Jan 18, 2023 09:00 PM

Opinion: Defining, Building and Governing a Metaverse for All

A visitor interacts with her 'digital twin' in the metauniverse exhibition area of the China International Animation Festival in Hangzhou on Nov. 24. Photo: VCG
A visitor interacts with her 'digital twin' in the metauniverse exhibition area of the China International Animation Festival in Hangzhou on Nov. 24. Photo: VCG

The next generation of the internet is coming with the convergence of technologies forging the metaverse: an immersive, interoperable and synchronous digital world that is predicted to become an $800 billion market by 2024. The metaverse will rely upon the widespread adoption of extended reality — the combination of augmented, virtual and mixed reality — and the viability of digital assets, wallets and identities to conduct business and allow for social spaces.

Though a standard definition for the metaverse is still under development, experts agree that this new age of the internet will likely disrupt and transform current social and economic structures. From more immersive, empathetic social experiences to more universal access to health services and education, the metaverse presents a momentous opportunity, but also brings about new challenges.

It is within this context that in May 2022, the World Economic Forum presented its new initiative: Defining and Building the Metaverse. As the leading international organization for private-public partnerships, the Forum is uniquely adept at convening diverse stakeholders of government, academia, business and civil society to guide the development of a safe and inclusive, equitable, interoperable and economically viable metaverse.

The objective of this initiative is to advance consensus amongst the metaverse stakeholders via two tracks of work: metaverse governance, and economic and societal value creation. The governance track focuses on defining a set of recommended governance frameworks that prevent potential harms and mitigate emerging risks, while ensuring equity and interoperability. The value creation track focuses on producing visionary insights and surfacing challenges in economic and social value creation. Since launching, the initiative has convened more than 150 partners and organizations in its two working groups to begin exploring themes across both tracks.

On the governance track, the themes of interoperability, privacy, security, safety and identity, canvas a large swath of subject matter, ranging from questions of data privacy, infrastructure security, portability, accessibility and identity constructs, to those of content and conduct moderation, intellectual property, data, assets ownership, international security and more. Consensus garnered on these topics will lead to the production of briefing papers on different themes, culminating in a white paper. These will generate insights on burgeoning opportunities to improve governance at national and regional levels to better respond to 21st-century challenges.

The value creation track focuses on exploring the concepts of economic and social value in the metaverse. It aims to provide concrete recommendations for equitable and sustainable value creation to creators, public and private organizations and the general public. It is hoped that this will contribute to stability and informed decision-making in metaverse enablement and adoption.

The value creation track starts with an exploration of the consumer-facing metaverse and will move on to the industrial and enterprise metaverses in the future. It will also research the opportunities and trade-offs in access, inclusion, sustainability and well-being for those seeking to use the metaverse. The overall aim of this track is to provide systems guidance for organizations to prepare for the inevitability of disruption and the creation of value that the metaverse will provide.

Ethics remain at the center of the considerations for both tracks and are always circled back to when considering both governance frameworks and social and economic value creation.

Both outputs, which were written in collaboration with Accenture, explore these initial themes. The first output of the governance track is interoperability, which is founded on the ability for users to participate across environments and technologies, for data to circulate freely and securely and for systems to exchange information seamlessly. For the metaverse to operate seamlessly, it will require interoperability for users to move, create, transact and participate across different platforms and localities.

For value creation, the first output is on consumer applications. This explores the key components, foundational technologies, roles and paths to economic value and growth in a singular consumer metaverse.

Notably, the tracks and the overall initiative take a forward-thinking approach without operating in silos. Instead, they work collaboratively to ensure that value creation in the metaverse is considered within a well-established governance framework and that governance recommendations remain cognizant of economic and social opportunity. The Metaverse Initiative is also collaborative across other Forum initiatives. It works in tandem with the Global Coalition for Digital SafetyDigital Trust, Platforms for Artificial Intelligence, Blockchain and Digital Assets, Advanced Manufacturing, Health and Healthcare, as well as the Forum’s Global Collaboration Village.

Though the metaverse presents a myriad of potential challenges, it remains an opportunity for immense good — for greater social cohesion, sustainable creation and economic opportunity through new forms of value distribution, accessibility and more — especially when driven by purposeful and ethical public-private partnerships. Ultimately, this initiative seeks not only to define and guide but to design and build a metaverse for all.

Cathy Li is head of Shaping the Future of Media, Entertainment & Sport at the World Economic Forum. This article is part of the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting 2023.

The views and opinions expressed in this opinion section are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the editorial positions of Caixin Media.

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