Metavers: first report to the government

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In February 2022, the French government commissioned a group of experts to draw up a report on the metaverse. The desire was to understand before possibly regulating. The report is available and makes a dozen proposals. If you haven’t understood anything about the metaverse so far, this report can be a good starting point to catch up.

What is the metaverse?

This question, all specialists hear it all day long: what is the metaverse? What’s the point ?

If we are to believe the simplistic (even mind-numbing) videos and advertisements circulating on the web, the metaverse is a virtual world parallel to ours, invented by a famous social network.

The report distinguishes the essential characteristics of metaverses, modalities.

  • The essential characteristics of metaverses are: the existence of virtual, 3D, real-time, immersive, persistent and shared worlds.
  • The terms to date focus on other things, including the ability to access it with or without head-mounted displays, whether or not to use avatars, to interact with or without distributed ledger technologies. These methods will continue to evolve with uses and technologies. For instance, “the metaverses are accessible via different devices ranging from a simple phone or computer screen, to virtual and augmented reality headsets or specific complex devices (CAVE, VR-room, experimental immersive devices). Another illustration of what constitutes a modality and not a characteristic is the avatar. Avatars can also be considered a modality of metaverses, not a core feature. Thus, some metaverses, particularly in augmented reality or via immersive theatrical experiences in virtual reality, do without avatars (there exists, as we will see in part II, a series of sociotechnical questions related to avatars in metaverses, for example on the diversity of representations and sexual harassment via avatar interactions)”.

There is therefore not “one” metaverse, but “many” metaverses. Each immersive experience that meets the fundamental characteristics listed above can claim metaverse.

In other words:

  • The metaverse does not belong to Facebook.
  • There is no label or certification awarded by an authority: it is not because a system qualifies itself as a metaverse that it is indeed one.
  • The definition proposed by the mission is only one definition among others.

The mission proposes the following definition: “A metaverse is an online service providing access to real-time, shared and persistent 3D space simulations, in which we can live immersive experiences together. »

The mission further states:

  • The 3D in question in the virtual worlds of the metaverse concerns the three dimensions of space (height, width and depth): “It is therefore not only a question of relief as in stereoscopic 3D cinema, but of the simulation of space in its three dimensions”.
  • Several immersion modes are possible (eg with or without a helmet, in augmented reality or virtual reality, etc.), which have in common to place us inside the real-time 3D simulation space”.
  • Sharing and persistence. The simulation is “shared by all connected users and continues in their absence. Everyone is free to join and leave it, within the capacity of the infrastructure that supports it..

Metaverses already present

Still according to the advertisements circulating, the metaverse has yet to come: it “will be” this or that.

One of the merits of the mission’s report is to underline that metaversic experiences (it seems that the word is accepted) already exist in the arts, health, education, tourism and the discovery of heritage, architecture , etc.

In the world of work and industry, metaverses also already exist and are constantly evolving.

We refer to reading the report to learn more about these current experiences.

Summary of proposals

The report makes 10 proposals which it summarizes as follows.

Proposal 1

Seize the opportunity of the Olympic Games to bring together French metaverse players around concrete projects, within a public/private consortium under the leadership of Inria and to offer high-visibility actions around immersive experiences that can be shared before, during and after the Olympic and Paralympic Games (training/competitions, transport/tourism, behind the scenes/exchanges with athletes) (p. 51)

Proposal 2

Reinvest the technical standards negotiation bodies, to ensure that France and the main French players (in the digital immersion sector, but also in research on these subjects) actively participate in discussions on the interoperability of the immersion. (p.79)

Proposal 3

Encourage public authorities to bring out common and essential services allowing the advent of a plurality of interoperable metaverses. (p.95)

Proposal 4

Develop a rigorous analysis of the different value chains of metaverses in order to best guide strategic investment areas on the one hand, and the risks of loss of sovereignty or value leakage on the other. (p.57)

Proposal 5

Set up public commissions that meet the objectives of cultural sovereignty and technological sovereignty in order to support hybrid linkages between French technological structures and cultural institutions. (p.60)

Proposal 6

Launch now the work of adapting, in particular the GDPR, the DSA and the DMA, to the challenges of metaverses. (p.91)

Proposal 7

Invest in the tools and techniques for analyzing metaverses, and the transactions that take place there, in order to allow both the detection of offenses to go back to the perpetrators and to collect taxes. (p.99)

Proposition 8

Make investments in large-scale and long-term interdisciplinary research initiatives (computing, neurosciences and social sciences), using existing systems (France 2030, PIA 4, PEPR, ANR) to simultaneously develop experimental metaverses guided by needs (culture, health, education) and the means of assessing the socio-technical risks through empirical studies. (p.53)

Proposition 9

Create a research and coordination institute, on the model of Ircam, which would be both a computer research laboratory dedicated to immersive arts, a place of coordination between researchers and artists for the creation of innovative immersive works in metaverse and an expertise counter for all the cultural institutions concerned. (p.53)

Proposal 10

Explore eco-responsible solutions and develop a system for measuring the environmental impact of metaverse infrastructures. (p.83)

More informations

By reading the full report, available in the appendix.

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