At first glance, BMW’s Omniverse looks like a modern factory. A production line leads cars from the bodyshop to final assembly; people and machines work together at the various stations. What’s special about it is that all of this is not happening in reality, but in a virtual 3D simulation. Along with the processor specialists at NVIDIA (the developers of Omniverse), the German carmaker is using this environment to subject its new machines, production lines, movement sequences and even entire factories to initial digital testing. It works just like in real life: engineers collaborate in real time on things like optimizing production planning and putting machines through their paces. After that, experts decide what gets translated into reality – and what doesn’t.
The digital factory hall at BMW is a precursor of the metaverse, which managers, investors, and digital thought leaders see as the next stage of the Internet. It presents great commercial opportunities, but these have also repeatedly come under fire. A metaverse is considered a digital extension of the real world – a new meta-level of our universe.
As with most major innovations, this development is being driven by private companies anticipating new business opportunities. No wonder, then, that Facebook has renamed its parent company Meta and has its own department working exclusively on this topic. Sven Gábor Jánszky, a futurologist and chairman of the future-focused think tank 2b AHEAD, makes a bold prognostication: “In ten to fifteen years, metaverses will be part of everyday life.” This also applies to more than just tech companies like Facebook, which is why Jánszky is advising companies to develop a metaverse strategy now if they don’t want to miss out.
Merging the digital and the real
Jánszky predicts that digital simulations such as BMW’s virtual factory will soon become commonplace. He already has a clear idea of what this digital world of the future could look like. In his forward-thinking analysis of metaverses, he describes them as a “representation of the world that is precisely aligned with reality.” In other words, tech companies are building a digital image of the world that is not only perfectly true to reality, but also machine-readable. This means that devices like virtual reality glasses could project both real things and digital objects onto reality. The latter already exists today, as demonstrated by the Chinese AI singer Luo Tianyi. She’s generated by software and looks like a character from a manga series. In 2019, Luo Tianyi joined the star pianist Lang Lang at a concert in Shanghai, where she was projected onto the stage – to the delight of the 10,000 people in attendance.
Jánszky refers to this as turning the virtual into a sensory experience, which is to say: simulating new production processes is certainly useful, but what about creating a virtual bouquet that smells at least as good as the real thing? The prerequisite is good infrastructure with fast data connections that can transmit holograms almost in real time. According to Jánszky, this will require replacing 5G with the sixth generation of the Internet and making extensive use of blockchain technology. The latter enables the forgery-proof storage and transmission of data, which makes digital commerce possible on a large scale in the first place.
Along with production processes, sales are also likely to change significantly with the advent of metaverses. “The biggest customer group will no longer be people, but bots that spend our money,” says Jánszky. He estimates that each person could have 30 to 50 bots that monitor the health of their owner and place orders for food, clothing and books. Companies could therefore focus their sales strategies on virtual assistants in the future.
For consumers, the digital metaworld beckons
This new world undeniably offers many business opportunities. If we’re to believe Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg, however, revenue is not what’s driving innovation in this field. In a founder’s statement at the end of October last year, he stressed: “We don’t build services to make money; we make money to build better services.” As with Facebook and Google, the digital metaworld could be ostensibly free for consumers – but metaverse providers will earn on every digital bouquet sold and every online concert.
This comes with a great deal of power, and former Google boss Eric Schmidt has been one of the prominent voices to speak out. He expressed concern in a New York Times interview about who is allowed to set the rules in the new metaverses. Schmidt also fears that the metaverse will shift our world into the digital realm. Since everything is better and more beautiful in the metaverse than in reality, he predicts that people will decide to spend more time online in a few years. And he’s probably not the only one who thinks this isn’t necessarily ideal for human society.
You can download the metaverse analysis (in German) from 2b AHEAD here:
“In ten to fifteen years, metaverses will be part of everyday life.”
Sven Gábor Jánszky, Chairman of future-focused think tank 2b AHEAD
is an editor at the business media firm wortwert who covers business and finance.