Economic, social, cultural and environmental opportunities, the report submitted to the government provides a better understanding of the challenges of this new immersion technology that is Metaverse. Or rather, metaverses, because, somewhat like in “Doctor Strange in the Multiplicity of Madness”, these parallel universes are multiple.
February 2022: The Ministry of Economy and Finance and the Ministry of Culture prepare an intelligence report on metaverses. At the end of October 2022, they are given an interesting file of 116 pages. The goal? 1/ Allow the state to play its role in this technological development that will disrupt our vision of the future, rather than its first phase, video games. It is in the balance of power with both international and empirical private structures. 2/ Encourage entrepreneurs and investors through public policy to support the sector within France 2030, PIA4, PEPR and ANR* financing plans.
By comparison, the study cites South Korea, which will invest 2 billion euros in Metaverse by 2025, become one of the top five markets in the world, create 220 companies and achieve a business turnover of more than 4 billion euros. Until 2026.
Metaverse is like extended social networks
Metaverse for Memo is an online service that provides access to real-time simulations of 3D spaces (height, width and depth) to experience immersive experiences. The concept of the metaverse is particularly known to players who develop their own personas, called avatars, in video games. Through their appearance and participation in the game, they become actors in virtual social reality. They can validate and resell intangible goods, such as clothes, items, land plots, etc., with dematerialized certificates, popular NFTs, mainly with cryptocurrency. These digital assets form the economic basis of an ecosystem that cannot be limited to video games and is in the process of intervening in other sectors of activity. Hence the urgency of promoting a policy that accompanies the business process. Yes, but which one?
The need to bring immersive digital gamers together
If it wants to demonstrate its national sovereignty (in other words, not to be outdone by countries already in the race), the report recommends that the state strengthen its ecosystem by identifying metaverse specialist French companies. The study cites, for example, large structures such as Ubisoft or Dassault Systèmes, innovative start-ups (Pixyz Software, NextMind, etc.) and production studios (Backlight Studio, Stage11, etc.) already bought by Americans. This numbering will allow it to quantify the most strategic funding and support needs. The study invites the government to bring together specific projects (such as the 2024 Olympic Games) that meet the need for a public service to start discussions on interoperability (the possibility of connecting several computer systems). The statements emphasize the need to increase public procurement rather than offer more subsidies.
The importance of creating a legal and fiscal base
Currently, NFTs offer no protection against theft, copying and counterfeiting. “Rapporteurs note that, in particular, it is necessary to start the work of adapting GDPR, DSA and DMA to metaversal issues”. The goal? Ensure the continuity of worlds and artifacts created in the Metaverses.
This clash of sovereignty between national states and international platforms is becoming more and more prominent over time, as the attractiveness of the latter reaches the point of becoming an important means of communication. Suffice it to compare: Meta (Facebook) has more than 2 billion user accounts, while France has less than 70 million people. “Can we witness a form of privatization of justice? asks the reconnaissance mission.
The latter also suggests simplifying the administrative burden that discourages immersive digital players and creating incubators so they can focus on the value of their work, in this case making tech bricks ** . This initial support will stimulate European investors who, according to several interviews, are “unlike the US risk-averse.”
Need for training of experts and users
Announcing large investments in Metaverses will logically create new skilled jobs. Recruitment pressure is already very high, for example for data scientists or artificial intelligence engineers. The report encourages the state to train software engineers and computer science students at the highest level in public and private schools and to double the number of doctoral students in mixed reality.
Another problem to avoid in terms of training is the problem of potential users who are quickly lost at the mere mention of the word “metaverse”. “Electronic illiteracy” that goes hand in hand with social inequality given the equipment needed to travel through the metaverses (computers, smartphones, head-up displays, augmented and virtual reality glasses, touch gloves, etc.). Therefore, it would be appropriate to reflect inclusively in the design of metaverses.
To better understand and address these ethical and social impacts, the report suggests investing in interdisciplinary research initiatives (computing, neuroscience and social sciences) using existing systems (France 2030, PIA 4, PEPR, ANR). It is to develop experimental metaverses guided by public needs (culture, health, education).
Respect for privacy
Immersive technologies are extremely invasive in terms of obtaining personal information. Besides knowing what a person says, it is also possible to know what he does and how he does it. If a truly intrusive and ultra-targeted ban on advertising is hard to imagine, the issue of business models and gatekeepers (intermediaries responsible for controlling access) emerges to collectively define the society we live in. In theory, “the protection of privacy should take precedence over the interests of advertising companies.”
By spending more time in hybrid worlds in particular, some people may have more intense, more rewarding experiences in metaverses than in the physical world, and risk becoming disconnected from our reality.
The study suggests giving informed consent to users and signing a good code of conduct for manufacturers. It encourages designers to create clear and binding rules to prevent online behavior from spilling over into the real world. It’s about finding the balance between the expression of creativity and the implementation of principles, the providers of coexistence. The report cites the “Neuro-Rights Foundation,” which was created to apply human rights to cognitive technologies and promote basic “neuro-rights” around intellectual privacy, personal identity, or free will.
Fighting against the emission of greenhouse gases.
The significant increase in the technical means that will be applied to provide this service to as many people as possible raises the issue of controlling its impact on the environment. Some interviewees recommend the development of an infrastructure measurement system so that this nascent industry goes beyond mere entertainment or speculation and constitutes progress on an environmental level.
What all this inspires us
The idea of being at the dawn of an unprecedented technological era, web 3.0, is both exciting (what would we be without the internet and social networks?) and a little stressful. To accompany this change, it appears through this exploratory report that any system must be provided with structuring frameworks in a dematerialized sense, even if unreal. Those who wish to escape to the parallel worlds of the Metaverses find themselves again at the center of economic issues and objects of social evolution.
*France 2030 (investment plan for France), PIA4 (fourth Program of Investments for the Future), PEPR (Priority Research Programs and Facilities) and ANR (Agence Française de Financement).
**Technology bricks: the fruits of assemblies, demonstrations or developments that allow the validation of technologies in operational conditions that are becoming common.