Last Updated 1 year by Emily Standley-Allard

All the buzz is around what’s in the Metaverse today, but will it actually benefit your small business? Understanding the metaverse is complicated, especially because it’s not immersed everywhere yet. Big Tech companies like Nvidia, Microsoft, Intel, and Facebook (Rather Meta) won’t stop talking about it, there’s an evolving lexicon to describe the next iteration of the internet.

 

 

Defining the metaverse

Metaverse: If the contemporary internet experience is two-dimensional—meaning you browse and scroll through it on a screen—the metaverse is 3D. You’ll be “walking” through it via connected headsets or glasses.

If the metaverse is going to work as many tech execs envision, it needs to offer not just real-time communication, but also real-time translation between hundreds of languages.

To get there, Meta plans to go all-in on language AI. During a live announcement Wednesday, Mark Zuckerberg and others laid out the plans for the research projects, which center on new AI models and a new AI teaching strategy.

No more middleman: Right now, according to Zuckerberg, the translation process for many languages—especially ones with less internet data—looks something like this: Language A → English → Language B. Meta wants to change that with a new open-source AI model that removes the English step, translating directly between 100 languages.

  • In the future, Zuckerberg said, Meta hopes to apply that same technology to “content and experiences in the metaverse.”

Underrepresented languages: Meta also outlined new ambition for a single AI model that “can learn every language even if there isn’t a lot of text available to learn from.” Three years ago, it could translate 30 languages, Zuckerberg said. This year, the company’s goal is hundreds.

Instant translation: The third language AI tool Meta announced is also the toughest to imagine: a real-time speech translation tool for all languages, dubbed a “universal speech translator” (think: an all-knowing Rosetta Stone).

  • “The ability to communicate with anyone in any language—now, that’s a superpower that people have dreamed of forever, and AI is going to deliver that within our lifetimes,” Zuckerberg said.

 

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Secret sauce

To underpin all these goals, Meta plans to lean on a pivot to self-supervised learning.

  • In the past, the company taught its AI systems using a supervised learning method (e.g., using large data sets of human-generated examples).
  • Now, Meta will allow these AI systems to learn “without any human supervision,” Jérôme Pesenti, Meta’s VP of AI, said—for example, removing words from language text and guessing the blanks by inferring patterns in surrounding words.

But, but, but: There’s a reason why these technologies don’t exist yet. As your friends who downloaded Duolingo over the pandemic will tell you, language is complex and requires a lot of nuance and common sense—two things that AI is notoriously bad at. Without humans in the loop, things can get mistranslated in confusing or problematic ways.

It is unclear whether there will be one metaverse or many different separate metaverses (or any metaverse at all, really), but this seems to be the one constant: The metaverse is an immersive next-generation version of the internet, likely rendered by virtual or augmented reality technology.

The venture capitalist Matthew Ball, whose writing on the metaverse has influenced Mark Zuckerberg, describes the metaverse as a “successor state to the mobile internet” and a “platform for human leisure, labor, and existence at large.”

 

Meet your digital twin

Mirrorworld: A mirrorworld is a digitally rendered version of the real world where there are virtual counterparts of real-life people, places, and things. Mirrorworlds are often found in sci-fi, including Netflix’s Stranger ThingsThe Matrix film series, the novel and film Ready Player One. The metaverse could be a mirrorworld designed to precisely reflect the physical world, or could resemble an entirely invented world one might encounter in a video game.

Skeuomorphic design: The wonky term essentially means that virtual objects will be made to closely resemble real-world ones. The metaverse could resemble the physical world, in that it will often appear tethered to the physics and designs of our reality, but it doesn’t have to be identical to it.

Digital twin: A digital twin is a virtual version of a real-life object or structure. The term was first introduced in the 1991 book Mirror Worlds by David Gelernter, digital twin technology was first used by NASA to run simulations of space capsules in 2010.  Microsoft, in particular, has emphasized the need for digital twin technology in building the metaverse.

Avatar: An avatar is your persona in a virtual world. This digital rendering of your appearance may look like you, resemble a cartoon (as popularized by Snapchat’s Bitmoji and Apple’s Memoji), or appear as fantastical as Fortnite’s “skins.”

 

What’s the difference between VR and AR?

Virtual reality (VR): VR is an immersive experience where one puts on a headset and sees, and can operate within, a digital world. VR currently uses full headsets rather than glasses, immersing the user in a 360° virtual world that they can move around in—as long as they don’t bump into physical walls.

Augmented reality (AR): AR is a digital overlay projected on the real world. Think of Niantic’s Pokemon Go, Snapchat’s dancing hot dog, or even wearables like Google Glass. While Google Glass never took off, we could soon be peering through AR-connected glasses like Facebook’s Ray-Ban Stories or Snapchat Spectacles.

Mixed reality (MR): Mixed reality incorporates elements of VR and AR, but the exact definition is murky. A person can interact with virtual and real-world objects, and virtual objects can interact with real-world ones. For example, the Snapchat hot dog can dance across a table without falling off the edges.

Extended reality (XR): Extended reality is a catch-all term for VR, AR, and MR, concepts that often overlap. Eventually, the lines between VR, AR, and MR might blur as the metaverse becomes a reality—making XR a more appropriate term.

 

metaverse

Navigating the many metaverses

Neal Stephenson: Stephenson is a science fiction writer who coined the term “metaverse” in his popular 1994 novel Snow Crash. In the novel, the metaverse is a persistent virtual world navigated by the aptly-named protagonist Hiro Protagonist.

Massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG): MMORPGs are interactive games that form the basis of what many feel will be the metaverse. Millions of people interact in shared spaces—playing games, building things, visiting virtual shops, and even going to concerts. Examples include Fortnite, Roblox, Minecraft, or the NFT-based Axie Infinity.

Oculus and Horizon WorkroomsSocial media company Facebook bought Oculus for $2.3 billion in 2014. While it’s been a leading VR platform for years, Oculus may now be the portal for many hoping to peek at Facebook’s vision for the metaverse. Facebook has already introduced a virtual work experience called Horizon Workrooms, a sort-of VR version of Zoom with legless avatars.

Second Life: An online virtual world, introduced in 2003,  Second Life is an early example of social experiences in the metaverse. Although not quite an MMORPG (it’s not designed for game-play), Second Life remains an open-world social network with avatars. The metaverse might resemble a VR version of Second Life.

Nonfungible tokens (NFTs): Blockchain-based certificates of authentication for digital objects, which could allow proof of ownership of goods in the metaverse

 

How Small Businesses Can Embrace the Metaverse

As someone who owns a small business, and works with other women-owned small businesses, I can understand some of the apprehension about Facebook’s rebrand to Meta.

Much of the criticism over Facebook is fair and reasonable. Meta and the wider tech world have a way to go to repair the damage caused by its ethically questionable approaches – let alone its own reputation.

But we’re here to chat about the other side of the coin – why this presents an incredible opportunity for small-business owners, and your end-users, and how you can embrace this evolving world for the overwhelming better.

What it really means…

The Facebook to Meta transition means innovation is about to happen. What the “metaverse” will look and feel like is something set to always evolve.

But from initial reports, we can expect 3D virtual rooms, shared virtual experiences with loved ones across the world, concerts, virtual workrooms for collaboration, shopping, VR gaming and fitness (the options are endless)!

Where there’s change, there’s opportunity

With growing amounts of small businesses using Instagram and Facebook particularly to generate brand awareness and sales, it’s reassuring to know these platforms will remain as the apps we all know and love.

At Cali Social, we run Facebook ads for so many great businesses with differing budgets, so I find comfort in knowing their campaigns won’t be heavily affected by the re-brand. If anything, I think this could be an interesting avenue most businesses will be able to add to their growing online presence.

And remember, as Benjamin Franklin said, “when you’re finished changing, you’re finished”. So, use this as an opportunity to evolve and stay ahead of the rest.

For retail, the opportunities are endless

Not only will consumers be able to enter virtual spaces, but we’ll be able to walk through these spaces in our favourite custom clothes or now referred to as ‘digital skins’.

But more than looking snazzy, there is a real potential for small businesses to facilitate a new ‘e-commerce’ and shopping experience.

Get “real” with those you’ve never met before

Personally, as an owner of an ads agency, I’m particularly excited to have collaborative meetings through Meta’s Horizon Workrooms so we can hire and connect with the best minds across the globe, which is beneficial for small businesses wanting to expand.

So what will the future look like?

Spark AR is an incredible piece of software in the Meta family allowing users to create AR experiences.

While anything is possible, I can imagine the VR headset would integrate ads in between experiences, so they’ll be opportunities for small businesses with smaller budgets to adopt without having to make AR elements of their own.

What now? Four steps for small businesses to be “Metaverse” ready
It’s time to follow these four steps:

  • Training – embrace as many training programs offered by Meta or Facebook for you and your business. There are loads of free ones available, via Facebook’s free online learning platform, Facebook Blueprint.
  • Investments – start investing in AR technology online and in-store, training, or looking to hire the right experts in this space. Spark AR has some great training and information for beginners.
  • Regulations – make sure your policies and procedures are set up to protect the privacy and rights of your consumers, staff, and community.
  • Stay open-minded. With any new development comes opportunity – so get ready to embrace the Metaverse with the right passion and excitement!

This article was first published on Inside Small Business. 

 

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