Metaverse to reach at least $6 trillion by 2030: big tech to get bigger

Many issues surround the metaverse today, but it is a market expected to be worth between $6-13 trillion by 2030, according to the World Economic Forum. Some panelists warn that big tech, with market capitalization already comparable to the GDP of some developed economies, will grow even bigger.

The future of digital worlds is one of the hot topics in Davos, where political and business leaders talk at the 54th Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF).

The metaverse, despite setbacks and disappointment about things like legless avatars or heavy VR goggles, is growing and covering ever wider areas. Its global revenues are expected to reach $800 billion in 2024. That’s comparable to the GDP of countries like Poland, Taiwan, or Switzerland.

Nicola Mendelsohn, Vice-President of Global Business Group at Meta Platforms, says that they’re continuing to invest heavily.

“There was a lot of hype a couple of years ago, and we were always playing cautious here, telling people we still see that this is going to take a good decade to get to that fully realized vision. And so we still see that we're on that journey, and we're excited about the advancements and the milestones that are happening along the way,” Mendelsohn said.

Panelists at Davos raised many issues surrounding the future of Metaverse. It enables a new form of online harassment and abuse, as traumas in immersive virtual worlds “imprint on your brain in permanent ink,” Brittan Heller, Fellow at Digital Forensics Research Lab of The Atlantic Council, warned.

She also sees that existing laws do not fully cover the privacy risks of tracking eyes and other body inputs, which reveal a lot about health and a person.

Sir Martin Sorrell, executive chairman of the digital advertising and marketing services company S4Capital, sees the largest tech companies outgrowing some of the largest developed countries.

Are we underestimating the metaverse?

Sorrell argues that the metaverse has already changed many aspects of our lives.

“This NBA season will be the fourth season we've been streaming games. <…> We've done, I think, 20 pop concerts, Post Malone and others. So, I would say training, medicine, entertainment, music, sport, and then the final area, work from home and work from anywhere,” he said.

As working from home becomes a permanent feature of our lives, he hopes technology can help us do that more effectively.

“When the metaverse came in, it was much maligned, it was the source of all evil, unfairly so. And that has changed quite dramatically. I mean, it probably was overhyped in the initial phases. We've seen that come back, and it's now re-establishing a base. And I think people underestimate today the commercial value, entertainment value, music value that's inherent there,” Sorrell said.

Also, the metaverse is not isolated from advancements in AI or quantum computing.

And there lies the issue of big tech, which is posed to gain even more power and influence.

“When you look at the likely development of what I call the Big Six, you've got the three Western platforms and the three Eastern, the three Eastern being Alibaba, Tencent, and ByteDance. With all the technologies, whether it's AR, VR, AI, blockchain, or whatever, the likelihood is those six become even more powerful.”

He explained that Microsoft and Apple already have market capitalizations reaching $3 trillion, which is about the size of the GDP of Germany.

“It's the big you’re going to get bigger. Obviously, Apple with Vision Pro, Microsoft, Nvidia, probably Salesforce, Oracle, and Adobe are all going to be big players. OpenAI comes in through Microsoft. Musk will be there. The big are going to get bigger,” Sorrell said.

He doesn’t believe regulators can change it “unless they take a much more aggressive approach.”

He expects the metaverse to affect many business areas, including visualization, copywriting, introducing hyper-personalization at scale, changing media planning, and buying.

“Huge changes are going to take place there.”

To Sorrell, the biggest risk to the metaverse is a dependency on semiconductors from Taiwan. If this supply chain gets affected, that’s “an existential threat to Western economies.”

a guy with VR headset and popcorns

People will find infinitely creative ways to misuse technology

There are many issues with the metaverse that worry regulators. Julie Inman Grant, Australia’s eSafety Commissioner, noted that no one could define what the final metaverse looks like. Therefore, it is very important to ensure safety by design and getting ahead of the risks and harms that metaverse may bring.

She gave many examples, from children going on virtual educational journeys where they feel the smell of the gladiators in ancient Rome to the misuse of teledildonics.

“These hyper-realistic high-sensory experiences could be incredible,” she said and noted that at the same time, those environments in real-time make lots of potential harms, such as online bullying, misogynistic harassment, sexual assaults “more visceral, potentially extreme.”

Heller added that VR experiences feel real and may affect the body and mind.

“I'm a former prosecutor, and there was a woman two years ago who reported that she was sexually assaulted in the metaverse. When I talked to her a lot, she showed every sign that I would look for as a law enforcement member except for physical forensic evidence. But every other sign was there,” Heller said.

“When something happens to you in a virtual world like that, it's imprinted on your brain in permanent ink.”

Personal data collection also worries her as “body-based data” is not yet properly covered by privacy laws and is much more extensive compared to biometric data.

“The type of information that you give off through your digital exhaust when you're using your eye tracking to calibrate a device can tell highly personal information. It can tell you stuff about your medical medical conditions. It can tell you things about your personal identity. It can tell you things about your sexual orientation or whether you're prone to telling the truth,” Heller said.

Grant shared details from a study, revealing that only 4% of Australian adults are using the metaverse today, and about 75% of them are men under 40.

“About 61% of them are using haptics in conjunction with Oculus or Quest glasses, and 71% of them have experienced something negative in the metaverse. So people will find infinite, infinitely creative ways to misuse technology, and companies can build and try and engineer out misuse,” Grant fears.

While technology can be great, “it needs to be balanced with interpersonal communication, with exercise, with sleep,” and other things in reality.

Mendelsohn noted that safety matters a lot to them, and Reality Labs, a VR and AR research unit at Meta, does not wait for regulation. It has already introduced safety features for blocking, setting personal boundaries, reporting, and others.

Unlimited possibilities with the metaverse

Mendelsohn didn’t know where to start when asked what kinds of things we might do in the metaverse that we can’t do in a physical space today. Football games or pop concerts can be unlimited in number of attendees, and “you can call your friends around the world” and feel like you’re sitting next to each other.

“99.9% of people on this planet will never go to the Galapagos. But you're in there. You look to your left, you see these blue-footed boobies. You turn to your right, you see the penguins, you see the sharks, and you feel like you are there,” Mendelsohn said.

She believes the metaverse may transform education and how we think about history, geography, math, or computing.

“We're demonstrating also how to learn to play the piano on a virtual keyboard. I promise you, it feels like you are literally playing a piano, and you feel pretty good that you can play the piano, too.”

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