Knowledge Institute Podcasts
The Metaverse: The Definition, the Promise, the Hype with Vishwa Ranjan
Vishwa Ranjan, Global Head of Infosys Extended Reality Center of Excellence and Co-Head of Infosys Innovation Network, discusses the meaning of metaverse. The discussion also covers what to expect and why it is important to get involved now.
Hosted by Jeff Kavanaugh, VP and Head of the Infosys Knowledge Institute.
“There's no single definition of a metaverse, but in its simplest form, it can be thought of as the next iteration of the web.”
“It's going to affect everyone on this planet at some point of time. And whatever is wrong with the current version of the web, here is the time to fix it. We all need to get involved. We all need to get ready. And we all need to prepared.”
“Gaming companies in the beginning will likely end up taking the lead in building innovative and engaging experiences.”
“Metaverse is not a new technology, it is more of an evolution due to confluence of technologies and circumstances rather than a real revolution.”
“It's really time to get involved and, and not work in isolation.”
- Vishwa Ranjan.
- There's no single definition of a metaverse, but in its simplest form, it can be thought of as the next iteration of the web, which is slowly transforming in at least three important ways. First, it is becoming 3D and experimential through immersive technologies like extended reality. Second, it is becoming decentralized and democratized through distributed ledger technologies like blockchain, where there is no single custodian of data where creator economy is thriving via marketplaces, cryptocurrencies, and NFTs. Third, lines are getting blurred between physical and digital world where computing is often embedded in the real world.
- I would say the most common misconception that is causing a lot of confusion in people's minds is that it is some new technology that was just invented and it is going to change the world. In reality, it is more of an evolution due to confluence of technologies and circumstances than a real revolution.
- Silicon and device companies have made extremely large investments in metaverse related technologies. One trusted source says over 10 billion has been invested so far in 500+ startups. A number of enterprise use cases are beginning to show signs of good return on investment.
- Metaverse is mostly, in my opinion, in conceptual stages. And there will be major challenges at few different levels in fully realizing the metas as envisioned. First of all, it'll require many different technologies and companies to work together over many years. And then some of these technologies are yet to be invented.
- Gaming companies in the beginning will likely end up taking the lead in building innovative and engaging experiences. There's really an acute shortage of talent who can create quality content and experiences. Hiring will be very competitive and training is not easily possible.
- At Infosys, we are taking a more human-centric approach to experience design for metaverse and we strongly believe that digital alone doesn't drive enterprise productivity, profits innovation or resilience. Technologies need to be adopted with humans first in mind. This is like once in twenty year kind of opportunity. It is really time to get involved to help define the future of the web and drive towards the utopian meta and not the dystopian one.
Jeff introduces himself and Vishwa
What inspired you to make the transition from entertainment to tech here at Infosys?
What was it like working with George Lucas and what was a key thing that you learned?
Is there a crisp definition of the metaverse that people can walk away with based on your experience?
Why don't we pick a couple of companies that are real excited about it, like Meta and Nvidea. On the one hand, the social network company and then the other is someone making the engine, the chips for it. Can you talk about those two and why they're excited and specifically what business opportunities are they seeing?
From earlier in the career when a lot of technology integration, systems integration was about plugging things in, turning wrenches and getting different tech to work together, how have you seen it evolve to more orchestration, where there are different players that have to have different skillsets as well as different tech?
What can companies build in the metaverse that they can't build in the current internet or in VR today?
What are the major pit pile or challenges you see, especially in the short term?
What is one positive thing you can leave people with? That's the hope and the promise of the metaverse?
Given that broad purpose and direction, what's the one thing you advise business leaders to do now so that they get ready and can move forward on this?
Jeff Kavanaugh: Welcome to the Knowledge Institute Podcast, where we discuss business trends with experts, deconstruct their ideas, and share their insights. I'm Jeff Kavanaugh, head of the Infosys Knowledge Institute, and today we're here with Vishwa Ranjan, head of Infosys extended reality, and co-head Infosys innovation network. Vishwa, thanks for joining us.
Vishwa Ranjan: Thanks for inviting me Jeff, it's always a pleasure talking to you. Happy to be part of this conversation.
Jeff Kavanaugh: You bet my friend. Vishwa, you've worked with some of the biggest names in Hollywood like George Lucas and Dreamworks on everything from movies to video games. What inspired you to make the transition from entertainment to tech here at Infosys?
Vishwa Ranjan: That is a great question, Jeff. After working for almost 20 plus years in the entertainment industry, when the opportunity first came up to set up the Extended Reality Center of Excellence at Infosys, I was definitely quite reluctant, I have to be honest. I was at Dreamworks Animation when Infosys approached me. I mulled over the proposal for almost eight months. There were a number of factors that went into my decision to make the move, but I do remember that one of the things that impressed me at that time was Infosys's approach to innovation.
Vishwa Ranjan: So it was a time when Oculus Dev Kit Two had barely come out, and Infosys had already started thinking about enterprise applications of these technologies. So I started doing some side reading and research on this topic, attended some conferences, and built some simple applications to gain some hands on knowledge. Over time, I was quite convinced that enterprises will have a good role to play in the evolution of XR as a field. That's when I decided to take the leap of faith and give it a try, and honestly I've not regretted it even once.
Jeff Kavanaugh: Well before we go on, we might revisit this once or twice, what was it like working with George Lucas and what was a key thing that you learned?
Vishwa Ranjan: I don't think there are words that can describe the feeling of working for George Lucas's company, Industrial Light and Magic, in the '90s. That's why I typically keep quiet and just cherish those memories. I'm sure many of my ex-colleagues from ILM would agree, if I describe working on the Star Wars prequels at ILM as out of the world feeling. Every day I got to work with the most talented artists, designers, engineers, and visual effects wizards of the world. I learned something new and felt very proud. And I would like to point out that many employees there had a few common traits. They were extremely creative, they were very down to earth, they were ready to collaborate and help. There was a common sense of purpose. But the attention to detail was unbelievable. I mean, they would often go down to pixel level on an image, and this was my first job so I carried this work culture with me and tried to create a similar environment around me wherever I go.
Jeff Kavanaugh: Is there a crisp definition of the metaverse that people can walk away with based on your experience?
Vishwa Ranjan: Unfortunately there's no single definition of a metaverse, but in its simplest form, it can be thought of as the next iteration of the web, which is slowly transforming in at least three important ways I would say. First, it is becoming 3D and experiential through immersive technologies like extended reality. Second, it is becoming decentralized and democratized through distributed ledger technologies like blockchain where there is no single custodian of data, where creator economy is thriving, where marketplaces, cryptocurrencies, and NFTs. And thirdly, lines are getting blurred between physical and digital world, where computing is often embedded in the real world, and the real world is getting embedded in computing through concepts like digital twins.
Vishwa Ranjan: I would say the most common misconception that is causing a lot of confusion in people's minds is that it is some new technology that was just invented and it is going to change the world. In reality, it is more of an evolution due to confluence of technologies and circumstances than a real revolution, and some of the traits that are commonly used to describe a metaverse kind of experience are 3D and immersive, it's embodied and experiential, social and persistent, it goes on and on. Decentralized, democratized. No wonder people are confused on what this metaverse is.
Jeff Kavanaugh: Well why don't we pick a couple of companies that are really excited about it, like Meta and Nvidia. On the one hand's a social network company, and in the other, someone making the engine, the chips for it. Can you talk about those two and why they're excited, and specifically what business opportunities are they seeing?
Vishwa Ranjan: There's money involved. Analysts and gaming companies are already predicting a trillion dollar plus market by 2030 based on latest data on XR adoption, device sales, market sentiment. As a result, silicon and device companies have made extremely large investments in metaverse related technologies, and honestly, there are significant advances in hardware and software, both on the production side and on the consumption side. A lot of VCs have started putting money into metaverse related companies. One trusted source says over $10 billion has been invested so far in 500 plus startups.
Vishwa Ranjan: So coming to these companies, a number of enterprise use cases of metaverse like experiences are beginning to show signs of good return on investment. That is really what's driving it. So for example, in the area of digital twins, BMW created an extremely realistic factory of the future concept for designing, optimizing, building, and operating their factories. Siemens created a digital twin of industrial power plants and did some simulations where they claimed that it'll save them almost $2 a year. Virtual presence, meetings and collaboration, Microsoft Teams I mean, as you know, is utilizing AltspaceVR and Microsoft Mesh to extend their Teams capabilities to be more like metaverse. This meeting that we are having now, I mean could be with our avatars which look very realistic, and we're sitting together in a room. And, Infosys, I hope, people are aware is doing the same for its flagship Virtual Living Labs platform, where we host remote and hybrid client visits, because our real client visits came to a halt due to the ongoing pandemic.
Vishwa Ranjan: If you look on the retail side also, there are major brands like Nike, Adidas, Zara, H&M, they have all started opening their stores in metaverse. So one other thing that people don't realize is, what's playing into why now or what's going on is the demographic ship that has happened. So digital native kids who have grown up playing video games are now entering the workforce, and they're creating promising startups. They're taking prominent roles in existing, emerging, and disruptive and new age technology companies. For them, it is a no brainer that the internet needs to evolve and become more immersive and fun. Those are some of the reasons that come to mind why companies are currently excited over metaverse.
Jeff Kavanaugh: It's also providing fuel for the Moore's Law fire, right? It's continuing to find reasons to push that exponential growth.
Vishwa Ranjan: Absolutely.
Jeff Kavanaugh: I think you sold yourself a little bit short as well. With some of the work I even remember four or five years ago out in our Silicon Valley studio where there were these virtual meetings, people would be around the conference table. I remember distinctly, while it was somewhat new at the time, you were doing a metaverse-like conference room.
Vishwa Ranjan: Absolutely, we've been at it Jeff for quite some time. I mean, that's the real story we would like to tell, that this thing is not new to us. Due to the investments that Infosys has made in the past, we are uniquely positioned to work in this space and help our clients.
Jeff Kavanaugh: And the other example I distinctly remember was in the retail planning, basically the planograms, instead of having rows and columns, you actually had things on shelves and you actually had designed your retail space.
Vishwa Ranjan: Correct. I mean, every technology comes with some merits. There are some things that it lets you do that are completely not possible any other way. There are some things that makes you do it cheaper, faster, better, or easier. But in the end, I mean we try to bring value to our clients. We want to make sure we are working at the intersection of that desirability, feasibility, and viability, where good ROI has to be had for the clients.
Jeff Kavanaugh: From earlier in the career when a lot of technology integration, systems integration was about plugging things in, turning wrenches and getting different tech to work together, how have you seen it evolve to more orchestration, where there are different players that have to have different skillsets as well as different tech?
Vishwa Ranjan: You have to think of solutions where you will see that many different technologies have to be brought in, and they have to be integrated with the internal systems that exist and with external systems, to create an end to end solution for the client. And these are not just pure technology. Sometimes I mean, a lot of design elements are involved. A lot of physical creations are involved. For example we did, for a large telecom company, they wanted to do a store where people could just walk out similar to the Amazon Go stores that are there. We actually built a prototype store for them, a physical prototype where they can test this technology before they roll it out to their stores outside a few trial stores that they have, the pilots that they did.
Vishwa Ranjan: So you have to start thinking along the entire reality spectrum and the technology spectrum on what the end to end solution could look like. I'll give you one more example. There is a large postal company in Europe where they wanted to redesign their sorting centers, because their sorting centers were dated. They said, "Hey, given the technology landscape, if you have to build a sorting center from scratch, what would that look like without any limitations? Just tell us, what is the best thing we can do to prepare ourselves for the next 50 years, if we're willing to invest in money?" So we actually worked with their expert and our expert, and created an end to end view on them, and it involved many different technologies. It involved solutions from at least a dozen companies, where seven of them I believe were established companies, but five were totally new companies, startups that we brought into the picture to our Infosys innovation network.
Vishwa Ranjan: So it's a new mindset that people have to have when they are actually solving the problems today, and it's not as simple as exactly what you said, that hey, here is one package solution for you. Companies like ours, they're very well placed, because we are totally unbiased with respect to technology or a solution that exists in the market, and we work with all technologies across, and we also work with a lot of clients in different industry verticals. We do cross pollination for you. If a solution works for agriculture for example, it can easily work for retail, and we have that visibility into what's going on in different industries and different technologies.
Jeff Kavanaugh: Yes, that's kind of what I was getting at, the idea that beyond a large company or a large set of tech tools, that you're reaching out to these startups, generating ideas and concepts and tools that are literally just emerging. What can companies build in the metaverse that they can't build in the current internet or in VR today?
Vishwa Ranjan: While we can argue that metaverse is a change driven by a confluence of technologies, its power will really show when it becomes seamlessly accessible to everyone across all devices on the web, where experiences are more immersive and the creator economy is thriving through democratized content creation. I'll give you a couple of examples. So if a retailer creates a virtual storefront in metaverse, users can enter the store. They can walk around, they can see the products they want to buy, they can engage with others, find out more about the products, try them and then make a real purchase. In fact, Infosys built such a virtual store for Australian Open merchandise, where the store is at an imaginary graffiti-laced street in Melbourne. We called it the Navigator Lane.
Vishwa Ranjan: Retailers can also offer consumers a virtual product that is a digital representation of a product. It may be a virtual representation of a real product, or it could be a product that only exists in the virtual realm. In fact, Nike recently acquired a company called RTFKT, pronounced as artifact, that they sell sneakers for your avatars to wear in the virtual world. And so metaverse can make the whole process of retail customer experience, from product discovery to personalization and fulfillment, much more interactive, efficient, and fulfilling.
Jeff Kavanaugh: We've talked pretty optimistically about all these wonderful things. We probably ought to put our adult hat on as well and say, what are the major challenges and what are some pitfalls that companies need to look out for? There's some societal ones, we may not go down that path completely, but at least business wise, what are the major pitfalls or challenges you see, especially in the short term?
Vishwa Ranjan: Yeah, I'm glad you asked this Jeff, there are a number of challenges. Metaverse is mostly in my opinion, is in conceptual stages. And there will be major challenges at few different levels in fully realizing the metaverse as envisioned. First of all, it will require many different technologies and companies to work together over many years, and some of these technologies are yet to be invented. So creating these experiences for example and keeping it running will require a huge amount of infrastructure and cost. Think about large data centers with powerful computers, servers, 5G, 6G network, and there is a huge shortage of talent and tools to create quality content and experiences. And the devices that we currently wear, they're not capable of running very refined and polished experiences locally like the ones we are used to on the web. And many of these devices are still bulky. They're not lightweight, they're not comfortable for long-term wear.
Vishwa Ranjan: How would you do the testing of metaverse applications across all devices and platforms, and for interoperability as one is hopping from one metaverse to the other? A lot of debugging tools to figure out what went wrong, monitoring tools, the metaverses are running safely and securely, automating automation tools. All this will be part of a massive operational challenge.
Vishwa Ranjan: There will be adoption challenges as well. There will be identity, privacy, ethics, accountability, security concerns, and SI companies will face challenges of a different type as well, as extended reality is a field that is closely associated with gaming for a variety of reasons. It emerged from there. Where traditionally, SI companies have not played any key role. So most gaming companies as you know Jeff have dedicated teams in house for even their backend operations, so SI companies today do not have this kind of expertise of running multiplayer game like experiences on the web. So gaming companies in the beginning will likely end up taking the lead in building innovative and engaging experiences for clients, and the kind of creative people that are required, where both sides of the brain are working in harmony, there's really an acute shortage of such talent. Hiring will be very, very competitive, and training is not easily possible.
Jeff Kavanaugh: What is one positive thing you can leave people with that's the hope and the promise of the metaverse?
Vishwa Ranjan: Metaverse is a term taken from Neal Stephenson's 1992 novel Snow Crash, and carries a dystopian connotation. And since we are in the very early stages of metaverse, my hope is that people will get involved from the very beginning to ensure that the next version of the web is more equitable and inclusive, where privacy and security of an individual are of utmost importance. So at Infosys, we are taking a more human-centric approach to experience design for metaverse, as we strongly believe that digital alone doesn't drive enterprise productivity, profits, innovation, or resilience. For these, human purpose is essential. So businesses in my opinion also need to adopt metaverse with humans first in mind.
Vishwa Ranjan: And honestly, opportunities like this do not come very often. This is like once in 20 year kind of opportunity. It is really time to get involved, to help define the future of the web and drive towards the utopian metaverse and not the dystopian one. And I really feel very strongly about this. Unless from the very beginning we architect the metaverse in a way where the pros of the metaverse for humanity outweigh its cons by a significant margin, it'll be really difficult to justify its existence in the name of progress.
Jeff Kavanaugh: All right. Given that broad purpose and direction, what's the one thing you advise business leaders to do now so that they get ready and can move forward on this?
Vishwa Ranjan: It's really time to get involved and not work in isolation. This is the message I would like to leave our listeners with. The next version of the web is getting ready. Who amongst us is not working with the web today? So it's going to affect everyone on this planet at some point of time, and whatever is wrong with the current version of the web, here is the time to fix it. We all need to get involved, we all need to get ready, and we all need to prepare.
Jeff Kavanaugh: Everyone, you can find details both for Vishwa's email and the resources he recommends on our show notes and transcripts at Infosys.com/IKI in our podcast section. Vishwa, thank you so much for your time and a very interesting virtual and physical discussion.
Vishwa Ranjan: Thank you so much, Jeff.
Jeff Kavanaugh: Everyone, you've been listening to The Knowledge Institute, where we talk with experts on business trends, deconstruct main ideas, and share their insights. Thanks to our producers, Catherine Burdette, Christine Calhoun, Yulia De Bari and Dylan Cosper. Until next time, keep learning and keep sharing.
About Vishwa Ranjan
Global Head, Infosys Extended Reality Center of Excellence, and Co-Head, Infosys Innovation Network
Vishwa Ranjan sees things others don’t, thanks to his 20-some odd years working in the computer graphics field. At Infosys, Vishwa helps to paint a better picture of augmented and virtual reality capabilities by showing how the technologies will impact consumers and professionals, how they’ll buttress new and old industries, and what paths are necessary to get there. When he’s not showcasing VR demos at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Vishwa can be found in the classroom using his doctorate in computer graphics to teach. Prior to joining Infosys, Vishwa pushed the limits of animation and visual effects for Industrial Light & Magic, Electronic Arts, and DreamWorks Animation, including work on films and video games in the Star Wars and Lord of the Rings franchises.