretty closely some of the stuff happening there. They’re a pretty big player in the metaverse. I think that’s probably one of the closer ones that gets there. Again, that VR/AR, it’s not necessarily how you would go and participate in their virtual environments, but you are consuming it from you PC, your computer in a 2D format.
Just to give you a sense of that, I think it was just a few days ago that I read this. I’ve been keeping up on this in the last few months but 500 square feet, they call it parcels, of virtual real estate, was just sold, I think yesterday for US $2.43 million in Decentraland.
Dudley: Yes. It was a crypto real estate fund that bought it.
Johnny: Yes, Metaverse Group.
Dudley: Yes. Fund management companies who are just investing in land in different verses, which people find bizarre. One which we are working a lot within is called Somnium Space, and it’s very similar to Decentraland. You can buy three different parcels of land– Well, four, small, medium, large, and extra large. They’re defined by the height with which you can build. If you want to build a 100-meter tower, you’ve got to buy extra large. Small is 10 meters. Depending where they are in the land, if you’re by the beach, it’s really expensive. If you’re back in the middle of nowhere, it’s cheaper.
An example of the pricing, and it’s changing all the time, is Somnium Cubes is the token. You buy them in Somnium Space. Just today we were looking at buying a piece of land for a client there and a small space we couldn’t get for cheaper than $13,000 USD. That wasn’t even in a good spot.
Johnny: Amazing. It’s interesting. That’s what I’ve been looking at. It’s been interesting because you’re talking about Somnium Space but they’re that open social virtual environment, but they have a VR component to theirs which is where it starts to get into that interesting area of like now you’re in that fully immersed experience.
Dudley: Well, you were talking about Meta before. We think Meta, they have the biggest ecosystem. It’s like they have– Zuckerberg did a brilliant job of explaining the ecosystem, which no one’s done before and has helped us brilliantly, so thank you.
Then when you look within each little component along that ecosystem, players have just been focusing on little bits. No one has an ecosystem like Meta, but if you look for example at Somnium’s VR, so they’re a blockchain space, which means that every asset that you see you can buy, be it the land or the houses or the vehicles or whatever. You can do that in VR, which is amazing.
Johnny: Definitely. I find that really interesting. The element of the NFT, I think it was Somnium Space that has– They’re Ethereum base, right?
Dudley: Yes. Most of them, they create their own tokens but use Ethereum. Somnium Cubes is the token, but it uses Ethereum as it’s translating token and as a blockchain. Similarly, MANA, which is the token for Decentraland, similar thing that’s also based on Ethereum as well.
Jeff: So we have these different spaces essentially in the metaverse. How do you access these spaces for those that are new to it?
Dudley: Well, the easiest way to do it is start by doing it just from your desktop. Just type in one of their names, hit Enter, and then it will say, “Do you want to create an avatar of yourself? Do you want to come in and have a look?” You can go in there and walk around as a simple avatar. Some of them you can upload images of yourself and it will convert for you. You can basically use your mouse, point and click and walk around.
If you want to transact within those blockchain verses, then you have to have a wallet and you have to buy the tokens, which then allows you to buy the assets. You can go to somewhere like Coinbase, which makes it easy for you. That’s only the blockchain verses, because of course, then the other verses that Johnny was talking about like Roblox, they have their own Robux, which isn’t a crypto token. You buy them with cash and you transact with dollars, effectively, but they call them Robux.
Jeff: There’s many verses in the metaverse, just to summarize. Mark has made a big statement of renaming the Facebook universe as Meta, and bringing with it billions of users that can access and help bring people into these mixed-reality worlds, essentially. The easiest way to access them, you can access them online, but if you’re in VR, you can also access them there. There’s also the AR aspect. Can you speak to that, Johnny, at all, or Dudley, on the AR aspect?
Johnny: The AR aspect is interesting to me. It was interesting to see how Mark Zuckerberg presented that as part of the ecosystem of spaces and hardware that might be used as part of the metaverse. It was talked about as hologram based.
I think as it relates to the metaverse from my thinking is, is that as it relates to communication and interaction, there’ll be elements where AR, essentially being able to take a virtual conference call will happen in VR, but from an AR perspective, instead of it being in a virtual environment it’ll be next to you or in front of you or beside you. You might have collaborative sessions where there’ll be some virtual, physically present, and just a mixture, that hybrid of what we call now with the pandemic of this hybrid workplace or hybrid environment or hybrid communication.
I think in the future it will be very much a combination of that physical, augmented, and virtual. I could see that being a big part as it relates to AR. Also, AR being an entry point to the metaverse as well, where you might still get informative information of like if something sold or if you won the auction, if you’re buying an NFT art, or things like that, or being able to continue conversations.
You might be in the metaverse to start conversations and then you’re going to be on the go, and augmented reality would be like the heads up display version of that where communication might continue, or you might continue a phone call and be driving your car and still see people off to the side or things like that.
Dudley: I think on the AR side, you are infinitely more qualified than I am since you’re actually making the stuff. I know where it comes to how the verses are integrating with it, for example. If you look at Meta’s Oculus, which is, we’re talking VR, by far the biggest consumer VR brand out there you’re seeing. This, I think, leans into Zuckerberg’s idea of being interoperable, so not running a walled garden and not saying you can only be in Meta’s world. There are loads of other verses and you should go to all of them.
My understanding that the founder of Somnium Space, which is really good blockchain verse, he’s releasing an app which will be a Somnium Space on Oculus Quest. I think that’s Meta being true to its interoperable suggestion for the future. I think we see lots of that, but I think Somnium are the first one to do that on Oculus, which is pretty cool. That’s definitely where it’s all going to go.
In that situation, as you said, Johnny, you can be on your desktop looking at art or whatever in a space, looking NFTs in a space, you can then try and transact or bid for it or whatever or be talking to a friend, walk out, and that chat continues on your phone. It can happen in AR if you want. Then that evening you can go in and check everything out on your Oculus and be immersed in that particular world. That’s how it is. It’s not one or the other. It’s the whole lot.
Jeff: How is this different than what we have today? What are some of the key differentiators that define the metaverse of today, or define the metaverse in the changes that will happen?
Dudley: There’s that great quote from William Gibson which always says that the technology’s there, it’s just not distributed yet. I think in a lot of ways if people go on into these worlds that have never been on to, they’ll be amazed at what’s happening. There was a conversation in the press saying, is the metaverse a real thing? You had a lot of journalists saying it wasn’t, and no idea what they’re talking about. You ask practically anybody under 25 and they’re like, “I’m in the metaverse every day. What are these Boomers talking about?” That isn’t even a question.
For the future, what I’m really excited about is the advancements within AI. We create avatars. That’s our business, creating avatars. What I’m really excited about is when AR can get to a point where your avatar can actually engage with other avatars, and can while you’re not using it, do work for you. It can find the music you like. It can perhaps see people. “Dudley, this person’s into this,” this, and this. I think that you might really like them.
It can effectively be your surrogate when you are not there. That is something which I think is a long way in the future, but that’s something I’m super, super excited about, is actually having an agent that works for you. At its simplest form, it’s something like Google Duplex, where it will ring up a restaurant and book for you. [laughs] There’s absolutely no reason that you can’t give an AI all of your information. Doesn’t have to be in a cloud, it can be on your desktop. Keep it, and then it will go out and find and interact for you and find what you want.
Jeff: Let’s talk about that more. You’re bringing us into the future. Many of us have seen Ready Player One which tries to- it paints this vision of being in the physical world, going into a virtual world. It’s not quite the metaverse in that you bring the world back to you. It’s like you’re really going into these virtual worlds and you have your own agent per se.
In Ready Player One, it’s not an agent that’s, as you said, doing work for you or getting stuff done maybe while you’re sleeping, which sounds awesome. If we project to the future, Ready Player One was supposedly filmed in 2045. Let’s take the year 2045. What does the metaverse look like roughly 23 years from now?
Dudley: I think that AI agents are massive things. It’s a AI avatar to AI avatar. That’s 20 years in the future, but that’s massive. That’s a whole new way of existing because that’s taking the executive functioning of your brain and doing that job for you. You still make all the decisions, but I think that’s an- really exciting component.
Then if you look at some of the mirror world technology, we’ve been talking a lot about, effectively, fantasy verses in one way, but if you look at other technology companies like Nvidia, and what they focus on is mirroring entire factories, like they’ve mirrored the entire BMW factory in real-time. They are bringing out products that map the real world.
I think being able to have your augmented or mixed reality eyewear on, like your traditional glasses that look like sunglasses, but having a true digital overlay where you’re in the real world, but there is information on everything, that is definitely, I think, where we will all be. Perhaps in 25 years, it might actually be by effectively a contact lens which does that for you.
Figuringt how you power that is difficult. I know there are some universities doing that at the moment, trying to make it work, but of course, it’s very, very low power. 25 years, I could see you have your lens on and there’s information on everything is whatever you want. That, I think, is 25 years from now, for sure.
Johnny: Let me piggyback off that a little bit. I love that. I agree. I think the virtual and the physical worlds will be blended. I think it will be commonplace. I do think that we will have the everyday comfortable and “normal looking” AR glasses or contact lenses. I agree with that. I do think that that will be commonplace. We’ll have a lot of that. I do think that a more mature metaverse will be very present in our lives. That’ll turn into many new jobs, and I think that will be in a lot of different industries and types of businesses.
I think what we see, think about how much is video conferencing accelerated during the pandemic, the amount of companies that came out from that, or how quickly– You think about the number of updates that came out for Zoom or Microsoft Teams or Google meet, and how that accelerated due to the environment, right?
Well, we have the metaverse and we have consumer friendly, affordable, ergonomic VR headsets and normal looking AR glasses, the acceleration, I think, will drastically increase. We’re going to see a lot of that become a lot more normal. It’ll be normal to take conference calls in 2D or 3D, whether that’s AR or VR. I think that’ll be completely commonplace. You’ll get used to seeing your dad as an avatar sometimes, or sometimes seeing in a 3D kind of hologram form or 2D, what we see right now for this particular recording, and so we’ll see a lot more of that.
I think the way we see remote employees today, I’m an employee that’s technically not at our home office. I’m in Austin, Texas, and I’m at my home office right now. I think that it’ll be very commonplace to have a virtual office where all of our remote employees, it’ll be commonplace to be able to just pop on and be able to interact and collaborate and do that in this physical or virtual realm.
It’ll be just completely commonplace for us in the same way that it is for us to go from 2007, getting the introduction to the smartphone, and now, in a way we’re cyborgs, right? Where it’s just like, we have all this access to technology, and what we have on our wrist is 10,000, 30,000 times better computing power than what we send people up to the moon with.
I think 25 years from now, going to be a really exciting time. Gen Z will be what? 35, 45 years old, right? The people that grew up with Roblox and Fortnite right now as 9 to 24-year-olds, and so it’ll be interesting.
Dudley: I’m heavily encouraging my seven-year-old to get into 3D modeling. [chuckles] I haven’t quite got her onto Maya yet, but Tinkercad and things like that, because I think that’s going to take over film, television, and all media, the size of that industry, and very, very quickly.
Johnny: Wow, yes, that’s a very, very good point.
Jeff: It’s a good parallel to thinking about what smartphones have done for business, for humanity, for better, for worse, right? They’ve changed us in a dramatic way. If we think about the future having this tipping point, where you have something as simple as a contact lens, or really non-invasive glasses, or super, super cheap headsets, where everyone has one, like almost everyone has a smartphone. Whether you go into even some of the poorest countries in the world, they still have smartphones that they’re buying for $30, $40.
Having this tipping point where we give everyone access to these virtual worlds that are massive marketplaces right now, already, I can see how this can converge in a quick way. Especially, as you think forward to the year 2045, whereas look, we’ve only had smartphones for like 12 years, and look how that’s changed our universe completely. I think if we put ourselves into that future, it’s interesting to think about the confluence of work. We all feared the computer dozens of years ago, and how that would change work, and it did. We now have five to one knowledge workers versus physical workers, right?
As we think about the workplace, you’d mentioned going to work in the virtual world, especially for this convergence of remote or hybrid work environments. Tell us more about how industries and businesses might change or how they might transact, the educational space, the real estate space, the entertainment space, business. Can you guys share more examples to help us think about how that could change?
Dudley: Yes, well, from a marketing perspective, if you boil it down to its absolute simplest, NFTs or the ability to tokenize and identify any digital asset, has already created a multi-billion dollar industry, which will very soon be a multi-trillion dollar industry, and I think will overtake the asset value of the real world. Which people think is nuts when you say it, but it’s not [crosstalk].
Dudley: [laughs] It’s not nuts, because these places are places where brands get to have a one-on-one relationship with an audience. It’s very different from a social media channel or something like Google, where everything is actually completely controlled by the proprietor. When you’re in it, and you’re in it as a brand, you are with the people. It’s like having your own event and inviting people in your own space. That’s a very different way of engaging with a consumer.
When brands really figure that out, they’ll go all in, because they don’t have that at the moment apart from inviting them into their store. I think when brands figure that out, I think all the money will flood into it, and that will completely change retail dynamics, but that’s just one area.
Johnny: I love hearing that. I agree with that. I think some of the ones you mentioned, Jeff, for education and entertainment, I think you said a few others there, but those stand out to me, because I do think that as it relates to education, I do think that we’re seeing again, the pandemic has accelerated a lot of things. We saw the fact that not only can we trust employees, but we can trust students to learn. That’s obviously been difficult for some, and probably a bigger transition for others, but it’s accelerated.
It’s also proved that that is possible that you can do virtual schooling that normally always happened in person can be done in a 2D environment. I think we will see education, I think it’s ripe for innovation as it relates to the metaverse, and how you might learn different topics and go through your standard K through 12, or college classes. I think there will definitely be a presence there.
Entertainment, I think, will be huge. I’m really interested and excited about that. I’ve watched live basketball games and boxing games and soccer games in Oculus. They’re not the best experiences yet. The quality hasn’t been as good and you still get some latency issues and things like that. You’re not doing as much communication with others, although there is forms of that. As we look into the future, I’m imagining that entertainment will be a pretty big space for the metaverse.
I think in the same way that Netflix took over, we’re seeing all these big media giants in Amazon Video and Apple coming out with some and things like that. I think the metaverse will have completely new or expanded media companies with a presence where you could consume both live events and TV shows and movies all the metaverse in a virtual movie theater. We’re going to be watching movie releases that are happening at HBO Max, which we never thought would happen, right? That you’re going to see some things in a streaming service before you see it in a movie theater. I think we’re going to see things like that.
I think we’ll also see a new category of media instead of being in a 2D environment where you’re seeing in a virtual movie theater. I think we’re going to start to see movies being recorded, where you can control the view. You can choose in a 3D environment, what angle you want to watch from a TV show or a movie, and get this more immersive movie experience. I think there’s a lot of predictions and some players in that space now. It’ll be interesting to see how that evolves and matures into the future.
We talked about real estate and how that’s already a big spot. I think we’re going to see even more there as it relates to the metaverse.
Dudley: You know what, Johnny? You were talking about entertainment there. You can actually build a house at the moment in Somnium. It’s not easy, but you can build a house in Somnium right now. One of the assets that you can put in there is a TV screen. You can attach video files. Right now you can run your own movie theaters. [laughs]
Johnny: There you go.
Johnny: Yes, exactly.
Dudley: You can find people letting you sit around and you’re there and you can do it in VR or you can do it in 2D and just watch, or videos of yourself, invite your family around. Really wacky videos.
Johnny: With some coworkers and some friends we’ve done the, I think it was Bigscreen TV which is on the Oculus. It’s a movie theater, and we were all just sitting there as avatars. I think we watched a part of the Matrix movie just to get a sense for it. It was very immersive, but yes, that’s interesting. That’s already in Somnium. I’ll have to check that out.
Dudley: Yes, it’s amazing. Again, it’s one of those things about like it’s already here but just not distributed yet.
Jeff: We’ve talked about the future in what could be in the movement, the things that be happening that are projecting forward. I remember talking about the future of web and smartphones and social when those things came out 12 years ago, 15 years ago, and people were not really believing what was going to happen. Here we are today where, again, it’s changed our world.
Going into the future, we can only anticipate that things are going to continue to accelerate, but what are some of the next big moves that you guys see that will take things forward? Obviously, we mentioned the pandemic that changed the way we work. It’s changed our lives and it’s made digital so much bigger. The idea that, Dudley, you mentioned that the digital world could surpass the economics, could surpass the physical world economics, is still mind-boggling, but what do you guys see as some of the next big moves that need to happen from an infrastructure perspective?
We think about how the cloud, for example, is changing so much of technology, electricity, or the railroad of the past, these platforms enabled change. What do we need to see from an infrastructure perspective, and what are some of the next big moves that will push this space forward? Push the metaverse forward.
Johnny: As I think about the infrastructure, I think there’s a lot from a hardware and software perspective that would need to happen to get us there. As I think about it from the infrastructure standpoint, the few thoughts that come to my mind are the need for an ultra fast, low latency internet. We know that 4G internet can’t handle hundreds of concurrent streams today. We’re seeing a lot of mobile carriers focus on 5G. I think as we get to 6G it’s going to be even better and it’s going to get us to a place where we get that ultra fast, low latency internet.
I think that’s definitely as it relates to the infrastructure piece. We’re hearing a lot of companies talk about this, and we know that there’s some players in this, but as it relates to the blockchain and as it relates to interoperability, I think those two are going to be really key elements or areas of innovation that will enable a lot.
Again, we have players in it now. As I think about the interoperability, being able to, if you’re purchasing, again, your self expression, your Gucci bag, and your shoes, and you’re buying those through NFT on the blockchain, then you’re able to take those with you to the different verses. You’re able to take that over to Horizon at Facebook, or you’re able to take it to Microsoft’s version or Decentraland. Wherever it might be that you’re going, then you can take that with you.
I think that there are various ways that people are approaching that. Some are not on the blockchain. It’ll be interesting to see more adoption by the bigger players around the need to have that interoperability part of things. I think those are the immediate things that come to my mind.
Dudley: One of the big things, I think, is if you look at Gen Z culturally, they’re all all about collaboration. They don’t want ownership of everything. They want to collaborate, and they want a community that helps. It’s a very different way of looking at things from definitely Gen X and Y, that’s for sure, and Boomers. That seems to have come at the same time as Satoshi’s white paper in 2008 on crypto and what it allows you to do.
What I think will really change everything is when companies start to become decentralized autonomous organizations or DAOs, which sounds really complex, but in the end, all it is, is the ability for a group of people who were interested in the same thing to work together and collaborate so that the whole is larger than sum of the parts. You couldn’t do that previously without crypto because you had to start a company and hand out shares. It was very difficult to do. Whereas with crypto, it’s really, really easy to do.
Pretty much any business I think of, I think you can actually tokenize that business. That’s a real head fake for people to try and get their mind around. Anything, if you wanted to be a production company making content, you could effectively become a DAO. You could have a token, people could contribute to that token, so that’s your funds. It could be thousands of you or hundreds of you. Then traditionally, the idea’s that the people who are involved in that are in some way the producers or the directors or the actors or whatever, and they’re all working together to try and collaborate and create value.
Which in that case, if a production company will be film or television or content or whatever, you can tell for anything. I think that’s what Gen Z really wants to do. If you can make setting up a DAO, which ain’t easy, [chuckles], if you can make setting that up easy, then I think you will see a huge sea change in the businesses which start. All of those businesses will have crypto at their core and will have the metaverse at their core.
Jeff: Tony Tran, Founder at Peer Inc, is aiming to accelerate the metaverse with computing power, software and hardware. He has a roadmap into 2030 that starts with the social metaverse in 2022, the ambient metaverse in 2025, and the singularity metaverse in 2030. We asked him what his thoughts are on the future given that he’s planning for it. Here’s what he had to say:
Tony: Hi, I’m Tony Tran with Peer Inc. Today I’ll be answering questions.
What does The Metaverse look like 10-20 years from now?
Well, in the simplest embodiment, the metaverse will exist as a three-dimensional expansion of the web that we know and love today. Like radio waves that’s presently all around us, and we need some sort of an interface to actually translate that into either sound or visual or images, the metaverse content will exist everywhere and connect everything. It’s really like a merging of the present web that we know, all of the data that’s on the web, plus all of the connected devices, and then map that against the physical world. It would create basically, an environment where it’s nearly like we are jacked in.
We would live in a world where we’re always connected to the metaverse by a wearable, which includes earbuds, smartwatches, and AR glasses that combines those two different devices into one, and then that’s how we would be jacked in, sort of, into this metaverse 10 to 20 years from now.
What are potential business applications for The Metaverse?
Well, the way I see it is that the metaverse will wipe out all the inefficiencies of today’s centralized ecosystem and platforms, leading to a more diversified and global marketplace group. All the world would effectively become a bazaar without any of the physical problems of physical establishment. Productions will be centralized while the storefronts would be decentralized.
For example, if I wanted Thai food from a certain brand while I’m sitting at a park, I should be able to bring up that restaurant virtually. The order would be sent to the nearest food production facility that the business owner has leased to make the food, or maybe at the production facility, a robot would be making that food.
I don’t think it’s farfetched to train a robot arm to make Thai food, and then have in between a fulfillment or delivery service that gets it from the facility to me at the park. Then all of the social media and the publishing of pictures of my food. As soon as it arrives, the images are already taken and I can just publish that right away. Those are just some potential business applications that I see, but it’s just going to be a massive change in ways that we haven’t even thought of.
Originally, when the internet first began, people didn’t think what the world would look like without all those businesses like the phone book, for example. How quickly all of those different things in our lives, from the camera to the telephone, all of those things come together and then ultimately powered by the pocket internet and created so many different types of businesses. That type of revolutionary change, that’s what we’re going to see happen with the metaverse.
The metaverse is going to be an inevitability. The reason why it’s going to be an inevitability is because the web that we know today is a two-dimensional web. It’s just a mashup of pages stored on servers, and then linked together by hyperlinks. When the metaverse starts to manifest itself into the real world, linking the real world with things that exist in cyberspace, the digital world, when these two worlds collide, it’s going to definitely change some things.
Jeff: The metaverse isn’t like a single thing, or it’s a single verse or a single company. It’s the convergence of all these digital movements that if you look at any one of these, whether it’s blockchain or NFT, they’re huge, in of themselves. It’s the connective tissue like the internet that’s connecting these things together, that creating these new spaces. Am I correct in recapping that?
Dudley: The way I would look at it is where we are now, before there was Windows. Right now, anybody who wants to be involved in this basically has to be a programmer. If you want to create your own token or a DAO or whatever, you’ve got to know a bunch of different programming languages and it’s complex. Soon, totake part in this, there’ll be effectively, an operating system like Windows, but for the NFT ownership and tokenizing things, and that then means anybody can do it. Because of the utility of that technology as in what it can do is so much better than traditional corporations or ownership contracts or whatever, everybody want to use it.
Jeff: Everyone can be a creator, essentially. Whereas right now, it’s limited to the programmers-
Dudley: That’s it.
Jeff: -that are coding things and connecting things. It’s more like if you want to build a house you got to hire a contractor, that’s going to hire a bunch of people to do that for you but in the future, you’re going to have the tools at your own disposal, essentially, to create faster.
Dudley: Completely, yes.
Jeff: As we get closer to winding up, as we think about technology, if we look at the smartphone, it’s enhanced our relationships, it’s helped us be more creative. All those applications that come along with the application universe, it’s helped us learn new knowledge, but it’s also hurt some of our relationships, or maybe our ability to create or to gain new knowledge. Maybe we’re consuming more versus creating.
Technology, it could be used for good or bad. Certainly, there’s so many incredible applications that we’re all believers in the future of technology, but we want to be cognizant of how it changes us and some of the concerns as well. What sort of concerns do we need to be thinking about so that we err on the good side, and not on the bad side as we think about the future of the metaverse?
Dudley: My biggest one here is knowing who owns the avatar. If we go into the metaverse world so that a 50-year-old man can pretend to be a 12-year-old girl, then we’re in big trouble.
We have the system we call ABC, which is every character needs to be ownership of that character, needs to be linked so that you know if, A, it’s an avatar of a real person and who that real person is. This avatar of me is Dudley, and I can go find Dudley and I know who I’m talking to. B, it’s a brand. The person who owns this avatar is a brand and I can see that’s a brand. Therefore they have an agenda, they’re trying to sell me something. Fine, I can suspend disbelief but it’s a brand.
Or C, creator. This is an avatar made by a creator, again, to make money. It’s a story, you suspend disbelief. It’s like a character from a TV series.
If we don’t do that, and what surprises me is there are some companies which talk about being able to be whoever you want to be, and no one knowing who you are. I think they are absolutely mad. I don’t understand how they can’t see how that will basically destroy society. Right now with MetaHuman creator, in a space of an afternoon, I could create 1,000 different characters, I could stick a chatbot onto those characters. I could open up 1,000 social media accounts, and I could have those characters using an AI tool to change the voices, but just use my voice and I could have them all spread disinformation. Right now.
I don’t know why crazy governments aren’t doing it. I can do that now, so can you imagine what’s going to happen if you don’t know who is behind avatar’s in verses? Could be a disaster. That needs regulation.
Jeff: Regulation, we talked about decentralization as a key theme of the underlying aspect of blockchain, and you guys mentioned Decentraland. Decentralization is a theme, but still regulation’s an important aspect of the metaverse of the future.
Dudley: A lot of the verse creators that I know, the way that they are working it is you are going to have to identify who you are before you go in verse. It’s still very much up in the air at the moment, but a lot of those conversations are being had. There’s definitely two sides to this. Some people want complete anonymity, but I know that will be an absolute disaster.
Johnny: We actually built a website last year and launched it. It’s called balancedtech.org. It’s this resource that talks about the need to balance this connection to– Essentially, being able to balance the digital and the physical. How if you’re able to do that, and balance that it really can help unlock your creative potential. We talked about, essentially, there’s a lot of resources out there that talk about how being too connected and the need to unplug in some of the different products and resources that are out there that help with that.
As I think about the ugly side or some of the concerns of the metaverse, I think about when I talked to my wife about it recently. I told her I was going to do this podcast, she immediately said, “Oh, are we going to all be like WALL-E where they’re all just sitting in these hover carts, and we’re all overweight? We don’t even recognize each other because we’re just so in this virtual world.”
I hadn’t even thought about that. I was thinking about all the jobs it’ll create, all the new interactivity and enhancement of the social, but it’s true. I think in the same way that today our technology can be a distraction, generally, it can be addictive. We can lose track of time. It’ll be hard to separate from real nature and the real world, the fact that technology can overstimulate our senses.
We talk about blue light glasses before you go to bed, turn on your night mode so that you don’t affect your sleeping. Imagine having a VR headset on for eight hours a day. There’s a lot of that area as it relates to just health, physical, emotional, connectivity to things, and that balance will be really, really important.
I think we’ll see a lot of innovation as it relates to that. We’ll see the equivalent of night modes come out and how we can ramp down. In the same way that TikTok after two hours of scrolling, it’ll tell you like, “Hey, you’ve been on here for a while. You sure you want to keep scrolling?” I think we’ll start to see more innovation around the interactions and the prompts and the UX of how people engage with the metaverse to help with that. It is something we’ll have to be conscious about. We’ll enhance our balancedtech.org to cover the metaverse as that comes.
Dudley: That’s very cool. The thing is, the answers are out there for all these problems. They’re not insurmountable at all in any way. A lot of people talk about things completely negatively. They’re not.
One of the things I really liked about Meta’s AR glasses is, they’re building the technology so that all of the information stays on your hardware. The whole platform is being made so that your private information is on hardware. That’s a huge change. When they started, you couldn’t have predicted the issues, but they know the issues now, so the new technology– I think that’s brilliant. There are answers to all these problems. We’ve just got to get all the good people together and make sure that we’re the ones that shout the loudest.
Jeff: I think one of the cool opportunities about playing in this space is being able to shape it, knowing that hey, we’re all creators. We’ve learned from the last 15 years. If we can start shaping things now, then we can err on the good and be for our mutual benefit. We’re all big believers in connecting with technology to be more productive, to have amazing experiences, being able to connect with people in a new way, and stay connected. We’re also big believers in disconnecting.
I think one thing that’s interesting about the metaverse is the ever-present where it’s you can be in, you can be out but you can also have that hybrid, where it’s like you’re augmenting your physical world. I think that digital physical connection, I think that space, in general, is a growing space in so many different industries. I think the metaverse is just something that encapsulates it all and it says, “Hey, this is going to be more ever-present in the future.”
As we think about this, the future of the metaverse, Dudley, you’ve mentioned your daughter and Gen Z many times. I want to ask you what advice would you give your daughter knowing that, hey, this big change is coming. Whether we like it or not, things are happening and the infrastructure’s in place. Some of the world’s biggest companies are behind it, so it’s coming. What sort of advice would you give your daughter?
Johnny, for you, I want to flip and say, what sort of advice would you give your grandma? If you don’t stay up with some of the times, with tech, then you can end up being a little bit more disconnected. Think about if grandma or grandpa didn’t have a smartphone or weren’t on some of these social platforms, and weren’t able to stay connected with their Gen Z grandkids. Interested in your thoughts, but Dudley, start with you.
Dudley: [laughs] Well, I’ve got a four-year-old, Amadei, and a seven-year-old, Octavia. It’s two daughters. The right answer is oh, they should do whatever it is they really want to do. However, knowing them, I would love for Octavia to be involved in 3D modeling and creating assets. Be the little fluffy toys at the moment, but later on, that might be buildings, that might be cars, that might be space aliens, or whatever, because we’re going to need millions and millions and millions of them. Taking that creative skill, and being able to use that is something that I think is incredibly useful for the future.
Certainly, in a way, I wish I’d got into that a little bit earlier because that’s an amazing skill for the future, world creation-
Jeff: World creation.
Dudley: -and asset creation. Yes.
Jeff: I love the concept also of mirroring of saying, I have this mirrored version of myself or my things or my house. Maybe you’re amplified in different ways, but having that there’s the nuances of mirror and we see this in industry a lot, the digital twin or creating a mimic of something and then you’re able to simulate things or experience things in those spaces. Being able to create that, being able to create that or augment it and be part of that from the get-go.
Dudley: Then you can go anywhere. You can go into replicating reality, if that’s what you want to do when testing it, or you can go into creating something completely fantastical. In the end, what you’re seeing at the moment is a creation of new IP, but the marvel of 30 years ago is effectively like the apes of today. That is the new IP what you are having in the verses and we’re creating that right now. We’re creating a new Superman and a new Batman right now, but it’s not in a magazine and in a movie, it’s in Decentraland.
Jeff: Johnny, what are your thoughts?
Dudley: You’ve got the hard one, Johnny.
Johnny: Yes, this is a little bit hard. I’d tell her to get into 3D modeling. No. No.
Johnny: It’s interesting, I think about my grandma, who’s in Mexico right now, and how last year, I think it was last year, she was introduced finally to a smartphone instead of a landline. Where we’d have to call her to her phone that she’s still connected to the wall. Didn’t even own a cell phone. I think about all the technological advancements that she’s been through in her lifetime. Think about everything that’s since– She’s in her late 70s right now. She might be in her 80s now.
She was introduced to the smartphone last year. Of course, now she comments on everyone’s Facebook and everyone’s Instagram. She’ll also send little messages. This year she started with emojis. She’s overboard on the emojis side of things like everyone’s grandma.
As I think about this future of the metaverse, I think you said it as part of your question, Jeff, but I think it’ll be a connection to her family. I think about my kids growing up and their kids, and I think that it’ll be another opportunity to connect. I think that what’s really exciting about the metaverse is that although it will be a digital or a virtual environment, it’s a way for us to almost feel like we’re there physically.
I would love to be able to see my grandma pop on a VR headset and have her be there, and have a very ergonomic and consumer-friendly and easy to use VR headset that she can just click one button and be able to talk to my kids, and see them, and see how their school was. Be able to be a part of their lives and be more connected.
As we think about the metaverse, people think that we’re going to be less social, we’re going to be asocial. I think that it’s an enhancement on our social connections. I would say that I would have my grandma adopt it and help her set it up. To your point, Jeff, about shaping the future, Abraham Lincoln said the best way to predict the future is to create it. I hope that we can be part of that creation to make it friendly for my grandma to be able to push a button and connect to my kids. That’s where my thinking goes.
Dudley: Johnny, on that, it reminds me of a number of conversations I have with people who are basically frightened of VR, basically, or mixed reality, and saying that things are bad enough with the mobile phone and social. My point to them is always, actually, when you’re on social, you’re actually never present. You’re never properly engaged. You are responding to something with only part of your presence and part of your mind. You’re not giving someone your full attention. Ever. Unless you’re doing a video chat, right? [chuckles]
Dudley: My point is we would be much healthier, actually, if we were doing no social, and we were actually doing VR and video chats. We would be that much more connected as humans. We would understand each other more. We would get more value, more emotional value.
When I say it like that, some people go, “Maybe you’re right.” People just conflate it with social all the time, but it’s not.
Jeff: I love that concept of being present. I think we get together family members, and so often it’s like we’re half present with these mobile phones. The technology is narrowed to these super-smart mobile devices that are so small, but I think the future is expanding where it’s hidden. It’s in our contact lens, like you said, or it’s in our glasses. It’s contextual, and it’s on-demand. It gives us that ability to be present. I love that concept as we think about the benefits.
Also, Johnny, bringing grandma in the room-
Jeff: -and having more experiences with grandma and your kids, that sounds amazing.
Dudley, we want to wrap up with you. A very important question. You said ADD is your superpower.
Jeff: Tell us more about that. A lot of us struggle with ADD, especially in the tech world. Tell us more why it’s your superpower.
Dudley: [chuckles] Well, I very much went into it and tried to understand the neuroscience behind it so that I could create ways of helping and understand the things which were difficult, and why they were difficult. One of the key things I found was apart from the fact that you have a prefrontal cortex or an executive mind functioning that has very difficulty with a beginning, a middle, and an end, and you have no sense of time, which is just difficult in and of itself.
The other thing that is incredibly helpful for looking at the future, or futureproofing, or futuregazing, is that you don’t really have any filters. Traditionally, as a neural normal person, you filter everything out, you only focus on what you want. When you have ADD, you don’t have any filters, depending on the level of it. I certainly have none.
What happens is if something is different or if something is bubbling, I notice it straight away. The more it bubbles, the more I notice it. Whatever that thing is, it means that you have a visceral awareness of it before the rest of the population. Then you’re curious and you start looking at it. Then you start to connect and associate that to how the future could work. Your associative brain is also not hemmed in. You jump between all the different parts of your brain going backward and forward, which is terrible for sleeping, but in terms of connecting and creating, it’s also a big advantage.
I do see it as my superpower because I notice things that other people just don’t.
Jeff: Thank you for that and for connecting with anyone who does have ADD. Maybe ADD will be a superpower in the metaverse, as we’re thinking about absorbing and creating all these different experiences and different worlds and different aspects that combine the digital, physical realms.
Loved being with you two, and hearing your insights and expertise about the future of the metaverse. Thank you. As battle-tested evangelists and leaders, it’s great to have you guys also share your insights on both sides, the benefits of this, and also the ethics of the importance of shaping it or regulating it so that it is a true benefit to humanity. Again, thanks for being here on The Future Of.
Dudley: Thank you. It’s been an absolute pleasure. You and your work is legendary and it’s been a real honor, so thank you. Johnny, you’re not too bad either.
Johnny: I appreciate it. It was great to learn with you all, and excited to see how we can come back on this topic in 10 to we say 24 years and see how much of this was accurate, and how it’s advanced. I appreciate the time.
Dudley: We’ll definitely get some stuff wrong, that’s for sure. [laughs]
Jeff: Hang out with grandma in a new way. Let her go dance a little bit, swim in the underwater world, and then hang out with the grandkids in the afternoon.
Johnny: There you go.
Jeff: The Future Of podcast is brought to you by Fresh Consulting. To find out more about how we pair design and technology together to shape the future, visit us at freshconsulting.com. Make sure to search for The Future Of in Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, or anywhere else podcasts are found. Make sure to click subscribe so you don’t miss any of our future episodes. On behalf of our team here at Fresh, thank you for listening.