Via a year-end blog post, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates predicted that thanks to the rise of the metaverse, the work environment will soon start to see a fundamental shift — one even more significant than a pandemic-era remote work paradigm populated with Zoom calls. “The acceleration of innovation is just starting,” the tech mogul wrote.
Gates said that within the next two or three years, most virtual meetings will move from 2D camera image grid, “which I call the Hollywood Squares model, although I know that probably dates me,” to the metaverse, a 3D space with digital avatars.
Both Facebook and Microsoft recently unveiled their visions for such experiences, giving most people their first view of what it will look like, he added.
“The idea is that you will eventually use your avatar to meet with people in a virtual space that replicates the feeling of being in an actual room with them,” he wrote in the post. “To do this, you’ll need something like VR goggles and motion capture gloves to accurately capture your expressions, body language, and the quality of your voice. Most people don’t own these tools yet, which will slow adoption somewhat. (One of the things that enabled the rapid change to video meetings was the fact that many people already had PCs or phones with cameras).”
Gates said Microsoft plans to roll out an interim metaverse meetings experience next year, one which uses your webcam to animate an avatar that’s used in the current 2D setup.
“There are a ton of companies working on 3D avatars, and I recently had the opportunity to test out some of their prototypes. I was super impressed by what I saw,” he wrote.
He added that one of the biggest improvements a new interface might bring is the use of spatial audio, a system whereby speech sounds like it’s actually coming from the direction of the person talking.
“You don’t realize how unusual it is to have meeting audio only coming from your computer’s speaker until you try something else. There’s still some work to do, but we’re approaching a threshold where the technology begins to truly replicate the experience of being together in the office,” he said.
The Metaverse Coming to Life Thanks to Microsoft, Meta, and Others
In a Nov. 2 blog post, Microsoft started talking more about the metaverse — a concept which enables shared experiences across both the physical and digital worlds — and announced a few related projects.
“As enterprises accelerate their digital transformation, the metaverse can help people meet up in a digital environment, make meetings more comfortable with the use of avatars and facilitate creative collaboration from all around the world,” the company said.
In furtherance of the metaverse concept, Microsoft created Mesh for Teams, software which allows workers to take the form of avatars and navigate virtual work environments, per the blog post. The company said that Mesh for Teams is designed to make online meetings more personal, engaging and fun. “It’s also a gateway to the metaverse — a persistent digital world that is inhabited by digital twins of people, places and things. Think of the metaverse as a new version — or a new vision — of the internet, one where people gather to communicate, collaborate and share with personal virtual presence on any device,” Microsoft said.
These virtual meetings are becoming more prevalent across the globe. Igor Tasic, founder of metaverse advisory firm Meta Ventures, said that he occasionally hangs around Horizon Venues — a VR app for Meta’s Oculus Quest line of hardware.
“It’s not uncommon to see small groups of people just meeting and even exchanging contacts for potential freelance gigs. It’s even more natural in a VR environment than a pure text-voice exchange in traditional social media. There is a massive future in this regard,” he said.
Tasic added that the aspect of true inclusion is unique.
“For example, I had an intern with a physical disability that impedes him from walking or having any actual movements beyond his head and hands. When we meet in a virtual room (i.e., Horizon Workroom), we meet in our avatars with complete physical equality,” Tasic said. “And this is genuinely great. This is also valid in regard to different geographies and cultural backgrounds. The feeling that you could ‘meet’ in the same hybrid room with people from all over the world is fantastic. The educational sector alone could be transformed by it.”
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