Interview Of The Week

Interview Of The Week: Winston Ma, Digital Economy Expert

Winston Ma, CFA & Esq., is a trained software programmer, investor, attorney, adjunct professor specialized in the global digital economy and author. He is the Chief Investment Officer and Vice Chairman of the International Data Center Authority (IDCA). He is also currently the board Chairman of Nasdaq-listed MCAA, a European tech SPAC, a member of Capgemini’s advisory board, and an adjunct professor at NYU Law School.

 Ma was Managing Director and Head of North America Office for China Investment Corporation, China’s sovereign wealth fund, for ten years. Prior to that he served as the deputy head of equity capital markets at Barclays Capital, a vice president at J.P. Morgan investment banking, and a corporate lawyer at Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP. He was selected as a 2013 Young Global Leader at the World Economic Forum  and in 2014 he received the NYU Distinguished Alumni Award.

Ma is the book author eight books, including The Digital War: How China’s Tech Power Shapes the Future of AI, Blockchain and Cyberspace (2021). His latest book “Blockchain and Web3 – Building the Cryptocurrency, Privacy, and Security Foundations of the Metaverse” was released by Wiley in September 2022. Ma, who is scheduled to do a fireside chat with The Innovator’s Editor-in-Chief at the 4YFN conference in Barcelona on Feb. 28, recently spoke to The Innovator about the metaverse and his new book.

Q: The metaverse will be a big theme at the 4YFN- Four Years From Now conference this year.  How should people think about it?

WM: We should think about the metaverse as the convergence of all new data technologies on 5G networks, from XR (Extended Reality) to IoT (Internet of Things), from Big Data to cloud computing, from Blockchain to AI and even more. I see it as the future of the Internet and how people will connect and socialize and share information. Metaverse interactions are 3D interactive and immersive in terms of the user experience. It is about the physical and virtual worlds converging through XR technologies, a place where you can not only meet in person but also meet as avatars and communicate easily.  Web3 enthusiasts see the metaverse as a way to develop a more decentralized Internet, free from Big Tech Companies’ monopoly, where creators will be owners of the Internet themselves via blockchain and tokens.

Q: Will users be able to move from one metaverse to another and take their data with them?

WM: Yes, that’s the vision of a decentralized metaverse, which is different from the existing Internet dominated by Big Tech platforms.. The biggest difference between Big Techs’ metaverses and Web3 enthusiasts’ metaverses, is that the latter operates on open, permissionless blockchain architecture. Any developer can come and build a metaverse application on an open blockchain, any creator can generate content and claim corresponding digital ownership, and any user can control their own data and move their own virtual assets across different platforms. That’s the vision of the open metaverse.

Q: What is your take on the timing of the metaverse?

WM: I think crypto regulations will be a big factor. It will limit speculation and help lay the groundwork for people to focus on real innovation. Timing will also depend on looking beyond the competition between Big Tech and Web 3.0 to see how sovereign states might change the playing field. For example, China launched a centralized exchange for the trading of digital assets in January of this year. The platform will provide institutions and individual users with digital asset registration, verification, depository, rights monitoring and copyright protection services, in compliance with Chinese regulations. If the infrastructure is built and run by government, then the payment technology is most likely to be the central bank digital currency (CBDC). We need to see if other countries working on CBDCs will take a similar approach. In some markets, it may be that rather than a completely decentralized metaverse, governments will provide the tech infrastructure and the digital currency whereas Web 3.0 enthusiasts provide the tech innovation.

Q: How will data privacy be handled in the metaverse?

WM: Zero-knowledge proofs, which enable private transactions on a public blockchain. This idea first appeared in the late 1980s and has origins in both computer science and cryptography. In simple terms, the prover can prove the truth of a statement to the verifier without revealing the underlying details through a simple proof. The growth of zero-knowledge proof technology is causing substantial advancements in the blockchain business. The continuing improvements in this technology offer enormous promise for blockchain’s future and its ability to disrupt industries by providing secure and efficient solutions.

Q: Which sectors and applications are likely to drive the metaverse?

WM: NFTs are becoming a new tool for consumer businesses such as brands, luxuries, and sports at a time when the line between physical and virtual experiences is blurring. Spaces and exhibits with a mix of physical and digital content are growing, and consumers perceive a brand’s digital presence to be equally important to its in-store presence. Consumers are increasingly interacting with companies and brands in fully digital environments, such as in video gaming through ‘skins’ and other in-game items where NFTs can play an important role.

Q: Given the current state of the market how would you advise corporates to approach the metaverse?

WM:, The consumer metaverse is going mainstream thanks to the big brands like Coca-Cola, Gucci, and Nike. We may see more consumer-oriented metaverse developments before the industrial metaverse – the integration of metaverse technologies and industry sectors like manufacturing.  As the world’s biggest media gaming probably is the best test case for the metaverse,and the technological development out of gaming may have important reference value for other industry sectors’ metaverse. transformations.

This article is content that would normally only be available to subscribers. Sign up for a four-week free trial to see what you have been missing.

To access more of The Innovator’s Interview Of The Week articles click here.

About the author

Jennifer L. Schenker

Jennifer L. Schenker, an award-winning journalist, has been covering the global tech industry from Europe since 1985, working full-time, at various points in her career for the Wall Street Journal Europe, Time Magazine, International Herald Tribune, Red Herring and BusinessWeek. She is currently the editor-in-chief of The Innovator, an English-language global publication about the digital transformation of business. Jennifer was voted one of the 50 most inspiring women in technology in Europe in 2015 and 2016 and was named by Forbes Magazine in 2018 as one of the 30 women leaders disrupting tech in France. She has been a World Economic Forum Tech Pioneers judge for 20 years. She lives in Paris and has dual U.S. and French citizenship.