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The following is a transcript of the first .metaverse podcast episode, Building The Enterprise Metaverse, with Touchcast founder and CEO, Edo Segal.
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Welcome everyone to the .metaverse podcast. Please join us every week as we explore themes and ideas surrounding the metaverse. My name is Caitlin Mueller, and I'll be your host for today's episode.
I am thrilled to be in the company of Touchcast founder and CEO, Edo Segal. Before we begin, let me tell you a little bit about why Edo is a good person to know in this new virtual landscape. Edo has 20 years of experience at the forefront of artificial intelligence and communications technologies.
He leads the Touchcast team in the pursuit of future communications. In this new era of remote work and enhanced productivity, Touchcast is dedicated to supporting companies through their post-COVID transformation by helping run some of the world's top virtual events. Now Touchcast is expanding our offerings and we are launching the enterprise metaverse.
In the Touchcast metaverse, you can host virtual events, create mesmerizing retail experiences, conduct staff training, and make every meeting unforgettable.
So there's a lot of excitement around the metaverse and perhaps some confusion. How can you compare the metaverse to technological leaps that you've seen in the past? Can we get your perspective on the metaverse and what types of opportunities will be created?
Sure. I think, uh, yes, there's a tremendous amount of excitement around the topic.
People are heralding it as the next stage of evolution, [in terms] of how we engage with technology. Comparing it to what happened with mobile phones is the last big jump we had. And before that, the internet.
In that narrative, people are really, I think, eager to accept the idea that there is some new, fresh, exciting thing that will reinvent the world, but I think they are really struggling to grapple with what that really is.
Some really smart people have challenged the notion that the metaverse is something that's tangible versus a marketing initiative set by Meta, formerly Facebook.
So I think it's a really important conversation to have — for those that are interested in what [the metaverse] can do for their companies, their lives, et cetera.
My perspective on the metaverse is shaped by a journey that's been going on for some time.
The first company I started, when I dropped out of art school, was a virtual reality company. That was in the early nineties. So it was quite a while ago. And needless to say, it was a bit too early.
And much of what I've been involved with, in the AI space, and in the content space has always revolved around the insight of where we're headed. What the metaverse means to me, is an alternative space to the world in which we all navigate our lives.
"What the metaverse means to me, is an alternative space to the world in which we all navigate our lives. " — Edo Segal
And that space is not simply a three-dimensional space.
The metaphor that you might think of, is a Ready Player One [type of] virtual reality, but the space where all the ideas flow in this as well. It's not simply a matter of the shape of things. It's also time and language and all these things that happen when humans interact with each other and solve amazing problems or create amazing things — that is all in this metaverse.
You put it into a digital fabric that benefits from the incredible technologies, that we now have access to. We can do incredible things to help us accelerate how we solve our hardest problems; how we collaborate better, how we learn, how we transact.
It really presents an opportunity to bring a digital revolution accelerant to a world that has not been touched yet. And that is incredibly exciting, I think, to anyone that really starts seeing what is actually coming down the pipe for us.
This is really exciting. And perhaps, a bit overwhelming, trying to wrap our heads around this alternative space. Can you help us by explaining a bit more about the metaverse in relation to Web 2.0 versus Web 3.0, and then perhaps dig into Touchcast’s role and other partners as we fully realize this digital revolution.
The premise of the metaverse is a Web 3.0 construct and evolution from where we are today, with Web 2.0, and that is the notion of decentralization.
In saying that, there's not one metaverse. Saying one metaverse is like saying there's one website. Web3 is a new construct that allows the world to move forward and in a decentralized fashion.
Today when you use the web, you type a domain into your browser. And it gets resolved by a service called DNS. And that would point to a server somewhere. Typically that server is now living on one of the big cloud providers, whether it's AWS from Amazon, Azure from Microsoft, or Google Cloud. That company is operating that cluster of servers and serving up your content or application.
In the world of Web 3, that content is not coming from a centralized server, owned by a company that's sitting on one of those providers. But rather it's distributed on the blockchain as a decentralized.
This is a fundamental shift in terms of what the internet is — because it sets a situation that is not centralized and not controlled. You control your own data. You have the keys to that kingdom.
When you register to adopt a metaverse domain, which is what we (Touchcast) recently allowed companies to do, you are the owner of that registration on the blockchain. You have the keys to that. You are not dependent on Touchcast. In the future, if you want to point it at a different place so that when people navigate there, they would have a different class of technology experiences, you can do that because it's yours and all the data is yours and it's all controlled in this fashion.
That's a fundamental shift from the world of Web 2.0. So when Touchcast approaches this, we see our role in this rapidly growing ecosystem as a facilitator that will build the fundamental building blocks on the technologies that are necessary for the enterprise world, the world of work, to embrace the magic of these new stacks of technologies of Web 3.0.
There are some fundamental gaps that will prevent the metaverse from being a useful technology for businesses.
To give you just one example; for those of you that are familiar with Web3, much of the engagement with Tokenomics goes through something like MetaMask Wallet, which allows you the ability to collect tokens, cryptocurrency, and buy and sell.
That is an extension to your browser. And that is the gateway into these distinct decentralized applications — because that is effectively your identity that I mentioned earlier when I said you own your domain on the blockchain. That is not something that is ready in any shape or form to be utilized when you are representing your company, as opposed to your consumer life.
We're needing to reinvent that and create these managed solutions that will allow leaders within companies to facilitate, what used to be the equivalent of a single sign-on, in a typical Web 2 construct, to extend into Web3 and be centrally managed by aligning it with the things like Azure active directory and others. So as to allow big enterprises to really embrace this revolution.
It's almost like this thing is happening in the consumer space. It's rapidly evolving. Maybe the best analogy I can give is when the iPhone came out, most of the enterprise was still using Blackberries.
For a while there, you had a lot of resistance by IT departments to the idea that you can just, you know, use your iPhone on the network or use apps, which were very new at the time. Of course, that did not last long because the value creation of what Apple facilitated with that revolution and consequently, Android, shifted how people work and live. This kind of consumer thing impacted how we do things at the enterprise.
A similar trend is now going to happen in the context of people embracing all the bounty of what the metaverse offers.
There is a need for a technology stack that will allow companies to engage with it. That's what we're doing is we announced the ability to register your dot metaverse domain. We’re allowing companies to claim their dot metaverse domain at no cost, as long as you have the dot-com of your company, and you can authenticate that by virtue of having an email.
That is the measure by which you effectively can receive that domain and it's free for you, forever. And we can start allowing you to then build your campus in the metaverse, which is unlimited in its size.
So we're not in the business of selling you your company's domain or selling you land — we're in the business of enabling all that. And creating tools and a marketplace for an ecosystem to grow and flourish and support all the multitude of use cases that arise when [the metaverse] is opened up.
It’s a really exciting time for us to be doing this kind of work. We are really leading the pack and are aligned with some of the world's most incredible metaverse companies, and building on the shoulders of giants.
Our alignment with Nvidia allows us to really be on the cutting edge of what's possible with cloud-based inference and rendering of these unbelievable experiences. Our alignment with Epic Games and their Unreal Engine, which is a phenomenal milestone in the history of computer graphics.
And of course, leveraging the Microsoft Teams platform as a delivery mechanism allows us to bring these experiences to enterprises at scale, without the problem of the weakest link, expecting everyone to have VR headsets or a very strong gaming computer.
Anyone that can access a Microsoft Teams call can drop into MCity, which is the city and the metaverse that we just launched, and have these incredible experiences.
I love this term that the future is already here, it's just not equally distributed. By approaching it this way, we're really bringing, what for most would be years into the future, into the present. And allowing companies to embrace and start moving down this exciting path.
Exciting, for sure. Now some of the words that you specifically mentioned, or it's like free, unlimited, owning the keys to your own domain, and decentralization — they call into question some potential challenges. What challenges do you foresee in undertaking such a massive shift in how people work and live. Then, maybe working through these challenges, what do you think it [the metaverse] will look like a year from now?
A lot of these revolutions become possible when the technology is ripe for them to become possible. So think of the Apple Newton, which was this idea for a PDA, and Apple got endless ridicule for that idea at the time, and that of course failed, but we all know what happened later with the iPhone. The argument, in this case, is that technology was just not ripe enough. The ideas were there, but you couldn't execute them.
I think that's the exact challenge that we have today. As I just alluded to, a few minutes ago, as we've talked about the weakest link problem, how do we take an abundance of amazing technology that arguably is more advanced than what the applications are, meaning the power of these phones?
The power of these computers is absolutely remarkable in terms of how incredibly potent it is. How do we use that and not wait for some magical savior device for this vision to come true? I'm, of course, referring to the idea of these magical glasses that will be worn by everyone and augment our environment.
"The power of these computers is absolutely remarkable in terms of how incredibly potent it is. How do we use that and not wait for some magical savior device for this vision to come true?" — Edo Segal
I think that idea should be approached with some caution. I'm not suggesting it won't be incredible. It'll just be something that is a niche use case for a subset of the world's population. I think accessibility to technology to progress is really important.
I think the human factor aspects of putting on a VR headset, by definition, limits your population to at most two-thirds because others get sick from it, et cetera. And generally speaking, if we look at the lessons of consumer electronics with let's say the 3D video, the consumer electronic industry invested billions and billions of dollars to try to get us to wear very thin glasses, to watch 3D movies. And yet it did not stick.
I think that's one of the big sand traps for the metaverse and that the assumption that the confusion between the means and the ends. If we accept that the end is this alternative space and by space, I don't just mean the space, the physical space, but also the space of ideas and time.
If we accept that notion, then we have to accept also that our VR headsets or AR glasses are just a means to that end. And if we wait for that to be the only way in which we benefit from that world, I think would be doing a disservice to the technology that can help us accelerate solving problems, as we've been illustrating at Touchcast for years at this point, running incredible experiences and events for the world's biggest companies in the metaverse. So I think that's a big sand trap.
Now having said that, I do think we'll see some material evolution. So when you asked me about what's going to happen a year from now, I definitely think that Meta has to be commended for its incredible investment in the hardware and solving really hard problems.
I think we're all expecting and believing that Apple will show up with something that only Apple can do, and hopefully move the ball down the field as well. But it's not a mutually exclusive situation. We should not be in some kind of limbo to wait for that to happen because I can guarantee you that that will not be a savior that will solve the problem.
And accessibility to technology is really foundational to its widespread adoption.
"Accessibility to technology is really foundational to its widespread adoption." — Edo Segal
So you mentioned that the future is already here, that we are giving humankind this control over the virtual space to be represented and create in ways they never had before. A place for an ecosystem to grow and flourish, as you said earlier. When being a leader in this realm is important to recognize and address key challenges that we might face. I'm really referencing concerns related to sustainability, inclusivity, equal representation, and accessibility. Can you shine a light on some challenges with this topic?
I think this is a really important topic and one that there's no simple answer for. But I think the first stage of addressing these challenges is understanding them and recognizing them, which is something that the tech industry, frankly, does not have a good track record of doing.
I think there's a good track record of talking about it, but not a good demonstrable track record of actually showing up when hard decisions need to be made. Typically, when the hard decisions need to be made, the decision is really swayed by short-term economic gains and not the long-term strategic, what I like to think of is, the protection of the host.
I have this term I use with myself. I'm not sure if it's used by others, but I feel that you have to protect the host and the host, for all of these things, is humanity. It is the minds of all of us. Think of us as like this collective organism, this collective brain. And we are the host of these technologies.
And analogies to when you have a virus or cancer in your body that metastasizes and ultimately kills the host. That's the situation that you have to be very conscious of. And unfortunately, we've seen some of that as a consequence of some of the decisions made by the big tech companies and the ambivalence, I think, about what their real active role is in preventing certain aspects of the negative impact of what we're encountering with social media, et cetera.
I think we do have an opportunity to reimagine and not repeat those mistakes. If you ask me how optimistic I am, that we won't repeat those mistakes, I'm not that optimistic.
"You have to protect the host and the host, for all of these things, is humanity. It is the minds of all of us. Think of us as like this collective organism, this collective brain. And we are the host of these technologies." — Edo Segal
I think human nature leads us down these paths, very much driven by what our incentive mechanism is. So I think there is a benefit in decentralization, in the world where you own your data, as opposed to a company selling your data, about you, and which creates an incentive for them to effectively know everything about you and sell it to the highest bidder.
By definition, decentralization is a great start for the metaverse. But with that, it’s kind of a dual-edged sword because when you have total anonymity that also creates a fertile ground for bad actors and the force, we can imagine that very bad thing will happen also. So I think the first step is to recognize the scale of the challenge.
In terms of accessibility, I think I've referenced it in the last part of the conversation. I think it really is important that this is not something that's limited to an elite that can spend a tremendous amount of money on hardware. And it is accessible. And I think one of the reasons we're excited about our alignment with Microsoft is that it is in many ways, the most accessible technology that's enabled a lot of educators to teach their students, or Zoom is a massive contributor to that revolution.
But Microsoft, I think for the long run is the right company. That's really focused on the total accessibility. Now, being aligned with that ecosystem and the security model that it brings with it, is really important that the incentive there is not to sell the data, but rather to serve the users, which I think is really, really important.
Absolutely. And I think we can all agree with your idea to protect the host and how vital it will be to take this opportunity to re-imagine how things are done to really do better and be better, and service these users. And I'm looking forward to seeing how Touchcast and its partners continue to make this technology accessible and face these challenges head-on.
But speaking of the other players, how will players in the centralized metaverse, like Meta and Decentraland, interact with the idea of a decentralized metaverse. And do you have any use cases that need to be addressed or you can share with us?
I don’t think Meta has shown its hand yet, in terms of what it really is going to do.
It's a beautiful demo and, a lot of really core technology that's being developed by Facebook, AI, and amazing people doing amazing work there. I'm sure that eventually, that will mature into something that is much more foundational in scope and vision to what's been shared so far.
I think when it comes to things like Decentraland or Sandbox, I think these are great examples, roadblocks of entertainment environments, which are more, I think, aligned with gaming, or social networks, and we've had a history of those for many, many years.
I mean, I'm old enough to remember where a Second Life was a new idea and exciting idea. So these things have been around for a long time. The differences are the scale, the access to Tokenomics.
But there's room for the next stage. I would say the grownup stage of this, as it relates to how businesses can start leveraging it, in the same way, that you would look at dot-com in 1999. What did that mean for companies? What did that mean for businesses? What did it mean for commerce, for education? All of these, use cases have not yet been, I think, really addressed. That's what we're on a quest to do.
So I don't know that it was going to be fundamental and important to be able to move from MCity, from, let's say, an e-commerce use case where you walk into a car dealership to buy a car, or to buy a computer, or to have a lesson, to complete your accreditation as a doctor, to Roblox or to move from there to Decentraland.
I think much of the energy of excitement, is the energy of youth and kids playing video games and creating and learning like Roblox and Minecraft and many other examples. Then there's the excitement and energy, propelled predominantly by greed and this idea that there's free money out there by virtue of speculating and buying and selling NFTs and land. And that's the second category.
The third category is where we're focused, which is the long-term foundational framework to support this migration and into the metaverse so that it could be utilized for enterprise needs.
"How businesses can start leveraging [the metaverse], in the same way, that you would look at dot-com in 1999. What did that mean for companies? What did that mean for businesses? What did it mean for commerce, for education? All of these, use cases have not yet been addressed. That's what we're on a quest to do. " — Edo Segal
And as you speak to your core focus of laying the groundwork and creating the proper framework to support this, what do you think are going to be some key challenges or gaps to having a mass adoption of the metaverse? Do you have any ideas on how those can be resolved?
I think one of the first things that jump to mind, for me, is the challenges we face as a society with Tokenomics and cryptocurrencies. There is a tremendous value in incentive systems to be in place.
The world of decentralized finance or DeFi, and the supporting legal construct of DAOS or autonomous organizations like that is really challenging the foundation of how we think about the financial world, how we should think about the legal construct of the business world in a way that I think is very positive and can create tremendous upside for society in the future if again, it's understood and navigated correctly. The flip side of that is the challenge of how to regulate it. And again, we can look a bit at the study from the past this junction we're at today with the challenges that the tech industry is confronted with and the need for regulation versus the need for a free market.
In some ways when you challenge the monetary system, it becomes even bigger and more threatening to the institutions. And it really means that there is a need for an understanding at that base, even before you get to regulation. And I don't think that we are at the place where there is that understanding.
I don't see that as a criticism. I see that as a statement of fact, because it's, it's hard, even for the practitioners in the field, to really wrap their minds around where we are. It’s constantly changing and evolving. So to expect an elected official whose life mission is to be a public servant, to have an up-to-date understanding of the nuances of this and how to make the right decisions, is an unrealistic expectation.
So you end up in a situation that's predominantly driven by special interests and not really informed. And I don't think there's a solution to that problem. At least I don't see one. I don't think the solution is to shut it down. I think that that's a mistake that some authoritarian states are pursuing, which is indicative, I think of what free societies should do, which is the opposite.
But I do think there needs to be a real investment in education and, how to develop the right skill sets in the hands of the legislators to be able to tackle these hard questions and constantly reshape policy. And that's a tall order, at least in the US in a system that's in gridlock, because of tribalism.
Um, so it is fascinating to look at, but definitely, a big challenge because you know, one law can shut down the whole innovation cycle, if it's not thought through quickly, and then you can have unintended consequences.
We went through this when the internet launched that does not, it's not a coincidence that the US is the epicenter of that growth cycle.
It was supported by some very important legislation that facilitated the path for that growth cycle. So that's the part that I think of the most is where the risk is for this revolution to happen.
And speaking to investment in education, how are you going to look to contribute and educate people further on the metaverse? What will your contribution be?
I think that it's going to evolve independently of our opinions. Very much like the internet has evolved. Our contribution is to really try to take this responsible view of how to create the layer of solutions that is necessary for the ecosystem and that's necessary for serious work to happen in the metaverse. That's a pretty big responsibility. Luckily we have amazing partners like our alignment with Accenture.
Accenture has been an amazing partner for us for many years now and is also an investor in our company. Working with the best in the business there and in other firms, really helps us be of service to the world's top companies and consequently to all the companies.
So I think that's kind of our role to play now is to really have the empathy, to understand the needs of an enterprise. Almost you can think of a company as a form of an organism.
It's like a person and you need some empathy for that organism, which is this collection of people — you can be cynical about it and talk about corporations as an evil thing, but the reality is that's how humans solve problems. We can't do everything on our own.
We come together, we create economic incentives to solve big problems. And that's, that's what a company is. So helping companies navigate means helping humanity solve its problems. And that's what our contribution is.
And we would like to, in the process, retain a moral compass and support basic foundational values of inclusiveness and equality that for us at Touchcast are really important. And we'd like to be stewards of that when we can. And to the extent that technology has a role to play, we would like to go the extra mile to do that.
But there's no simple answer. And I sometimes feel when talking about this, the more you talk about it, the more dilutes your actual action because we should just be focused on showing the results of our actions and not talking about it as much.
"Our contribution is to take this responsible view of how to create the layer of solutions that is necessary for the ecosystem and that's necessary for serious work to happen in the metaverse." — Edo Segal
Understood. I'm going to switch directions a little bit. Now you were recently at CES and for those of us that were not there during this very much anticipated return to live events, how was your experience there? Did you come across any hardware advancements that got you excited?
Yeah, CES was really interesting. I've been to many CES conferences over the years and, and preceding conferences. CES was the last great event left standing and after a lot of consolidation and in the same way, that kind of brick and mortar has been under siege from e-commerce, I think these events have also suffered from a contraction.
The less reason to travel, because the information used to flow in a way where you had to be at the show to learn about something. And of course, and the age of the acceleration that we live through, it's become less and less relative. But there's something about being physically present with other people and that serendipity — there is no replacement for it.
Now it might be the case that people of a certain generation just will not ever be part of their portfolio of tools. It just won't be important. Won't be relevant. But for me, it is still tremendously valuable to be able to engage with people face-to-face and many times actually really senior people that show up.
I love this quote, that 80% of success is showing up. When you show up and you engage, amazing things can happen in a very short span of time. And as it applies to technologies, I think that idea of new technologies showing up at CES has kind of disappeared in the last five years or more.
"80% of success is showing up. When you show up and you engage, amazing things can happen in a very short span of time." — Edo Segal
There is obviously so much to learn but we do need to wrap it up for today.
Well, go to touchcast.com. We've gone to great lengths to try to tell this story in a very simple way. Claim your free metaverse domain. You'll be able to start building your metaverse campus where your constituents, whether it's internal or external, will be able to do amazing things like meet, collaborate, run events, learn, and get certified, buy, sell — anything that we used to do in the physical world, that was disrupted by this pandemic, can now benefit from this alternative space. There are some incredible things that are happening. Check the website to see some examples. And of course, once you have your campus set up, you can also use the toolset to run it and to allow your team members to engage securely and manage that over time.
And the growing ecosystem of partners, not just these giants of industry, like Microsoft, Nvidia, Epic, and Accenture, but also a growing universe of like-minded technology companies that have an approach to this problem, which is the spirit of partnership, which is really important to us at Touchcast.
We work with a lot of other companies, some of them larger than us, many of them much smaller than us, to just focus on how to advance the state-of-the-art and solve problems for people.
So check out Touchcast.com. That's the best way to start. If you want to hear more from me, just subscribe to this great podcast, the .metaverse podcast, where we'll continue the conversation.
Thank you so much for sharing with us your vast knowledge of the metaverse. This was a really exciting conversation and we can't wait to see where the metaverse takes us.
Thank you so much.
All right, everyone. Thank you so much for joining us today. Please be sure to subscribe, to stay up to date with our latest episodes, where we will hear more from Edo and other metaverse thought leaders as we take this big leap into the future.