The Future of Generative AI & the Metaverse are Inextricably Linked

Above: Chatting with a ChatGPT-powered NPC in a metaverse platform

The producer of a major financial news program recently asked me a mind-boggling question:

Meta and others ditching the metaverse for AI, is that the real future?

Which is, wow. Asking if AI and not the Metaverse is the future is a bit like asking, fifteen years ago, if 3D graphics engines and not smartphone apps is the real future. Because, well: They’re both part of the real future, and the former is going to greatly enhance the latter.


I see this false dichotomy everywhere, and it points to a broader misunderstanding of both categories. Mostly it’s a negative externality pumped into the air by the hype industry. The kind of Silicon Valley evangelists and marketers who are currently buzzing effusively about generative AI (without really understanding its profound technical limitations) are almost exactly the very same people previously buzzing effusively about the Metaverse (without really knowing about or actually using existing metaverse platforms).  


Then again, I can’t quite blame hypesters for misunderstanding the Metaverse when their working definition for it has been something like, “That VR thing Meta is making with NFTs in it I think?”



The Metaverse is a vast, immersive virtual world simultaneously accessible by millions of users through VR and other devices, highly customizable avatars and powerful experience creation tools. It is integrated with the real world economy and compatible with external technology.


Or if you’re riding in a two story elevator: “The Metaverse is like Fortnite and Roblox, but with a much larger user base and with many more use cases.”


Unsurprisingly, my book has a whole section on use cases of generative AI inside metaverse platforms, some of which I’ve been blogging here, including: powering NPCs / bots, and quickly creating 3D content within the virtual world. (But that application has some scaling challenges.) 


From an investment perspective, yes, generative AI startups are attracting much more money than metaverse startup at the moment. But this will likely balance out in a year or two. Once the consumer novelty wears off, much (or most) of generative AI will likely become a part of our existing technological landscape. At a root level, for instance, ChatGPT is basically an easier-to-use version of Google Search — and so programs like ChatGPT will become core to how we search for information on the Internet.


But really, the key component to understand in the Metaverse definition is the “millions of users” clause.


Metaverse platforms are fundamentally about real people connecting and creating in real time. And generative AI will never replace that.


Enhance, for sure. We can expect more interesting visuals and avatar interactions across the many metaverse platforms, thanks to generative AI. And these will help grow the overall user base for the Metaverse, far more than what it is now. 


At the moment, the leading generative AI programs, ChatGPT and Midjourney, have about 110 million active total users. This indicates impressive growth in a short time, to be sure, but that consumer usage also seems to be leveling off. By contrast, there’s still over 600 million consumers actively using a metaverse platform.


So at some point, I suspect the investors and hype merchants will buzz effusively about the next, next big thing: Generative AI in the Metaverse!

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