The World Economic Forum (WEF) and major corporations, following talks at last month’s annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, launched a new initiative: “Defining and Building the Metaverse.”
As the initiative’s name implies, its stakeholders are still in the process of defining exactly what the term “metaverse” means.
However, according to the WEF, in part, the metaverse involves a moment “at which our digital lives — our online identities, experiences, relationships, and assets — become more meaningful to us than our physical lives.”
One person involved in the talks, Julia Goldin, LEGO’s chief product & marketing officer, expressed optimism about how the metaverse could aid in children’s development:
“To us, the priority is to help create a world in which we can give kids all the benefits of the metaverse — one with immersive experiences, creativity and self-expression at its core — in a way that is also safe, protects their rights and promotes their well-being.”
While the talks focused somewhat on how to definitively define the term “metaverse,” there was also a great deal of focus on who should be involved in — and potentially profit from — its development.
Those involved in the talks positioned themselves to “develop and share actionable strategies for creating and governing” an “interoperable and safe” metaverse.
There also were extensive discussions on providing “guidance on how to create an ethical and inclusive metaverse, engaging organizations across the private and public sectors, including business, civil society, academia and regulators.”
The WEF described the initiative as “bringing together leading voices from the private sector, civil society, academia and policy” to “define the parameters” of the metaverse’s future development.
A May 25 session — “Shaping a Shared Future: Making the Metaverse” — included the following panelists:
Chris Cox, chief product officer of Facebook’s parent company, Meta.
Peggy Johnson, CEO of Magic Leap, described by the WEF as “a spatial computing company building the next computing platform.”
Philip Rosedale, founder of Linden Lab, which developed the “Second Life” virtual world, acquired in April by Meta.
Andrew R. Sorkin, financial columnist for The New York Times and co-anchor of CNBC’s “Squawk Box.”
Omar Sultan Al Olama, minister of state for artificial intelligence in the United Arab Emirates, appointed in 2017.
Nick Clegg, Meta’s president of global affairs who was formerly deputy prime minister of the U.K., said the “multistakeholder initiative” aims to assume a leading role in establishing and shaping the metaverse.
The WEF said early stakeholders will play a particularly significant role in this process:
“‘Defining and Building the Metaverse’ is the world’s foremost multistakeholder initiative to develop and share actionable strategies for creating and governing the metaverse.
“By providing a space for global leaders in industry, civil society and government, the initiative will share and accelerate insights and solutions that will bring the metaverse to life.
“By joining the initiative, members are playing a vital role in defining and building the metaverse.”
Building a ‘metaverse’ that hasn’t yet been definitively defined
Though as its name implies, part of the initiative’s goal is to define “metaverse,” the WEF did offer this highly broad, general definition:
“ … a future persistent and interconnected virtual environment where social and economic elements mirror reality. Users can interact with it and each other simultaneously across devices and immersive technologies while engaging with digital assets and property.”
This expands on the “simplest” definition of the metaverse provided by the WEF, which described it as “a unified and persistent virtual environment accessed via extended reality (XR) technologies.”
The WEF said the metaverse is most usefully seen “as a lens through which to view ongoing digital transformation,” based on the belief that “virtual worlds, incorporating connected devices, blockchain and other tech will be so commonplace that the metaverse will become an extension of reality itself.”
More specific definitions of the metaverse, however, “can develop in many ways, depending on research, innovation, investment and policy,” the WEF said.