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The day is not far when each one of us will don virtual reality headsets at least for a few hours every week and use them for information, communications, education, and may be playing with new avatars in a welcome relief from reality

Over a decade ago, when the world was still beginning to understand the true potential of the Internet, a quiet alternative reality appeared called Second Life. It enabled early addicts of the web to adopt a new avatar and visit virtual places on the internet.

A young intern at Zensar, the company I was leading at that time, quickly created a Zensar campus on Second Life which truly embodied the culture of Fast, Focused, Flexible, Friendly and Fun that was so dear to most Zensarians. While the virtual presence on Second Life started as an experiment, it soon became a popular site and a young man, in the avatar of a wolf, after a few visits asked the site administrator if he could be considered for a job with the company. Switching from the virtual to the real world, he showed up at our Pune campus and was promptly inducted into the company.

Addressing members of our Board at Lighthouse Communities Foundation a few weeks ago, one of our accomplished Directors and one of the best digital entrepreneurs in India, Rajan Navani enthralled us with a vision of what the future would be like when the Metaverse, the confluence of digital experiences, began to be exploited by people and companies alike. And when he spoke of seamless movement from the real world to the virtual world for even corporate executives in future, it seemed to me that Shyam, the virtual wolf turned real company associate was not going to be alone. A whole new generation could explore and embrace dual existences and get very comfortable with the Metaverse.

Sad to say, Second Life at that time could not garner enough success and had to fold up- though it is still a game on the internet. The naysayers will say that this will be the fate of Metaverse too and after some initial hype, it will all fade away. Nothing could be further from the truth because all the pillars needed to support an interchangeable physical and virtual existence are available today. On the technology front, augmented, virtual and mixed reality have been around for some time and Web 3.0, which is the next generation of the internet, has already created an expected business on Metaverse of over 800 billion US dollars by 2024. Large amounts of data, a predictive and prescriptive analytics approach will enable the design of customised virtual experiences for all demographic and psychographic segments. Moreover, the digital natives will embrace the virtual experience without any fears.

To make any new world real, the customer has to be prepared for the new journeys that will be enabled and with the confluence of technologies, processes and data. This is already happening in the world of gaming, with games like Roblox and Minecraft enabling avatars and encouraging players to set off on virtual voyages of discovery. Beyond gaming, retailers with digital apparel, real estate, art and financial planning are set to create new experiences everywhere. Not just Facebook with its own new avatar of Meta but a whole host of Metaverse enablers like Microsoft with its recent acquisition of a large gaming company and thirty companies collaborating on Metaverse strategy certification will ensure that a new gold rush will begin to gain market and opportunity share in this new world.

Another reason to believe that the two levels of existence will find acceptance this time is the ease with which digital twinning has been adopted by manufacturing firms. Today, large companies like Siemens completely simulate the performance of a proposed new production line through a digital twin before the first equipment is installed on the factory floor. In the area of commerce in the virtual world, non-exchangeable tokens called NFTs (Non-Fungible Tokens) are available today which can be clearly assigned to a specific owner and people can start making real money on the use of their owned digital assets used by others on Metaverse.

If all this has gone over the head of the lay user, suffice it to say that the day is not far when each one of us will don virtual reality headsets at least for a few hours every week and use them for information, communications, education, and maybe playing with new avatars in a welcome relief from reality. Love it or hate it, one can only ignore the Metaverse at one’s own peril.

When the world was largely stuck at home because of the pandemic, a friend of mine, Dev Bhattacharya, and I set up a Vedanta Quantum WhatsApp group to explore the commonalities between the Vedanta and the Neils Bohr discoveries in quantum physics, where all energy exists in the form of waves and manifests into the matter based on the perceptions of the viewer. Extending this concept of all reality being illusory and all existence being “maya” will make it easy to embrace the duality of the physical and virtual worlds and make Metaverse a logical part of living a meaningful life in future. Will that make most of us schizophrenics? Only time will tell!