How AI can help deliver on metaverse's promise of a better future

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metaverse, gold rush, personal assistant, create art, ethical AI development, moral, fair and sustainable

The metaverse refers to the convergence of physical, augmented and virtual reality in a shared online space. The result will be a merging of real and virtual worlds to create unique, never-before-seen environments.

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Freed from the confines of the physical world, a person can exist as multiple avatars in multiple virtual locations at the same time. This creates limitless possibilities for the way we work and play and, ultimately, how we live.

Today, we have glimpses of what the metaverse could be like with VR-infused experiences such as rapper Travis Scott’s recent performance on the massive multiplayer online gaming platform Fortnite. An audience of 12.3 million people watched the live show in real time, but they existed in multiple worlds as the performance was split into 250,000 virtual copies of the same performance, each one broadcast to groups of 50 viewers.

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The metaverse bandwagon is moving at full speed as tech companies pivot to this vision. The hype is so great that investors are sending out warnings to be wary of the expected gold rush to metaverse businesses.

At SenseTime, the metaverse is the realisation of a vision to advance the interconnection of the physical and digital worlds with AI, driving sustainable productivity growth and seamless interactive experiences.

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Imagine a virtual world that you can access, leave and go back to at any time you wish. This could create new possibilities in a person’s life and offer new ways of existence.

This has been attempted before. The online game Second Life, created by Linden Lab in 2003, featured virtual worlds or “sims” that allowed avatars to roam, conduct business and interact socially. At its height, there were almost a million active users a month and had a virtual GDP of US$500 million. What would the GDP potential be in a truly open global metaverse?

With so many parameters and possibilities, the metaverse will require new ways for users to explore its capabilities. Artificial intelligence will be a critical foundation for the metaverse, and there are three key areas where AI will shape the digital universe.

First, AI models are at the core of metaverse infrastructure. At the most basic level, the metaverse will require comprehensive infrastructure built on complex AI algorithms and core AI models to support the endless applications and scenarios created in the metaverse.

Second, AI will be the new interface with the merged metaverse world. We will see a natural combination of language, visual and emotional interfaces to engage and interact in the digital world. We will need AI to assist us in the metaverse in the same way it already supports our daily work and daily life. AI could help us navigate and interact in the metaverse as our own personal assistant in the virtual world.

Third, AI will be a creative force and partner. AI is already helping to write articles, create art and process and devise solutions to complex problems. Increasingly, AI and the added dimension of the metaverse will leverage digital twins, virtual replicas and spatial digitalisation to form new ideal virtual scenarios and environments.

This could propel creators into crafting new forms of music, art, storytelling, world-building and work alongside human creators to accelerate the creation process.

Our belief is AI can help realise the full potential of the metaverse opportunity if four key capabilities are in place.

The first is deep, broad and ethical AI development backed by the finest scientific excellence to ensure AI innovation is used effectively in the metaverse. Lessons from the experience of Second Life show that lack of expertise, investment and governance framework led to the demise of that platform.

The second key area is the advanced use of digital twin technology and evolved high-precision avatars to enable finely tuned physical and digital interaction in the metaverse. For these avatars and digital identities to be effective, they need to be highly personalised, accurate and enable micro-expression recognition to create lively, valuable interactions in the metaverse.

The third area is AI agent capabilities for customer-centric user experiences. AI has the necessary processing power and intelligence to assist humans to provide fully personalised scenarios, services and support when immersed in the metaverse.

Finally, there needs to be rapid, efficient construction in the metaverse to live up to the expectations of millions of metaverse users. Powerful, AI-powered 3D construction tools will be needed to process large-scale 3D mapping reconstructions.

The emergence of the metaverse sparks limitless possibilities with the promise of a better virtual world. Technology leaders must assume a huge responsibility in ensuring the metaverse is built to fulfil its huge potential but also do it in a moral, fair and sustainable way.

Great power comes with great responsibility. The power to create and change lives even in the virtual world of the metaverse can have huge consequences for the real physical world. This is where we will need the best of AI to help deliver on the metaverse promise of a better physical and virtual future for us all.

Professor Wang Xiaogang is the co-founder and chief scientist at SenseTime, primarily responsible for overseeing and supervising the group’s research team. He is a professor in the Department of Electronic Engineering at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and the chairman of the China Augmented Reality Core Technology Industry Alliance

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