Remember 2016? Pokemon GO was sweeping the world, and many felt that we were on the cusp of an Augmented Reality revolution. Obviously, this hasn’t materialised. Fast forward to today, and we’re yet again having a very similar conversation with regards to Facebook/Meta investing like crazy to create a Metaverse — a fully immersive digital world for us all to live in.
This type of investment from this many players tends to create a self-fulfilling prophecy: whether we like it or not, there is a strong chance we’ll soon end up with a working Metaverse, simply because our Tech Overlords will it so.
And because I’m in the business of planning (not predicting) the future of work, I’ve looked at this possibility and asked myself the following: “what type of jobs might the Metaverse create?” Below are a few preliminary thoughts.
1. Metaverse Research Scientist
AR and VR research scientists are already a staple of top universities and major tech companies. But as the Metaverse (or whatever you want to call the seamless intertwining of the physical and digital world) slowly becomes a widely accepted idea, we’re going to need a lot more brainpower.
The job of Metaverse Research Scientist won’t simply entail developing a few basic digital models of the real world within which corporations will be able to bring customers and partners. This already exists. What the future holds is bigger. Much bigger. Metaverse Research Scientists will need to build is something akin to the theory of everything, wherein the entire world is visible and actionable digitally (think Ready Player One without the fun). This architecture will be the foundation upon which all other use cases will be built; games, adverts, quality control in factories, connected health, DeFi… the list goes on.
This is an insanely complex undertaking. Candidates will need to be able to build, then scale prototypes using technology at the confluence of computer vision algorithms for 3D computational photography, neural rendering, scene reconstruction, computational imaging, visual-inertial odometry, state estimation, sensor fusion, mapping and localization… and those prototypes would need to get bigger with time.
2. Metaverse Planner
Ideas are cheap. Execution is expensive. Once we have a working Metaverse, the ability to plan and implement all matters of functionalities into a fully virtual world will be absolutely key to most companies. As will selecting the right things to do with(in) this expanding digital world.
This is where the Metaverse Planner comes in. As CEOs set a vision and strategy for the creation and growth of their business’ metaverse revenues, the Planner will need to drive a strategic portfolio of opportunities from proof-of-concept to pilot to deployment. That means identifying market opportunities, building business cases, influencing engineering roadmaps, developing key metrics…
You know… the fun stuff.
It may not seem attractive, but how would you decide if a car company should concentrate on creating virtual driving tests, or on implementing a digital twin business to predict breakdowns? I don’t know, but I’m sure a Planner could figure it out.
3. Ecosystem Developer
The Metaverse won’t come about on its own, through The Zuck’s sheer volition. An entire ecosystem will need to be built around it. Sensors, CPUs, GPUs, KYC processes, data-lakes, green electricity production, edge computing, laws, regulations… the world is complex, and further digitalising it (more than it already is) will be no easy task. We can compare that difficulty to that currently faced by the car industry transitioning to electric vehicles. The products are there, but the biggest obstacle to their adoption is the lack of widespread charging stations alongside streets and roads and the constant evolution of battery capacities. Similarly, we could have the software and the hardware to have a Metaverse, and still be lacking… everything else.
The Ecosystem Developer would be in charge of coordinating partners and governments to ensure that the various created functionalities are possible on a large scale. They will push for governmental investments in infrastructure and animate large communities of actors.
One key thing they will need to concentrate on is interoperability, to ensure a Metaverse Customer is able to use their virtual items across different experiences. After all, what’s the point of getting a cool skin in a mini-game if you can’t wear it at the mall, too? Other lobbying efforts will be geared towards Financial Institutions, which will need to back distributed ledger technologies and smart contracts for goods and services to be exchanged on the platform.
4. Metaverse Safety Manager
You know how the internet is a safe place for everyone? Yeah. Me neither. And anyone who claims the Metaverse will be any better is kidding themselves. Sure, there are plenty of opportunities for it to be a safe, inclusive place, but that won’t happen on its own.
Privacy. In-world ID verification. Safe head-gear. Adequate sensors… We’ll need people who can provide guidance and oversight for all this during design, validation, and mass production stages, making sure our digital world is safe and meets or exceeds applicable regulatory safety requirements. All without sacrificing cutting-edge functionality or design — or cutting into revenues — obviously. That person will be the Metaverse Safety Manager.
It won’t be an easy job. They will need to accurately predict how Metaverse functionalities will be used and could be misused, and identify safety-critical components, systems, and manufacturing steps associated with those predictions. The sheer complexity and the number of moving parts in a new digital world are enough to make my head spin just thinking about it.
5. Metaverse Hardware Builder
The Metaverse will not (only) be built on code. It will (also) be built on sensors, and cameras, and headsets. Sensors that make you feel touched if someone squeezes your… arm online. Cameras that see if you’re in a horrid mood so that the AI doesn’t bother you too much. Headsets that feel the sun around you and project a summer day in the digital world for added realism. And that’s not even getting into the boring stuff, such as inertial measurement units, visual light cameras, depth cameras to help with tracking, mapping, and localisation…
All this hardware, needed to create a fully digital world that intertwines with the physical world, is expensive. And complex. And a Metaverse Hardware Builder will need to assemble it and adapt it as the Metaverse becomes more complex.
Currently, the best sensors are created for industrial operations and the automotive industry. These are industries with massive amounts of capital. So, as an added challenge, whoever builds the Metaverse’s hardware will need to make sure they can be built cheaply and safely so that the metaverse doesn’t become the sole plaything of the rich.
6. Metaverse Storyteller
As the experience economy and the concept of gamification continue to gather steam, it is only logical that we ask our extended reality experience to have great storylines one might learn grand lessons from. We want to laugh. We want to cry. We want to learn. We want to see slightly kinky things in the digital world. This is where the Metaverse Storyteller comes in.
This person will be in charge of designing immersive quests for the users to explore the metaverse, training scenarios for the military, hard-to-spot marketing opportunities in the form of narratives for corporations, psychology sessions (why slay inner demons when you can pretend to slay them in the digital world?)… the list goes on.
They will not be paid well, unless you count exposure as payment which, no you don’t. But at least they’ll be selling narrative arcs millions of people will follow to escape the drudgery of their everyday life. And isn’t that the dream?
7. World Builder
Once we’ve built our architecture, our hardware, and our storylines, we still need to create entire worlds (think Ellen Page in Inception — or is it Elliot even though he was using his deadname at the time I’m honestly asking). And I don’t mean coding them. I mean imagining them.
This role will require many of the same skills asked of video-game designers, albeit with a potentially entirely different set of rules. World Builders will need to be forward-thinking and facing, as much of what they will dream of won’t yet exist in the form of a technology or a product solution.
They’ll also need to consider rules and ethics. When the digital world feels real, is it OK to kill someone in it? Commit war crimes? We’ve already started asking ourselves these questions, but we’re far from the end of the discussion.
8. Ad-Blocking Expert
How does Facebook… sorry, Meta, make money? By selling subscriptions to its misinformation factory? By harvesting and selling organs? By receiving donations from dictators? Of course not (?). They sell ads. And let me tell you, the Metaverse will probably be run in a very, very similar way. Call it DNA, I guess. You think Instagram’s ads are well-targeted and annoying? Wait until you see what they can do with an entire body of dataset, and are able to LITERALLY FOLLOW YOU AROUND THE WORLD.
Imagine you’re walking around a digital space, and you’re hungry in the real world. Un-knowingly, you stare a bit longer at the digital cafes and restaurants along your way. And what do you know, a minute later, you start getting ads for food. Sounds fun at first, but intrusive in the longer run. So, as soon as we get tired of the novelty, we’ll want ad-blockers that will have to be advanced enough to spot adverts embedded within reality itself. This is where Ad-Blocking Experts come in.
Much like the AdBlock Plus model, I guess they will develop plug-ins that can stop adverts from popping up. They won’t be paid much, but through donations and access to troves of data, they may just be able to make a living.
9. Metaverse Cyber-Security
The metaverse is the perfect target for cyber-attacks and fraud: hacked avatars, NFT theft, biometric/physiological data leaks (brainwave patterns, anyone?), hacked headsets… the possibilities for things to go wrong are very nearly countless.
This is why we’ll need Metaverse Cyber-Security Experts. People who will block attacks in real-time, and will ensure that laws and protocols are reconsidered and amended, and perhaps even invented, to include all the risks of the Metaverse.
I don’t know much about cyber-security, so I’ll leave this paragraph open-ended with this thought: it is just a matter of time before virtual breaches become real-world court cases.
10. Unpaid Intern
I know. I’m kind of cheating to get to a nice round number. But hear me out. Though this role already exists, it’s important to highlight that it will continue to be central to Metaverse’s future.
Unpaid interns don’t only get coffee. They grind the data. They produce VC’s decks’ appendices. They write the codes for the rocks and the trees. They are the necessary fodder on the back of whom tech empires have been built.
And we should salute their sacrifices.
Also, we should pay them.
Safety, comfort, an engaging narrative arc, customizable hairstyles, parental controls, puzzles, add-ons, widgets, notifications, optimizations, ideological coherence, pleasure and punishment portals, and rumble sensors (beta)… WE’LL HAVE IT ALL IN THE METAVERSE!
But it won’t happen all at once. The Metaverse will require countless new technologies, protocols, companies, innovations, and discoveries to work. And, by definition, it will require countless people to work countless jobs to get anywhere near its grand ambitions.
If you’re lucky enough to get one of these jobs in the near future, just remember one thing: the world is pretty bleak. Please don’t take that darkness with you to the Metaverse.