The start of each year brings with it a well-known ritual: Experts set off to parse the most dominant trends in the coming 12 months. This year, even major corporations cannot predict something as basic as when they may roll out their Back to Office (BTO) plans and restore a semblance of normalcy. The pandemic has been changing complexion rapidly, sending everyone into a wait-and-watch mode. Given the circumstances, how reliable can any ‘expert’ forecast be? And yet, we must venture to take an educated guess at what 2022 holds. Because what fun is business if you cannot challenge the odds, even those that may not fully reveal themselves at the moment?
It is difficult to admit this, but while we wait indefinitely for COVID-19 to abate, the world is slowing down. Children are unable to return to school, events are being cancelled, face-to-face social interaction has been pared down to a minimum, the arts and entertainment have taken a big hit, and every business is cutting back on plans. Inventories are down, the employment market is in the doldrums, and it does appear as if the world is taking two steps back. Meanwhile, technology is moving two steps forward. Relentlessly.
NFTs are here. Can they change business?
How large are those two steps that technology is taking? If this is any indication, the two steps are extraordinarily large: Electronic music wizard 3LAU sold a collection of limited edition non-fungible tokens (NFTs) for $3.6 million. He also broke a record in NFT sales. He sold 33 unique items for $11 million. Apparently, he also pushed the frontiers of cryptographic tokens and music by rewarding an investor with an exclusive song they can personally call their own. That’s not all. Mike Winkelmann aka Beeple became one of the world’s most valuable living artists when Christie’s auctioned his NFT artwork, “Everydays: The First 5000 Days”, for $69 million. The creative world has understood NFTs while most in business are still baffled by the technology and are asking, “What are NFTs?”
Let me quickly take back my earlier statement about the arts and entertainment. They may not have taken as big a hit as we imagine in the wake of COVID-19. It may be more accurate to say that NFT technology has changed the arts. The problem is, few can understand this technology-driven change and, more important, no one can confidently predict where it is headed. How can a business take advantage of NFTs? The Harvard Business Review (HBR) calls NFTs a novel asset class, adding that “we don’t see new asset classes appear that often.” Every business should be getting under the NFT phenomenon as it builds markets around what HBR calls new types of transactions and can create highly engaged communities around brands. If this is not big and baffling enough to chew on through 2022, I don’t know what could be!
While businesses must continue their pursuit of digital with Cloud, SD-WANs, IoT, Automation, Data and Artificial Intelligence (AI)—these technologies will continue to dominate boardroom decisions in 2022—we cannot take our eyes off what is coming. Aside from NFTs and the associated blockchain technology, there are two other breakthroughs that every business must track in 2022: Developments around the Metaverse and its impact on business and our first interaction with a virtual human.
While you figure out NFTs, say hello to the Metaverse
You have heard about the Metaverse. Everyone from Marc Zuckerberg to Satya Nadella is talking about it. Zuckerberg even rebranded Facebook to Meta. He and Nadella say that the Metaverse is about connecting people (consumers and the enterprise) in virtual space. Isn’t the Internet already doing this? Yes, it is. However, the Metaverse is like a next level video game that uses Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR). The Metaverse is not a technology. It is a way of interacting with people and things. In the metaverse, one minute you could be walking through a virtual representation of your office and the next you could be attending a stand-up comedy show with friends from different corners of the world. The metaverse will be populated by any landscape you wish and will have floating text everywhere. Just like the sci-fi movies. And, instead of you jumping from one hyperlink to another, like you do on the Internet, it is your avatar that will jump from one scenario to another.
Businesses must wrap their heads around what the metaverse is about, especially because Zuckerberg is investing $10 billion to make the metaverse a reality. It does appear as if the Metaverse is shaping up to be a hyper-real social experience. Businesses that ignore it do so at their own peril. As we well know, every business on earth now has a presence on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, and Instagram. Can they ignore the Metaverse? Apparently not. In early January, Samsung opened the doors to what it called “a new fan experience in the Metaverse with Samsung 837X.” And, if you did not know, the Samsung meta event had an NFT raffle!
If the Metaverse is round the corner, can Meta Humans be far behind?
With all this talk about virtual worlds, can a virtual `you’ be far behind? If you have not met your first virtual human yet or haven’t tried to create a virtual version of yourself, put this exercise on top of your must-do lists for 2022.
Once you have the virtual `you’ ready, you could attend multiple meetings in multiple avatars simultaneously. Yoon Suk-yeol, the nominee for the main opposition party (the People Power Party) in the 2022 South Korean presidential elections has launched a virtual version of himself. Not to be left behind, the former deputy prime minister and independent candidate Kim Dong-yeon quickly followed by launching his own AI-powered cyber spokesperson, AiDY and an avatar called WinDY. Reports say that “AiDY resembled a polygon character that could be seen in the video game or metaverse platforms, but WinDY is a realistic rendering of Kim.”
Virtual humans are coming. Don’t doubt that. You could experiment with Meta Humans using the Unreal Engine platform. In about an hour you could have the first virtual version of yourself ready, with an unbelievable realist rendering. There are scores of applications for virtual or meta-humans in the real world. Where ever a human is required, a meta-human could fill in. The idea is so serious that Microsoft is partnering with virtual human start-up Soul Machines. Early alert: A virtual or meta-human is coming soon to a Window near you.
NFTs, the Metaverse and Meta Humans are three ideas somehow linked to each other. They are radical and futuristic. And they are being backed by truckloads of funding and the best minds in technology. Don’t blink in 2022. You don’t want to miss the exciting technological action brewing, ready to turn your organisation into a meta business.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors’ and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.