The Metaverse: Innovation begins with collaboration

Simon Milner, VP of Public Policy, APAC

In the two decades since the mainstream adoption of the internet, a lot has changed, both in terms of technological trends and advancement and how people use online services in their lives.

One of the most significant changes in the last decade is how mobile networks and smart devices have fundamentally altered the way we use the internet. Over the next decade, we will experience another fundamental shift with the journey toward the metaverse.

The metaverse will involve a move away from the traditional online world of flat screens filled with text and images, and move towards immersive experiences akin to the way we interact offline – more physical, interactive, and speech-based.

The metaverse will consist of a set of digital spaces, including immersive 3D experiences, that are interconnected. The defining quality of the metaverse will be a feeling of presence—like you are right there with other people or in another place. Like the internet today, it won't be a single product like Facebook or Instagram, or a piece of hardware like the iPhone. And like the internet, it won’t be created or owned by any individual company.

While the fully developed metaverse is still five to ten years away, we can already use bridging technologies like virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and devices like the Oculus Quest 2 that give us a sense of what is to come.

We’re already starting to see the capabilities of using VR in the offline world. When the pandemic prevented APEC delegations from being physically present in New Zealand in 2021, we partnered with a coalition of Māori digital creatives and designers, to develop the immersive ‘Ngā Atua Māori’ AR experience. This enabled delegates to learn more about te ao Māori as if they were in Aotearoa New Zealand in person.

I attended NZTech’s Responsible Innovation in the Metaverse panel session and shared the stage with Lee Timutimu (pictured below) who led this project with his company, Arataki Systems, and it was inspiring to hear about the development process and how this project was brought to life.

As an industry, we know the full benefits of the metaverse are still to be discovered. Part of building the metaverse will include the need for frameworks, guidelines, and transparent conversations with governments and safety organisations about how to innovate responsibly.

To start, we’re collaborating with industry partners, including Netsafe in New Zealand, to think through all of the potential issues and opportunities in the metaverse. Last week, we announced our work with the broader technology industry, NZTech, and Netsafe, to launch a New Zealand-first online safety regulatory framework that will help keep the digital world safer now. This collaborative approach will continue to be important as we prepare for the future.

We’re already creating and developing guardrails to address safety, privacy, and well-being in the metaverse. For example, our Quest 2 devices are designed for children ages 13 and up, and some experiences are only for people aged 18 and up. We've also started rolling out parental supervision tools on Quest, allowing parents and guardians to be more involved in their teens’ experiences in virtual reality.

We believe immersive learning has the power to dramatically improve the quality of education while bringing a new level of excitement to learning and allowing students to experience new things that seem worlds away. While safety and education are key, we also want the metaverse to be a place for online communities to thrive, and we’re already seeing glimpses of what’s possible through such technologies.

AR and VR can provide new and more immersive ways to access the past and present, as well as visualise the future. In one inspiring example, the Antarctic Heritage Trust captured Sir Edmund Hillary’s Hut at Scott Base in VR, allowing students to interact with this unique piece of New Zealand’s history.

For people considering a career in law enforcement, the “VirtualCop” VR app offers a window into life on the beat, allowing users to investigate crime scenes and work with the community. Developed by Wellington creative agency Wrestler, led by Kat Lintott, who also shared the NZTech Connect stage on Tuesday, “VirtualCop” illustrates how VR/AR can design everyday experiences.

Building the metaverse responsibly will be a collective task that will require collaboration with government, researchers, and industry peers. Our partnership with NZTech is an important part of our efforts to ensure we're engaging in thoughtful debates on this topic. We‘re excited about the future of the metaverse, and our work with our Kiwi partners will aim to uphold responsible innovation as we work to build the metaverse together.

This post has been adapted from the New Zealand Herald, posted 26 July 2022.

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