Editor’s note: Each week WRAL TechWire focuses its Innovation Thursday report on companies, people and technology that could make a big difference in our collective future.
This week’s report comes from Elon University and Pew Research which examine the possibility of a “truly immersive metaverse.”
ELON – Experts are split about the likely evolution of extended reality – XR – and a truly-immersive ‘metaverse.’ They expect that AR and MR enhancements will become more useful in people’s daily lives. Many worry that current problems will be magnified if Web3 development is led by those who built today’s dominant web platforms
This report by Elon University’s Imagining the Internet Center and Pew Research holds hundreds of predictions and opinions expressed by experts who agreed to have their comments credited in a canvassing conducted in February 2022. These experts were asked to respond with their thoughts about the likely evolution of extended-reality tools (AR, MR, VR) and “the metaverse” by 2040.
Pew Research Center and Elon University’s Imagining the Internet Center invited thousands of experts to share their insights about the likely near future of extended-reality and “the metaverse” in a Winter 2022 canvassing. More than 600 technology innovators, developers, business and policy leaders, researchers and activists responded; of these, 367 wrote explanatory comments after responding to this study’s “yes-no” question. This report organizes and categorizes the most-common themes expressed by each of these experts in their thorough analyses of the likely future based on today’s trends.
In order, this page contains: 1) the research question; 2) a very brief outline of the most common themes found among these experts’ remarks; 3) the full report, which weaves together the experts’ written submissions in chapter form.
The evolution of the metaverse: This canvassing of experts is prompted by emerging debates over the evolution and impact of “the metaverse” by 2040. Broadly defined, the metaverse is the realm of computer-generated, networked extended-reality spaces (XR, which includes VR, AR and/or MR) in which interactions take place among humans and automated entities, some in gaming or fantasy worlds and some in “mirror worlds” that duplicate real-life environments. While extended-reality gaming and social spaces have been in existence for decades, early 2020s tech advances have pushed the development of the metaverse to the forefront, inspiring tens of billions of dollars in investments and prompting predictions that it is “the future of the internet” or “the next internet battleground.” The hope is that advanced, immersive, 3D, online worlds could benefit all aspects of society – education, healthcare, gaming and entertainment, the arts, social and civic life and other activities. Of course, as with all digital tech, there are concerns about the health, safety, security, privacy and economic implications of these new spaces. This is spurring new conversations about what the maturing of the metaverse will look like and what that means for society.
The question: Considering what you know about the metaverse, which statement comes closer to your view about its likely evolution by 2040?
- By 2040 the metaverse WILL be a much-more-refined and truly fully-immersive, well-functioning aspect of daily life for a half billion or more people globally.
- By 2040 the metaverse WILL NOT be a much-more-refined and truly fully-immersive, well-functioning aspect of daily life for a half billion or more people globally.
Results for the question regarding the current evolution of XR and the metaverse:
- 54% said by 2040 the metaverse WILL be a much-more-refined and truly fully-immersive, well-functioning aspect of daily life for a half billion or more people globally.
- 46% said by 2040 the metaverse WILL NOT be a much-more-refined and truly fully-immersive, well-functioning aspect of daily life for a half billion or more people globally.
Follow-up question: Tell us how you imagine that this shift of many online activities into more-fully-immersive digital spaces and digital life is likely to take place. Regardless of how you see the timing of this, how might it change human society? What are the likely positives of this transition? What negatives may emerge? How might it change the daily lives of the connected? And how will this transition change the way we think about our world and ourselves? We are also interested in hearing your thoughts about the role blockchain and its applications might play in this evolution of online life by 2040.
Choose a link below to read only the expert responses, with no sort or analysis
Common themes found among the experts qualitative responses:
AR and MR will rule in 2040: Augmented- and mixed-reality applications will continue to be far more useful to the public than virtual-reality in 2040. Design must not be completely profit-driven: The next-generation networked-knowledge ecosystem should be built in ways that better serve the public good than the current web does. Business will continue to drive R&D: Profit motives will inspire significant investment in advancing XR technologies. People will find full-immersion VR to be useful: A much greater number of people globally will find the metaverse useful in their daily lives by 2040. People will not find full VR settings to be useful: Fully-immersive VR will not be seen as a useful application in the daily lives of most folks in 2040. The technological innovation for much fuller VR will emerge by 2040: The technology to create an attractive, easy-to-use immersive metaverse is possible to achieve by 2040. The technology needed for much fuller VR is not possible by 2040: Upgrades in software, hardware, user interfaces and network capability will not be advanced enough to develop a much broader interest in full VR. The pandemic accelerated development: COVID-19’s arrival gave XR development a big boost, especially in health, business and education sectors. People prefer living in layers of ‘real’ reality over fully VR experiences: In 2040 most people will continue to find full immersion in VR unappealing because they don’t want to be immersed, preferring being mostly absorbed in the real world. Public worries about the impact of surveillance capitalism and abuse by authoritarian regimes will slow or stop adoption: A number of these experts predict that people will not be willing to invest their time and energy in virtual spaces in which they can be further manipulated and surveilled by corporate and/or authoritarian interests. There are any number of potential positive and delightful uses of XR: The experts highlighted a wide-ranging number of activities and services that could be offered in metaverse spaces, including in training and education, business, medicine, armchair travel, and the artificial replication of “peak” experiences such as traveling in space, moving through imaginary worlds or meeting and interacting with sport stars, celebrities or famous people of the past. There are any number of threatening and harmful uses of XR: These experts noted a number of problems that may worsen in metaverse spaces, including reductions in autonomy and people’s ability to control their lives; amplified digital divides and discrimination, harassment, bullying and hate, misinformation, online addictions, mental health issues; threats to personal data, privacy and safety; and further commercialization and monetization of basic human activities.
These themes are repeated in three tables included below, in the full report.