Numbers, Facts and Trends Shaping Your World

The Metaverse in 2040

4. The metaverse will fully emerge as its advocates predict

About half of these expert respondents supported the idea that the metaverse will be a fully-immersive aspect of daily life for many by 2040. Many who expect augmented reality (AR), mixed reality (MR) and virtual reality (VR) to advance substantially predicted those advances will come from a natural evolution of the current innovations that are underway. They noted that humans have always been motivated to push boundaries and explore new experiences, to advance and improve their daily lives and to pursue profit and power. Thus, they said, it is only natural that forays into interactivity will continue to expand and evolve, spurred by tech inventions and ample funding.  

Andrew Koch, chief executive officer at the Gardner Institute, wrote, “Talking and writing about the metaverse in 2022 is not unlike what it must have been to discuss ‘the internet’ in 1978. Back then, the foundational components of that new form of technology were being built, but no one really had a clue what an internet-based reality (virtual or actual) would look like 10, let alone 20, years later. With that as context, and with my knowledge of the metaverse framed and shaped by the cyberspace environment in which the metaverse now exists, I see the metaverse essentially being part of the progression of cyberspace. I don’t see the metaverse as being something as innovative or revolutionary as the internet was in the 1970s. Rather, I see it an evolutionary leap. Comparing the future metaverse to cyberspace today is not unlike comparing electronic vehicles to cars propelled by internal-combustion engines – the means of propulsion are vastly different, but the concept and even many of the components are the same. So, at this time, I see the metaverse essentially being part of cyberspace in 2040. Perhaps by then no one will call the metaverse ‘the metaverse’ – they may just say it is the ‘internet’ or ‘cyberspace.’ Admittedly, it will be cyberspace where VR and tools such as heads-up displays shape and inform work, play, shopping, etc. But it will be cyberspace, nonetheless. In other words, meta tools and approaches will become synonymous with the cyber experience by 2040. And no one will call them ‘meta’ – sorry, Mark Zuckerberg. The metaverse changes to and in cyberspace will bring new and/or elevate the importance of existing pieces of internet infrastructure – including but not limited to distributed-ledger technologies (aka blockchain). This is because virtual reality will require virtual currencies and other forms of accounting and transactional mechanisms. Blockchain or some variant of distributed-ledger technology will be a primary basis for exchange in the metaverse.”

It may be more useful, and certainly more exciting, to think of the metaverse not as virtual reality but as a new reality itself. Things created there and things we will choose to do there will be, in a very true sense, real. And in that context it can become a realm for both work and play.

Jim Kennedy, senior vice president for strategy at The Associated Press

Jim Kennedy, senior vice president for strategy at The Associated Press, responded, “It would be a mistake to view the emergence of the metaverse as just an extension of the early forays, like Second Life, or as limited predominantly to the gaming world. If we’ve learned anything about the internet, it’s not where things start, but where they eventually go that truly matters. You can say that about most of the applications or devices that have been introduced through the original web and Web 2.0, and that will undoubtedly be the case in Web3. It may be more useful, and certainly more exciting, to think of the metaverse not as virtual reality but as a new reality itself. Things created there and things we will choose to do there will be, in a very true sense, real. And in that context it can become a realm for both work and play. Simulations of all sorts, training courses and virtual events are obvious first opportunities to explore. Producing new immersive content for consumers is an enormous opportunity for entertainment, sports and news providers. The limiting factor at first is the equipment needed. Headsets and handsets probably won’t get us to widespread adoption. But integration into other devices or presentations that can play in real spaces through next-generation mobile devices or television sets could democratize access pretty quickly. And, of course, the new world will be a place to create new intellectual property that can not only be viewed, but also bought and sold. That’s where the blockchain comes in. It may even improve on the physical world by enabling fractional ownership and rights-managed derivative works.”

Aymar Jean Christian, associate professor of communication studies at Northwestern University and adviser to the Center for Critical Race Digital Studies, predicted, “The metaverse is an extension of the evolution of the internet, e.g., Web3. Based on blockchain technology, Web3 is the next evolution of the web, allowing for the securing of information/data in a decentralized way. This is the basis for the ability of platforms and individuals to immerse themselves in the internet from any location and makes the decentralized movement of data more secure. This ‘immersion’ will not only involve the use of VR headsets. Rather, digital communication will be even more present in everyday life as all of our devices will be able to more effectively, securely transmit, store and produce real-time data.”

John McNutt, professor emeritus of public policy and administration at the University of Delaware, responded, “To a certain extent, you can see much of it already in our lives today. This will be more a redefinition of how life occurs rather than a technological transformation.”

Terri Horton, founder and CEO at FuturePath LLC, hopefully predicted, “We will experience much of how we live in a 3D virtual world in the future. The metaverse will facilitate fundamental shifts in how and where we work, learn, socialize, entertain, travel and engage in daily activities. It will blur the lines between the virtual world and the physical world. While we cannot fully predict the future, there are indicators that the world of work will be extraordinarily transformed by 2040. The impact on both employers and workers will be profound. In the metaverse of the future, workers will not only work remotely but also be able to ‘teleport’ anywhere in the world and experience work in virtual 3D locations of their choosing. Workers will have the ability to design their avatars and holograms, work, attend meetings and experience interactions with colleagues and clients from around the globe. The VR, AR, MR, AI and other futuristic technologies enabling these interactions will be so advanced that interactions in the metaverse will mimic the physical world, for example, in the context of sight, sound and feeling. Moreover, further in the future brain-computer interface technologies will eventually enable workers to think about work-related actions and execute, driving high levels of efficiency and productivity. These examples are just small snapshots of how worker experience will be transformed.”

Dirk Lueth, co-founder and co-CEO at Upland, one of the largest and most dynamic metaverse platforms mapped to the real world, wrote, “The metaverse will become a part of our everyday lives. We will ‘go’ there for entertainment, earn a large part of our income by providing different types of services, selling digital and physical items (as both worlds will be blurred), and socializing with others. The metaverse will always be with us as a companion, technology will connect us with it in the right manner/toolset depending on our current state. We might even have implants that will make external devices obsolete.”

Daniel Castro, vice president and director of the Center for Data Innovation at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, wrote, “There will be no more Zoom fatigue! Immersive digital spaces can create a more ‘in-person’ experience for people communicating remotely. This will allow for better relationships and healthier communication than people have with today’s technology. It will also allow people more control over how they show themselves to the world – through avatars, digital clothes, hairstyles, etc., much of this which people will purchase, creating a thriving virtual economy for creators.”

John Robb, owner and principal analyst at The Global Guerrillas Report, covering the intersection of tech, war and politics, predicted, “2040 will feature an AR/VR mix, but it will mostly be AR, with applications applying digital overlays on existing reality. This will roll out as fast as smartphones did, but with many times the impact. It will be central to the work and private life of 3 billion-plus people by 2040. By then a half a billion people will be earning a living from working, selling, etc., in this environment.”

Jim Witte, professor of sociology and anthropology and director of the Institute for Immigration Research at George Mason University, responded, “There will be missteps along the way (e.g., Google Glass), but the metaverse is here to stay. The fact that in the metaverse you can experience things that are not possible in your ‘first life’ presents both its promise and its risks. Many people first saw the power of the metaverse in the Second Life online community, but even before that computer scientists were creating VR experiences in labs using expensive specialized hardware and software. In science fiction literature, Neal Stephenson wrote about the metaverse in ‘Snow Crash,’ and a decade before that in ‘Neuromancer,’ and one of William Gibson’s protagonists, Case, jacks in and out of cyberspace. Gibson’s novel ‘Pattern Recognition’ features a female protagonist, Cayce, and the line between the real and the virtual was fully blurred. It is irrelevant if art is imitating life or life is following art. They are inseparable.”

Gary Marchionini, dean of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill School of Information and Library Science, responded, “Humans are inherently inclined to maximize the experiences of work and play. These inclinations vary according to physical, psychological, spiritual and economic characteristics. Technologies that made work and play more effective and more fun will attract interest and investment. Metaverse technologies offer enormous varieties of application and personalization ranging from cognitive amplification to emotionally intensive immersions and extreme escapism. The technology will continue to advance and become more accessible to larger segments of the population, and people will surely leverage it to work more intelligently or amuse themselves into oblivion. The effects of this will vary from extremely positive to highly destructive to individuals and society. I worry about dissociation/fragmentation, manipulation and control by powerful interests and waste of human and environmental resources, but I also believe in individuals and the collective organism of Humanity to adapt and find equilibrium over generations.”

Gary Arlen, principal at Arlen Communications, responded, “The metaverse will embrace a collection of applications and a convergence of many technologies to create an alternative cyber environment, possibly with variations for entertainment, socialization and enterprise situations. Among the positives is having access to people and situations that would be difficult or impossible in real life, going to places virtually, for example inside humans, animals or machines. Among the negatives are isolation; dependence on technology which may be controlled by ‘evil-doers’ including government or corporate; the expense of access, which may be unaffordable to some people. Inevitably, the convergence of crypto, metaverse XR and other technologies will enable a series of cyber environments that are hard to imagine but are probably not what the promoters are pushing today. If our employers, professional services suppliers, financial sources, government services and others institute and/or require us to use such cyber environments, we’ll all probably have to go along to some degree. I expect significant metaverse activity in enterprise categories such as health care/medical, real estate/construction, education, manufacturing, aerospace and retail.”

Michael R. Meyer, a Hawaii-based chief information officer with expertise in new technology development, IT infrastructure and change management, said, “Things will get uglier, but the metaverse will come to dominate. It is evolving rapidly, with critical mass being achieved now. The response of the population planetwide to the Ukraine invasion is a large indicator of how fast this is changing. While the Ukrainian crisis may revert to the old-power tools, the potential and power of mass action that is independent of government is now in people’s minds. On a more abstract level, the pandemic has made it obvious that for many work roles, jobs are virtual. Despite the desperate efforts of the old physical leaders to reassert control, they will be a bump in the road as humanity moves on.”

A professor emeritus of communications wrote, “The incentives likely to shape the nature of a metaverse (digital spaces – as currently defined) in 2040 will be intertwined with the economic, social, political, geographic and transportation disruptions of climate change and tectonic-level shifts in energy demands, in concert with the embrace of multinational business, scientific and educational entities. There likely will be a growing emphasis of live and work ‘in place’ for elites (a half billion or so globally) who fully participate in emergent digital work communities and digitally-enhanced social lives. The metaverse will spill over into arts, entertainment, sports, virtual travel and health care delivery and training for a few billon more.”

The four most-mentioned reasons these experts expect that extended reality and the metaverse will advance significantly by 2040 are:

  • Profit motives are driving significant investment in advancing these tools.
  • Compared with today, far more people will come to find the metaverse useful enough to access it daily.
  • The technology to create an immersive metaverse is possible by 2040.
  • The pandemic gave XR development a big boost.

The next four sections offer insights into these themes.

Profit motives are driving significant investment in advancing these technologies

Of course, a primary force driving investment in technological development always has been the opportunity for people to profit from its success. Many of the experts who said they are confident XR will be advanced because of its commercial potential.

Mary Anne Franks, president of the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative, a nationally and internationally recognized expert on the intersection of civil rights and technology, said, “It’s quite likely that many daily activities will take place in the ‘metaverse’ by 2040, given the resources being poured into extended-reality technologies by billion-dollar companies ruthlessly focused on profit potential.”

R “Ray” Wang, founder and principal analyst at Constellation Research, said, “We have just issued a report outlining expectations for monetizing the metaverse economy. We see many components to metaverse development. Interfaces – headsets, glasses, gesture-based and human APIs. Worlds – every studio, esports, gaming platform, digital twin and social network will create a world as a distributed autonomous organization (or DAO) in order to set up membership rules, governance and voting rights, token economic models, funding mechanisms, and balance between centralization and decentralization. Value exchange – blockchain, NFTs, digital assets, Web3 – all are elements of a new decentralized infrastructure and technologies. Just like with the evolution of the web, social and mobile before it, we will see a shift from 2D to 3D immersive experiences. These technologies will move from persuasive to consensual to mindful technologies. Ambient experiences powered by AI will deliver a choose-your-own-adventure-type level of personalization in which every action is a demand signal that’s captured. For many developers the goal is for individuals to be able to traverse worlds using just one identity, but there will still be walled gardens.”

Mei Lin Fung, chair of People-Centered Internet, wrote, “The vast majority of people may not go to the metaverse to work and play by 2040, but with Facebook putting its entire corporate existence at stake in a huge bet on the topic, the metaverse goldrush has begun.”

Dmitri Williams, associate professor of technology and society at the University of Southern California, wrote, “The shifts that do happen will be driven largely by capital, so they will have their pros and cons. These elements will be well-made but will struggle with being particularly organic. They will also largely not be unified and instead be a series of parallel metaverses run by different intellectual property holders. Some may merge and interoperate, but because capital and antitrust are what they are, we should expect the Cokes and Pepsis of metaverses rather than a grand unified ‘Ready Player One’ vision.”

Barry Chudakov, founder and principal at Sertain Research, wrote, “Will the metaverse merely become another gold rush that attracts wealthy investors who want to make more money than they already have? Or is there a way to encourage investment while also creating clarity and focus around a fact-based assessment of the real world while looking to resolve large and pressing global issues that face humankind? After all, in a mirror of the world, like a telescope, we should be able to see and do something positive about things and issues we typically miss or ignore with the naked eye.”

Albert “Skip” Rizzo, clinical psychologist and director of Medical Virtual Reality at the University of Southern California Institute for Creative Technologies, commented, “The perceived benefits of this form of interaction and access to experience will certainly drive development in this area. It will not be for everyone, and there will be unintended or unanticipated consequences that will emerge beyond what we can already imagine, but the ‘metaverse’ will grow because the benefits and commercial potential on the other side of the equation for some people will be significant. There will be a large market for people who choose to access services in this context. Areas of benefit will of course be the usual suspects: improving access and more-intuitive interaction with education, health care, work activities, social interaction, commercial sales and entertainment.”

The director of technology innovation and architecture at one of the world’s largest telecommunications companies wrote, “There is significant investment in the metaverse. It is the only place outside of a theme park that one could fully immerse their customer in a brand. As experiences become more important, we will see the economy focus on opportunities in this space.”

Winston Ma, managing partner at CloudTree Ventures and author of “The Hunt for Unicorns” and “The Digital War,” responded, “I am writing a new 2022 book about how blockchain breakthroughs will empower the cryptocurrency, privacy and security foundations of the metaverse. There are many competing visions for how we’ll build this persistent, infinitely-scaling virtual space with its own economy and identity system. Facebook Horizon is an ambitious bet that it will be realized in VR. Epic Games is doubling down on a game-centric approach with Fortnite. But the most exciting part about the metaverse is not its scope or infrastructure, but its potential to reinvent the way we interact with our friends and loved ones. Metaverse is the future of social networks.”

Imagine being able to realistically ski down the Alps or surf in Hawaii or go on a date with a Hollywood celeb or attend a Stanford lecture, or you name it, all for the price of a $200 headset and a $10/month subscription.

Alex Simonelis, professor of computer science at Dawson College in Montreal

Alex Simonelis, professor of computer science at Dawson College in Montreal, responded, “A full answer to this question would be as long as a Ph.D. dissertation. The U.S. is a hothouse (the only one) for visionary tech entrepreneurs like Musk, Page, Brin, Bezos – and Mark Zuckerberg, who will make this happen. In brief: Social media are addictive and the metaverse will be more addictive – imagine being able to realistically ski down the Alps or surf in Hawaii or go on a date with a Hollywood celeb or attend a Stanford lecture, or you name it, all for the price of a $200 headset and a $10/month subscription. Among the positives of this are great experiences at inexpensive prices. Among the negatives: more addicts.”

Gordon Jones, co-founder and CEO of Thrivacy, an expert on blockchain, data privacy and self-sovereign identity, said, “The metaverse is made up of many Web3 technologies being built now for all kinds of uses. So definitely by 2040 we will have the tools that we need to operate an affective and immersive metaverse.”

A professor of sociology and chair of African American Studies at a major U.S. university commented, “The shift will come because the billionaires want it to come. Facebook/Meta will push this. It will start off as fun and then turn damaging. For example, Facebook was a fun way to connect at first, but some people began to use it to promote ethnic cleansing, political misinformation and as a vehicle to broadcast live violence.”

Compared with today, far more people will find the metaverse useful enough to access it daily

Respondents who expect the daily use of XR to advance significantly by 2040 said they believe it will be more broadly adopted in many common realms in addition to its current niches in gaming and entertainment. As happens with any technology, they say these use cases and the movement of more human activity into more virtual settings will lead to both positive and negative societal impact.

Helmet Krcmar, chair for information systems at the Technical University of Munich, an expert in digital transformation, responded, “The metaverse universe will add but not superimpose physical reality yet it will be an extremely important element of perception and be perceived by those humans that are connected as probably the most important influence on their life. For those humans that cannot or do not want to connect, a different life will result since the metaverse will be available to others but not to them, new disparities will result. Wealth via ‘ownership’ via NFTs [non-fungible token] will be not evenly distributed. Without political discourse about the integration of metaverses into human life, a bleak future might result.”

Susan Aaronson, professor of international affairs and director of the Digital Trade and Data Governance Hub at George Washington University, responded, “The shift to immersive technologies is already taking place. For example, Barbados has an embassy in the metaverse. South Korea already uses XR to provide services. The World Bank uses XR to evaluate how various loans might change conditions in water-scarce countries. The Hub maps the governance of these data-driven technologies, and we plan a June 2022 conference on how XR is already changing international affairs. We see talk of it affecting trade.”

Marta Szekeres, a complex systems researcher based in Hungary, wrote, “I am sure the shift to immersive activities will take place similarly to how the previous shifts happened. As with email, mobile phones, etc., it will be gradual. First, organizations, institutions and firms will apply the metaverse, and then the general population will get involved slowly. I expect that it will improve society overall. Humanity can leverage the metaverse to overcome its own limits. There will be many positives.

1) People can use their imagination without limits while not affecting the real world. This will free them from the negative psychological effects (frustration, aggressivity, depression and so on) caused by real-world limitations. People may become more tolerant, friendly and able to compromise.

2) It can help humanity to move away from spending most of its time doing mandatory work, allowing more time for enjoyable creativity and activity that give rise to a technically and socially highly-developed society.

3) People’s use of the metaverse in ways that avoid wear and tear on the real world might also help eliminate environmental pollution and further exploitation of nature and Earth.

“The metaverse could operate with few negative effects. In the past both the good and the bad have been fairly equal, but now we must go forward more wisely if we don’t want to destroy humanity, nature and the Earth. If literally everyone can be connected, then the life of humanity could become a dream.

“Digitalization in the metaverse should set people free from digital tasks, leading to a lot of new creativity. Connecting things and people could reduce the need for being physically present everywhere. Travel could be reserved for pleasure and entertainment. This is also a health benefit for both people and Earth. I hope a fully developed metaverse will help people think about themselves and the world as a whole, in which everyone and everything is equally important. I hope people will not feel fear, loneliness, anger anymore and will feel responsibility and interdependence. But if creation of the metaverse is focused on just the devices, software, gadgets and network with no steps made for general and unconditional availability for everyone, it is difficult to see when (if ever) the system could turn into a wholly connected human system. While a properly designed and operated metaverse might be able to free all humans, I am very skeptical of our society wanting to free its people.”

Thyaga Nandagopal, senior adviser in the directorate of computer and information science and engineering at the U.S. National Science Foundation, shared examples of use cases in several categories: “1) Learning: With virtual reality/immersive experiences enabled by the metaverse, the ability to learn hands-on will be a major advantage in speeding up the absorption of new concepts by a range of learners. It has the potential to impact how diverse learners can absorb and grasp new material. Education will also shift to a continuous-learning model, where the K-12 system will end up teaching ‘how to learn’ rather than ‘what to learn,’ and the metaverse will offer everyone the opportunity to learn the essential skills needed for jobs, personal care, finances, etc.

2) Work: With the ability to interact with far-away objects, data and people through the metaverse, the nature of work will fundamentally change. It will shift from being ‘skill-driven’ to ‘information-driven.’ We will be able to work from anywhere, anytime. More jobs will not be on a 9-to-5 basis, and instead fit into more of a freelancing model where tasks get parceled out to those who can get them done within a set of performance parameters. Humans will be prized for their ability to rapidly parse data from diverse sources and extract pertinent information from the sea of data floating around them.

3) Human relationships: Through immersion, existing human relationships could potentially become stronger by being able to stay connected all the time, but the risk of disruption is always there. The advent of highly realistic digital avatars can lead to humans associating with purely virtual characters for company and pleasure, as these can be programmed to give them a greater sense of satisfaction than most human-human interactions. The metaverse may bring to reality a collapse of human-to-human relationships.

“4) Government: While it may eventually improve access to government services and information, until the government tech is perfected and the public comes to understand how to use it, the metaverse will initially make things much worse than they are today. This could be mitigated over the span of a few decades. The metaverse will also potentially allow lawmakers to connect with constituents, but it can also allow them to evade responsibility for meeting and engaging with individuals in the communities they represent, instead using avatars or virtual agents that operate on their behalf to placate the public rather than really listening to what people have to say.”

Katie Harbath, public policy director at Facebook from 2011-2021, now founder and CEO of Anchor Change and director of Tech and Democracy for the International Republican Institute, commented, “As in the early days of the internet in the 1990s, it can be hard to envision exactly what the metaverse will look like in 2040. I expect it will be particularly strong for communities and areas where physically being together or traveling to a place is difficult. Gaming is already immersed in the metaverse, and the teenagers playing those games today will be in their 30s by 2040. They will be more accustomed to the fact that they then can fully immerse themselves in visiting a landmark like the Taj Mahal or the Great Wall of China without needing to travel there. They’ll be able to tour museums or attend concerts and collectively experience something like that without a ton of effort. In many ways, this technology will make our daily lives better. No longer will we have the stress and cost of travel. If we can’t make a meeting, we have many other ways to join. We’ll be able to do activities with friends and family even if they are on the other side of the world. People in the military and emergency workers will be able to train in more-realistic environments. Moreover, people won’t have to fly to Singapore for a single meeting. Instead, they’ll be able to participate from home – reducing the amount of business travel impact on the environment.

“The positives of this transition have the potential to make us a much more global society, allowing us to experience different cultures and people without the added expense of traveling. People will have more opportunities to learn and have an impact on the world. My hope would be that it would make us a more empathetic society when we can truly walk in someone else’s shoes. Negatively, it could isolate people. It could make them feel more lonely because they don’t have as much face-to-face physical interaction. We’re just learning what the mental impacts of isolation during COVID-19 were, and it is evident these technologies can sometimes make that worse.”

Andrew Tutt, an expert in law and author of “An FDA for Algorithms,” wrote, “How do I envision the metaverse changing human society? Most importantly, it will continue to make individuals more data-driven in how they interact with each other and the world, and it will continue to put pressure on certain kinds of traditional expertise. For most of human history, if you saw a red bird in a tree you had no way of knowing whether that bird was a cardinal or a scarlet tanager unless you were a trained ornithologist or an amateur birdwatcher. The same can be said across a range of human endeavors from cooking to painting.

“The availability of ever more accessible data will reduce the need to rely on conventional kinds of rote memorization and potentially expand the ability of people to understand and convey to other people information about the world around them. Increasing the amount of virtualization also permits the real world to be more fluid and dynamic (and changes to the world to therefore be made more cheaply). A spartan retail space with completely barren walls and a kitchen could – through the use of augmented reality – be a bright and colorful family Mexican restaurant by day and a bouncing nightclub by night. The ability to hot swap the trade dress of physical spaces only begins to scratch the surface of what might be possible. There could potentially be implications for fashion, where outfits look different through the lens of augmented reality. And if augmented reality became pervasive enough, even traffic signs and traffic lights could theoretically be replaced by augmented reality, allowing for cities to potentially change traffic flows dynamically without having to repaint the roads and replace lights and traffic signs.

“There is hardly a field of human endeavor that will not be changed in some way by the introduction of this blended reality metaverse – but they will be changed in ways that all individually may seem somewhat small. Essentially, all of them will be enhanced or changed by the ability to generate data about the world on the fly and create or take advantage of digital representations overlayed over the physical world. But the collective implications for efficiency and human happiness are likely to be enormous.

“These technologies will vastly increase the speed that many people can be taught many tasks. They will vastly lower the cost to virtually visit far-distant places. They will allow people to engage in new forms of entertainment that are more visceral and exciting than what they have access to now. Overall, I expect this to improve human society drastically in the long run. There will be problems and there will be dangers.”

Kathee Brewer, editorial director for CANN Media Group, wrote, “The metaverse is another in a long line of developments that saw their genesis in science fiction and later became reality. (Think cell phones, the internet, ‘smart’ homes, space travel, nuclear submarines, etc.) Already, virtual reality and augmented reality are making new-product demonstrations safer and more immersive in fields like medicine. Gamers, of course, have engaged in an elementary form of the metaverse for years, and real estate agents offering ‘virtual’ real-world property tours (another very early stage of the metaverse) has become de rigueur. Going forward, the technology seems ripe for use in educational environments, allowing students ‘hands-on’ experience with places and things to which they otherwise could not get near. Virtual vacations could allow people who are unable or unwilling to travel to experience distant lands – perhaps even planets. Business meetings could be much more immersive than Zoom allows. People could participate in movies, plays and TV shows instead of simply watching them. There are innumerable ways in which the metaverse could be employed in daily life. As with all technology, the potential for abuse/misuse is enormous. Could literal wars be fought in the metaverse? Could authoritarians and conspiracy theorists use the milieu for evil ends? Probably, and those are the scary things that must be addressed.”

Rob Frieden, professor of telecommunications law at Penn State, commented, “I expect early metaverse adopters to include gamers, consumers of pornography and practitioners able to exploit the third-dimensional presentation, such as CAD-CAM designers, architects and geospatial engineers. As with every prior technological evolution, society will have to make adjustments, often without much forward thinking by governments. The metaverse will represent both the greatness and awfulness of society.”

James Gannon, a health care policy expert whose focus is on emerging tech, a consultant for Novartis and PharmaLedger, responded, “The metaverse concept will come to be a major factor of life for people in developed nations over the coming two decades. If we look back to 20 years ago in the early 2000s, the internet was still emerging as a facet of life, whereas now it is an integral part of modern society. We will see a similar emergence of the metaverse concept, particularly in terms of social-based interactions, however this will also bring with it the same policy challenges as we have seen in the internet space. It will be a challenge for policymakers and legislators to keep up with the pace of technical change.”

James Hughes, bioethicist, sociologist and executive director of the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, wrote, “Immersive VR and wearable AR will be common by 2040, and there will be many people globally implementing it for leisure, work and educational use. It will not itself generate negative impacts, but all the bad aspects of human behavior found in the real will be present in the virtual – capitalism, patriarchy, nationalism, sloth. The metaverse will be isomorphic, similar to the real. It will need laws and regulation, private property, taxation and law enforcement.”

Rahul Saxena, CEO of CoBot Systems based in India, previously a director at Cisco, said, “The first shifts are likely to happen for gaming, entertainment and pornography. This, alone, would account for more than half a billion people. They will arrive in a fantasy world that tries to look like the real world. Let’s call it Fantasy-Metaverse.

“The next set of shifts is for situations where our natural faculties are augmented by imaging and actuators, for instance in laparoscopic surgeries guided by real-time scanning. These require specialized immersive worlds that people enter to gain augmented powers in doing their jobs. Health care, especially surgery, will benefit from these shifts. Let’s call it Super-Metaverse.

“Making business decisions is a multidimensional and analytics-rich problem that could move to the metaverse. It will be hard to consume, as it will depict an alien world unfolding in analyst-generated scenarios. In the same way as global information system layers add complexity to maps, decision-complexity navigation is likely to demand generating non-natural dimensions. Instead of x, y, z and time, we could need a metaverse with navigation in profit, sales, customer satisfaction and time. Let’s call it Alien-Metaverse.

“We hope that education fits in somewhere and becomes more easily accessible in the Metaverse. It will collide with the shift to the Fantasy-Metaverse, where unformed minds will prefer to live. Teaching them to exercise their faculties in the metaverse is also likely to collide against the economic basis of the Fantasy-Metaverse that would prefer gullible consumption over critical thinking. As the Super and Alien metaverses evolve, they may provide doors into the Fantasy-Metaverse through which residents can traverse metaverses.

“The shifts to the Fantasy-Metaverse will be like the unleashing of an opium super-epidemic. There will be a backlash. Blockchain technology will initially try to promise immutable memories in the metaverses. They would likely fail in that promise, overwhelmed by the sheer volume of the storage and attacks by players who will have strong incentives to either put prices to memories or to make them mutable. It will take a while and several iterations for the technology-commercial aspects of immutable memories to settle down. I’m not sure whether the equilibrium will be to the benefit of residents; it can be likely to favor the powers who manage coinage or commerce in the metaverses.”

A North American futures strategist and consultant responded, “More fully-immersive digital spaces and digital life will be more seamless than today, with more robust infrastructure and more flexible devices available from almost anywhere. Geographical distances will all but disappear as people will feel immersed in whatever environment they choose without physical travel. People will need to make concerted effort to keep their bodies healthy by physical activity as they use the metaverse more often for many of the transactions and communications in their daily lives. It will be much more difficult for people to be ‘unplugged’ from daily life.”

A geoscientist based in Oceania commented, “Virtual worlds offer many interesting opportunities for people because, in them, we are able to ‘author’ ourselves quite intentionally and experimentally. The flexibility of form and experience within a virtual world can have an amazing developmental influence. I have spent, off and on, something like 17 years experimenting as an avatar and exploring virtual spaces and experiences within Second Life, and I have found this to have moved my perception of myself quite considerably in my real life. The whole experience can be summed up as being liberating. Virtual worlds dissolve social and geographical boundaries, and in them we are able to interact and form relationships with people whom we would never otherwise meet.

“Other-worldly experiences are also a matter of course in virtual worlds; it is all down to the imagination of the creator of a virtual realm. You can thus inhabit the imagination of another in a way which is quite different to that which you would experience by, for instance, reading a book. The liberating and exploratory experience of virtual worlds will become ever more important as the impacts of population increase, climate change, environmental degradation and pandemics become more apparent to people.

“Our society has undergone many forms of liberation as people have sought more from their lives and a deeper understanding of themselves and their purpose in society. I see the evolution of virtual worlds as a next natural step in human liberation.”

A highly respected computer scientist based in the U.S. Upper Midwest said, “The technology of virtual reality is improving substantially, and that will lead to a technology-pushed emphasis on greater use, whether or not those uses are actually beneficial. It is clear that entertainment will be the dominant use for most people: the extension of today’s games, probably substantially increased pornographic use, and I hope some greater expansion of virtual presence at live events (sports, theater, music) and virtual events. On the positive side, I see huge educational benefits (sending people to engage in periods in history, explore science, etc.) and substantial benefits for training in all spheres (from practicing surgery to simulations where people can train for talking down a potential bridge jumper or counseling others in crisis situation). On the negative side, I think there is a real risk of amplifying negative social interactions, including increased sexism, racism, isolationism and normalization (in the virtual world) of behaviors that use, abuse or marginalize others.”

Several respondents predicted a proliferation of “digital twins” – that is, digital representations and actors that are extensions of “us.”

Jim Spohrer, board member of the International Society of Service Innovation Professionals and longtime IBM leader, wrote, “As our personal, episodic experience data become our AI, our ‘digital twins’ will be invited to participate in online digital worlds. The diversity of types of worlds will be very large. People can choose to let their true digital twin engage in some worlds and they can create alter-egos for other worlds. Monetizing both true digital twins and alter-egos will be the focus of some digital world platforms. The UN Sustainable Development Goals will be a focus for many people, including battling misinformation (which may be added as a goal). Poverty will be a thing of the past, as 1% of every purchase that a person makes is deposited in a central bank digital currency individual retirement plan for that individual. An important and complex legal issue will be maintenance or disposal of digital twins and alter-egos of people once that person physically dies.”

Ray Schroeder, expert in technology-enhanced learning and senior fellow at the University of Illinois-Springfield, said, “By 2040 metaverse platforms will be as widely integrated and dispersed as the web is today. We will see the phenomenon of digital twinning in which individuals will be digitally represented by avatars which, driven by AI, will speak and respond with the authority and image of the person herself. This will enable a host of applications with virtual twins engaging in all of the aspects of society, from business to learning to recreation. It will become a preferred mode of communication, interaction and engagement. The transition to the metaverse will change the human self-image from flesh and blood to our idealized personae. It will create a world in which we are our ‘best’ or ‘worst’ selves. This is a huge step in the evolution of the human species. We will no longer be subject to the DNA-defined body and mind but will have an electronic version as well.”

Mei Lin Fung, chair of People-Centered Internet, wrote, “Concepts such as the ways in which ‘digital twins’ might link the real world and the digital world will eventually be greatly advanced by social contracts, property rights agreements, access controls, permissions and other tools and institutions are going to be developed during the metaverse goldrush. I do think that between now and 2040 most activities will be limited to that which is already popular, with some advances in other specific areas like online health, education, business, employment, investing and saving, conferences and social gatherings.”

Vipp Jaswal, CEO of Interpersonal Intelligence Advisory and C-suite advisor, commented, “If history is a reference, then it logically follows that the exponential change we have seen in the existing digital world we live in will equally apply to the virtual world that is presently being built: the metaverse. The metaverse will be three-dimensional, i.e., users will feel fully-immersed, and they may even eventually be able to engage in sensory features such as touch, feel and smell. Human society will change in that it will allow for users to exist in two or more worlds that allow for expression of their true self. As an analogy, the metaverse will almost be an opportunity for people to ‘reincarnate’ themselves by giving themselves permission to be their true self.

“One of the positive outcomes will be allowing people to pursue multiple careers in various settings. It will allow for greater interaction and community building. The possibility of engaging in a much broader range of experiences will be far greater. There are some worries: At present there is little discourse on monitoring individuals’ virtual safety. Very limited exposure is given to any regulation of code of conduct. A level of interpersonal intelligence needs to be developed and shared – a new metaverse literacy – so that people have a safe and rewarding experience. Otherwise, this could be the Dark Web turned upside down. Daily lives are going to be impacted in every way, but our experiences with the evolution of the internet have trained us to expect, manage and utilize change in technology. We will adapt very comfortably to this new world, and its constant evolution will change our way of living dramatically. From shopping to entertainment, health, work, relationships and more, the way we live our lives will change exponentially.”

The respondents to this canvassing took a number of additional approaches in imagining how and where XR might be applied in the future in work, business, relationships, national defense, education and nefarious acts.

Stephen Abram, principal at Lighthouse Consulting Inc., predicted, “A lot of the metaverse infrastructure is already here and it will be developed. I don’t believe that there will be one single meta-universe. The primary metaverses will be goal-specific and you’ll choose them based on your goals. We’ll belong to many planets in the metaverse and not be restricted to our home planet. For example, there will be metaverses that specialize in learning goals, workplace workflow and decision-making goals, and gaming, entertainment and culture goals. We can somewhat see this in the diversity of social media/networking/content platforms now, where adding too much diverse content destroys the experience – for example, if LinkedIn took its eye off the ball (in regard to user needs) and offered entertainment-focused content like music. That doesn’t mean that a variety of formats aren’t necessary for each metaverse experience, but they must be fit for purpose.”

Patrick Hsieh, a digital sociologist who works in the Digital Technology and Society program at RTI International, said, “Many jobs in the service sector will become automated and augmented into immersive digital spaces that blend the virtual and physical worlds together. Wearable devices will no longer be bulky. New jobs will emerge, such as those for logistical-support people who assist and maintain automated services.”

A vice president for research and economic development commented, “AI will be driving largely every functionality as we know them today. Communication and other interactions such as business transactions will likely be virtual and via avatars, AR and VR. We will be responding to prompts and directed actions, banking will no longer be in-person, and it is likely that all education entities will default to online virtual training. A big challenge will be getting processes and policies to keep pace with the tech advances.”

An expert in internet engineering and policy said, “Enhanced transparent displays have obvious use cases for machinery, vehicles, warfare and entertainment. It’s hard to conceive of a scenario in which advances in one field won’t feed advances in others, creating network effects that will lead people to rely more and more on this intermediation to interact with one another, and the world at large.”

Vincent Alcazar, a retired U.S. military strategist experienced in global intelligence, commented, “The metaverse is becoming commercially instantiated to serve gaming interests. But its most interesting use case is not in that realm, it’s in national defense. By 2040, one or more non-public U.S. military research and development and operations metaverse(s) in technology, meta systems in size and organization, will be paired with U.S. real-world combat operations to test scenario-specific and engagement-specific measures, countermeasures, tactics and counter-tactics. This will speed decisions as to what validated tech and tactics the U.S. military can bring to the future battlespace to out-innovate and outpace adversaries.”

Steven Miller, professor emeritus of information systems at Singapore Management University, commented, “There will be positive and negative uses. A forthcoming book I co-authored with Tom Davenport, ‘Working with AI: Real Stories of Human-Machine Collaboration,’ includes a case study describing a machine shop that already uses XR to train new machinists with the help of the Microsoft HoloLens and a commercial software application. This is starting to happen now. It can and will continue to happen more frequently. XR will play an increasingly bigger role in knowledge support. Deepfake video images will be extremely difficult for ordinary people and ordinary detection methods to identify. Another book, ‘AI 2041: Ten Visions for Our Future’ by Kai-Fu Lee and Chen Qiufan, outlines this and more. The second story in that book, ‘Gods Behind the Masks,’ does a wonderful job of helping to envision everyday life 20 years from now, when the ability to synthesize images is so good that fakes permeate aspects of everyday life in new ways – though of course, there will be new and better ways of detection as well.”

Ben Rutt, a Baltimore-based psychologist specializing in cognitive behavioral therapy, said, “The shift to the metaverse will occur much like our shift to the internet in the 1990s. People will react in one of four ways. There will be Early Adopters, Slow Adopters, Disengaged People and Resistant People. Early Adopters will embrace the metaverse. They will rush to take advantage of all its features. Their level of engagement with the metaverse will be very high. Slow Adopters will be less enthusiastic about the metaverse. They’ll use it for their job, if required to do so. They won’t use the metaverse much in their personal time. People who are disengaged from the metaverse won’t be paying attention. It won’t even be on their radar. This is kind of like your grandfather who refuses to buy a cellphone. They won’t have the capacity or interest to use the metaverse. There will also be people who resist the metaverse. Every new technology has its skeptics. These people will be afraid of how the metaverse will change society. They’ll be a small but vocal group. (See the article ‘People Who Hated the Web Even Before Facebook’ for more details on this.) The metaverse’s success will largely depend on how many early adopters it can attract and how many slow adopters it can get interested. Tech companies will try to encourage disengaged people to get interested in the metaverse by showing them the metaverse as a place that will empower them and that it’s a place they can put their trust in.

“Positives that will emerge from the metaverse include the ability to connect with people all over the world, the ability to work from anywhere and the growth of a new segment of the economy. As the metaverse becomes popular, companies will be under immense pressure to keep innovating. Users may ultimately benefit from that. However, these benefits will not be evenly distributed. People who cannot access the metaverse may be left behind. The people who make the metaverse will take advantage of our psychology to make it an engaging place. By doing so, we will surely see an increase in metaverse addiction. The extent to which the metaverse will channel our negative impulses is unknown. The 2010s and ’20s have illustrated how social media can harness our dark impulses. Political polarization; fake news; it all seems to have gotten worse. How will the metaverse influence this dynamic? That is anyone’s guess.”

Andrew Schwartzman, senior counselor at the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society, commented, “It is dangerous to extrapolate from historic patterns for something like this, but as with the web, I do suspect that some valuable use cases will emerge, quite possibly not the ones that are currently expected to be the likely scenarios. Think Zoom to the twelfth power. I would think that disproportionate attention will be placed on individual users, but that the more-important applications will develop in the enterprise space for design, logistics and enabling collaboration. Education might be next. But I am skeptical that this technology will radically change society.”

The technology to create an immersive metaverse is possible by 2040

A number of the experts who responded to this canvassing said they expect that by 2040 software, hardware, user interfaces and network capabilities should be advanced enough to create a much more refined, more immersive and better-functioning user experience.

Rod Beckstrom, author, tech entrepreneur, former CEO of ICANN and founding director of the U.S. National Cybersecurity Center, said, “Some forms of new metaverses are certain to unfold by 2040. Why? Because the hardware and software technology advancing today will easily enable it. It will evolve to deliver humans what they seek and are willing to pay for, whether through advertising, licensing fees or payments for products and services that include its features. As it is an embryonic new-technology market, no one knows today just how it will evolve, but it will happen, and – just as with AI – it will be applied in many diverse fields. If you want to understand where it is today and where it will evolve, follow the eyeballs and follow the money.”

Peter H. Hellmonds, founder/owner of Arete Publica, a public affairs consultancy, responded, “Increasing bandwidth and computer power plus future development of appropriate gear that is not as clunky as today’s VR goggles will bring an epochal change in the way we access these worlds within a couple of years. Google Glass was a beginning. Apple and Samsung may develop the next best thing in terms of sleek, stylish, AR/VR glasses, coupled with great sensomotoric experience. It will probably start with big hype in South Korea and Japan before a major spillover into the U.S. and Europe. The porn industry will figure out how to make the most of it. Our generation saw the advent of the Internet, starting with dial-up modems, quickly evolving to DSL, VDSL and now gigabit connections via fibre-optic cable. We saw computing power race from 8-bit computers with 128 kilobits of RAM to the possibility of 433 qubit quantum computing power in 2022 in high-end machines. We have seen the advent of social interaction from Usenet newsgroups and Internet Relay Chat to today with WhatsApp and Signal, Telegram and a host of other chat apps. We saw the advent of social networks like Facebook and Twitter, Instagram and TikTok, all within the span of 10-20 years. We have as much time ahead of us as lies behind us until 2040. Never underestimate the power of inventors and adopters worldwide. I can even imagine that the world described by William Gibson in his early 1980s ‘Neuromancer’ trilogy, where he coined the word ‘cyberspace,’ with neural implants that connect your brain directly to a computer deck that allows you three-dimensional interaction in a VR world could possibly happen before 2040. Blockchain is still very much in its infancy today, but the possible positive influences on our lives are manifold. From verifying financial transactions to documenting shipping of goods to certifying the origins of diamonds or other minerals used in international trade, I can imagine that blockchain’s everyday uses will soon surpass the uses as a means for cryptocurrencies.”

A global strategist who works for Meta toward promoting technology for the common good wrote, “Many of the technologies that will be used to create the metaverse are already available. We should expect rapid development of metaverse hardware/wearable, devices and tools in the coming five to 10 years. By 2040 the metaverse should be a fairly mainstream and well-used technology enjoyed by millions of users.”

A longtime global internet policy leader at one of the world’s largest telecommunications companies said, “Technology such as distributed computing and high-speed mobile broadband will enable trends that have been underway for years. The metaverse will offer a wide range of applications, from entertainment to online education to business-related environments that will drive development.”

Brad Templeton, chair emeritus at the Electronic Frontier Foundation and director at the Foresight Institute, said, “What we will see in 2040 depends on yet-to-be-developed breakthroughs in technology. To become ubiquitous, you need to be able to access it without effort or much thought. It has to be always available, perhaps in glasses you wear all the time (not just to do the application) or at a desk you sit at all day, or perhaps useful while you are in your living room or kitchen. Given that development, yes, people will use it regularly because it is effortless. 2040 is 18 years out, so it seems this might be doable before then. If we get something radical, like a contact lens, hearing aid or other such invisible wearable, expect more. Entertainment will be the easiest thing to move to this platform, along with certain business applications. I am more skeptical of a ‘Snow Crash’ vision where people feel they ‘live’ in a metaverse rather than access it as they need it, or explicitly ‘visit’ it as we sort of do now.”

Marjory S. Blumenthal, senior fellow and director of the Technology and International Affairs Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, responded, “The Internet continues to evolve, and so does the collection of technologies that we call ‘the Internet.’ Metaverse concepts will grow, evolve, compete and cohere between now and 2040 as (loosely) a new generation of the Internet. The only way this will work as ‘immersive’ is if the technologies are easy to use and engaging. I would caution against the assumption that that has to mean 3D graphics and gaming – those technologies will loom large in some but not all metaverse implementations. After all, 3D and compelling graphics don’t do a lot for the visually impaired, and if nothing else, the aging of the global population will make more of us visually and hearing impaired to some degree. The observation that past virtual worlds have atrophied or become marginalized speaks to the need to engage more people more persistently. It is unlikely that a single platform can do that, and like the network of networks idea, a metaverse of metaverses promises to be more adaptable.”

Andrew Tutt, an expert in law and author of “An FDA for Algorithms,” wrote, “The kind of real-time rendering technology necessary to make a metaverse really exciting, especially in handheld and wearable devices, will require maybe about 15 years more development in GPUs (and that timeline assumes Moore’s Law continues to hold).”

Stephen Downes, expert with the Digital Technologies Research Centre of the National Research Council of Canada, said, “William Gibson-inspired full-body immersion is still far in the future, and would require a direct neural connection, which will still be in development stages in 2040. We will be limited to what we can do with headsets, glasses, pop-up displays and the like, but the gear will be lighter, cheaper and much more affordable. Bandwidth will enable the much-greater data transfer needed to support realistic VR. By 2040, one of the key challenges will have been addressed: the production of enough content (ranging from games to VR, movies, educational simulations, live events). We will be able to record VR rather than be required to use a design platform. By 2040, we should be seeing the VR equivalent of YouTube and TikTok. Critics will complain that people are withdrawing from society, hidden as they are from the rest of the room behind their VR headset or glasses. There will be concerns about harmful and disturbing content, and because of the verisimilitude of VR experiences, there will be concerns about misinformation, propaganda and brainwashing. The cost to access and use VR equipment will also lead to questions about the widening digital divide. Many people will argue, not inaccurately, that VR (or even augmented or extended reality) are simply not necessary for most social functions. Another less-discussed aspect of the metaverse is the idea of object and identity persistence in virtual space. We’re already seeing the first signs of this with blockchain records and NFTs.”

Alexander B. Howard, director of the Digital Democracy Project, wrote, “By 2040 we should expect the personal and public metaverse terminals that Neal Stephenson once envisaged in his 1992 cyberpunk novel to exist in many forms around the globe, from public kiosks to university pods to connections in private homes to library booths to commercial gear operated by corporations to police and military interfaces. If the world is anything like today, each will have its own affordances, stigma, power and privileges that will be reflected in capacity and appearance. We should also expect that in two decades time our current smart glasses, VR goggles and AR browsers in smartphones will be seen to be as antiquated as we now view the personal computers of the 1980s and cellphones of the 1990s to be. The emerging panoply of computing devices that can augment what we see and enable us to explore virtual worlds using avatars by projecting images onto lenses or our eyeballs are still in their relative infancy today, as are digital smartwatches, health bands and fitness trackers. By 2040, we should expect spoken and gestural interfaces like the ones we saw in ‘Minority Report’ that enable us to interact in augmented-reality layers in a given physical location, viewing the annotations and glyphs others have left, with background systems pulling up information about the people, places and objects we observe. This will have many implications for how we live, work, play, govern, conduct business, pursue romance and more, as these new civic, corporate and private spaces become commercialized or co-opted by the same societal forces and institutions that shaped the development and extension of Internet technologies in the 20th century.”

June Anne English-Lueck, professor of anthropology at San Jose State University and a distinguished fellow at the Institute for the Future, said, “If by 2030 there is greater coherence between the different proprietary systems of coding and interface design, and if more universal standards are adopted, the use of VR for social interaction and AR for education, training, community activism and art will increase. Undoubtedly the metaverse will carry exactly the same social costs as the internet. Immersion will make engagement much more compelling.”

Our worlds will blend from a split between digital and physical to a single metaverse that combines some of the best and worst attributes from both into a display-driven experience that may move from contact lenses to ocular implants.

Robert Petrosino, head of emerging tech and innovation at PeakActivity, a digital strategy and implementation company

Robert Petrosino, head of emerging tech and innovation at PeakActivity, a digital strategy and implementation company, responded, “By 2040 the metaverse will play a crucial role in everyday life. There will have been a transitional change from a mobile-first experience into a headset-first experience. These headsets allow people to transition quickly and easily between augmented and virtual reality as well as notify us of our current geolocation specific to events, interactions and digital content. As we have seen in prior generations of technology evolution, the winners will be those with the deepest pockets who are the fastest to adapt this technology into their daily lives. Our worlds will blend from a split between digital and physical to a single metaverse that combines some of the best and worst attributes from both into a display-driven experience that may move from contact lenses to ocular implants.”

Andrew Czernek, former vice president of technology at major company, commented, “In 2022, it is apparent that 5G technologies will emerge in mobile applications first, in phones and cars. Specifically, all of the auto manufacturers are starting to use LIDAR and other technologies to make vehicles more driver-independent. A killer application for the home – where people are relatively immobile – is yet to be seen. However, analysts are predicting that 5G will break down the monopoly on the Internet pipeline that Comcast, CenturyLink and a few other companies dominate. Already we’re seeing better connectivity for rural and third-world populations who can use cellphone technology to communicate and better participate in global markets. Kasongo, a town in the eastern Congo, has cellphone access without the difficulties of stringing thousands of miles of cable.”

Walt Howe, a longtime information technology and services professional, now retired, said, “Steady improvements in miniaturization and AI will lead to a more-positive, augmented experience technologically. There will be no more heavy headsets and it will be more sustainable. People will appear as themselves in most communications, not as anonymous gamers. XR will integrate with, enhance and modify the normal.”

A communications expert based in British Columbia responded, “The metaverse will become a place to escape the realities of the world. It may not be as it is now, with clunky VR gear. Rather it may be more integrated into everyday functions, objects and clothing, so that people shift seamlessly from the physical to the virtual world.”

The pandemic gave XR development a big boost

The pandemic of the early 2020s was cited by many experts in this canvassing as a spur to billions of dollars of new investment in research and development of networked digital tools that allow for excellent augmented- and virtual-reality experiences.

Gary L. Kreps, professor of communication and director of the Center for Health and Risk Communication at George Mason University, said, “Much of the recent development has been fostered by the COVID-19 pandemic, which necessitated digital delivery of health care and educational services to the public. Necessity is the mother of invention, and the health and educational programs have been refined through use. Similarly, consumers and providers of health care and educational services have become increasingly sophisticated at using these new technologies. Now that so many people have grown accustomed to using these new digital communication-delivery systems, I foresee growing demand for introducing additional and more-sophisticated systems of this kind.”

Brooke Foucault Welles, associate professor of communication and core member of the Network Science Institute at Northeastern University, said, “With the additional nudge of widespread remote work and learning during the COVID-19 pandemic, it seems inevitable that corporations will invest in developing the hardware and software to support metaverse(s) over the next 15-20 years.”

Mei Lin Fung, chair of People-Centered Internet, wrote, “COVID-19 has accelerated by many decades the level of new digital transformation across many cities and nations. We are building infrastructure which had no chance of being funded five years ago. Because of this, devices and software developed originally for the metaverse will emerge more quickly. They will also be repurposed as a means of augmenting human activities in the real world – allowing people separated by space and time to engage in activities which only 20 years ago were largely only possible face-to-face.”

Olivier Crépin-Leblond, founding board member of the European Dialogue on Internet Governance and board member for the European At-Large Organisation at ICANN, wrote, “Many activities will take place online by 2040 using more-immersive interfaces than the current web, for example, e-commerce options in which you feel as if you are strolling down the aisle of a store, meetings in full virtual reality and fully immersive VR or holographic physical fitness options. The technology already exists today, it just needs to be refined, made bug-free, and made user-friendly and affordable. Many of the positives of this will be similar to what we have experienced during the COVID-19 epidemic: less need for travel, more-efficient use of the earth’s resources, etc. Many of the negatives will also be what we are seeing during COVID-19, including a rise in psychological distress related to social isolation and the lack of real, physical human contact. Will 2040 technology find a way to solve that problem, somehow trick our human minds into thinking that we are in someone else’s presence.? Unless we physically and physiologically evolve as a species, virtual presence may never be able to fully replace a physical one.”

Bitange Ndemo, professor of entrepreneurship at the University of Nairobi Business School, commented, “In my view, it will not take too long before the future of the metaverse becomes part of our life. The reset started in 2020 with the onset of COVID-19. We had to transition into providing services like education as normally as we could, doing it all online. The metaverse and Web3 will further facilitate the mimicking of natural space. Already many graduate school students are questioning why we should resume ‘normal’ physical classes when remote courses in the current 2D have worked. With blockchain technology promising security in transactions due to its principles of cryptography, decentralization and consensus, it is not far-fetched to see top universities beginning to offer remote teaching that is close to teaching in real life. If the addiction we see in gaming is anything to go by, then the metaverse will rule the future. There are many positives like improving productivity in virtually every sector from education to health care to agriculture leading to greater inclusivity and prosperity. This will, however, happen at the expense of socialization that is essential to our livelihood.”

Moira de Roche Holmes, chair of the International Federation for Information Processing, wrote, “The immersive aspects will help make people comfortable with the technology. We will truly live digital. The big positive will be for education. The big positive will be the improvements in creating more-personal experiences in education. During the pandemic over the past couple of years, learners and students have been forced into an online setting where the missing component was in social learning. Immersive learning spaces will address this issue.”

Valerie Bock, principal at VCB Consulting, wrote, “One thing the pandemic has taught us is how much can be accomplished using technologies that permit virtual presence. Another, however, is how much we prefer actual presence with one another and how much more easily we learn when we have the full bandwidth of sensory perception at our disposal. So, I see the metaverse much as I do the internet – it will become an indispensable part of daily life, but for most people, it will be only a part. It might be where we do some of our commerce, if we’re spending a lot of leisure or work time there. Some people will be professionally involved with running it and spend most of their time there. Until headsets become much more comfortable and less fussy, there will be resistance to ‘having to go’ there to get the tasks of daily life done. It’s easy and convenient to pay for a transaction with a mobile phone – I don’t see people wanting to have to don a headset to do transactions, though if the transaction is an ‘in-game’ one, that resistance disappears. We will still see a lot of resistance to wearing headsets or accessing augmented reality a la Google Glass because of the threat people of being surveilled and recorded. Expect that norms will develop about the times and places in which such equipment is ‘appropriate’ because we have learned so much about how the mobile phone can disrupt interpersonal communication when people are actually together.”

Giuseppe Riva, director of the Humane Technology Lab at the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore in Milan, Italy, has been studying the use of virtual reality in mental health for 20 years. He responded, “One of the key problems of the uses of technology and social media today is that they erode our sense of community because, as I explain in ‘Surviving COVID-19: The Neuroscience of Smart Working and Distance Learning,’ they do not allow for the different syncing mechanisms that reduce the distance between individuals communicating online. Research shows that during the COVID-19 restrictions individuals experiencing distance learning and working felt more fatigue, anxiety, worry and discomfort. These types of experiences lead to a significant weakening of physical communities – they lead to more loneliness and individualism. There is hope that the future metaverse, by bridging the digital and physical domains using VR and AR, will actually create hybrid communities in which we neurologically feel the same syncing mechanisms we feel in real physical places, without the limitations online spaces have today. In a sense, we will no longer experience the separation of the physical and digital worlds, we will feel that we are working and learning in a hybrid setting with few if any boundaries. Obviously, this will also change what we consider to be ‘real,’ because everything digital will be as real in our minds as the physical stuff. There will be significant changes in our view of reality.”

Stephan Adelson, president of Adelson Consulting Services, an expert in the internet and public health, predicted, “Business interests and the money they bring will help to move the technology. Those that provide a virtual work ‘environment’ for remote employees will prove to be profitable in many ways. Gaming will help to push physical technology, and, as media becomes more consumable through VR, new ways of interacting with movies and other forms of entertainment will emerge. I have already been seeing how my time in VR is changing my relationships. I am being exposed to people that I would likely have never met in the physical world and have become ‘friends’ with many that I know very little, always at their request. In many ways, links to these virtual friends are more casual and the connections are more transient and situational (per game, social environment, etc.).

“The virtual world Horizons by Facebook is a great example of a business that is trying to move an existing model into the VR world. In Horizons, people are able to create their own world and share it with others – in many ways, this move and structure is reminiscent of the MySpace when it first arrived on the scene. Each person could code their own page to make it personal and an expression of themselves. In some ways, Horizons is like Facebook meets MySpace in the metaverse.

“Some changes I expect to see are in how daily business is conducted in progressive companies. VR meetings could easily replace Zoom and Skype while making meetings more personal (being able to give a high-five for example) while giving the employee a ‘place’ to meet at the water cooler and chat – something very much missing from the current home-based working environment and something that will be proven to be psychologically beneficial. People will begin to share with each other about positive relationships in VR and – similarly to what happened with online dating – because of positive word-of-mouth sharing the use of VR for socialization will increase, I think this is true especially because the isolation caused by COVID-19 has changed our social nature.”

Conversely, Melissa R. Michelson, dean of arts and sciences and professor of political science at Menlo College, cited the pandemic for two impediments to rapid XR development, writing, “I doubt that the metaverse will be this far along by 2040 because: 1) The pandemic has revealed the degree to which modern life is dependent on chips, electronic parts and chemicals that are not always available. Generating a widespread metaverse will require large amounts of these items and a smoother supply chain. 2) The isolation imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic has illustrated just how crucial face-to-face interaction is to many parts of daily life. Some industrialized, wealthy enclaves might have robust metaverse presences by 2040, but I don’t think it will include half a billion people. It will take longer, perhaps an additional generation.”

Steve Jones, professor of communication at the University of Illinois-Chicago and editor of New Media & Society, wrote, “We have learned from experience of the pandemic in many parts of the world that interacting in other than face-to-face fashion is not as satisfying.”

An expert on the evolution of algorithms responded, “The metaverse as currently articulated by Facebook/Meta is unlikely to be the point of all immersive activity/alternate world as it has been presented. However, given the range of pressures as a result of climate change, pandemic and the rise of flexible working, etc., alongside advances in technology, some form of metaverse seems quite likely. While there have been virtual worlds and a range of immersive options previously, these have been less evident or pressing in part due to the lack of contextual pressures we see now as well as some digital/technical literacy challenges that make engagement either cumbersome or less visible or attractive. Circumstances have changed, and it seems quite likely that this alongside changes in user tech literacy, new tools, etc., will enable a metaverse type of environment to become more desirable, much as the shift to the World Wide Web enabled the public uptake of internet as an everyday technology. This shift will bring with it many of the same challenges, rhetoric, etc., we have seen with the widespread adoption of other digital technologies.”

A computational social scientist based in the U.S. observed, “Over and over, we have thought that the next internet technology would be the one that would finally connect people across distance. While each technology has helped somewhat, by and large, physical distance is still a huge factor in who we spend our time with.”

A lecturer in psychology based in Cambridge, UK, commented, “The pandemic has revealed to us the importance of our experience and existence as biological entities. The only way the metaverse will be attractive is if the real world is rendered uninhabitable physically, economically and politically. Some large companies would appear to be targeting that as an outcome of their current practices, aided by the politically malevolent or naive, but my suspicion is that they will fail. Unfortunately, their failure will come at great cost to humanity and the planet, but they will fail.”

Daniel S. Schiff, Ph.D. candidate at Georgia Tech, responded, “While some imagine extensive VR/AR adoption for regular organizational and business collaboration purposes, it is less clear that this major segment will drive uptake of the metaverse. Given the experience during the pandemic of frustration and digital burnout related to the use of mere two-dimensional video conferencing platforms like Zoom, individuals may be even less prone to more-immersive and potentially invasive VR-based socialization as a means of workplace collaboration. The same types of factors may limit uptake for regular primary, secondary and postsecondary educational uses that would otherwise promote widespread adoption and acculturation into VR.”

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