25 April 2023

On 25 April EIF organised a debate hosted by Ondrej Kovarik MEP on how to navigate the opportunities and challenges of the metaverse. The MEP was joined by the following guest speakers:
Rehana Schwinninger-Ladak, Head of Unit ‘Interactive Technologies, Digital for Culture and Education’, DG CONNECT, European Commission
Isabel De Peuter-Rutten, Co-founder, President & Treasurer, Euromersive
Joan O’Hara, Senior Vice President of Public Policy, XR Association
Roman Velker, Marketing Expert, TruPhysics

Navigating the opportunities and challenges of the metaverse

MEP Ondrej Kovarik, in his opening remarks, emphasised that significant discussions about virtual worlds are already taking place in both the industry and regulatory sectors. It is fundamental to understand the current developments, opportunities, and risks associated with virtual worlds for both citizens and companies. Mr. Kovarik highlighted the numerous opportunities that virtual worlds offer, such as applications, business, e-commerce, and future development, which can bring in new business models.

The European Commission representative, Rehana Schwinninger-Ladak, outlined the opportunities and risks of virtual worlds as part of a broader technological transition. She underlined that virtual worlds are the starting point of a long development process and focuses on innovation and supporting European citizens, industries, SMEs, and startups. She marked the importance of learning from existing legislations - such as the Digital Services Act, Digital Markets Act, GDPR, and the recently voted MICA regulation - to address legal gaps in the future. The Commission is working on the European Citizens’ Virtual World Panel, a non-legislative initiative concerning the vision of virtual worlds as a part of Web 4. This initiative encompasses three pillars which are about: citizens, with a focus on children; European businesses; governance. Ms. Schwinninger-Ladak concluded by affirming that virtual worlds should be open and interoperable, without creating lock-ins that lead to dominant positions.

Isabel De Peuter-Rutten from Euromersive – the federation of XR professionals in Europe – discussed the risks and opportunities of virtual worlds, emphasising the importance of viewing risks as opportunities for improvement. She introduced the concept of virtualisation as a new medium as well as an immersive experience. Despite the fears and anxieties that might come with new technologies, such advancements create new job opportunities. Ms. De Peuter-Rutten drew parallels with the early days of the internet, where job roles like social media managers and influencers were unknown. It is fundamental to teach critical thinking skills to navigate virtual worlds responsibly. Both adults and parents should understand virtual worlds to guide and educate younger generations on responsible use. In the end, stressing the partnership with Getaverse, she pointed out that Euromersive aligns with eight principles and standards: accessibility, education, equity, ethics, community building, wellness, and safety.

Joan O'Hara introduced the XR Association, a non-profit trade association that represents companies from various sectors of the XR ecosystem. The association promotes responsible development and adoption of technologies, achieving positive societal outcomes globally. Ms. O’Hara declared that the objective is to foster the development of an open and people-empowering system of virtual worlds, aligned with the values of individual freedom, human dignity, and marketplace competition shared by the US and the EU. It is necessary to establish social and ethical frameworks, particularly focusing on privacy, security, safety, and accessibility. She highlighted the collaborative nature of developing the metaverse and the importance of openness and inclusivity. A wide range of companies, including both large corporations and small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), civil society, the public sector, and creators, will play crucial roles in building the virtual world ecosystem.

Roman Velker explained that TruPhysics provides hands-on experiences and insights into the challenges and opportunities of XR and the Metaverse. He showcased various use cases through short animation videos. These physical applications demonstrated the complexity behind the scenes, involving machine learning and AI. TruPhysics utilises the Metaverse in two ways: the control of robots through remote training and certification; use of AI to train robots in parallel virtual worlds, speeding up the learning process and optimising performance. According to him, the main challenge is represented by the digital infrastructure – even the 5G is not enough. The use of the metaverse involves collaborative and immersive experiences. Mr. Velker stressed the need for collaboration in building the metaverse. While competition drives innovation, companies and institutions should come together to establish a sophisticated virtual world. Collaboration should surpass competition to achieve this shared vision.




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