In recent months, the metaverse has become one of the most controversial digital innovations, arousing hope, fears, and lots of questions... But what does this immersive digital space really represent? What are the key promises? Should we be worried about it? Morgan Bouchet, Orange’s Global Head of XR & Metaverse, and Frédéric Bardeau, President and Co-founder of Simplon, answered our questions.
Global Head of XR & Metaverse
When Facebook became Meta, it prompted a whole host of questions and projections around what this new digital technology might mean. Virtual worlds promise to revolutionize many uses in homes, businesses, schools, and elsewhere. However, a recent survey showed that 87% of people feel that the metaverse is going to seriously compromise their privacy. Is trust, and more generally social and environmental responsibility, central to the metaverse’s future development? We asked Morgan Bouchet, our Global Head of XR & Metaverse, and Frédéric Bardeau, President and Co-founder of the Simplon digital school what they thought.
Everyone in the tech sector is talking about the metaverse, but what exactly is it?
Morgan Bouchet: "The metaverse is a real-time, digital, and persistent space, which is also immersive in many aspects. Immersion is one of the key concepts behind it, whether in the form of virtual reality, augmented reality, or simply a strong user engagement in a 3D universe. What’s happening on gaming platforms today is the start of tomorrow’s immersive experiences. Another characteristic is how users are represented by avatars in a kind of parallel universe that will be more playful than the internet or Web 2.0 as we know it."
Frédéric Bardeau: "I would add that the metaverse was born from a vision that appeared several decades ago in science fiction novels. It’s ultimately a self-fulfilling prophesy. The original concept is becoming a reality as technologies and uses align to the vision."
M.B.: "That’s why at Orange we’re actively exploring what the metaverse might offer us by analyzing our customers’ short- and long-term needs. When we created the Eternal Notre-Dame exhibition, we noticed a real appetite for this kind of virtual reality experience. New uses around immersive experiences are definitely emerging. For consumers, the metaverse seems to be moving towards gaming-style universes such as The Sandbox, Fortnite or Roblox. On these platforms, we can already see many experiences that go beyond the simple notion of play (concerts, fashion shows, live football matches, etc.). For companies, the focus is different. We’re testing immersive technologies (AR, VR, etc.) that offer business benefits in the fields of education, vocational training, industrial risk management, or security, for example. Finally, the metaverse also makes it possible to trial a new sales channel – virtual stores."
Metaverse development is arousing interest but also questions. Which players can we rely on to promote a responsible approach?
F.B.: "Technologies are always developed faster than regulation. I don’t believe in global laws to standardize uses. But equipment manufacturers, platform creators, and service producers are already working on governance, such as the Metaverse Standard Forum for example. All stakeholders in the sector agree on interoperability, on the responsibility of platforms, on respect for vulnerable people..."
M.B.: "The standards put in place by governance bodies are essential because the issue of interoperability (of universes, avatars, etc.) is central to the metaverse’s eventual success. We’ll need regulation for issues such as interoperability and trust, based on standards that comply with the law and also human rights. I’m thinking of harassment and user security in particular."
In partnership with Meta, Simplon is launching the Metaverse Academy. Frédéric, how do you approach the notion of responsibility in your courses?
F.B.: "The Metaverse Academy is a free, inclusive work-study program open to jobseekers and beyond. We have developed training in partnership with Meta to suit this emerging sector’s most in-demand tech jobs such as VR developers and device technicians. We know that recruiters like Orange are looking for people who have training in responsible digital issues, which is why we include courses such as algorithmic bias, personal data, and health and environmental impacts in our program."
If users fear that the metaverse will compromise their privacy, how do you build in trust? Should new legislation be imposed to limit the risks?
M.B.: "It’s true that the vision of the current metaverse is largely influenced by 1990s science fiction, and this provokes anxiety. But it’s possible to avoid this dystopian world from emerging if we are collectively able to anticipate the impacts of the metaverse on network infrastructure, the economy, security, the environment, and ethics. At Orange, we’re already analyzing what these possible changes might mean."
F.B.: "As on the web, there are public and private universes in the metaverse, which depend on very different legislation. For example, The Sandbox, which is much talked about, is governed by Hong Kong legislation. Not all of these platforms have the same privacy requirements as we do. We can therefore imagine that there will be a stringent GDPR-type law governing European metaverses. For other metaverses hosted elsewhere, the specifications will remain at the discretion of their creators…"
M.B.: "I would add that the metaverse is part of a new ‘Web3’ culture, a new phase. When it comes to digital trust, we have the benefit of hindsight with the two previous phases. We therefore have tools at hand to analyze this latest evolution."
What is the metaverse’s likely environmental impact?
F.B.: "It is undeniable that the technologies used are energy intensive. You need VR headsets, AR glasses and more. This requires network bandwidth, more powerful computing, graphics cards... To understand the environmental impact of the metaverse, you have to think in terms of the value chain, but unfortunately, measuring the impact is extremely complex. To date, there is no consolidated data. It’s up to all stakeholders to do their bit. At Meta, eco-designed headsets are not yet on the agenda. But some designers, like the French teams at Lynx Mixed Reality, are making progress."
M.B.: "We still don't know which direction the market will take. Meta has sold around 30 million devices, but future growth is not quantified. It’s also unclear if headsets or glasses will prevail, or when, or what technology will prevail, or whether the resulting electronic waste can be recycled. These are all factors that will affect the metaverse’s overall environmental impact."
Is there a chance some services will have a positive impact on the environment?
M.B.: “The lockdown showed the positive impact of using videoconferencing to replace travel, but it is not enough. The metaverse’s new immersive functionalities might reduce personal and business travel further. But of course, we must also consider the equipment purchased and its manufacturing impacts.”
F.B.:“It is possible to imagine a restrained, robust, protective metaverse where the proposed applications are more socially or environmentally friendly. I’m thinking in particular of universes that are really useful and accessible, especially for users in emerging countries. Let’s try to make the metaverse more responsible than Web 2.0.”
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