KPMG Innovation Lab and the Human Technology Foundation (HTF) organised a round table entitled "Metaverse at the service of people: a utopia?” on November 9,2022. This round table, moderated by Albane Liger-Belair, Associate Director of Innovation at KPMG France, was intended to bring together all the stakeholders of the Metaverse ecosystem: Maxime Blondeau - Lecturer at Sciences Po and Mines Paris, Morgan Bouchet - Director of the XR and Metaverse programme at Orange, Eric Bothorel - Member of Parliament for Côtes-d'Armor, Jean Cattan - General Secretary of the French National Digital Council, Bernard Ourghanlian - Technical and Security Director of Microsoft France, and Ménehould Michaud de Brisis - Head of Studies at the HTF. Based on the rich questions raised during this event, KPMG Innovation Lab and the Human Technology Foundation wanted to dig deeper into this subject.
"Can the Metaverse survive the winter?”. This provocative title of an article in the newspaper Les Echos published in the fall clearly announced a certain questioning of the myth of the Metaverse. While some Metaverse ventures disappoint, world virtualisation projects continue and remain more relevant than ever. What are the keys to ensuring that the Metaverse remains at the service of a society that continues to be humane?
"What would be the appropriate term or definition to suggest the plurality of horizons of immersive technologies? "Jean Cattan, Secretary General, Conseil National du Numérique
There is confusion about the word “Metaverse”. This can be explained by the fact that Meta, through its numerous advertising campaigns and name changes, sometimes represents by itself the concept of Metaverse in the minds of the general public.
Recently, the exploratory mission on Metaverses submitted to the French government in July 2022 specifies that Metaverse (with a capital M) refers to a very broad concept used to describe the horizon of immersive technologies, while metaverse (with a lower case) represents the different cases of application. For the sake of readability, we will try to stick to this categorisation.
"A single Metaverse is impossible from a technological point of view. Through usage, we can distinguish metaverses". Bernard Ourghanlian, Technical and Security Director, Microsoft France
"We must start from the uses of the various virtual worlds in order to analyse the meaning of these innovations and the place they reserve for humans.” Albane Liger-Belair Associate Director of Innovation, KPMG France
KPMG Innovation Lab and the Human Technology Foundation wanted to base their reflection on the Metaverse on a few concrete examples that already exist.
These new uses question the adequacy of existing rules such as the Digital Services Act (DSA) and the Digital Market Act (DMA), which already highlight numerous grey areas in terms of content regulation.
From the first uses, several scandals of online hate, cyber harassment, "virtual rape" etc. have emerged. Will the consequences of an action be different from those in "real" life? Does this imply a different understanding of responsibility?
We must understand that ultra-violence and physical and verbal aggressions in immersive worlds are often perceived as "real" by users. In this context, certain platforms such as Meta have developed the "Personal Boundary" feature. It enables users to not be approached at less than one metre. Some features even allow users to disappear from the eyes of users they do not wish to meet.
User protection must be a prerequisite and be integrated from the design stage by public institutions and companies according to a "by design" approach. This governance also requires alignment between the various players from a technical point of view, in particular to ensure the interoperability of uses from one metaverse to another. Although some initiatives such as the Metaverse Standards Forum have already been launched, a large number of challenges remain to be overcome.
"The interoperability of metaverses also aims to transfer value (monetary or not) from one object to another." Bernard Ourghanlian, Technical and Security Director, Microsoft France
Understanding the possibilities offered by a metaverse is currently limited to a minority of connoisseurs. Identifying the uses and the target audience is a determining factor in defining the appropriate rules.
The cumbersome and expensive equipment needed to use metaverses is not the only obstacle to democratisation. A study by the French National Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health Safety (ANSES) points out that a phenomenon similar to seasickness, known as cyberkinetosis, which can appear in less than five minutes of immersion, affects 30 to 50% of users.
Furthermore, a study by the World Wide Web Foundation states that a man is 21% more likely to be present online than a woman worldwide. This figure rises to 52% in the least developed countries, and this gap is expected to continue to grow. There is a significant risk that the Metaverse will reproduce existing inequalities.
Moreover, access to these immersive virtual worlds will require access to a quality of connection speed that few places in the world can offer. The digital divide, the gender divide, these digital discriminations could become even more blatant with the Metaverse.
"Educating the new generations about these new immersive technologies and their risks is essential.” Morgan Bouchet - Director of the XR and Metaverse programme at Orange
Beyond the societal dimension, the energy consumption to operate the various metaverses that are growing is an essential dimension to define their uses.
"Computing power multiplied by 1,000 compared to today”
A joint mission entrusted to ADEME and ARCEP to measure the environmental impact of digital technology in France shows that the manufacturing phase of devices is the main source of impact of digital technology (78% of the carbon footprint of digital technology). Virtual reality headsets, joysticks, high-definition widescreen TVs, etc. The equipment required for an immersive experience are numerous. There is also the question of the obsolescence of these equipment.
On the other hand, several stakeholders consider that the virtualisation of the world would replace many energy consumptions in the real world, thus allowing significant reductions in our daily ecological footprint.
"Digital must be an ally of the ecological transition." Eric Bothorel, MP for Côtes-d'Armor
Having previously identified the numerous challenges to be met, KPMG Innovation Lab and the HTF also want to offer several recommendations to ensure that the aforementioned opportunities reach as many people as possible and that the risks remain under control.
At a time when the limitations of our physical world have been reached, metaverses open a field of possibilities with new explorations. But the exploration of these worlds faces many challenges.
Questioning the uses upstream of the production of these new technologies is the key to a digital transformation at the service of humans. Is the Metaverse a response to existing human needs or the creation of new artificial needs?