By harnessing extended reality technologies, the metaverse promises virtual environments wherein immersive, perhaps even lifelike, experiences can be realized. End-users will be able to explore expansive digital terrains, peruse various goods and services through 3D virtual showrooms, and even perform complex surgeries with medical data overlayed on the operating table.
But commentary in the media in recent months would lead you to believe that the metaverse is simply a new-fangled technology with limited potential.
It’s not surprising that Disney and Microsoft’s decision to axe their respective metaverse departments, combined with the fact that Meta’s own metaverse division, Reality Labs, hemorrhaged $13.7 billion in 2022, has led the WSJ and others to dismiss the metaverse as the ‘Meh-taverse’, with others dismissing it as a phenomenon which was caused by investors gambling cheap money available at low interest rates.
At the same time, the emergence of generative AI technologies has seemingly eclipsed enthusiasm for the metaverse, with companies such as Microsoft shifting focus towards enhancing the GPT capabilities of its Bing platform.
That said, such skepticism fails to recognize that the rapid development of AI technologies is a crucial component of the metaverse reaching its potential. This is because AI could be used to generate new and exciting graphically rich 3D virtual environments, as well as detailed avatars and other digital representations of end-users.
In addition, AI could enable natural language interactions within the metaverse, allowing end-users to navigate and create virtual worlds through voice commands, and facilitate seamless multi-lingual communications through AI-powered language localization.
Moreover, the metaverse market is poised to enjoy sizeable growth over the next few years. The Global Metaverse Market Intelligence Report 2023, for example, has forecast that the global metaverse industry will grow an eye-watering 44.8 percent in 2023, reaching over $205 billion, while a report by Grand View Research Inc. has estimated that this figure will swell to around $935 billion by 2030.
This growth is expected in part because of significant global investment in the metaverse, with the Shanghai government gunning for a metaverse industry worth ¥350 billion, and UK metaverse startups such as Improbable and Molten Ventures raising $100 million and $30 million respectively.
But the development of the metaverse is not without its challenges. Chief among these challenges is the complexity of handling such a vast amount of data in a way that allows for interoperability. In fact, Credit Suisse has predicted that the metaverse could increase data usage up by 20 times in the next 10 years, which would push 5G to its limits and even accelerate the need for 6G networking. This would no doubt lead to new data management problems with the metaverse that would need to be overcome.
Metaverse interoperability would permit the exchange of data across multiple platforms, allowing end-users to frictionlessly switch between virtual worlds, and transport assets and other information from one digital world to another, or into the physical one and vice-versa. However, it remains to be seen whether data interchange across various virtual worlds and platforms is possible at such scale.
One solution to this problem is the increased use of a data fabric – a powerful architecture of data services spanning hybrid multi-cloud environments. Data fabric can create a virtualization layer wherein data from multiple sources can be mapped to a homogenous ontology without the need to copy and move data from their respective sources. In other words, otherwise, incomparable data from various extended reality hardware and software applications could be mapped to a metaverse-specific ontology, allowing for the exchange of data between these sources required for interoperability.
The metaverse already has a solid data fabric foundation at its core, used increasingly by companies around the world for integrating, storing, cleaning, curating, and governing data.
As the metaverse expands, it is becoming increasingly clear that data fabric is the only technology able to match its growing complexity and capability, meaning the fates of both concepts are intrinsically tied to one another. Companies that realize this sooner will find themselves ahead of the curve and ready to embrace a rapidly evolving business landscape.