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Facebook has invested $10 billion in the metaverse. It’s so bullish on this new state of existence that it changed the name of its parent company to Meta.
That sounds like a timely investment, as Goldman Sachs is putting the value of the metaverse at $12 trillion. That’s more than enough to buy the 30 largest companies on the Dow Jones, including Apple and Microsoft at today’s prices … and leave enough money left over to enjoy 58 billion large Dominos pizzas and 2.5 billion bottles of Dom Perignon to wash them down with.
With so many investments and market projections being made for what’s coming, it’s easy to miss what’s here.
The metaverse has already changed the way that we live and work, offering us a hybrid state of existence right now.
Some technological developments are so big, they change our behavior. The really big changes alter perception, so much so, that it becomes difficult to remember what life was like before their arrival.
Our current, hybrid existence falls into the latter category. I believe it’s the reason why so many consumers, investors and even technologists have missed its arrival, and misunderstand its potential to be linked to a fully digital existence that won’t ever arrive.
Our new existence is what I like to refer to as the “hybrid-verse.”
There are a lot of terms for something close to this concept — mixed reality, extended reality and hybrid reality are just a few.
I think those terms are inadequate because they reflect a fundamental misunderstanding of how we’re accessing and interacting with the metaverse.
I think it’s better described as a “hybrid-verse.” It’s not a mix of realities, or an extension of one reality or another. It’s a true hybrid of three different states of being — the physical universe, a web 2.0 internet and data-based world and the metaverse.
The hybrid-verse is here now and, unless you’re reading this story as a printout in your cabin in the woods, you’re living in it.
This new state of existence snuck up on many of us. And, while many are looking to the next stage of human experience — an all-metaverse existence — I would argue that our hybrid way of life isn’t going away anytime soon.
No Bolognese in the metaverse
There are certain experiences that are either impossible to duplicate, or are not desirable to duplicate, in the virtual world. If you like to cook, you want to see, touch and smell your organic tomatoes before you buy them … not to mention eating them, after you’ve finished stirring them into your spaghetti sauce.
Of course, you might also want to see the sustainability certifications for the farmer who grew those tomatoes, in store and before checkout. And you might also want an interactive assistant to remind you to pick up heavy cream when it notices that you’ve bought every other ingredient for Bolognese and you’re heading to check out without it in your cart.
In a perfect world, none of those elements are replaced by any other — they’re all necessary, but are synergistic when they’re combined in an intelligent way.
It’s more than a mix. It’s a hybrid, pulling out the best of the physical, data and virtual worlds. This idea of a hybrid-verse incorporates a very humanistic technology into an already adaptable and willing generation.
This hybrid-verse integrates smart, personalized and immersive digital content into our physical reality. It’s a world that seamlessly blends the physical with the virtual, encouraging interaction with, and between, organic and digital entities and objects.
Right now, we don’t think of the hybrid-verse being in our lives except, perhaps, with its most novel applications. We use our GPS-enabled phones to catch Pokémon on the way to the subway, or a holographic Whitney Houston goes on a world tour eight years after her demise or a surgeon performs remote surgery on a patient thousands of miles away using a robot and AR glasses.
But artificial intelligence has a very real place in our tangible environment. And closer and more advanced integrations are coming.
The present and promise of 3.0
The concept of the metaverse, and the breakthroughs offered by the hybrid-verse, are made possible by Web 3.0.
If Web 1.0 gave us the ability to deliver vast amounts of data over long distances, and Web 2.0 gave us the ability to easily share rich content, interact and create our own insights, Web 3.0 will adapt and provide experiences and information before you even know that you need it.
Rather than just inserting notifications and analytics into our day-to-day existence, I see the next phase of 3.0 as being linked with AI-generated personalities that appear to be people, and are personable, helping guide us through our day.
We’re already seeing that with digital people like Ruth, an avatar who provides an extremely accurate representation of a human — so much so you might feel like you’re on a web-conference rather than a website.
Ruth serves as a “cookie coach” on the Nestle Tollhouse website. If you visit the site today, Ruth will offer assistance to help you bake cookies in the real world.
Right now, the interactions with Ruth in the hybrid-verse are fairly simple. Ruth will run through a list of questions about your preferences, experience level as a baker and the ingredients and equipment you have on hand. With that information, Ruth will guide you to recipes that are a good fit.
As Web 3.0 starts to reach its full potential, you might have the ability to give Ruth access to a smart-kitchen app that came with your refrigerator and oven, which can provide your ingredient inventory in real time. (At least one appliance provider — Samsung — is already collecting this information.) Ruth could use that information to predict if you’re planning on baking something, which ingredients you might already have in your kitchen and what you might like to bake based on prior recommendations.
From there, it’s a short step to making cookies with your child who is going to school out of state, and helping them roll out the dough in a virtual, metaverse-based kitchen … all while working under the tutelage of our friend Ruth.
Integrating this technology will be a slow drizzle of homogenization — not an evolution. Machines will never be invasive; they’ll be integrative. Over time, synergistic experiences, like the one mentioned above, will become more expected and more universally adopted.
Nestle is a step ahead of the curve, anticipating digital people that can move seamlessly between our physical universe and the metaverse. I believe that, soon, other companies will need to start thinking about how their own brands will migrate between these different universes, as well.
I’m intrigued by digital people — ones that are more than just digital assistants or online support. These AI-driven avatars can enhance actual, real-world productivity for a company’s clients and prospects, helping them overcome constraints and achieve real-world results.
As smart-home and smart-office become more widespread and integrated, digital people will literally be able to suggest enhancements and improvements to our lives before we realize we need them. Just like real people.
Unlike real people, digital people have the ability to be always-on and always learning. They can interact with, and adapt to, customers, offering personalized service at an almost infinite scale. They can also overcome cultural, language and geographical limitations, and implicit bias, creating ideal, personalized, empathic and relatable customer-service experiences. They are virtual helpers acting in the real world to enhance actual, tangible productivity. They enable us to reach beyond our normal constraints.
A now and future state
The idea of a fully-digital existence — the metaverse — represents a future so different from our current reality that it’s hard to imagine.
That’s precisely the reason why a full-time existence in the metaverse isn’t logical, at least with anything that’s currently on the technology horizon.
The hybrid-verse is going to continue to add value and efficiency to our lives, while also helping us overcome our own physical limitations. The value that it delivers is so seamless that it is almost invisible. In time, we won’t think of it as the “hybrid-verse” at all — it will just be “reality.”
The hybrid-verse is the future of human existence. And, that future is now.
Greg Cross is CEO and cofounder of Soul Machines.
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