The metaverse will fundamentally change the way the economy works. The major financial players have understood this well. AXA Investment Managers launched its thematic fund on the metaverse a few weeks ago. It consists of around 250 titles divided into four categories: gaming, socializing, work and technology activation. Much of the attention the metaverse has so far focused on the first two categories (gaming and socializing). But it is as a technological facilitator that the benefits in terms of value creation and innovation will certainly be the greatest. Some speak of an “industrial metaverse”. It’s the same idea.
Numerous industrial applications
The goal is to simulate experiences or phenomena in the virtual world in order to provide an answer to the problems of the physical world. The most emblematic example is certainly Nvidia, an American listed company specializing in graphics processors, artificial intelligence, and which has one foot in the metaverse. Last December, the group’s CEO, Jensen Huang, announced plans to create a digital twin of Earth capable of predicting climate change using artificial intelligence. It is not a project that can succeed in the short term. It may take at least ten or fifteen years of research and investment. But suppose Nvidia succeeds. It can make it possible to anticipate and prevent the climate changes that will happen in the physical world, for companies to adapt, for insurance companies and for all economic actors.
Other applications are possible. At Oceans.ai, we aim to create a metaverse within a few years that can help anticipate and predict the impact of corrosion on energy infrastructure, for example. Corrosion in a broad sense (including pipelines, gas pipelines, road infrastructure, etc.) cost France almost €84 billion in 2019. This is equivalent to 3.5% of GDP. If we could better predict the degradation of materials under the influence of the environment, this would make it possible to reduce the costs generated as well as the risks and to strengthen the safety of the goods.
In the same vein, Boeing is creating its own internal metaverse based on digital twins to avoid design flaws in its planes. Boeing is also looking to improve the maintenance and inspection of its planes. The American group uses current and historical maintenance data and has developed a machine learning algorithm which, if the project is successful, could predict the weak points that need to be monitored on the planes as a priority. However, this is not an easy task.
Regulation and complexity of data processing
The metaverse is based on the following technologies: augmented reality (e.g. 3D objects that fit into a room), virtual reality (simulation of a 3D environment that exists in the physical world), blockchain, 5G, IOT (connection physical objects to the Internet), industry 4.0 (which corresponds to the convergence of the virtual world with real objects) and artificial intelligence. Access to data is key to the success of the latter. It is common to say that in artificial intelligence, large amounts of data are needed. It is true. But what is not often emphasized is that the quality of the data (for example, continuous and consistent data) is even more important. In particular, this makes it possible to create operating systems that act as a framework for the digital twins that we have mentioned.
Data quality is not an end in itself. It is also important to keep in mind all the data protection needs and the still disparate rules that apply here and there in this area. Contrary to what we might think in Europe, we are lucky. The rules are going in the right direction. In early April, the European Parliament adopted more flexible rules to facilitate data sharing (neutral intermediaries to aggregate data, incentive for public actors to share their data, etc.). This should help promote the innovation climate around artificial intelligence and therefore around the metaverse. Finally, this system should soon be complemented by a law on the use of data generated by connected objects (which is currently being discussed at Member State level). This is also a crucial point for the industry.
The challenge now is to channel funds from capital fund more towards the themes of innovation in the industry. This is a challenge in France, where fundraising is mainly dominated by the fintech segment and to a lesser extent by medtech. In many cases it is only companies’ risk-averse capital (funds owned by large industrial groups) with the public investment bank (BPI) for support is present. This is insufficient if we want to reindustrialize France and multiply the expert sectors. We hope that the current tenant of the Elysée will also address this issue.