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For all the ambitious talk from Mark Zuckerberg about how glamorous and revolutionary the metaverse will be, it’s got a long way to go before the average person wants to engage with it.
At the 2022 Milken Institute Global Conference on Tuesday, Wave Financial founder Les Borsai hosted a panel titled “A Look into the Metaverse: Augmented and Virtual Reality,” which sought to explore the various applications for mixed reality and metaverse-related technologies. Yet when Borsai initially asked attendees whether any of them owned virtual reality tech, only a smattering of hands went up across the room, while only a handful of the same folks said they used VR for more than one hour per week.
The discussion was wide-ranging—covering topics ranging from the value of NFTs as profile pictures, to VR’s potential as a vehicle to treat mental and physical ailments. One of the participants, none other than author and spiritual guru Deepak Chopra, claimed that VR can help “change the experience, [and] change the reality” for patients, advocating for its use by the chronically ill.
The talk began with a demonstration by mixed reality production firm Big Rock Creative that introduced all six panelists in “the metaverse” before they walked out on stage. If the idea sounded cool, the execution left something to be desired; blocky, two-dimensional avatars of each panelist—for some reason missing arms and legs—floated on-screen to introduce themselves, before all boarding a virtual bus to “drive them” to the conference.
The bit didn’t land, with many attendees exchanging confused glances, unsure if the presentation was live (it was pre-taped). The avatars lacked detail and failed to convey even the basic emotions that Snapchat’s Bitmojis are capable of. At the risk of a roast, it’s frankly flummoxing why these much-hyped and well-funded “metaverses” often don’t look better than the graphics that EA whipped up for “The Sims 2” some 18 years ago.
Back to the discussion: Panelist Kathleen Cohen, founder of Santa Monica-based mixed reality consultancy The Collaboratorium, talked up the potential of “twinning”—creating digital twins of yourself or your assets to sell or use in the metaverse. A former producer for Disney, Cohen described her job as “hacking happiness and safety for a living,” and said she thinks the metaverse could help differently-abled people better communicate with the world.
Also speaking was Peter Levin, managing director of Los Angeles-based gaming-focused venture capital firm Griffin Gaming Partners, who noted the commonly held view that the metaverse’s greatest opportunity right now is in the realm of gaming. Griffin Gaming is pouring plenty of money into that thesis, having closed a new $750 million venture fund last month.
Levin envisioned a future where gamers can use their digital twin as a login token on every gaming platform. “We're going to eliminate that friction [and] provide a tremendous amount of agency to this consuming constituency” of younger gamers, he predicted.
Chopra—who noted that he has a wellness AI, named Digital Deepak, that he speaks with daily—said he believes “the ethics are still evolving around” the metaverse and what it should look like moving forward. He added that he’s bullish on its potential to create immersive spiritual environments and games that “promote joy.” The spiritual guru has also embraced NFTs, nodding to a recent drop that he said sold out within a day of launching.
While the panelists were optimistic about the metaverse’s ability to connect people, after seeing it in practice, the audience appeared skeptical at best. The technologies powering the metaverse are still their infancy, and the virtual realm may face a long journey out of the uncanny valley before people feel comfortable cloning themselves in this brave new tokenized reality. — Samson Amore
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What We’re Reading Elsewhere...
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