January 20, 2023
The World Economic Forum (WEF) is actually having two meetings this week, one taking place in-person in Davos, the other in the metaverse.
The corporate lobby group on Tuesday launched a prototype of its Global Collaboration Village, giving 80 of its partner organisations a virtual space in which to, in WEF’s words, “take action on the world’s most pressing challenges.”
It runs on Microsoft’s Mesh mixed reality platform, and consists of three separate areas. First and foremost is the virtual congress centre: a virtual auditorium in which to attend conferences, bilateral meetings and workshops. Then there are the collaborative centres, offering virtual collaboration spaces for smaller-scale, more in-depth meetings. Finally, there are the stakeholder campuses, essentially giving partners a virtual exhibition stand at which they can host meetings with other members.
“With the Global Collaboration Village, we are creating the first public purpose-oriented application of the metaverse technology, building a true global village in the virtual space,” said WEF chairman Klaus Schwab, in a statement. “Supported by a unique range of partners from the public and private sectors, the Village will use the frontier capabilities of the metaverse to find solutions for addressing the big issues of our time in a more open, inclusive and sustained way.”
Until now, most metaverse announcements have been pitched firmly at ‘the youth’, offering them a new means of socialising, consuming content, interacting with their favouring brands, and even meeting celebrities, albeit digital versions of them. This though, strikes a far more grown-up tone and, frankly, it is a struggle to envision how it will work.
Will hundreds of important decision makers – who have spent their entire careers putting on grey suits and going to meetings, having their calls screened and diaries managed by executive assistants – make a coordinated and sustained effort to learn how to control a 3D avatar of themselves using a headset and hand controllers, and then use those to attend productive virtual meetings? Or will they ‘attend’ via a PC or smartphone, thus reducing the Global Collaboration Village to little more than a snazzy Teams meeting?
According to a New York Post article from last year, annual WEF membership fees start at $62,000 and run to as much as $620,000 for a fancy one. On top of that, a ticket for the Davos get-together is $29,000. Is WEF really about to risk that cash-cow by making the Global Collaboration Village anything more than a slightly gimmicky sideshow?
WEF insists it’s a big believer in the metaverse concept though, and accompanied the launch with two briefing papers. One of them emphasises the importance of interoperability – enabling users to move between the physical and digital world with their relevant data, digital assets and identities – while the other focuses on consumer applications, foundational technologies and pathways to economic value and growth.
WEF reckons that even though the metaverse’s precise definition is still being debated, the sector will be worth $800 billion in 2024.
“The metaverse is the next version of the Internet and it is critical that it’s built by all, and for all,” said Cathy Li, WEF’s head of media, entertainment and sport. “These two outputs reflect premier work on the metaverse involving such an extensive set of stakeholders and leaders, demonstrating the unique value of public-private partnership in metaverse development.”
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