Beyond the controversies, where the real world meets the digital world

A visitor checks out the metaverse gear during the 5th China International Import Expo in Shanghai in November. [Photo/Xinhua]

Ever since the concept of the metaverse began to take hold of the global tech industry last year, some of my colleagues and friends have worried that children are becoming increasingly addicted to such a seemingly omnipotent virtual world.

Children born in the 2000s are already enjoying virtual gaming, their eyes glued to the screens of a variety of consumer electronics all day. What will they do if the metaverse, which roughly refers to an immersive virtual world with real experiences, becomes commonplace?

A number of metaverse-related issues include digital “land rush” speculation, virtual currency scams, and copyright disputes, which are fueling concerns that such a digital realm of the future is undesirable.

The concerns are completely understandable. The metaverse concept is still in its infancy and there is not even a universally recognized definition of the term. But there is already a hype, with speculators and cheats trying to cash in on the metaverse madness. The potential indulgence of children is also a primary source of concern.

For all the controversies though, it’s worth noting that the metaverse isn’t just about creating a virtual world. The real idea behind the tech buzzword is a future where the virtual and physical worlds are inextricably interconnected. That is an inevitable trend, thanks to rapid technological advances, which will bring not only changes in lifestyles, but also greater opportunities for industrial upgrading, especially the integration of the real and digital economies.

Rather than the current focus on its entertainment uses, such as virtual games and social media platforms, the metaverse’s greatest potential lies in the industries that make up the backbone of our economies, such as manufacturing, transportation, education, and infrastructure.

For example, companies can use virtual reality and augmented reality technologies, which are important aspects of the metaverse, to train employees. A number of companies have already begun training employees on how to use and maintain equipment through the use of VR headsets rather than having them use physical equipment that can be dangerous or difficult to use in a training situation.

Meanwhile, the immersive learning concept, which combines the sense and presence of virtual reality with learning theory, data science, and spatial design, enhances the learning experience for employees and students, instead of having them sit down. in a classroom all day.

Instead of just looking at pictures, students can have an immersive 360-degree experience of the Egyptian pyramids and even virtually “step inside” the pyramids to explore their structure using virtual reality glasses. That could be a more efficient way to master new information.

That is also the case in manufacturing. Digital twins, or a digital representation of real-world physical products, can combine the real and digital worlds to speed planning of factories, buildings, and entire urban districts. By connecting digital twins with their real-world counterparts and leveraging their data, we can improve operations throughout the entire lifecycle.

For example, BMW used the simulation for six months in a new factory, building virtual cars on a one-to-one scale within the metaverse before implementing the final design for the factory. In the process of those six months, the company changed about 30 percent of the original design based on the simulation results, according to Richard Ward, a senior virtual reality expert at consulting firm McKinsey.

Such cases offer just a glimpse of how the metaverse will reshape the future. Of course, there is a long way to go before these early explorations become full and broad applications, as long-term efforts are needed to mature technologies, application scenarios, and business models to support the development of any concept.

Controversies over the metaverse abound today, which I think will continue for a long time as well, but it’s vital to understand that the buzzword goes far beyond creating a virtual world. Uniting the digital and real worlds is its essence.

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