Writing in his annual Year In Review for his GatesNotes blog, the Microsoft co-founder predicts the rise of the metaverse for business meetings. He says ‘most virtual meetings will move from 2D camera image grids – which I call the Hollywood Squares model, although I know that probably dates me – to the metaverse, a 3D space with digital avatars.’
Gates envisages virtual spaces that replicate the feeling of being in a room with other people. He writes about the use of motion capture and VR goggles to ‘accurately capture your expressions, body language, and the quality of your voice.’ He says there are already ‘a ton of companies working on 3D avatars’ and that he has had a chance to test out some of their prototypes. ‘I was super impressed by what I saw.’
The importance of spatial audio
Gates writes about how important sound is to this vision of the metaverse for meetings. ‘One of the biggest improvements over what we use now is the use of spatial audio, where speech sounds like it’s actually coming from the direction of the person talking,’ he says. ‘You don’t realize how unusual it is to have meeting audio only coming from your computer’s speaker until you try something else.’
Although Gates acknowledges the COVID-19 global pandemic as the catalyst for new innovations in this area, with office workers staying home and conducting their meetings through video conferencing platforms like Teams and Zoom, he believes that ‘even after this pandemic ends, it’s clear that much of the digitization it brought on is here to stay.’
However, most workers don’t currently have access to the hardware necessary to experience full immersion. Businesses will have to consider the cost of acquiring these tools, and the time spent on training staff to use them. Gates acknowledges that the quick adoption of video conferencing in 2020 was a result of many people already owning PCs and phones with built-in cameras. To tackle this, Microsoft will roll out ‘an interim version’ in 2022, which he says will ‘use your webcam to animate an avatar that’s used in the current 2D set-up.
‘There’s still some work to do,’ he concludes, ‘but we’re approaching a threshold where the technology begins to truly replicate the experience of being together in the office.’
In his article, Bill Gates not only claims that workplace communication will occur in the metaverse. The Microsoft co-founder also writes about the malaria vaccine, the international decline in trust in governments, the climate conversation and more. He ultimately takes an optimistic stance. You can read more in the full 7000-word blog on Bill Gates’ official site. The blog has prompted plenty of analysis and commentary. Our own recent State Of Play article by Albert Meige also considers the role of the metaverse in business.
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