Everyone’s talking about the metaverse—and with good reason. It’ll open up a whole new universe of visual, tactile, and collaborative experiences. Here’s what I’m thinking as well as what I‘m hearing from conversations with customers, partners and Cisco colleagues.
You’re an automotive engineer for McLaren Racing working with an elite team from around the world. The task? Nailing the design of a crucial engine part—fast.
No one is in the same room. Most are not in the same country.
You’re sharing an immersive virtual space where you and your colleagues appear as photo-realistic holograms, touching, holding—feeling—3D digital engine parts. You can even stick your head under the hood.
This isn’t some far-off fantasy. It’s how McLaren is using Cisco technology to rapidly tap into global expertise and speed up design work.
“We are at the cusp of yet another transformation. Everything from the network and volumetric data to edge computing, operating systems, interfaces, and how apps are developed, deployed, and consumed is going to change.”
Welcome to the experience economy—immersive experiences that cut across physical, augmented, and virtual worlds. Still in its infancy, it’s already leading us somewhere new: the metaverse.
Blurring the lines between worlds
While the metaverse is generating a ton of buzz, there’s little consensus on what it will look like and how people will use it.
But the experience economy is already providing some answers. Over the past two years, technology has been racing toward more virtual, more remote, more hybrid experiences, blurring the already-fuzzy line between physical and digital worlds.
In the consumer world, we’ve seen virtual beings become social influencers and shoppers trying on AR clothing.
In the business arena, digital twin technology—simulations spun from real-world data to predict how a product or process will perform—is emerging in industries as varied as healthcare, fintech, and port logistics.
A reimagined internet
For the metaverse to become real, the internet must be reimagined. It will need to:
- Support symmetric data patterns—equal downloads and uploads as users both consume and produce large volumes of data in applications like virtual manufacturing, 3D video conferencing, and interactive gaming.
- Be more efficient—by reducing network latency and concentrating computing power and data storage at the network edge, so that human feedback cues—visual, audio, and haptic—can happen in real time.
- Meet soaring demand for bandwidth—a trend seen during the pandemic when networks went from spiking at peak hours to running hot 24/7.
“The technologies that we’re already working on today, like Wi-Fi 6, 5G, and fiber access, are going to play a key role.”
Cisco is already building this internet for the future through innovations in silicon, optics, and software, to overcome the performance, economics, and power consumption limitations of current infrastructure.
Boosting sustainability and inclusivity
We’re also making the internet more sustainable, at a time when telecoms providers are producing 2% – 3% of global greenhouse gas emissions. The computer chip at the heart of the system we’re building uses 96% less electricity than its predecessor, while supplying 35% more bandwidth.
This is helping us realize our vision of a more inclusive internet—to allow the roughly 3 billion people in the world without internet access to join the experience economy. Through reimagining and simplifying the architecture of the internet, we’re cutting the costs of building and operating networks almost in half (46%).
More hybrid than hybrid
The metaverse will not be a self-contained universe of avatars and holograms sealed off from our physical world. We believe it will coexist and interweave with physical people, things, and spaces.
Imagine how this will transform the interactions between educators and students, or doctors and patients. Think of its potential to make hybrid collaboration even more hybrid.
In many ways, the metaverse can be seen as the next logical step in the advances we’ve made in connectivity and collaboration, in our immersive telepresence technologies, and in our IoT (Internet of Things) technologies to modernize business.
Pickpocketing the crypto wallet
In addition to all the digital goodness the metaverse will bring, it will likely open up a new world of security threats and cybercrime. Here’s a glimpse into what security pros might be up against in this largely unregulated frontier:
- Phishing scams—with a new slant. Snagging a crypto wallet seed phrase would give a criminal access to a user’s cryptocurrency wallet including not only tokens and NFTs, but their identity. Securing users’ identities will require finding ways to track wallets as their avatars move from metaverse to metaverse.
- Brand and IP theft. Brands and organizations will need to take steps not only to protect the privacy of those they engage with in the metaverse, but also to protect their brand and intellectual property.
- Typo-squatting. Government and security companies will need to get a handle on new threats such as typo-squatting (or URL hijacking)—attacks that mimic an organization’s online presence.
The disruptive nature of the metaverse gives us an opportunity to bake security in from the ground up—not bolt it on as an afterthought. This will be essential to building user trust and securing business.
Future-proofing the metaverse
We must build the metaverse in a way that factors in unintended consequences; that overcomes the biases and safety concerns that have already migrated from our physical world and evolved in the virtual world.
Think of the popular social media platforms of today. Had we known of their power to rapidly spread misinformation, exploit social and cultural divides, and amplify cyber-bullying, would we have designed them differently?
Ethical AI has the potential to pre-empt many such problems, as do our innovations in the field of observability (think X-ray vision for technology infrastructure).
“We need to ensure that not just the infrastructure is measurable and transparent so we can fix it and improve it, but also that our behaviors and biases are measurable so that we can put policies around and improve them.”
Let’s not create the metaverse to hide behind avatars and allow our worst impulses to run amok. Let’s make it a place where real people in the real world can connect through multisensory digital experiences. A nexus for our virtual and real economies that is safe, secure, and sustainable.
Thanks to my colleagues for the insights at Cisco Live 2022: Vijoy Panday VP of Emerging Technologies and Incubation, Masum Mir VP and General Manager for Cable, Mobility & IoT, Jaeson Schultz, Technical Leader for Cisco Talos and Keith Griffin, Distinguished Engineer, Webex by Cisco.