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The Metaverse, Conversational AI, and the Ground Shaking Impact They’ll Have on the Enterprise
Welcome to The Digital Experience Report, your source for news, analysis, and insights on the ExTech (Experience Technologies) market and all things related to the Digital Experience.
In this report, I take a fresh dive into the metaverse and its massive impact on the enterprise, spurred on by conversations with Kore.ai's Raj Koneru and Croquet's David A. Smith. Also, an essential essay by Meta's Nick Clegg, and new studies from NICE and Qualtrics on self-service and shared values, respectively. Plus news from Robin, Cyara, ServiceNow, EasyVista, Gupshup, LogRocket, MoEngage, Algolia, and Kissflow.
The Metaverse, Conversational AI, and the Ground Shaking Impact They’ll Have on the Enterprise
You probably haven’t heard about this yet, but there’s this new idea being bandied about — it’s called the metaverse.
What’s that? You’ve heard about it? Ad nauseam?
Sorry, I wasn’t being clear. Let me try again.
Here's the scoop. While there have been gallons of digital ink spilled breathlessly talking about the metaverse, it's been almost exclusively focused on the consumer impact. And while there's plenty to talk about on the consumer side of things, the real action will be in the enterprise.
I've been bullish on the metaverse in the enterprise for a while. In fact, I wrote an analysis in December entitled, Ready for the Enterprise Metaverse? You’d Better Be.
In that first analysis, I discussed that the metaverse was really a new way to experience the Internet and that it would evolve into an interconnected network of metaverses, much like the modern Internet developed.
A couple of recent conversations have solidified my view on both of these points and introduced an additional element that I hadn't contemplated: the critical role that conversational AI will play in the evolution of the metaverse.
More importantly, these conversations reset how I am thinking about the metaverse in the first place (especially from an enterprise perspective), and I think what I learned will shift your view as well.
Rethinking How You Think About the Metaverse
Despite my bullishness, I’ll admit that the foundation of my faith was a little fuzzy.
It was rooted in the simple idea that people wanted to work from anywhere and were mostly more productive doing so, but that an office offers a difficult-to-quantify value of physical proximity.
The Zoom-centric approaches of remote work today just aren't cutting it. Therefore, my logic went, there needs to be a third way — a new strategy — and the metaverse seemed to fit the bill.
Still, despite my optimistic perspective, I had trouble conceptualizing what it might look like. After all, none of us wants to head to a virtual office, right?
Smith has a deep and diverse background that includes developing the first real-time 3D adventure game/shooter (The Colony Creator), founding an entertainment company, and serving as the Chief Innovation Officer and Lockheed Martin Senior Fellow developing "next-generation human-centric computing and collaboration platforms." Therefore, he has a unique perspective on the metaverse.
“My definition of the metaverse is as a communication platform,” he said. “The foundational element of the metaverse is really human-to-human and human-to-computer-to-human engagement.”
On the surface, it makes sense to view a place where we all don headsets and meet up virtually as a communication platform. But Smith's view is broader than that. He sees the metaverse as a place "…where we are basically sharing an information space, but the foundational importance of it is that it's a communication, collaboration, and problem-solving world."
“When you understand it that way, then you understand why the metaverse is going to have such an impact [on the enterprise] because you're reinventing the nature of how information workers are going to engage,” he continued.
It was one of those lightbulb moments where everything started to make sense to me. The metaverse isn't just about being able to simulate physical proximity. It will change how we communicate and collaborate in ways that exceed what we can accomplish in the physical world.
Transforming Human Collaboration Inside the Metaverse
As Smith gave me a demo of Croquet's just-released platform, what he told me started to make sense: this is about transforming human collaboration.
Using a HyperCard model, the platform enables people to build a world full of dynamic bits of information that allows them to simultaneously interact with both each other and these various data elements.
“The main thing is that this information is going to be displayed inside this world and we're going to use it as the basis for the exploration of ideas,” he explained. “So I think that's the centerpiece of the metaverse — what it’s really all about. But I don't think everybody understands it that way quite yet.”
This co-mingling and interactions between humans and computers sets this approach to virtual communication and collaboration apart from mere video conferencing. "You have to have a center of information for any sort of complex system — and organizations are some of the most complex systems on the planet," he said. "We have to be able to share the living part of the organization, both to understand it, and then to take action to modify that state. And that requires a completely different model for engagement than Zoom and screen sharing."
Notably, I was experiencing Croquet's demo world without any headgear or special equipment. Using both my desktop and phone, a browser was all I needed.
In Smith's view, using existing technology standards is essential as it enables the sort of dynamic, cross-technology collaboration that is at the center of his and the company's vision of the metaverse.
And when combined with another piece of technology — conversational AI — is what will allow organizations to extend these new forms of communication and collaboration and transform them.
The Essential Role of Conversational AI in the Metaverse
This fresh look at the role of the metaverse started with another novel proposition: the metaverse needs conversational AI.
Koneru obviously has a horse in this race, but it was an intriguing position that I hadn't really contemplated, and I wanted to understand his perspective.
“I think there's going to be a large number of conversations in the metaverse that are going to be with a virtual thing representing a person or an object of some kind,” he told me. “And those things need to get a verbal command from you and be able to react in some fashion. That's where conversational AI comes into play, and that's why I believe it's the foundation of the metaverse.”
His basic premise is that the metaverse isn't going to be a place of just human-to-human communication, but, just as importantly, one of human-to-computer conversation as well. And the only way that happens in any realistic and meaningful way is with conversational AI.
It’s a view that Smith shares. “What's going to happen in the very near future, is [that] you and I are going to have a conversation in which the computer is a full participant. I’ll say something and the computer generates a simulation in front of both of us,” he said. “We can each then interact with it, modify it, and engage with it. Basically explore ideas and information.”
And for Koneru, this dynamic transformation of how we communicate and collaborate extends beyond just how we interact within a team or organization — he believes it will change the way organizations interact with their customers. Imagine, for instance, this type of shared exploration between a customer, a conversational AI agent, and maybe a live salesperson in a retail setting.
“[Using conversational AI] you can have a relationship with an avatar, rather than a relationship with a logo,” he said.
Ignore the Naysayers: The Metaverse Will Become the New Internet
The tech industry is a buzzword haven that seems to have never found one that it didn't adore — at least for a time. But while the metaverse has achieved über-buzzword status, it's one of the few that is almost universally derided as over-hyped.
But I’m here to tell you. Ignore the naysayers.
There's no question that the hype is overblown — for now. It will take years (and probably decades) for most of these concepts to come to full fruition. But come it will.
The reason is simply that the technology will finally allow for human expression to evolve digitally — and that means people will want to use it, eventually.
In a consequential essay for this burgeoning industry sector, Nick Clegg, President of Global Affairs at Meta, went into great detail on why his company is going all-in on this vision. "We don't communicate through written words alone, so text-based internet services would never suffice," he wrote. "We interact in three dimensions. We use multiple senses, body language, spatial awareness. We signify our intention to trust one another by looking each other in the eye, smiling, or warmly shaking hands."
His point is that given the availability of the technology, there's no choice but for the Internet to evolve into something else — something he sees as defined by ephemerality, embodiment, and immersion. "These attributes — ephemerality, embodiment and immersion — mean people will experience the metaverse in a way that is much closer to physical world interactions than to the experience of using a mobile app or website."
If this is all true — and I believe it is — then, just like the Internet, there’s no way to avoid that the metaverse will be central to how you and your team interact with each other, with your partners, and with your customers.
And, just like the Internet, it’s not going to be one place or one thing. As Clegg says, “Like today’s internet, the metaverse will be a constellation of technologies, platforms, and products.”
My conversations with Smith and Koneru helped me crystalize my view of what is coming: a distributed, interconnected world that will transform how we interact, collaborate, and engage with almost every facet of our work.
It's a future that I believe is inevitable and one which will have dramatic impacts across all dimensions of the enterprise. So I ended up where I started last December: Are you ready for the enterprise metaverse? Well, you know the rest.
I referenced this article above, but it's such an important perspective on the metaverse, that I'm putting it here as well (hint, hint).
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Image credits: Croquet, Kore.ai, Medium/N. Clegg