The Drum Awards Festival - Creativity

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By Webb Wright | Reporter

October 25, 2023 | 6 min read

Many marketers have all but forgotten the metaverse. But Decentraland, one of the most active builders in the space, believes that the AI revolution – among other factors – could help to supercharge this virtual space.

Not so long ago, the metaverse was a high priority for many marketers. A wide variety of brands, from Miller Lite to Lacoste, launched virtual activations in an effort to establish a foothold in what was widely believed at the time to be the future of human interaction: a virtual marketplace, office, playground, and more immersive mode of social media, all wrapped into one.

Then the metaverse music stopped.

There are a number of factors that contributed to the sudden sea change surrounding corporate interest in the metaverse. For one thing, the infamous crash in the crypto market beginning in mid-2022 fueled a widespread wave of distrust towards all things blockchain. Not long thereafter, Meta’s vision of the metaverse started to receive some scorn across social media, sparking a belief that the future may not, in fact, be virtual.

More recently, the popularization and rapid advancement of AI models like OpenAI’s ChatGPT has fueled a powerful surge of interest in this technology – a surge so strong that it seems to have largely eclipsed, at least for the time being, corporate interest in just about any other tech trend.

Some would argue, however, that brands were premature in their abandonment of the metaverse, and that the dream of this virtual future of humankind – if temporarily taking shape in the background – is still very much alive. At the same time, new AI tech is being deployed by some companies to develop more compelling virtual experiences.

These are two themes that will be on display at the inaugural AI World Fair. Hosted by Decentraland today through Thursday, the virtual event will feature more than thirty speakers – including The Sandbox founder Sebastien Borget and Decentraland co-founder and executive director Yemel Jardi – and exhibits from 20 brands that are developing virtual experiences, AI, or both.

Some of the panels appear to be quite niche, and will therefore not hold much appeal for those outside of the metaverse and AI sectors. Others, however – like “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to AI” – appear to be geared to a more general audience; this latter category could prove to be useful to marketers who are curious about the ongoing evolution of both the metaverse and AI, and how the technologies are transforming culture and commerce.

One of the core goals of the three-day event, says Decentraland’s Jardi, is to separate “sci-fi versus sci-fact” associated with AI; that is, to distinguish the fantasy and unproved hype from legitimate, practical applications. This has been a major challenge for many AI experts in recent months, as the technology has skyrocketed in popularity and capability. The subject has been a fertile one for sci-fi writers for decades, giving it an often frightening reputation that doesn’t always map onto reality.

Headlines have abounded over the past year about the potentially catastrophic long-term effects of AI. But Jardi appears to belong to the camp of AI enthusiasts who view the technology not as a malignant force that will make human creativity obsolete, but which will rather assist it and enable it to its next evolutionary stage. “I believe that technology, in the end, is empowering us to be more capable, and AI is just one more leap on the empowerment of individuals,” he says. “What I want to see with AI is creativity flourishing.” (This idea of AI enhancing rather than replacing human creativity was echoed widely during last week’s Advertising Week New York.)

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Beyond assisting with creative expression in virtual spaces, Jardi also mentions some other ways in which AI and the metaverse can mutually support one another. The blockchain, he says, can help secure the IP of artists who are using AI for creative purposes. (Some have also suggested that smart contracts could provide a solution for artists who are looking to protect their IP from being used without their consent to train large language models.) He also highlights the confluence of graphic processing units, or GPUs, which are used both to train AI models and build virtual environments. “That’s kind of crazy,” he says.

Some who are reading this are undoubtedly skeptical that the metaverse – once so full of promise and now seemingly little more than a laughing stock on social media – could ever reemerge as a major focal point of public interest and corporate investment. But one shouldn’t be so quick to forget about it, according to Jardi. “I do believe the future [of the metaverse] is bright,” he says. “The next frontier of internet technology is to connect humans through a bigger bandwidth, and with the evolution of VR headsets and high-speed internet connections, we’re walking that walk – we’re going in that direction.”

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