Investment Banking

Immortality in the Metaverse

October 2022

Read Time: 4 minutes

The human mind knows no boundary – not even the universe. Welcome to the world of metaverse – a world designed by the human mind. It’s delivering experiential and immersive environments to learn, enjoy, interact, collaborate, create and trade. It’s a world that’s witnessing massive technological advancements and an ever-expanding bouquet of use cases.

At its core, the metaverse allows an individual to do things that might be improbable in the physical world. It’s also an avenue to experience the internet in an alternate and augmented form. While the gaming industry has been at the forefront of its adoption, its embrace is unlikely to exclude any. An avatar and its real-world alter ego, exhibit undivided attention while absorbing the contents of this virtual world – a dream come true scenario for advertisers. Doctors can learn intricate procedures while operating on digital twins. A breakdown on the factory floor could be analyzed by experts from around the world using a photorealistic virtual environment. An avatar empowered by AI/ML technologies can even self-learn. One can not only enjoy a Justin Bieber show, but also own a house next to his. All this is now within the realm of possibility in a metaverse. Or should we call it a multiverse?

The Business Opportunity

Interestingly, avatars aren’t, just yet, capable of moving into a different universe, necessitating the need for multiple identities. Blockchain based solutions that delink the underlying data layer from the application layer, could hold the key to this problem. The content, platforms, technology, governance, interoperability standards, security features etc. for the metaverse are in their infancy. It represents the next wave of digitalization opportunity for technology companies. Producers, far and wide, with computing power, devices, software, experience, NFT and content, will partake in this opportunity, which promises to be as large as the internet itself. The world will increasingly see tie-ups like the one that has been announced between Nvidia and Siemens to harness the potential of the metaverse.

With the absence of a universal standard, every enterprise is building its own version of the multiverse. Since the metaverse is going to be built from scratch, it’s music to the ears of Indian tech majors. It plays into their strength of custom developing solutions. For greater worldwide adoption, cost will be an important consideration, and the depreciating rupee keeps Indian IT perpetually cost competitive. No wonder, according to Xpheno, at last count, there were already 55K open job positions for metaverse related solutions in India alone.

The Governance Conundrum

There are, of course, two sides to any coin. The risks of a digital divide, addiction, AR induced depression, VR hangovers etc. are all real concerns. What fascinates me even more are the challenges around crime and punishment in a virtual world. If an avatar misbehaves in the metaverse, who needs to be held accountable – the platform, the creator or the avatar? Remember, in an AI/ML world, an avatar can self-learn and can potentially act without the creator’s consent. How would we deal with crimes that spillover from the metaverse into the physical world – say a Blue Whale equivalent? Would there now be a digital police force? Given that metaverse is digital, which country’s jurisdiction would apply to prosecute any misdemeanor? Maybe it is a fit case to apply the law of high seas, where the laws of the country where the ship is registered is used to prosecute a crime committed on that ship, while sailing in international waters. In essence, the domicile of the platform would determine the jurisdiction.

At an individual level, what degree of IP protection could be offered to an avatar? Will it pertain to the physical features or even around its behavioral characteristics? Think of a virtual Gabbar Singh. Since an avatar can outlive its creator, besides inheritance, it brings into play moral and ethical considerations. One can immortalize a digital twin, but what if the originator thought otherwise?

The Road Ahead

A generational change in technology is upon us. What direction it takes from here, and how long it takes to become mainstream is still a trillion-dollar question. What is certain is that it would be more than the internet in 3D. Enterprises would vie to shape its evolution rather than be shaped by it. Analysts are already predicting revenues from the metaverse to exceed US $ 10 trillion by 2030. McKinsey has estimated a cumulative investment of US $ 120 billion by funds and enterprises within the first five months of this year itself. While death and taxes have been certain, the metaverse promises a sliver of immortality in the ether.

Author: Amit Singh, Executive Director and Co-head, Enterprise Technology & Services, Avendus Capital (This blog was first published by The Times of India)

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