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Well-versed in the Metaverse: What could it mean for the language industry?

In 1992, visionary author Neal Stephenson released Snow Crash, a novel in which its real-life characters spend much of their time as digital avatars in a huge online environment known as the Metaverse. Fast-forward to 2019: Facebook rechristened itself as “Meta Platforms” and the old-but-new company publicly declares its commitment to help create the Metaverse, a huge online environment in which real-life people spend much of their time as digital avatars.

Science fiction is becoming reality

In actual fact, attempts to create an online world in which users embrace a vicarious virtual existence are nothing new, with Second Life being a famous example. Launched back in 2003, the platform was a phenomenon of its time, though legal, moral and technical issues prevented it from bringing about the digital revolution to which it aspired. That said, it’s still going today, with some sources citing up to 500,000 active monthly users.

This new version of the metaverse, though, is intended to offer fully immersive, 3D interaction with other humans in real time, across the world, via augmented reality, mixed reality, and virtual reality. And that’s one good reason why it isn’t here yet – because the technology isn’t up to snuff. Still, technology and innovation are all about looking ahead and envisioning what it could bring, so it’s definitely worth considering how the Metaverse could impact the language service industry in the future—with a few nods to early adopters of this game-changing Internet 2.0.

New tricks for old dogs

Did you attend the recent webinar that event solutions company Interprefy held in the Metaverse? Discussing everything from what makes a good avatar to overcoming language barriers, the talk—while useful—only scratched the surface. Because the fact is that the Metaverse has the potential to change the way we do business in the language services industry.

We’ve talked about AI-powered synthetic speakers before, but how about having human-powered holographic interpreters who can attend conferences, congresses, openings and meetings without having to leave the comfort of their own homes? Need a Mandarin speaker at short notice? The Metaverse will have it. Want to consult with an expert in legal translation about the meaning of a particular contract clause? No need to head downtown; try the Metaverse instead. Looking for a language partner to work side by side with on your new multi-platform marketing campaign and you have a whole host of interactive materials to show them? You guessed it: the Metaverse.

Let’s broaden our scope: A fully immersive digital space could prove hugely beneficial to learning languages in general. Imagine being able to go to an online classroom and chat “face to face” with a tandem partner, work through highly interactive language problems, or even earn language qualifications from meta-universities that are just as valid in the real world. Good news for translators and interpreters looking to branch out into new, potentially niche languages. And a wonderful development when it comes to encountering, preserving and celebrating cultures and communities.

Does more data mean more risk?

Cyber crime is a huge issue facing almost every company on the planet—so what happens when we inhabit an all-new virtual world and start to create mountains of data through what we do there? As we’ve pointed out before, data is the new oil, meaning whoever controls it has a great deal of power both online and in the real-world. An article by CNBC points out that cyber crime in the metaverse could take the form of “a hacked avatar or deepfake”, where a criminal piggybacks on an individual’s online identity to act, sound and look like them. This could allow them to gain access to highly sensitive data, which they can then use for anything from playing the stock market to pure extortion.

What risks might this hold for translation? Imagine meeting a language service agency in the Metaverse to hand off a highly confidential document—but you unwittingly discuss it with a hacked avatar whose operator then sells the information to one of your competitors. Or perhaps you do everything right, but the agency you’re working with accidentally discloses your data to a third party anyway.

Situations like this call for easily verifiable credentials that will allow individuals, teams, communities, and companies to identify each other as genuine immediately. It also requires full encryption for AR/MR/VR devices, very strong endpoint security, and efforts by companies themselves, as VentureBeat attests, to “implement the use of theta hunting, penetration testing, and vulnerability scans to ensure their security systems are safe, secure and uncompromising”.

Not sure what that means? Now is the best time to learn. It’s why we at SwissGlobal are certified according to ISO 9001, ISO 17100 and ISO 18587, and are in full compliance with ISO 27001 for complete data security and confidentiality. Because these things matter.

Playing digital Nostradamus

Just for fun, we’ve had a think about what else the metaverse might hold. Our top five?

One: Ever listened to a recording of your own voice and thought it sounds odd? Head to the Metaverse and you can have a different one altogether: Already, companies like VocaliD are designing “synthetic voice solutions” for brands and individuals alike, where the idea is to craft a voice that sounds trustworthy and comforting (though you could, we imagine, just as easily ask for one that sounds like nails on a chalkboard). Good news for translation agencies? If it comes to “training” the voice to speak other languages—in a similar manner to training algorithms for neural machine translation, for example—, this could present a major new business area.

Two: Why stop with fake voices? After all, our avatars can (presumably) be anything we want them to be. Don’t be surprised if you end up dropping into a plastic surgery clinic in the Metaverse to have your face remodelled – or perhaps you’ll feel like reincarnating yourself as a cephalopod after watching a documentary about octopi. As far as the murky world of deepfakes is concerned, there are sure to be some moral issues at play. After all, how ethical would it be to run around an online world looking like Jack Nicholson or Adele? Tech specialist Nina Schick looks at this in various articles that are well worth a read.

Three: Personalised advertising. Sure, it’s something we’ve been seeing more of in recent years, but companies in the Metaverse could use your digital footprint to tailor ads that are delivered right when you’re at your most susceptible. Digital eyes lingering on another avatar’s perfectly sculpted body? Hello, ad for an all-in-one protein supplement. You know what else? Those ads are all going to need to be translated.

Four: Virtual land grabs. You know how the saying goes: Buy land, they ain’t making it anymore. And investors are already paying millions to get their hands on simulated soil. Negotiations, contracts, permits, correspondence: that’s the stuff good translations and interpreting are made of.

Five: Metaverse guides. When you visit the Colosseum in Rome, it’s likely you’ll go with a tour group or wear a headset telling you all about its history in your language. Why should exploring the Metaverse be any different? It’s going to be a big place—potentially infinite, in fact. And as you take a look, you may want a voice telling you in your mother tongue what you’re seeing. This could be another major chance for language service providers to get in on the ground floor and help shape the fabric of a future world.

Will these predictions hold true? Check back in a few years and we’ll let you know.

Understanding by being at the vanguard

When a revolutionary new concept or technology comes along, our initial reaction may be to dismiss it. It’s too fanciful. It’ll never catch on. The scope is simply too big to grasp. It can be a scary proposition. But at SwissGlobal, we believe there’s no need to be adverse to the Metaverse. As early adopters of everything from machine translation software to cutting-edge data security solutions, we are ready to evolve with the times, adapt our services and continue to provide the same expert support to which our clients are accustomed.

There’s a new (virtual) world out there, and we can’t wait to explore it with you.