The metaverse will fundamentally change the way the economy works. The major financial players have understood this well. AXA Investment Managers launched its themed fund on the metaverse a few weeks ago. It consists of about 250 titles that are divided into four categories: gaming, socializing, working and enabling technology. Much of the attention the metaverse has so far focused on the first two categories (gaming and socializing). But as a technology facilitator, the benefits in terms of value creation and innovation will certainly be greatest. Some speak of an “industrial metaverse”. It’s the same idea.
Numerous industrial applications
The aim 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 that of Nvidia, an American publicly traded company that specializes in graphics processors, artificial intelligence and has one foot in the metaverse. Last December, the group’s CEO, Jensen Huang, announced plans to create a digital twin of Earth that can predict climate change using artificial intelligence. This is not a project that can be successful in the short term. It may take at least ten or fifteen years of research and investment. But suppose Nvidia succeeds. This could make it possible to anticipate and prevent climate change from occurring in the physical world, for companies to adapt, for insurers and for all economic players.
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, for example, energy infrastructure. Corrosion, in a broad sense (including pipelines, gas pipelines, road infrastructure, etc.) cost France nearly €84 billion in 2019. This corresponds to 3.5% of GDP. If we could better anticipate the degradation of materials under the influence of the environment, this would make it possible to reduce both the costs incurred and the risks and to enhance the safety of the goods.
In a similar vein, Boeing is creating its own internal metaverse based on digital twins to avoid design flaws in its aircraft. Boeing also wants to improve the maintenance and inspection of its aircraft. The American group uses current and historical maintenance data and has developed a machine learning algorithm that, if the project is successful, can anticipate the weaknesses that need to be monitored in the aircraft as a priority. However, this is not an easy task.
Regulations and complexity of data processing
The metaverse is based on the following technologies: augmented reality (e.g. 3D objects that fit in a room), virtual reality (simulation of a 3D environment that exists in the physical world), blockchain, 5G, IOT (connection physical objects with the Internet), industry 4.0 (which corresponds to the convergence of the virtual world with real objects), and artificial intelligence. Access to data is the key to success for the latter. It is common to say that artificial intelligence requires large amounts of data. It’s true. But what is not often emphasized is that the quality of the data (eg continuous and consistent data) is even more important. In particular, this makes it possible to create operating systems that serve as a framework for the digital twins we mentioned.
Data quality is not an end in itself. It is also important to take into account all data privacy needs and the still divergent regulations that apply here and there. Contrary to what we may think in Europe, we are lucky. Regulations are moving in the right direction. In early April, the European Parliament approved more flexible rules to facilitate data sharing (neutral intermediaries to aggregate data, incentive for public actors to share their data, etc.). This should help foster the climate of innovation 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 (currently under consideration at Member State level). This is also a crucial point for the industry.
The challenge now is to channel funds from the private equity more in the direction of the themes of innovation in 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, only the business venture capital (funds held by major industrial groups) with the Public Investment Bank (BPI) in attendance. This is not enough if we want to reindustrialize France and multiply the top sectors. We hope that the current tenant of the Elysée will also tackle this subject.