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China Likely to be the Leader in Building Metaverse: Matthew Ball

Sun_Huixia

Sun_Huix...

· 2022.09.06 18:57

"However, it is important to stress that many of the executives who are pioneering the Metaverse believe that blockchains have no future at all. If so, the government discouraging the technologies may actually help China be a leader," said Ball.

Credit: Matthew Ball

Credit: Matthew Ball

Key takeaways:

1. “I understand the worry that the Metaverse will make us couch potatoes, but I don’t feel that way. For one, the average person already watches three hours of video per day (the average American is over five hours). It is more likely that the Metaverse takes time from TV, than from having a walk, going to play football, or having a drink at a bar with your friends.”

2. “And ultimately, the mobile Internet’s history began with the Internet itself. And the Metaverse starts with the Internet and mobile Internet too. It is definitely true that the foundations of the Metaverse are being laid now.”

3. “However, it is important to stress that many of the executives who are pioneering the Metaverse believe that blockchains have no future at all. If so, the government discouraging the technologies may actually help China be a leader.”

BEIJING, September 5 (TMTPOST) – In 2020, venture capitalist and pioneering theorist Matthew Ball argued that Chinese tech giant Tencent was the one closer to the Metaverse than any other company in the world given its online payment system with the largest number of users and its fast-growing gaming business.

In a recent interview with TMTPost, Ball, the CEO of Epyllion and the former global head of strategy for Amazon Studios, said that he still believed China is highly likely to the leader in building the metaverse depiste that Tencent and Alibaba had shut down their NFT (non-fungible tokens) platforms in the face of mounting regulatory scrutiny.

Ball, whose book The Metaverse: And How it Will Revolutionize Everything was published  in many languages including Chinese in August, also talked about the impact of the Metaverse on education, health care and economic opportunities.The book has been hailed by Chinese media as a must-read guide about the Metaverse: its definition, its relationship with ordinary people and the roadmap to it.

The following is a Q&A between TMTPost and Ball:

How did you get interested in the Metaverse, a concept that everyone has heard of but few is sure of? In the 2000s, you were a full-time wildfire fighter in Canada. How did that experience affect you as a venture capitalist and insightful media analyst? What prompted you to become a fire fighter?

While I am professionally focused on the virtual world and entrepreneurship, I have a deep love for the outdoors and public service. Without a doubt, one of the best and most meaningful jobs I’ve had was as “forest fire fighter”. A lot of what I learned in this job doesn’t apply to my life today, but the most valuable lesson was how to work with those who are very different from me in hobbies, education, and financial status. And not just work with them, trust them with my life. That skill is not as important in the start-up world as it is when fighting wildfires, but it is still essential to success.

As for the Metaverse, I have always been fascinated with virtual worlds, science fiction, and how new technologies can produce new forms of entertainment. And so the development of the Metaverse has been something I’ve been following since the 1990s. But it was my experiences playing Fortnite and using the Roblox platform in early 2018 which led me to believe this very old idea – the term Metaverse is 30 years old, but the concept goes back nearly a century – was starting to unfold around us and becoming “real”.

The executives of some online dating apps are talking about their Metaverse strategy. What do you think of the application of the Metaverse to the dating apps?

I think dating is likely to be a key social area of the Metaverse. After all, couples have been meeting in virtual worlds for decades, and their shared lives have been enriched there for decades, too. And every year, more people use virtual worlds, and more often. And so it makes sense we will see dating grow here, too.

But further historical context is helpful, too. During every computing era, we tend to think we’ve “solved” for online dating. In the 2000s, the answer was filling out a three-hour survey to find your perfect match through science. Eharmony, Match.com, OK Cupid, etc.

Then Tinder emerged! And suddenly, we realized that instead of spending hours on detailed text-based surveys, we should spend only a few seconds reviews photos. And recently, Tinder and other mobile dating services began adding games, sound, and more. The addition of avatars, 3D spaces, and other immersive experiences seems obvious to me as a next step.
Credit: Cheers Publishing

Credit: Cheers Publishing

Pease elaborate how the Metaverse will benefit ordinary people in terms of education, healthcare and economic opportunities. Will the Metaverse make our world a better place or a place full of couch potatoes?

I understand the worry that the Metaverse will make us couch potatoes, but I don’t feel that way. For one, the average person already watches three hours of video per day (the average American is over five hours). It is more likely that the Metaverse takes time from TV, than from having a walk, going to play football, or having a drink at a bar with your friends. And TV watching is mostly done alone and without moving. The Metaverse is a mostly social and active experiences. And so actually, I think the Metaverse will have a strongly positive affect on human leisure.

But leisure is only one part of answering your question. Today, almost all high paying jobs require you to be “in person”, and this typically means you must work in an office and live in or near a big city. The Metaverse will help those who live far away from the cities to join the services economy. We will have fashion consultants, engineers, doctors, actors, and more, who live wherever they like, yet appear and affect the world as though they’re elsewhere.

Education is a particularly important and related example. This is because teachers are extraordinary valuable, but also hard to “scale”. A teacher cannot effectively teach an unlimited number of students in a classroom, nor exist in multiple classrooms at once, or travel constantly between them. In addition, students lose quite a bit when they learn online from home. Being able to see their teachers and peers matters a lot, as does the ability the touch a science experiment or play with toys. The challenge is that all of these elements make education very expensive and very physical. In most countries, the sector of the economy that has seen the greatest increase in costs since the Internet was invented is the education sector. This is because the Internet has not really made the literal process of teaching better, or cheaper, or more efficient. I am hopeful that with live 3D simulation, teachers can teach more, faster, cheaper, and irrespective of geography.

VR and AR seem to have not made as much progress in the past decade as expected. Please share with us your insight into the future of VR and AR.  

This is absolutely true. And the most powerful and capable companies on earth have been continuously surprised by how hard it is to build VR/AR devices. In 2015, Mark Zuckerberg predicted that by the end of that decade, many of us would replace our mobile devices with wearable headsets. It now looks like that won’t happen until the 2030s, at the earliest.

However, we should not underestimate how much these devices have improved. The 2021 Oculus Quest 2 can render 4x as many pixels per second as the 2016 Oculus Rift and also includes several tracking cameras, but is $100 cheaper and has the same battery life and weight. AR devices are still short of where they need to be to replace our smartphones, but they are already good compliment to smartphones and other existing technologies. In 2021, Johns Hopkins, one of the United States’ most acclaimed hospitals, began performing live patient surgery using mixed reality devices. The physician who leads the spinal surgery department likened the devices to driving a car with GPS. This is important. We do not drive GPS instead of a car, we drive a car with GPS.

How do you assess the computing capability in China, compared with the United States?

I am not a computing expert and so I cannot speak to the state of data centers, computing production, and government-sponsored investment programs between the United States and China. However, we know that the Metaverse will have extraordinary computing requirements and that we typically underestimate them. And so it is likely that the Metaverse grows the competitive international importance of computing capabilities.

The Metaverse is still a digital theme park right now. It seems distant from an ordinary person’s life. In the early 1990s, the Internet was also far away from an overwhelming majority of people. In which year do you predict the Metaverse will be preliminarily set up?

This is a fun question because it has no answer single.

Consider the Internet. It began in the late 1950s and early 1960s, but we say its birthday was in 1983 and most of the leaders of the Internet era were founded in the late 1990s or mid-2000s, and it was only in the early 2010s that half of the world was online. And so there is a large gap between when the basic technologies are set-up, and when the companies which will lead are established,

The first mobile Internet network launched in 1991, with the first smartphone in 1992. We set-up the underlying standards and technologies for the mobile Internet in the 1990s, but most of the software leaders of the mobile era were established in the last decade, such as TikTok or Snapchat or Roblox, and the hardware leaders launched in the late 2000s.

And ultimately, the mobile Internet’s history began with the Internet itself. And the Metaverse starts with the Internet and mobile Internet too (this is part of why many of today’s leaders, such as Roblox, Epic, or Nvidia, are decades old).

It is definitely true that the foundations of the Metaverse are being laid now. But part of these foundations began decades ago, and parts are a decade out I’m sure.

In the preface to the Chinese version of the book, you point out that China is highly likely to be a pioneer in building the Metaverse given its widely used and low-cost mobile payment system, its massive video game industry and its robust 5G infrastructure construction. However, the Chinese government has recently discouraged the development of NFTs. Last month, Tencent decided to shut down its NFT platform -- Huanhe. Are you still optimistic about the prospects of the Metaverse in China?  

The Metaverse does not require blockchains and thus does not require NFTs. As a result, the success, failures, or obstacles faced by the technologies in China do not alter my view on the country’s prospects in the Metaverse.

It may be that blockchains are a helpful technology for the Metaverse. It’s possible that they are helpful, but NFTs, a specific way to use a blockchain, are not helpful. But ultimately, neither are required. Note that HTML is not required for the Internet, it’s just a markup language that’s used widely on the Internet. In fact, the Internet Protocol Suite was not required to have a global inter-networking system. Many believed there were better alternatives, including the U.S. Department of Commerce, even though the U.S. Department of Defense pioneered the Internet Protocol Suite.

However, it is important to stress that many of the executives who are pioneering the Metaverse believe that blockchains have no future at all. If so, the government discouraging the technologies may actually help China be a leader.

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