Some of us may already have dipped our metaphorical toes into the emerging metaverse, while for others it remains an unfathomable mystery. It’s a buzzword that’s on everybody’s lips but what exactly is the metaverse? And how will it impact localization?
Mark Zuckerberg is perhaps the most prominent proponent of this coming together of new and emergent technologies, concepts and even philosophies. He said of the metaverse: “It’s an immersive version of the internet. Instead of just looking at something on a screen, you're going to actually feel like you're inside or right there present with another person.”
That is certainly one aspect of the metaverse and placing an extended reality (XR) presence within a virtual environment is something that is already happening in entertainment and business settings alike.
Many people have now taken part in fully VR meetings that look set to continue even as we head out of the pandemic but, perhaps unsurprisingly, it is the gaming world that has so far taken the greatest strides in this direction.
The online game-cum-multimedia platform Second Life has been providing participants with a virtual world filled largely with user-generated content and containing its own virtual but real-world exchangeable currency for almost two decades now. Epic Games is positioning Fortnite as a metaverse and the hugely popular Minecraft and Roblox platforms can also make similar claims thanks to their huge virtual worlds and breadth of shared experience.
The virtual presence is only a part of the metaverse concept though and, despite having placed a massive marker by rebranding the Facebook, Inc. company to Meta, Zuckerberg is far from the only interested party.
“The experience of a visible web of services, products, and interactions is probable, plausible, and will emerge over time,” Enosis founder Vangelis Lympouridis tells RWS. “But, there would be no single ownership, and it most definitely won’t manifest the way it is currently imagined or strategically proposed through marketing.”
The make-up of the metaverse
In an influential essay first published in 2020, venture capitalist Matthew Ball defined the metaverse as a hugely diverse and collaborative effort – populated by content and experiences “created and operated by an incredibly wide range of contributors, some of whom are independent individuals, while others might be informally organized groups or commercially-focused enterprises”. Other key characteristics he set out include continuous, synchronous operation, a fully functioning economy and “unprecedented interoperability of data, digital items/assets, content, and so on across each of these experiences”. Interestingly, although gaming platforms such as Roblox and Minecraft already meet most of these criteria, they are still largely self-contained. In ‘the’ metaverse, all these individual metaverses will be part of a seamless, interlinked whole.
For Lympouridis, XR technologies, including virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR), are the main components for accessing parts of the mixed media, cyber-physical reality of the metaverse – but they are not ubiquitous. “While some imagine a dichotomy between the physical and the ‘Meta’ layer of the world, the actual value is the seamless transition and continuity between the two within a single reality” he says.
Enosis specializes in spatial computing, which is by definition an experiential platform and one that is key to our transitioning from an existing, reduced dimension of worldwide data, to an emerging worldwide data ecosystem with spatial presence and spatial coordinates, volume, physical and virtual characteristics.
Lots of other emergent technologies are also converging under the broad banner of the 4th Industrial Revolution, including 5G, Edge computing, the Internet of Things (IoT), robotics, machine learning and AI, to help power this exciting new future.
Communicating in the metaverse
Zuckerberg recently spoke about the need for embedded translation capabilities within the metaverse which would allow users to not only access content in their own language, but to communicate with others across any language instantly.
"This is going to be especially important when people begin teleporting across virtual worlds and experiencing things with people from different backgrounds,” he said. “Now we have the chance to improve the internet and set a new standard where we can all communicate with one another no matter what language we speak, or where we come from. And if we get this right, this is just one example of how AI can help bring people together on a global scale."
The idea of such real-time translation technology might still seem to reside in the realms of science fiction, whether it be Star Trek’s universal translator or Douglas Adams’ somewhat more surreal Babel fish. However, Machine Translation (MT) is improving at an exponential rate, powered by the use of AI – the scale, scope, accuracy and flexibility of Language Weaver, RWS’s own MT systems, today would have seemed like something out of science fiction not so long ago.
Cosmolocalization that goes beyond language
Localization goes far beyond translation of course. Language is always a key element, but it is only one part of the cultural and contextual factors that go into the true localization of any content or experience.
In the metaverse, you can already customize your Avatar and your personal or common space and invite others to it. In the future, as more sophisticated systems and approaches are adopted, it may even be possible to localize shared virtual environments, so that individuals experience them differently, depending on their own cultural expectations and preferences. Content and experiences can be similarly tailored to the individuals and groups that access them, all while communication and interaction is enabled by seamless translation. The data and systems needed to produce such a localized experience will already be in place – essentially it is not each individual experience that is being localized in isolation, but all the connected elements making up the metaverse itself.
Lympouridis says that cosmolocalization is a fusion of technology, political science, philosophy and economics. “It suggests a transcendental model beyond the current international or cosmopolitan one, emphasizing the locality at a global scale,” he continues. “This locality can be physical or virtual, but the idea is that the most potent way of belonging is local and with a worldwide effect. Its conception addresses direct access to worldwide content, knowledge, and experiences with context awareness and a local production or facilitation of this knowledge to produce new content, services, and experiences.”
He adds that “a polymorphic adaptation can be used to fuel collaboration, productivity, inclusivity, experiential learning, design and more”.
The practical implications of spatial computing and cosmolocalization
So what does all this mean in practice?
The potential seems almost limitless.
In terms of cosmolocalization, imagine a medic in training. Wherever they are in the world they can access useful resources and communicate directly with experts in the field. AR and VR could allow them to practise an unfamiliar procedure guided by a colleague physically situated thousands of miles away. The information will be accurately translated, but also localized, so that it takes into account any differences in official national guidance for clinicians, general working practices, and even the availability of specialist equipment. Without proper localization, the remote expert’s situational awareness will not be complete.
Elsewhere the elements that will come together to form the metaverse are already transforming how we socialize, play and work. HP recently launched the world’s first mixed reality customer support for printers for example, while Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella says that Mesh for Microsoft Teams can put you right on the factory floor, or transport you to a fully realized meeting space with your own unique presence.
It's almost impossible to predict the full impact the metaverse and related technologies will have, or even the exact form they will take. Vangelis Lympouridis believes that usefulness, utility, efficiency and efficacy will drive adoption and that enterprises will naturally take to what works, while discarding that which does not.
“The clear and tangible benefits and the measurable improvements in social and personal life, productivity, and the sense of safety are what will drive adoption,” he explains. “Those that imagine a future utopia or dystopia living inside the metaverse are far out of social and tech enterprise and operate within a cultural and philosophical layer rather than an enterprise-driven one.”
Given that the very term ‘metaverse’ was first coined in Neal Stephenson’s 1992 science fiction novel Snow Crash and the idea developed further in Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One in 2011, there seems to be plenty of scope for cultural and speculative commentators to claim that it represents a potential swing towards either a utopian or dystopian extreme.
For forward-thinking enterprises though, the metaverse and associated areas, including cosmolocalization, represent opportunities to adopt entirely new ways of thinking and be among the vanguard of a new and unprecedented era of experience economy.
RWS is teaming up with Enosis as our partner expert in spatial computing and all things metaverse. Keep an eye out for a podcast on this soon.