Cathy Li is Head of Shaping the Future of Media, Entertainment and Sport and a member of the Executive Committee, at the World Economic Forum. She is responsible for platform initiatives including the Global Digital Safety Coalition and Defining and Building the Metaverse. Li , who earned an MBA from Columbia Business School, was previously a Partner at GroupM, WPP’s media investment arm. She held various leadership positions at WPP, including digital media buying, data and analytics, content, strategic consulting and financial communications in London, New York and Beijing. During an interview In Davos Li spoke to The Innovator about the metaverse, an immersive and synchronous digital world that is expected to become an $800 billion market by 2024.
Q: As part of its Defining and Building the Metaverse Initiative the Forum recently issued a briefing paper entitled: Demystifying The Consumer Metaverse. What are some of the key takeaways?
CL: The Forum has been working on the metaverse since 2021 with the participation of over 150 partners. We see the metaverse as a future with a more immersive and three-dimensional experience, enabling direct ownership of data, ID, and digital assets by consumers. It is not an end-point, but a glimpse of an evolving Internet that is different from the current one. The Forum is examining the potential benefits and challenges of the metaverse for consumers, industry, and enterprise, focusing on areas such as sustainability, governance, digital identity, privacy, security, and safety. We aim to proactively establish guardrails to prevent repeating the mistakes of Web 2.0.
Q: What about interoperability? What can be done to ensure that if people have an identity and assets in one metaverse they can port them into others?
CL: We also recently released a briefing on Interoperability In the Metaverse. If you look at this as a continuation of the Internet then we will have one single metaverse with different virtual worlds. Not all of them need to be open. This is not something you can mandate but if we want to grow the whole ecosystem and create a more seamless frictionless consumer journey where users can move from one virtual world to the next, then we need to look at how can that be achieved technically. In terms of usage we want to ensure that the hardware, software, and infrastructure does not create more of a digital divide. We also need to be sure the metaverse is inclusive, involving different demographics and people with disabilities. There also needs to be rules around jurisdictional interoperability. Who has jurisdiction if there is an incident in one jurisdiction and data is stored in another? Most of the time it is the location of the victim, but it is not consistent. If we want the metaverse to be seamless, then these sorts of issues need to be considered and clarity is needed on who owns digital assets. In Web 2.0 people didn’t own their assets. If we want to have true digital asset ownership, IP issues and different legal requirements will have to be determined. Right now there are more questions than answers.
Q: A global collaboration village was demonstrated in the metaverse at the Forum’s annual meeting year. What was that all about?
CL: The World Economic Forum, in partnership with Accenture and Microsoft, unveiled a working prototype of its Global Collaboration Village, a metaverse where organizations can convene to learn about, create solutions for, and take action on the world’s most pressing challenges. With partners from 80 leading organizations helping to shape the village’s development, participants from around the world joined the Forum in its first-ever interactive, multilateral session in the metaverse.
Q: How should business think about the metaverse?
CL: Our advice is to strike a balance between experimentation and practicality, guided by the company’s business objectives. Don’t simply follow the trend of setting up a virtual presence just because it’s the norm. Instead, focus on seamlessly integrating the physical and digital aspects of the company’s business. As we increasingly spend more time online there may come a time when we cross the threshold. When transitioning to a digital presence consider how to make it an extension of the company’s physical presence, allowing for a smooth connection. For example, a retailer can have both a physical store and a digital platform where customers can use a hologram to shop from home.
Enterprise and industry use of the metaverse is more advanced than the consumer space. Use cases include manufacturing as well as healthcare: everything from prevention and diagnosis to collaborative surgery. Real estate is another area with opportunities: the metaverse offers a way for people to tour digital replicas of houses or apartment buildings. Immersive experiences have also been proven to encourage and help collaboration in education and training.
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