Report submitted to government highlights limits of Facebook’s vision (Meta)

At the end of 2021, Facebook changes its name to Meta, propels the term “metaverse in the common vocabulary and carries many large groups in its wake. Not to miss the next possible technological revolution, the French government ordered an exploratory mission to the metaverse three months later to identify the issues. 116 page report resulting from this research and one hundred interviews, submitted in July, has just been published.

Its objective: to outline the industrial and cultural landscape of the metaverse in France and draw recommendations for the investment strategy to be adopted. Thus the government is resuming the strategy it had Report by Cédric Villani on artificial intelligence (in 2018) and that of Paula Forteza in quantum computing (in 2020), which led to investment plans of more than one billion euros each.

Finally a definition for the metaverse

The three co-authors of the report, Camille François (researcher at Columbia University and director of Trust and Security at Niantic), Adrien Basdevant (lawyer) and Rémi Ronfard (researcher at Inria) quickly faced a first obstacle: each of their interlocutors . had a different definition of the metaverse, so a “great confusion“It reigns in the sector.

In Meta’s vision, for example, the metaverse rhymes with virtual reality (VR). Mark Zuckerberg’s company bought industry pioneer Oculus in 2014 and has since established itself as the leading vendor of VR headsets. With its Meta store – the app store installed on helmets – it also plans to create most app sales, taking high commissions on purchases, as Apple and Google do on smartphones with the App Store and Play Store. But as Meta pushes this vision, other companies like Epic Games (publisher of the hit video game Fortnite) advance another discourse. For the latter, the metaverse is a online playgroundcommunity, which allows you to move from one virtual universe to another without obstacles.

To reframe the discussion, the report’s authors recall that before the turmoil caused by Facebook, the term metaverse was used to describe “the shared horizon of immersive social technologies“. This definition makes it possible to include new display technologies (like nano-oled), motion sensors, sound spatialization or graphics processors. In short, any technology that allows a better immersion in virtual content. VR definitely falls within this definition, but it’s only an offshoot of it. Thus, the rapporteurs warn against the risk of closure in “a normative, limiting and reductive vision of the Metaverse and its possible evolutions“.

The report then distinguishes on the one hand the Metaverse (in capital letters) as an immersive concept, and on the other hand the metaverses (in lower case letters) that define virtual worlds. These should be 3D, real-time, immersive, sustainable and shared.

Meta: a year later, the metaverse still remained on the rise

Promotion for an open metaverse

To avoid leading to a closed metaverse, the report advocates interoperability, that is, the ability to connect different systems, technologies, and therefore metaverses with each other. To achieve this, he suggests establishing technological standards that will be respected by the entire industry, in order to avoid situations of incompatibility such as those between Apple’s products and the rest of the smartphone or computer market. ” The future of immersive technologies is still undecided, and much will be played (as was the case with the Internet and the Web) on [ces] technological standards. It seems desirable to reinvest the bodies for the negotiation of technical standards and for France and the main French players (in the digital diving sector, but also in research on these topics) to actively participate in discussions on the interoperability of diving technologies. present the report.

The objective: to participate in the development of standards, instead of suffering the consequences downstream, that is, to put in the closet French technologies that are efficient but incompatible with foreign technological bricks. At the same time, the report advises to start ” now” the work of adapting the European digital regulation (GDPRDSA, AMD…) in the metaverse, in order to integrate the limitations of platform transparency and the challenges of personal data protection in virtual spaces.

Finally, the authors call on public authorities to invest in the development of open, reliable and free technological blocks that developers will adopt. Conversely, they suggest that the state does not take a service approach to the metaverse, ” starting from the lack of need and requirements, as well as the barriers encountered in the digitization of public services”.. In other words, they ask him to provide construction tools, but not to build his own universes.

Where to invest, the big question waiting to be answered

This question of the emerging industry’s difficulty in finding its users comes up several times in the text. ” Metaverses are driven more by the industry in a logic of supply, much more than by the public in a logic of demand”mark the members of the exploratory mission. Failure after one year Facebook’s strategic shift is a perfect example. The giant may have sold more than 20 million VR headsets, but it can’t convince users to regularly visit the world of Worlds of the Horizonits metaverse development tool.

The report, however, mentions hit ” major manufacturers such as Ubisoft (video games), Dassault Systèmes (industrial environment) or even Ledger (crypto-asset security), as well as that of a production studio” globally known” (like Atlas V, Small, Black Light Studio…). The authors place these metaverse champions in two distinct ecosystems, which the French metaverse strategy ” must necessarily cover, even if in reality few complete them to date”. On one side is the virtual, augmented or mixed reality sector. On the other hand, the blockchain ecosystem, which integrates web3 technologies, including Famous NFTs.

Faced with this diversity of companies, the report insists on the need to develop a rigorous analysis of metaverse value chains in order to determine where to invest industrial public support budgets.Instead of focusing on bringing out the “European Google of the metaverse”, it seems strategic to protect, support and encourage the main players in the technological bricks that may be more modest, but essential for the creation of the metaverse of tomorrow.elaborates the text.

The Olympic Games as a testing ground

To highlight concretely this vast ecosystem of the French metaverse, the report suggests its rapid mobilization for projects on the near horizon, starting with the Paris Olympic Games in 2024. If the recommendation is implemented, a list of concrete projects would be defined within a public/private consortium supervised by Inria.

Still with the objective of structuring the ecosystem, the mission proposes the creation of a research and coordinating institute, which would be both a computer research laboratory dedicated to immersive arts, a place of coordination between researchers and artists for the creation of innovative immersive works in the metaverses and an expertise counter for all the cultural institutions concerned.

Now, the ball is in the court of the Ministry of Culture and the Ministry of Digital Transition, who will choose whether or not to integrate the proposals into their future plans.

Meta: a year later, the metaverse still remained on the rise