To the metaverse, yes, but far beyond

Every two years, the Atos Scientific Community reports on future technology-related business trends, in a sense, inviting readers to engage in thought experiments with a purpose: to be prepared now for what’s coming within the next four years. Our latest report, “Unlocking virtual dimensions” was released April 4.

The thought experiment

There is nothing particularly new in the concept of “virtualizing” compute infrastructures, storage and networks. Indeed, such approaches are proving the transformative power of the cloud across a growing range of industry use cases.
But what if we were to extend the concepts of virtualization to include new ways of creating value, mechanisms of interaction and even representations of who we are?

The potential benefits of such thinking could be significant, particularly when you consider that many of today’s grand challenges such as climate change, pandemics and economic globalization are bound by physical constraints and resource scarcity.

Virtual dimensions could hold almost limitless opportunities for businesses to escape physical constraints and solve all manner and scale of problems.

In some ways this concept is not that dissimilar to what has been referred to as the metaverse, although it will be on a whole different level.

Virtual dimensions could hold almost limitless opportunities for businesses to escape physical constraints and solve all manner and scale of problems.

The metaverse is only the beginning

Right now, the metaverse is for the most part a social experience based on virtual and augmented technologies. What we’re talking about are virtual dimensions far beyond the metaverse — ones that will transform the ways that enterprises interact and perceive value.

Four ways virtual dimensions will transform enterprises

The vision within our report is built around 17 research tracks whose scopes relate to four new modes of interaction:

  1. Operating
  2. Relating
  3. Defining value and executing business
  4. Being

While these are areas where we already see some aspect of virtual dimensions in action, we anticipate even greater opportunities for compelling and transformational developments in the future.
This is the first of a series of posts that will give you a brief overview of the four new modes of interaction.

New modes of operating

Most people have already experienced virtual operation in some capacity. Just consider how collaboration technology enabled the mass exodus from offices during pandemic lockdowns and brought about the almost overnight wholesale shift to remote and hybrid (remote-onsite) working. Outside of work, those same technologies were deployed to break through social isolation via virtual events, including family gatherings. In fact, some people have only ever met certain colleagues or family members through virtual media.

Leading industrial enterprises are using digital twins as virtual representations of machines, systems and process. They are able to run multiple digital simulations and optimizations based on data insights captured from real-word behavior of the physical objects being represented. The modelling can be so precise that outcomes can be predicted for scenarios that have never previously been encountered in the real-world. It will be fascinating to see how this trend evolves.

New modes of relating

Virtual and augmented reality (VR and AR) are relatively mature technologies, although they are taking a while to become widely applied. In a businesses context, they are usually used in creating training environments or virtual expert interactions as a part of highly personalized product demonstrations. Of course, we cannot forget the rise of the voice assistant — they have become so popular that they only need one name: Siri, Google or Alexa. (I know people talking to theirs several times a day.) AR and VR are now being combined with AI to create the next level of personalized virtual assistants. These include ones with physical interfaces like collaborative robots or cobots, and also ones with virtual holographic renderings.
The popular music industry is disrupting norms with holographic performances by deceased artists. “From beyond” sets have been performed by holograms of stars like Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston and Elvis Presley. Where could this lead us? As you’ll read in the report, this is not just an enhanced visual representation of historical events and performances, “AI models will allow the extrapolation and anticipation of responses to situations that were never experienced by the subject.”
Bizarre or scary as it may seem, such technologies could lead to virtual facsimiles of trusted historical leaders offering their perspectives and advice on present day matters. Questions about the ethics of this kind of application cannot be ignored and will be made even more challenging as we further introduce the emergence of brain-computer interfaces into the mix.

New modes of value and executing business

The mind-boggling rise of cryptocurrencies and non-fungible tokens (NFTs) is altering the way that people perceive value. But when you think about it, it’s not that different from getting our heads around how we place a value on the internet, search engines or social media platforms, all of which essentially offer services for free — at least in the way we usually think of free. Instead, they monetize services through data — data about you and me. The data collected when we use their services is immensely valuable to the owners. As has often been stated, data is the new oil or gold. Businesses and governments are wrestling to determine how the potential value of data can be unlocked and shared while respecting privacy and data sovereignty. But why does the focus of their thinking end at physical borders when the issues of privacy, fraud, anti-competitive behavior and consumer/citizen manipulation know no boundaries?
Effective virtual data equity and sovereignty measures such as tokenization in business ecosystems and software-driven smart contracts can help drive autonomous business processes across business partners and supply chains. The report explores business ecosystems as well as the impact of economic models on technology and society.

New modes of being

Building on concepts introduced under new modes of relating, new virtual expressions of human existence are possibly the most frightening changes anticipated. Take a step back from the idea of immortality and think of the business benefits. Technologies that hold the potential to capture the collective knowledge and experience of employees could help to avoid brain-drain when people leave an organization. They vastly improve learning and development effectiveness by adding simulated experiences and applications (including the possibility of simulated emotional responses through emerging brain-computer interfaces). The future of “virtually being” will follow the progress of artificial general intelligence, which the report finds to be well underway: The rate of AI evolution is such that it is possible to imagine systems capable of performing almost any intellectual task that a human can …… however, no one expects it to be a reality by 2026.

You’re invited to more thought experiments over the coming weeks as the Atos Scientific Community shares more insights from the report, “Unlocking Virtual Dimensions.”

If you’re ready to dive in now:

Listen to the podcast, Four new modes of interaction
Read the full report, Unlocking virtual dimensions

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About Sophie Proust
Group Chief Technology Officer, Atos and member of the Scientific Community
Sophie has been the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) of Atos since January 2019. She joined the Atos group in 2014 following the acquisition by Atos of Bull, where she held the position of Head of Research & Development. At Atos, Sophie was head of the Research & Development for the Big Data & Cybersecurity division, from 2014 to January 2019. Alongside this, Sophie is part of the Atos Quantum Advisory board. Before Atos, Sophie held various technical managerial positions at Bull in the mainframe, IT administration solutions and HW server design. In 2010, Sophie headed the Tera100 Project which delivered the CEA with the first Petaflops-scale calculator in Europe. She has been a member of the board of directors of Worldline since December 2016 and a member of the board of directors of the Université Technologique de Troyes (UTT) since December 2018. Sophie Proust is a graduate of the Ecole Supérieure d’Electricité “Supélec” of Paris.

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