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August 3, 2023

Look to gen AI to rev up the metaverse

As gen AI become more pervasive, it will help create data-rich immersive experiences on metaverse-like platforms.

In the news

With today’s compressed news cycle, it can be difficult to keep track of what’s hot and what’s decidedly not. This is the case in politics, entertainment and sports—so why shouldn’t it be true in the technology sector as well?

The metaverse is Exhibit A. Facebook kicked off a hype cycle in late 2021 when the company renamed itself Meta. The ensuing arc began with “One of the hottest trends in the tech world,” and ended with “The hype bubble has popped” almost exactly a year later.

Apple’s Vision Pro briefly spiked metaverse interest, but you could be forgiven for thinking the technology had, like the band in the mockumentary This Is Spinal Tap, relocated to the Where Are They Now file

… and that generative artificial intelligence (gen AI) had driven the moving van. For it was gen AI, and its most familiar application OpenAI’s ChatGPT, that pushed the metaverse off the front page. Seemingly overnight, the world shifted its interest from wearing metaverse headsets to never again writing original reports, software code or music.

But when you get past that rapid-fire news cycle and the short attention spans it has engendered, the relationship between the metaverse and gen AI is far more complex. “Generative AI,” as one clear-headed report notes, “can play a significant role in empowering interactions and development on the metaverse.”

The Cognizant take

For starters, says Duncan Roberts, thought leader and futurist at Cognizant Research, creative applications of generative AI will help fill the enormous need for content as developers create virtual worlds populated by three-dimensional assets. Typically, 3D modeling is labor-intensive—but gen AI can create contents from text descriptions.

That’s a powerful shortcut. “Generative AI will eventually be able to create any environment we want at the drop of a hat—the Star Trek holodeck, if you like,” Roberts says. We’re still a long way off from that, he concedes, “but I can definitely see a path to it.”

Already, one application of gen AI is to make bots—such as those used in training, customer service and, yes, the metaverse—far more human-like. Roberts expects such use cases to evolve quickly. But perhaps the most intriguing connection between gen AI and the metaverse is the relative ease with which the former bolsters the latter. “Some have estimated that a triumph of creativity like the film Avatar: The Way of Water, which was years in the making, could be done in months with generative AI,” he says.

Roberts wrote recently about peeling back technology hype, as well as the errors and false expectations that come with it, by breaking technologies into their component parts. “Too often, we talk about technology just for its own sake,” he writes. “However, the first question anyone should ask after understanding the basics of a new technology is not how to use it, but what they are trying to achieve.”

Viewed this way, the metaverse and generative AI are not competitors for consumer mindshare, but rather complementary technologies that can be used to better the organization—and more.

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