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This week our VentureBeat team hosted a new metaverse conference called MetaBeat. The San Francisco event drew hundreds in person and more online to hear about something we don’t talk about as much as gaming: the enterprise metaverse.
I crossed the lines from gaming to enterprise to attend the event, and I moderated a session with Nvidia’s Richard Kerris about the Omniverse platform. I also moderated a panel with Neil Trevett of the Khronos Group and others about metaverse standards. You could say that, as a gaming writer, I didn’t belong there. But nothing could be further from the truth. From the start, when Sami Khan, CEO of Atlas Earth, talked about creating a metaverse for his daughter that could enhance her experience in the real world — I felt at home.
The metaverse is going to be so epic that it is going to require the efforts of the entire gaming and tech industries and enterprises of all kinds. By working together, they could create a vortex of continuous improvement that will carry us to the metaverse, just like so many technologies came together to make the web possible, ubiquitous, and teeming with awesome content, said Rev Lebaredian, vice president of Omniverse and Simulation Technology at Nvidia, in another standards panel I moderated at MetaBeat.
At MetaBeat, I still found plenty of leakage between the borders of the enterprise metaverse and the gaming metaverse. And that’s what I live for. Kerris and I talked once again about the potential of the Omniverse to bring order to the chaos of creation. If we can just standardize around USD (universal scene description, a 3D standard originally created by Pixar) for 3D objects or adopt glTF for lightweight 3D on the web, we’ll be able to share those creations across virtual worlds. Kerris believes the Omniverse Cloud will enable creators all around the world to lend a hand to the big task of interoperability.
I naively asked Kerris if Nvidia, which has a market capitalization of $327 billion, should just build the metaverse. And he said no. Because the metaverse is the network, he said. It’s like asking somebody if they should build the web. The open metaverse will come not from one company, like in Ready Player One, but from everybody working together, using tools like the open-source Blender 3D modeling app that millions of amateurs use today.
As Lebaredian and Khronos Group head Neil Trevett (organizer of the Metaverse Standards Forum) agreed, building the metaverse is a task that can’t be entrusted to a few companies. It has to be carefully engineered by companies from all industries in a collaborative way.
Players and users will be able to lend their creativity and bring passion to those worlds. The metaverse could be built not only by professional developers, but by user-generated content. And whatever was left over would have to be built by artificial intelligence. Yes, that’s a big burden to put on AI. All of the hard work, the massive amount of content, the scaling up of the worlds so that every one of them was as massive as the world of Middle-Earth — that’s what we need AI to build for our metaverse.
That AI would have to be generated by the AI chips that Nvidia is working on like Grace Hopper or by rivals like Intel and Advanced Micro Devices or Arm and Qualcomm. Those companies are worth trillions, and they are the mighty titans of the semiconductor industry. And it will take all of their ingenuity to make computing powerful and efficient enough to power the metaverse without melting the polar ice caps.
Yet the impending death of Moore’s Law (the promise of technological progress) will stop those companies from delivering the performance we need in the future. They will have to focus on new architectures and nimble designs to get around the fact that we can’t build thinner chip layers than the ones that we have today that are a few atoms thick. We need other advances, like two-way 10G internet speeds coming from Comcast next year. We need infrastructure from the likes of Lumen and software from companies like Hadean and Improbable to make software go beyond the limits of hardware.
To achieve liftoff for the metaverse, we’ll need technologies propelled by a virtual cycle of software propelling hardware and vice versa. We need everyone to do their part in the flywheel. Meta is making a high-end VR headset, dubbed Project Cambria, that will target enterprises.
It will be very expensive, but enterprises will adopt it and AR headsets like the $3,300 Magic Leap 2 so that they can train associates (saving tons of money on in-person training by experts) and build digital twins of their factories.
Kerris said the biggest companies in the industrial world believe in creating digital twins. Those twins will be used to perfect the designs of factories before companies like BMW and Deutsche Bahn and Siemens need to spend a penny on a real-world factory. Once the digital twins are perfect, those instrumented factories can be built, and the sensors in them will feed data back to the Omniverse and inform the designers on how to improve the designs for the next generation.
Enterprises will finance the production and perfection of the high-end headsets and the chipsets that fuel them. Then the technologists will find ways to pare the costs and bring those technologies to the mass market and people like gamers. From there, the flywheel takes another turn.
Once we get our hands on these awesome 40 Series graphics cards from Nvidia — and tear them away from those blockchain miners who are facing diminishing returns — game developers will have to create games that require a real-time internet to be played properly.
We’ll need Yuga Labs — teaming up with Improbable — to deliver not just 4,500 Bored Apes in a single concert space but thousands more so we can have the biggest parties ever. We’ll need Epic Games to create a future Fortnite game with thousands of players and snipers who can shoot for five miles across shards instantaneously. Or maybe we just need Brendan Greene to build his replica of the Earth so we can have a sandbox world of epic proportions where we can play any game we want.
When those game developers do their part and bring billions more players into online games, then Nvidia will be able to reinvest all of its profits and make new generations of AI chips that can be used to build the ultimate digital twin, Earth 2, a simulation of the entire planet, accurate to a meter-level scale.
That simulation will replicate the behavior of our atmosphere, affected by so many butterfly effects of all of the things on the planet. Nvidia believes it will be so good a simulation — supported by the supercomputers of the world powered by AI chips born from gaming — that we’ll be able to use it to predict climate change.
And as Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang said, once we build Earth 2, we’ll have this digital twin of the planet. We’ll essentially get the metaverse for free. OK, maybe it’s not for free. But it will still be a pretty darn good metaverse, made possible by generations of flywheel push and pull of hardware and software.
These were the metaverse hopes and dreams that I saw people talking about at MetaBeat. We had hundreds of people from across gaming and enterprises and chips — all working on the same thing as if it were our generation’s Manhattan Project. The project that led to the atomic bomb was born in the desperation of World War II and it ended that nightmare.
So many sci-fi novels remind us that so many things can go wrong with the metaverse. We have to remember issues like privacy, toxicity and AI ethics, as we were told in an afternoon panel moderated by Everett Wallace, an Accenture leader and president of the San Francisco VR AR Association.
The Manhattan Project was an ominous thing that led history in so many directions. It could have destroyed our world. It restored freedom and democracy to the world. It might have stopped the next world war for generations. It gave us nightmares of nuclear winter. It led to the promise of nuclear power. But I bring it up here because it was an example of everybody — the best and the brightest — all working together toward the same end.
The metaverse should be the same thing. The marriage of big tech, the platforms, the content developers, the individual industries like manufacturing or gaming, the hardware and network makers, the chip designers, the brands, the investors — and the gamers.
It’s a chance to work across industry lines for the common good — so long as we don’t wind up with a dystopia. The metaverse could be the culmination of our technological era, and its pull is so strong that it even drew in Neal Stephenson, the sci-fi author who wrote Snow Crash three decades ago and coined the term “metaverse.” He’s all-in on making sure the metaverse stays open.
I am looking forward to more gatherings of the metaverse faithful like MetaBeat. We’ll have our next event, GamesBeat Summit Next 2022 on October 25-26, where Stephenson himself will be speaking. We’ll have the Metaverse Standards Forum there, pioneers of gaming like Mark Pincus and Will Wright, and many more people to feed us the ideas to keep the flywheels going. We’ll pursue our thought leadership on this front into the new year with our Into the Metaverse 3 event. And we’ll keep on gathering these people — and I won’t shut up about it — until the metaverse is here.