The Chinese government does not seem willing to let the metaverse train pass, that immersive digital world yet to be built that companies like Meta promise.
The idea that prevails in the high offices of Beijing is not to compete against the United States to see who can lead this new race, but to create a domestic metaverse tailored to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
One that allows companies to compete in the technological field, key in the future strategy of the Asian giant, and that at the same time does not alter what the Government calls "social peace".
The state machinery has already started rolling.
Last year alone, more than 10,000 trademarks related to the metaverse were registered in China, compared to less than 1,000 in 2020 or 2019. And so far in 2022, 16,000 more have already applied for registration.
Tencent, Alibaba and Baidu, the
countries, are investing heavily in it, although their figures are still far from those of Meta or Microsoft.
ByteDance, creator of TikTok, the video game platform BiliBili and the developer of augmented reality glasses Nreal are others that are taking positions.
Morgan Stanley believes that the Chinese metaverse (or
) market will reach eight trillion dollars and JP Morgan estimates that it will move about 135,000 million dollars before the end of the year.
The official starting signal was given by CICIR, an important Chinese
, in October last year.
A few days after the CEO of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, made public his total commitment to the metaverse, the think tank published a report that examines the challenges for national security posed by this new environment, in what is considered the first official CCP pronouncement on the matter.
“It will have an important social, political and economic impact on the countries”, including “political and cultural security”, and “it could cause important changes in the social structure”, the document reads.
Conclusion: you have to be there, but it should be well controlled.
A visitor walks through a setup at a digital fair in Hong Kong.Anadolu Agency (Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
That same month, the Professional Committee of the Metaverse Industry was established, an organization with which the Government coordinates scientists and some 150 reference companies.
"We are going to embrace the fourth generation of the internet, which will be the era of the metaverse," Luo Jun, the committee's secretary general, said in May.
That means "promoting the progress of the new digital world and serving our country to contribute to the development of the digital economy," wrote Wu Zhongze, former Vice Minister of Science and Technology.
Other voices have been more critical.
The media economist Ren Zeping, for example, warned that the metaverse could cause a decline in marriage and birth rates, if citizens end up preferring to interact through virtual means.
, a CCP outlet, published several articles last year saying that the public "should be rational in understanding the current metaverse mania" and that those who are buying virtual properties "can get burned."
, another outlet controlled by the apparatus, also warned about the need to control asset speculation in the metaverse.
Industry and Government Alignment
But the decision is already made.
This was staged at the World Metaverse Congress 2022, a major conference held in Beijing that brought together industry and senior officials this summer.
The Government has launched a fund to support
focused on the metaverse.
Action plans for local authorities are also being established to promote research centers and industrial plants.
"The approach is being decentralized, as has already been done with the aerospace industry: it is coordinated from the State and executed locally," underlines Raquel Jorge, technology policy analyst at the Elcano Royal Institute.
The local government of Beijing presented in August a two-year plan (2022-2024) along the lines of the one presented by Shanghai, which is endowed with 51,000 million dollars.
Wuhan or Hefei are other megacities that are already working on it.
"What are called smart territories in the EU are being created: having several provinces with the same projects and connecting them with each other."
One of the reasons for this approach is that the metaverse is not really a single technology, but an amalgamation of several: artificial intelligence (AI), cloud computing, virtual and augmented reality,
, payment platforms, graphics simulation , robotics... "Based on the movements they have made so far, it seems that they will first work in basic industry to develop innovations that can complement others that are already underway," says Jorge.
Visitors at one of the exhibitors of experiences in the metaverse at a fair held in Beijing. China News Service (China News Service via Getty Ima)
Beijing decided in 2017 that by 2030 it wanted to lead the AI industry.
He announced an investment of more than 126,000 million euros, an unattainable sum for any other country.
In 2018, China already accounted for 57% of the patents registered in this field and had 17 of the 20 most relevant institutions in the discipline worldwide, according to a study by the World Intellectual Property Organization.
The question he plans now is: will the metaverse receive comparable amounts?
“China has a reactive position;
does not consider the metaverse a strategic sector, at least for now.
Yes they are AI, smart cities, computing and the internet of things.
Beijing knows that this is enough to have technological hegemony”, says Ekaitz Cancela, a researcher at the Internet Interdisciplinary Institute (IN3) of the Open University of Catalonia (UOC) and a specialist in
“China has seen the great commitment of companies such as Meta or Microsoft and is waiting, it wants to leave everything ready until it sees what happens.
If the metaverse stays in a bubble, it will advance the technologies that make it up and take advantage of them in other developments.
And if the thing is serious, it will be ready to press the accelerator and not lose market share, ”he adds.
a controlled environment
This October will mark a year since Zuckerberg announced with great fanfare his intention to lead the development of the so-called metaverse, “the natural evolution of the internet”.
The young tycoon described a not too distant future in which, equipped with virtual reality glasses, we will spend several hours a day navigating a hyper-realistic digital environment.
Everything we see, hear and touch will seem real, but it will actually be ones and zeros.
We will get into that world designed by computer to play, buy, work, socialize with our friends or play sports.
Zuckerberg's big bet is, above all, a form of escapism.
This is how the Portuguese politician and analyst Bruno Maçães interprets it, a good connoisseur of Chinese industry.
"I see a way to reconcile the metaverse with the interests of the CCP: instead of using it to invent purely imaginary worlds, it could be used to create altered versions of the real world," writes in the
magazine who was Secretary of State for European Affairs of Portugal.
A woman plays with an interactive app at a fair in Beijing. YiHaiFei (China News Service via Getty Ima)
China is already exploiting the metaverse to promote loyalty to the regime.
“The Government has created a PCCh teaching center to join forces and promote national values.
Beijing has already seen a pandemic-resistant pathway for immersive training there.
Work is also being done on the concept of virtual factories, which will lead to a drastic reduction in the consumption of energy, water and raw materials by avoiding the development of prototype models prior to the production process”, describes Manu Monasterio, professor of artificial intelligence and marketing of the immersive metaverse at Esade and an expert in China, where he has lived for more than a decade.
Chinese citizens are the dream target of the promoters of the metaverse.
62% of young people play video games on a daily basis, the field in which the metaverse has traveled the most today.
According to a World Economic Forum survey, 75% of Chinese say they know what the metaverse is, compared to 28% of French.
Of course, everyone who wants to be part of the
will have to pass the government filter.
That already happens with video games, which are heavily regulated: the titles that you want to market must have the approval of Beijing, which by default prohibits obscene content or shows excessive blood or violence.
The government is studying creating a registration system to access the metaverse that allows it to control the possible influence of some communities in political or economic discourse, according to Reuters.
When consumers are ready to give the metaverse a chance, "then there will be massive adoption of this technology at a level that I don't think we'll see in the West," an American businessman in the sector with several projects in the Asian giant assured the aforementioned agency. .
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