As is usually the case, the truth lies somewhere in-between. The Australian Metaverse Advisory Council (AMAC) launched last month to help separate the potential from the hype. Angus Stevens, chair and co-founder of the organisation, tells Mumbrella why such an organisation is necessary.
Could you explain what it is that AMAC will be offering, and why you thought there was a need for such an organisation now?
I think that part of the purpose of setting up AMAC is: we don’t want to be another lever that’s just pumping up the tires and being part of the hype-cycle and spin. It’s actually about being pragmatic and offering real-world knowledge and examples to organisations so that they can navigate and build out experiences, training, a whole raft of different sort of avenues that leverage the immediate technology — whether it be VR [virtual reality], or AR [augmented reality], or blockchain, or what have you — as well as then being able to have a pathway so that, as the metaverse becomes more sophisticated and more evolved, they’ve already got the infrastructure in place to be able to really leverage it.
The critical purpose of AMAC is to advocate, educate, and advise. What that means in real terms is being able to cut through the hype-cycles. For example, when Apple comes out with a new headset, what does that mean in terms of how businesses will be able to use it, versus Meta’s headset? So you know, having that insight and knowledge around how these headsets will actually be useful in real-world situations, separate to what the tech companies are speculating over how they might play.
Part of the reason why we wanted to set up AMAC was because we wanted it to have an Australian industry focus. Not to have the tech companies being the sole voice of the industry, but rather to have the practitioners, who are actually building content for Australian businesses, and enterprises, and educational organisations to actually have real-world examples that were local, and for them to be able to tap into local knowledge about how to use this stuff within their specific needs.
In terms of the global uptake of the metaverse, do you have any kind of information on where Australia sits in terms of that? Are we ahead of the curve? Are we behind the curve?
Earlier in the year, Meta invited me and about three or four other folks from Australia, along with people from South Korea, Japan, Indonesia, and Taiwan, to Singapore to have this three-day seminar where they are talking about their vision for the metaverse. And, the reason why they wanted to have this event is because, globally, our region is one of the biggest areas of growth.
And Australia is really well placed to be able to leverage that and get the jump; we don’t have the same challenges that America, and Europe has. And there’s also really big uptake happening in countries such as Indonesia and Vietnam. Japan, obviously is already there, Korea is already there. So, it’s a really interesting time in terms of the Australian industry and where we’re placed within the global perspective of it, as well.
What would your advice be to people who are trepidatious? Or a bit ‘doomsday’ about the metaverse, because it’s often used interchangeably with AI, which I know isn’t correct. But a lot of people see them in the same basket: the robots are coming. What would your advice be to people that have that viewpoint, are a bit scared of it, or see it as a threat?
Well, two things. One, you know, when cinema first started, and people ran out of the cinema, screaming, because they felt the train was going to come through the screen? There’s that fear of the new, and I think that’s just human nature.
Like anything that hooks into human nature, it’s going to be used for good and for evil. But you know, we don’t do specific types of VR, for the simple reason that I don’t think it’s to the benefit of humanity. And there will be folks who will do things with it that aren’t for the benefit of humanity.
But in terms of what the metaverse can do, it can connect people, it can increase empathy, it can help people see the world differently, and be transported into different environments that they otherwise would not be able to go. And from that, they learn in a different way. I think it can be a great leveller if English isn’t your first language — rather than being hindered by learning that is language-based, rather than actually knowledge-based — by being able to use augmented or virtual reality experiences to understand the concepts visually, allows knowledge in a way that isn’t hindered by text. So, there’s a whole raft of different ways that I think it can can really benefit folks.
To those who are fearful, I think it would be naive to not acknowledge that there are avenues of it, whereby it could go pear-shaped, but part of the reason for setting up AMAC is, I don’t want to be powerless to that playing out. I want to have an industry body that allows us to reflect Australia’s needs and to be able to be active in guiding the future of it.
In much the same way that, in the ’90s, when the internet started, you had a whole bunch of folks who said, ‘Alright, this is what we want it to be’, and were kind of naive and optimistic around it. But, at least, they set the premise for having an open-source web that allows people to be able to see the code, be able to learn it, and then be able to do it themselves. And we want to make sure that there’s a version of the metaverse that operates in the same way, whereby we’re not just beholden to big tech in terms of how this stuff plays, but there’s actually a uniquely Australian perspective on it. And we have the opportunity to shake that conversation and ensure that the needs of Australians are being met, not only on an enterprise level, but also on a community, and personal level.
And how can advertising, and brands, and marketing play into the metaverse in an elegant way, as opposed to it being really in your face – pardon the pun?
It’s a good question. I mean, I feel like there’s there’s a couple of different avenues there. I think that one of the things that folks are realising is that there are nice ways of being associated with a new technology, that is just allowing the thrill of the technology, and the experience associated with it, to be linked to the brand.
To be specific, in a short-term and immediate-term level, if you frame the metaverse as being virtual and augmented reality experiences, that brands can look to use as a B2B — as a content marketing play — to be able to show and explain how their brand, or their machinery or their equipment operates, to people who are going to buy that product. Then, I think that it’s already there. And it can be in your face, because to understand the concepts of how this stuff works, for example, you can look at the AR interactive piece to actually see how this air conditioning unit is purifying the air in your room.
If you think of marketing as just purely showing off a piece, then it limits your thinking.
But if you think of marketing as being educating your audience as to the value of the product, then I think that it’s got a lot of legs. Then moving forward, if you look at it from that conventional concept of the metaverse being an avatar-driven virtual world, in due course, that will play, and there’s already big brands playing in that space.
But for the here-and-now of Australian brands, I think that there’s an opportunity just to be looking at the augmented and virtual executions of it, as as a way of engaging a new audience.
So AMAC will operate as a guiding light through this changing landscape?
Yeah. The purpose of AMAC is to be able to offer the industry a single source, to be able to then find folks who will be able to guide them. It’s not about trying to sell it, it’s about being practical about what it actually is, and and the strengths of it and the weaknesses of it. And to be really pragmatic around what that means for now, so that we can build solid foundations, so that, as it evolves and moves forward, people aren’t skeptical because they’ve been burned by hype or spin. They’re actually knowledgeable and grounded in the benefits of it; as the technology evolves, and they can evolve with it.
That’s the critical thing of AMAC: having people who know what they’re doing, talking to others who aren’t sure.
You’re not pitching the metaverse, you’re explaining it.
Yeah, and it will evolve, and it will change as as it needs to. But yeah, it’s really that so that, if you’re like, ‘Ah, is this bullshit?’ you can find out what AMAC thinks. – and you know getting a practitioner’s perspective, with an Australian slant.
Angus Stevens is chair of the Australian Metaverse Advisory Council, and CEO and co-founder of Start Beyond, an AFR Top 10 Most Innovative Tech Company for 2023.