The Metaverse Is the Future: The Office is Dead. Long Live the Office.

A few nights ago, Sunny and I were talking about the Metaverse. As a former MMO gamer, I posited that it will be the future of the workplace. As someone who had a social life and dated in high school, Sunny thought otherwise. Turns out, she just couldn’t see herself piloting a little cartoon character around some video game.

She is hardly alone in the real estate industry, since it is populated mostly by high-EQ socially gifted people who also did things like go to parties and have dates as teenagers unlike most of us nerds who spent a lot of time in World of Warcraft or Ultima Online. Plus, real estate is about the ultimate physical reality: land and physical buildings that sit on top of land. Despite news stories of real estate agents getting into the virtual real estate game, most of the industry thinks the Metaverse is all hype.

There is one clear exception to this: EXP. The fastest growing brokerage in the country (in the world?) has been all-virtual from day one and bought the company that created its online world, Virbela. Its investor calls are done as virtual events inside Virbela, and EXP’s agents just love having the virtual world.

The detractors point to Virbela as well. It just doesn’t seem like a serious environment. Those of us who grew up with things like EverQuest or Asheron’s Call (that was me) or even World of Warcraft would find EXP’s virtual office familiar. That you have cartoon character avatars is not as jarring for us as it might be for others.

Thing is, it still is jarring for Normies.

So when people are hyping up the Metaverse, what Normies see is this:

This video is about Decentraland, one of the top Metaverse worlds today. This is one of the worlds where people are paying millions of real world dollars for plots of virtual land. Try as a Normie might, having cartoon frogs and blocky “trees” isn’t going to get it done for them as a real working environment.

However… all of that is today. All of the skepticism and criticism are warranted. Today. I can’t imagine serious investment bankers and lawyers getting together in a cartoon “conference room” with frog avatars discussing multi-million dollar deals. Nor can I imagine even real estate offices having real broker-to-agent coaching moments that are anywhere near as effective as in-person coaching. Too much meaning gets lost in subtle nonverbal communications.

I just saw a video this morning that kind of blew my mind, and it points to a future that is hard to imagine. Because, we humans have a hard time imagining exponential growth and development in technology. If someone shows us a glimpse into that future, however, it becomes far easier.

Behold the future.

Unreal Engine 5

The video I saw was this one, about what the latest in graphics technology enables:

This is… simply astonishing. Do yourself a favor and watch the whole thing. Skip over parts if you have to.

Although the point of the video was gaming, it is evident that this graphics technology will be applied to areas outside of super-realistic video games.

Pr0n immediately comes to mind, since that is the initial pathway into any consumer technology of note. We will certainly see this technology applied there first although flying under the radar. Given the subject matter, I don’t think we have to imagine how metahumans and the Metaverse will be used in that industry.

But what I thought of is how this technology available today, right now, goes a very long way in enabling the office of the future.

Just imagine Virbela, but running on Unreal Engine 5 instead of on whatever late 1990s technology it is running on today. I have to think that the technology geeks at Virbela and at EXP are investigating that today.

The Office is Dead. Long Live the Office.

COVID resulted in the massive adoption of virtual workplaces. Zoom became not just a video conferencing platform, but a verb. It turned out that productivity did not suffer as much as some feared. Many jobs, it seems, can be done just as effectively from home even for large corporations with dozens of peoples on teams. I’ve watched Sunny do just that for almost two years. I’ve been on too many Zoom calls to count over the same time period.

Thing is, Zoom is not a good replacement for real human interaction. When various travel bans were lifted, and various restrictions relaxed, and we could finally get together in person at conferences and events, I saw how much we all missed real interactions with one another. The magic in a conference is not in the presentations or the panel discussions, sitting in neat little rows watching someone present. The magic is in the #Lobbycon, in the spontaneous conversations you can have with people you run into.

The same dynamic applies to the workplace. The magic of the office is not in the computer screen, or in meeting rooms. The magic is in the spontaneous interactions. Here’s an article from Fast Company that explores this issue:

As we adjust to a prolonged period remote work, prioritizing casual chats and embracing random encounters can lead us to inspiration and encourage us to check more off our to-do lists.

This isn’t just a hypothetical idea. Anita Williams Woolley, an associate professor of organizational behavior and theory at Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business, says these unplanned moments can lead to improved problem-solving, productivity, and creativity.

“These conversations happen naturally in the office, and it doesn’t feel like you’re slacking off, because you’re not,” she says. “They ultimately feed into the quality of what you ultimately produce.”

It turns out that the “water cooler chat” isn’t just wasting time. It is often the driver of creativity, productivity, and problem solving. The article discusses how being forced to walk to the office kitchen for a cup of coffee leads to a more effective workforce:

For example, at home you may reach across your kitchen counter and pour yourself a cup of tea. In the office setting, you’re forced to get up from your desk, walk to the kitchenette, select a mug and variation of tea, and spend some time making your drink, all away from your desk. Together, these little moments amount to a mini recharge.

Serendipitous interactions can provide the “happy coincidence” benefits of healthy teamwork and collaboration. “In the process of moving around the office, you run into people. These are people who know something about your domain [of work], but maybe aren’t working on the exact same thing as you. And these conversations are likely to bring up links to things tangentially related to your work, and suggest a new association and bring about creative insight.”

However, mixing across different specialties or departments can have a unique benefit. One example, says Woolley, is prior to the coronavirus pandemic, her university colleagues frequently interfaced with different department staff in meetings—a process which led to novel collaboration opportunities and light-bulb moments. In a remote work environment, this sort of creatively charged moment is less likely to happen.

This serendipity is what is entirely missing from our Zoom-fueled work from home environments. That is why many companies are planning on reopening their offices and having employees come back to the traditional office even if in some kind of mixed hybrid way. And the employees are excited about coming back to the office:

More than three out of four workers say their companies are still moving forward with return-to-the-office plans in January, despite the recent spread of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 and many workers seeking permanent remote work.

Amid the challenges, more than half of employees say they’re “excited” or “happy” to be heading back to work, according to a survey of 1,000 full-time U.S. workers by Workhuman exclusively for Fortune. A smaller number were unhappy, however, with nearly 15% saying they’re anxious and about 8% saying return-to-work plans are causing stress.

At the same time, a number of companies are getting rid of their expensive office towers and multimillion dollar leases. It simply makes financial sense not to spend the money if you’re not going to be using the space. For many companies, rent and occupancy is the second highest line item in overhead expenses after salary. Why would they spend money they don’t have to?

Plus… it isn’t as if the modern cubicle farms are a wonderful environment for work.

There is an entire movie, a modern cult classic, that deals with the soul-deadening impact of the modern cubicle farm white collar workplace. I’m sure you’ve seen it. If you haven’t, you owe it to yourself to go watch it immediately on your streaming service of choice.

That office of Office Space is dead. It was a victim of COVID, and like most victims of COVID who died, it had serious comorbidities that were long present beforehand.

The challenge for companies and organizations then is to keep the good — the spontaneous interactions and communications that unlock creativity and productivity — while getting rid of the bad: the expense, the soul-crushing environment, the commute, the annoying coworkers and bosses.

The answer, it seems to me, is the virtual office in the Metaverse on a super realistic graphics engine. Maybe Unreal Engine 5. More likely, the Unreal Engine 6 or 7 that will be coming in 5 to 10 years, taking advantage of the hardware and bandwidth of 5 to 10 years from today.

The Virtual Office of the Metaverse

As we see in the Unreal Engine 5 demonstration video, technology can create metahuman avatars from digital scans. Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss were scanned in to create the metahuman in-game characters. It won’t be too long before the ubiquitous webcam that everyone has today because of Zoom can scan your face and your body and create a metahuman avatar that looks just like you do… with judicious digital enhancements, of course. Think of it like Instagram filters on steroids. Your avatar will be you… just the best possible version of you without the days in the gym, sacrifices in the kitchen, cost of designer clothing and hours of makeup.

The webcam won’t only scan you once; it will constantly pick up your facial expressions and physical gestures and have your metahuman avatar reflect them so others in-world can pick up some of the nonverbal cues that are so essential for real communication. Shrug in the real world, and your avatar will also shrug. Smile, and your avatar smiles. It will be what every dreamer of the Metaverse imagined for decades: a second life inside of a virtual world. (Well, unless you turn that feature off, I suppose, because you don’t want your boss seeing what you really think about his dumbass idea. (Or do what Sunny does and get botox.))

The virtual work environment will be cinema-quality realistic, but filled with light and space as well as top-tier industrial furniture. To hell with OfficeMax chairs and cheap plywood desks; say hello to the very best Eames, Saarinen, Isamu Noguchi furniture that you could only dream of. There is absolutely no need for cubicle farms when physical space is unlimited. Even if the “land” that your company bought in the Metaverse is a 10×10 square, there are no laws of physics that demands that the inside of a “building” be smaller than the outside. (There may be laws of the world programmed by the developers to maximize revenue, but that’s a whole different story.) Rather than cubicle farms, workers will have as much or as little space as they want for themselves.

Some things will be missing, of course. The office kitchen, or water cooler, for example… since you know, you’re not drinking coffee or eating free snacks in the virtual world. But break rooms, game rooms, meeting spaces, lobbies, hallways… all of those will exist and create opportunities for that spontaneous interaction with a colleague that sparks creativity, productivity, and cross-team collaboration once companies learn how to build that free time and space into the virtual work day. There will be the ability to walk down the hall to see if Joe is at his desk to ask a quick little question about how to do that one little thing. It’s a little thing not deserving of a scheduled meeting, but who knows where that 2 minute conversation could go?

The socializing won’t be what real world socializing would be, but it would be a hell of a lot better than Zoom “cocktail parties” that we all suffered through in 2020 and 2021. Maybe instead of heading out to a bar to connect with coworkers, you all head to a virtual karaoke room. Maybe you and your boss can go play virtual golf; it’s not like playing real golf on real golf courses, but it will be a decent enough experience especially at the cost… especially when you can get tee time at Virtual St. Andrews or Virtual Augusta National.

Because the metahuman avatar will be a unique NFT in the blockchain-powered Metaverse, you don’t have to worry about losing it and all of your digital identity should you move companies. You will own your avatar in the Metaverse, not your employer. And for the companies, whatever digital assets they create or purchase within their virtual offices are unique NFT items that they will own, put on the balance sheet, and perhaps even depreciate.

Finally, since the office is virtual and located in the Metaverse… your employees do not have to live in any particular place. Your bookeepers may be from Pakistan, your programmers from Estonia, and your head of HR from Paris. As long as language barriers and time zones can be overcome, every company can be a global company.

This is the office of the future. Long live the office!

EXP has proven and is proving that it can work, using 1990s technology. Imagine what it can do using 2020 or even 2030 technology.

Imagine, If You Can

I find this rapid pace of technology change both exhilarating and terrifying. And I have a really good imagination for what is possible. There are angles to this that I haven’t considered yet, but I think some of you have and will. To take just one example, a thriving industry in virtual designer fashion is all but inevitable. There will be new social conventions that arise from metahumans in the virtual workplace.

The challenge for us today is to imagine that future, imagine what is possible, knowing that we are deeply limited in our imagination because we are human beings not evolved to cope with exponential technology development. Some of what we imagine will be horrible, because that’s just how our imaginations run sometimes. But some of it will be wonderful. And I can’t wait to see what world we all bring about with the tools that our geniuses have created and continue to create.

The Metaverse is the future of the workplace. The office is dead. Long live the office!

-rsh

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Rob Hahn

Rob Hahn

Managing Partner of 7DS Associates, and the grand poobah of this here blog. Once called "a revolutionary in a really nice suit", people often wonder what I do for a living because I have the temerity to not talk about my clients and my work for clients. Suffice to say that I do strategy work for some of the largest organizations and companies in real estate, as well as some of the smallest startups and agent teams, but usually only on projects that interest me with big implications for reforming this wonderful, crazy, lovable yet frustrating real estate industry of ours.

21 thoughts on “The Metaverse Is the Future: The Office is Dead. Long Live the Office.”

  1. Wow, that video was nothing short of insane. In all of the talk about the metaverse, I’ve always thought about the virtual hurdle of non-verbal cues and how much we miss them. It’s even hard to pick up on those cues on a Zoom video. But if those cues are being detected and displayed on an avatar, then there’s nothing stopping us from making minor enhancements to those cues to make them a little more noticable. You don’t even have to exaggerate the movement or anything silly like that, even programming in slight momentary changes to lighting or shadow would be enough to make them noticeable without looking unrealistic to the untrained eye.

    And your point about each avatar being its own NFT is pretty profound. Up till this very moment I didn’t really understand NFTs, but something about this concept makes it very clear. Everything is an asset – in both the financial and digital definition. I can see some very interesting conversations happening about ownership of an avatar. One thought that immediately comes to mind is someone selling the rights to their identity NFT (ideNFT?) because they think the metaverse is a fad and they want to cash out, but then 30 years it is an integral part of our life – what then? Hoo-boy, lots of philosophical discussion to unpack there.

    The chance encounters thing is still a hurdle, but it doesn’t feel like one that is insurmountable. We “just” need to reprogram ourselves as a society to undo decades of business schools beating metrics and measurable outcomes into every student, and understand that just because someone isn’t being actively productive doesn’t mean they aren’t working. There’s certainly not a technological challenge there – one of RESO’s COVID events happened in eXp world, and frankly I found it pretty enjoyable and easy to have those chance encounters (but like you said, i’m also comfortable in that environment because I grew up with it).

    Awful lot to think about here. Thanks Rob.

    • Thanks Richard – great comment.

      Since we’re both wise to the nerdly ways, the chance encounter thing is not as big a deal as people think. Anyone who has spent time in an MMO knows what it’s like to just head back to town after grinding out in the wilds, run into a friend or a guildmate, then end up going on some big quest. Or you’re out in the wilds grinding XP and run into some other group, strike up a conversation, and end up playing together and making new friends and such.

      I think it’s less of a technology challenge and more of a cultural/business challenge, as you said. And more and more bosses are GenX who might have played a game or two, and Millennials are 40 now. Seems to me more and more executives realize the real value of unstructured “free time” in driving real team productivity.

      If they don’t, then they will when their competition beats the pants off of them because their virtual work environments aren’t these white collar assembly lines from the industrial-era thinking.

  2. Cool story, bro…. glomming on to the crypto idiot fever dreams.

    Care to provide any ‘substance’ or anything relating to the scale needed to provide resources (hardware/bandwidth) for the mythical doped out Millenial land for people that can’t handle in-person encounters or real-life exchanges that do not fall into line with liberal/democrat narratives?

    That EXP world is frigging SAD. Some bozo in the video talking about hearing the ‘crashing of waves and surf’….. in what ‘offended’ micro-dosing world is this caricature of an online world credible, again? To people that think PHONES are a computer? OR just another gimmick that a brokerage is trying to paint as ‘we did something’.

    I mean, you say that you were a gamer decades ago….sure, most of us were. The only difference is SOME of us still buy the HARDWARE. For any decent GPU card, capable enough to push VR….. where ya gonna buy that? THOSE cards have been out of stock for over a year (largely due to the OTHER catchphrase you glom onto, Bitcoin or its variations), and they expect that to dribble into the coming years……

    Have you tried to build a computer in the last 18 months with pc parts that are essential to creating a result? I have/am. It’s creeping up on $6,200 for a desktop build and still short about $2000 in components and still missing anything from the 3000 series of RTX cards…..because the RTX 3090’s/3080’s are never in stock (again, the crypto criminals/retards). You really can’t even order, or go someplace and purchase all of the components at once, without huuuuge (unacceptable) tradeoffs in quality and capability.

    While I personally would pay a lot for a HUD display for office computing and play……. we’re still a decade or more out from that widespread hardware accessibility.

    https://www.theverge.com/2021/12/15/22836401/intel-metaverse-computing-capability-cpu-gpu-algorithms

    -The metaverse may be the next major platform in computing after the world wide web and mobile,” an editorial begins from Raja Koduri, a senior vice president and head of Intel’s Accelerated Computing Systems and Graphics Group. But Koduri quickly pours cold water on the idea that the metaverse is right around the corner: “our computing, storage and networking infrastructure today is simply not enough to enable this vision,” he writes. Crucially, Koduri doesn’t even think we’re close. He says that a 1,000x increase in power is needed over our current collective computing capacity-

    • Cool comment, bro… but what’s with hiding behind screen names? This isn’t a political controversial topic that’ll get you canceled.

      Still, some good objections so might use those for a future in-depth look.

  3. After re-reading the response…. I don’t mean to ‘attack you, Notorious One. I apologize for that if it was too forwardly so. I find immense value in your insight on all things relating to the inner workings of real estate. You say the things that need to be said, relating to the inner working of real estate and the direction of it all.

    But doubling down on the Crypto theme like you said you are going to…. eh. Expect pushback to that. And the Metaverse is tied to it. It’s just the crypto retards ‘next’ thing to try to validate using crypto and to normalize it, and its use. Ya know, ‘normalize’ a technology that destroys the environment (the electricity used to generate crypto).

    Most of the dummies in crypto pitching to attach a ‘coin’ aspect to the data…..(on top of being 21st-century grifters) that’s the same dummies that don’t know how to, or just flat out can’t perform on a level playing field for the data, so they try to rewrite the playbook to cover up for their obvious failings in the data industry.

    Not one of the people that you have interviewed concerning crypto has gone into ‘why’ the existing data sources, or even manually collecting the data, is so inefficient that we need to crypto. Other than they didn’t know where the data was before….. or that they are too cheap to pay for it at the source.

    Here’s the biggest kicker, when it comes to real estate data, and crypto? Where the data STARTS, at the city level or county? When you write posts that dive into the ‘aptitude’ or smarts of the average person getting a license in real estate? It’s shockingly real, the number of brain-dead people working for a city, oblivious to anything NOW and technology-related, that will not jump on this during their career. Ever.

    Cronyism and unions protect idiots working for a city or county…. there are no guard rails in place. And you know what? It’s not gonna change? Upskill? Not happening. Learn a new technology? Why bother….. you (city/county) first have to get a city/county to PAY to have the technology and systems
    implemented.

    Some states/cities/counties will dip a foot in…. but those are the smaller ones that are failing already…. the big cities/counties with a budget, and great data transparency….. ya. There’s where the crypto fever dream again…. THOSE entities with established data systems, will not be jumping ship. They already have a system place that works very well.

    Before you can say that there is a problem with data, and that there is a solution….. you actually have to declare and identify the problem. And that’s what the crypto idiots have failed to do, other than whine about it’s too much work….. or that in doing the way the rest do to get data….. it’s basically free, or easily accessible, so natch on that…. the crypto idiots can’t attach the ‘grift’ to the narrative (owning the data in any tokenized form).

    • Okay, those are all fair arguments as were many of the ones in the previous. Let me see if I can address some of them.

      On your first points re: hardware costs, CPU availability, etc., can we agree that the world will not end in the next few years? That there won’t be global thermonuclear war, or COVID Omega variant that kills 95% of humanity?

      If we can, then I think you’re suffering from the common human inability (which I share) to grasp exponential growth.

      That $6,200 desktop build you’re working on… just think what that would have cost you a mere ten years ago. Frankly, a lot of the stuff wasn’t even available ten years ago. In 2011, the top of the line GPU was the GTX 580. The 3090 is literally 1,000% faster, has 24GB of memory vs. 1.5GB, built with 8nm vs. 40nm manufacturing… I mean, you can’t even compare the two. And that’s 10 years.

      Raja Koduri may find himself regretting that cold water, since history is full of experts who dismissed technology from airplanes to telephones to electricity to the personal computer to the internet.

      As for your points about real estate data… I’m not sure how that’s related to the Metaverse as the future of the office. But to some extent I agree that the blockchain and crypto people haven’t answered the question of how blockchain improves data quality, data collection, data access. You’re right that folks have to declare and identify the problem, and then show why/how blockchain is the best answer.

      I just believe we’ll see those people emerge over the next year or two.

      I’m 100% comfortable with pushback on crypto, on blockchain, on futurism — because it’s the future, which means it’s counterfactual, and Not Here Yet. So keep it coming. I appreciate the pushback, because it helps me figure out when I’m wrong.

      • When you said “Frankly, a lot of the stuff wasn’t even available ten years ago” …..not so much. PCIe lanes, fast drives, and tons of ports? Those have always been around for motherboards. Most people just never had to a reason to fill every slot they can plug something into, except maybe gamers, HEDT workstations/creators. Apple machines have always been a cult of -I paid extra for years-out-of-date garbage that I-can’t-upgrade myself- …. I’m not including Apple in this. There’s a reason Apple hardware never won the hearts/minds of gamers….. crap internal or overpriced hardware.

        Still going with you saying  ‘Frankly, a lot of the stuff wasn’t even available ten years ago’.. d’ya mean Moore’s Law? That’s basically Mantra in some areas of tech. Being that phrase was coined by an Intel co-founder, Gordon Moore…. When Raja Koduri of Intel says what I posted a couple of posts above…. I kinda believe it. It also helps that Intel has first dibs on chips from the not-even-built-yet Samsung plant ((below) ….. I think Intel has a bit broader insight into manufacturing capability.

        Because it still boils down to Silicon. Really, its the company ASML, with it’s epic ultraviolet lithography machines that have dragged us kicking and screaming to where we are now https://www.wired.com/story/asml-extreme-ultraviolet-lithography-chips-moores-law/

        -The current generation of EUV machines are already, to put it bluntly, kind of bonkers. Each one is roughly the size of a bus and costs $150 million. It contains 100,000 parts and 2 kilometers of cabling. Shipping the components requires 40 freight containers, three cargo planes, and 20 trucks. Only a few companies can afford the machines, and most of them go to the world’s big three leading-edge chipmakers: the world’s leading foundry, Taiwan-based TSMC, as well as Samsung, in South Korea, and Intel-

        It takes quite a bit of time to get these plants up to speed. With export restrictions on the machines, that limits who can even buy them (with good reason). Regardless if you can buy them, you still need the infrastructure and know-how to ‘produce’ something from them. Samsung said recently that the new $17 billion foundry in Texas is years off from being in play. But that’s just Samsung, one of the very few companies that can buy ASML products, and one of what….3-4 new foundries announced globally by anyone.  And bet on it, if we still are where we are now with chip shortages and crypto retards using bots to snarf up the cards as soon as they are released for sale….. expect much of Samsungs GOOD inventory of chips from that plant to go to enterprise and cloud computing.

        No one who watches this sphere is predicting some watershed moment where GPU cards are just sitting around on shelves, ready to buy every day anytime soon. It crypto was outlawed TODAY…. it might open up inventory to the average consumer…. but I am not putting any money on that. China outlawed it recently and the criminals just moved the mining farms to sketchy countries that already glamorize the production of those oh-so-important Liberal Products: Drugs and Marxists. https://www.google.com/search?q=south+america+legalize+cryptocurrency&source=hp&ei=s4zEYdzyMYqvqtsPrsiv2AY&iflsig=ALs-wAMAAAAAYcSaw5dZax9SI_xcUUA59Z8FrQsZI6xq&oq=south+america+legalize+crypt&gs_lcp=Cgdnd3Mtd2l6EAEYADIICCEQFhAdEB4yCAghEBYQHRAeMggIIRAWEB0QHjIICCEQFhAdEB46CwgAEIAEELEDEIMBOggIABCABBCxAzoOCC4QgAQQsQMQxwEQowI6EQguEIAEELEDEIMBEMcBENEDOg4ILhCABBCxAxDHARDRAzoFCAAQgAQ6EQguEIAEELEDEIMBEMcBEKMCOgsILhCABBDHARCjAjoICC4QgAQQsQM6CwguEIAEEMcBEK8BOgUIABCxAzoICAAQsQMQgwE6DggAEOoCELQCENkCEOUCOgUILhCABDoICC4QsQMQgwE6CwguEIAEEMcBENEDOgsILhCABBCxAxCDAToICAAQgAQQyQM6CAgAEBYQChAeOgYIABAWEB46CQgAEMkDEBYQHlAAWJNVYLBqaAZwAHgAgAFxiAGXFZIBBDMxLjOYAQCgAQGwAQg&sclient=gws-wiz
        I really do not want to empower the same bad actors in South America that place so much priority on Narco terrorists farming/selling addictives substances. When if/when crypto is shut down, we’ll just face even more waves of illegals from failed South American countries.

        As much as I like what Marc Andreessen and A16Z do, Web3, the Metaverse and Crypto are his babies. The Metaverse is just another conduit to ‘spend’ crypto and normalize it (no thanks, I have a credit card and debit that work pretty friggin great to purchase things online)…sorries, I have no interest in VC’s owning or designing the internet that I use (as about as much enthusiasm for the low barrier of entry NAR clones to own or be in any way ‘running’ a blockchain of public data regarded as a tokenized authority. *Full stop. Fuck that*).

        The grifters of Metaverse and blockchain are all intertwined in the background, the same VC people and companies. This is a multiprong advertising blitz that they are on right now to get over on Americans.

        As much as I can’t stand that bearded socialist Dempsey from Twitter, I agree with him and others on this. There’s too much at stake.

      • When I say a lot of the stuff wasn’t even available ten years ago, I mean 8nm manufacturing wasn’t a thing in 2011. Yeah, I get that we’re getting closer to the limit of Moore’s Law but that’s why companies are working on stuff like quantum computing.

        My point is, none of us actually know — not even Intel and Samsung and whoever else — what the technology breakthroughs two, three, four years from today will look like or where it will come from. We just know that technology growth and development are exponential, and we can’t wrap our human heads around that.

        Maybe you’re right and we have hit the maximum point of tech development as a species. We can only go backward from here. I just don’t believe that; it’s never happened before and I doubt it will happen in the future. Again, absent end of the world black swan scenarios.

        As for everything else… that sounds like an argument against crypto, which is fine, but not precisely relevant to the Metaverse and what that means for communications and for the future workplace.

  4. Rob,

    Longtime reader, first time commenter. I work in this industry and have made a habit of regularly reading your articles. Although you and I don’t agree on much, I find your writing helpful in understanding broad trends and what real estate veterans like to fight about.

    I’m compelled to comment for the first time because your recent growing interest in Web3 and metaverses is, to put it as politely as possible, horrible and stupid. (Now is a good time to state that these words are mine alone and don’t represent any company past, present, or future.) This isn’t unique to you; plenty of enormous companies are pouring money into exploring these things. I’m writing here because, for better or worse, plenty of real estate movers and shakers read this blog, and the very last thing I want is for this industry to waste its valuable time entertaining such pointless, wasteful, and destructive ideas.

    (A little background on me: I spent much of my teens in online worlds, I’ve worked office, remote, and hybrid jobs for the past decade, and I haven’t set foot in a “cubicle farm” in over two years.)

    The metaverse is a solution in search of a problem. The virtual office is a particularly awful permutation of this. At their very best, metaverse-based workplaces are pointless and invasive; at their worst, they are a catastrophic waste of resources that could be better used by almost anything else.

    From your article:

    “The challenge for companies and organizations then is to keep the good — the spontaneous interactions and communications that unlock creativity and productivity — while getting rid of the bad: the expense, the soul-crushing environment, the commute, the annoying coworkers and bosses.”

    That makes sense. I think you overvalue spontaneous interactions — depending on the office, I’ve found that in-person conversations (no matter how enjoyable they may be) are usually far more likely to accomplish nothing than to lead to a “light-bulb moment” — but that may be a matter of opinion. More convincing is this survey of nearly 800 employers, 94% of whom stated productivity has stayed the same or improved since transitioning to remote work: https://www.mercer.us/our-thinking/career/global-flexible-working-survey-us-results-infographic.html

    Remote work solves all of the “bad” and arguably doesn’t do enough to keep the “good” of the old in-person model. What’s your solution to this marginal problem?

    “The answer, it seems to me, is the virtual office in the Metaverse on a super realistic graphics engine. Maybe Unreal Engine 5. More likely, the Unreal Engine 6 or 7 that will be coming in 5 to 10 years, taking advantage of the hardware and bandwidth of 5 to 10 years from today.”

    In my next comment, I’ll list the advantages and disadvantages of this approach in comparison to remote work as it exists now.

    • Advantages:
      – The metaverse might allow remote workplaces to simulate the spontaneity of in-person ones.

      – You can make your avatar wear a cool hat.

      Disadvantages:
      – Even your most optimistic estimate for adopting this technology is 5-10 years out, meaning that lots of smart and talented people will have to work on implementing it for at least 5-10 years at the expense of other advances.

      – The idea of a worker having a “metahuman avatar” that exists as “a unique NFT in the blockchain-powered Metaverse” relies on wildly unrealistic assumptions. The idea of everyone having a persistent virtual avatar sounds nice, but even now there are many competing blockchain ledgers and metaverses. If you have an NFT avatar in Decentraland, you’ve married yourself to a proprietary cryptocurrency (MANA) in a proprietary metaverse (Decentraland). Why on earth would someone like Mark Zuckerberg spend time and money bringing that avatar into Meta’s proprietary blockchain and metaverse? He could much more easily charge you to mint a separate NFT avatar. That way, he doesn’t have to import all the cool hats you bought for your avatar and make sure they show up in his trillion-dollar Businessman MMO. (Before you suggest “universal metadata standards” for NFT avatars, let me remind you that, despite decades of work and strong incentives, real estate still doesn’t have those. Web3 people won’t commit to standards unless they benefit; the way things look now, they’re dramatically disincentivized from doing this.) The only realistic path for persistent NFT avatars is widespread adoption of a single blockchain algorithm and a single metaverse environment, which creates countless new problems (like, “who controls all this and how can we place that kind of trust in them?”).

      – Blockchains do not exist in a vacuum. Most cryptocurrencies use “proof of work” schemes to verify transactions (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proof_of_work#Bitcoin-type_proof_of_work). These schemes require enormous computing power, which in turn requires enormous energy expenditure — Bitcoin alone currently consumes about 0.5% of the world’s electricity, more than the entirety of Finland and about seven times more than the global operations of Google (source: https://www.businessinsider.com/bitcoin-mining-electricity-usage-more-than-google-2021-9). Even in a potential future where cryptocurrencies use less energy-intensive “proof of stake” schemes and are powered entirely by renewable energy, what benefit do they offer? They may eventually use less, but there’s still an opportunity cost. If the choice ends up being between “giving my avatar a cool hat” and “leaving my laptop plugged in for a couple hours,” ceteris paribus, I’d take my laptop 100 times out of 100. Again, though, the act of completing a single Bitcoin transaction today requires nearly 1,200 kWh of electricity, around the amount that powers a typical American house for six weeks (source: https://fortune.com/2021/10/26/bitcoin-electricity-consumption-carbon-footprin/).

      – Hardware doesn’t exist in a vacuum, either. As a previous commenter noted, Intel estimates we’d need 1,000 times more computing capacity as the entire world has right now to power “the metaverse.” If we somehow obtain the physical and electrical resources necessary to give us that capacity, would you rather spend those resources on running the universe’s biggest World of Warcraft server or literally anything else?

      – Most of these metaverse concepts sell themselves based on the potential of immersive VR with barely a whiff of the implications on the client side. If I’m a remote worker, I’m going to need a damn good reason to strap a VR headset to my face every time I clock in. I’m getting by just fine with the tools I have now, so there had better be a solid benefit for me, the individual worker, to accept the drawbacks of putting a screen inches from my eyes for eight hours a day. (By the way, who’s making and buying all these enterprise VR headsets? 2020 saw 6.4 million VR headsets sell. If even half of the 160 million people in the American workforce need one to join the metaverse, we’re going to need a hell of a lot more headsets, not to mention orthopedic surgeons for everyone who ruins their necks wearing them.)

      One more comment in summary coming up.

  5. I understand the appeal, in theory, for an enterprise employer to drag its remote workers kicking and screaming into the metaverse. After all, remote workers on Zoom can turn their cameras off! A metaverse that can “constantly pick up your facial expressions and physical gestures and have your metahuman avatar reflect them” makes it much easier to micromanage them and police their behavior.

    Unfortunately, we’re not talking about theory. We’re talking about what’s being put in practice now to prepare for a broader rollout later. We agree that the old paradigm of fluorescent lighting, cubicles, and plywood desks no longer makes sense. I argue that the remote solutions we have now work pretty well. You’re free to argue that “the metaverse is the future of the workplace” all you want, as long as you’re willing to explain why its benefits outweigh its costs.

    tl;dr: I think spending most of the world’s resources on cool virtual hats and the occasional virtual water cooler conversation isn’t worth it.

    • Peter – with your permission (though I don’t need it, since you posted this as a comment on my blog) — I’d like to turn your comment into a post offering a counterpoint. You raise some really excellent objections, and I’m interested in answering them/debating them. Along with other points raised by other commenters.

  6. When you said “Frankly, a lot of the stuff wasn’t even available ten years ago” …..not so much. PCIe lanes, fast drives, and tons of ports? Those have always been around for motherboards. Most people just never had to a reason to fill every slot they can plug something into, except maybe gamers, HEDT workstations/creators. Apple machines have always been a cult of -I paid extra for years-out-of-date garbage that I-can’t-upgrade myself- …. I’m not including Apple in this. There’s a reason Apple hardware never won the hearts/minds of gamers….. crap internal or overpriced hardware.

    Still going with you saying  ‘Frankly, a lot of the stuff wasn’t even available ten years ago’.. d’ya mean Moore’s Law? That’s basically Mantra in some areas of tech. Being that phrase was coined by an Intel co-founder, Gordon Moore…. When Raja Koduri of Intel says what I posted a couple of posts above…. I kinda believe it. It also helps that Intel has first dibs on chips from the not-even-built-yet Samsung plant ((below) ….. I think Intel has a bit broader insight into manufacturing capability.

    Because it still boils down to Silicon. Really, its the company ASML, with it’s epic ultraviolet lithography machines that have dragged us kicking and screaming to where we are now https://www.wired.com/story/asml-extreme-ultraviolet-lithography-chips-moores-law/

    -The current generation of EUV machines are already, to put it bluntly, kind of bonkers. Each one is roughly the size of a bus and costs $150 million. It contains 100,000 parts and 2 kilometers of cabling. Shipping the components requires 40 freight containers, three cargo planes, and 20 trucks. Only a few companies can afford the machines, and most of them go to the world’s big three leading-edge chipmakers: the world’s leading foundry, Taiwan-based TSMC, as well as Samsung, in South Korea, and Intel-

    It takes quite a bit of time to get these plants up to speed. With export restrictions on the machines, that limits who can even buy them (with good reason). Regardless if you can buy them, you still need the infrastructure and know-how to ‘produce’ something from them. Samsung said recently that the new $17 billion foundry in Texas is years off from being in play. But that’s just Samsung, one of the very few companies that can buy ASML products, and one of what….3-4 new foundries announced globally by anyone.  And bet on it, if we still are where we are now with chip shortages and crypto retards using bots to snarf up the cards as soon as they are released for sale….. expect much of Samsungs GOOD inventory of chips from that plant to go to enterprise and cloud computing.

    No one who watches this sphere is predicting some watershed moment where GPU cards are just sitting around on shelves, ready to buy every day anytime soon. It crypto was outlawed TODAY…. it might open up inventory to the average consumer…. but I am not putting any money on that. China outlawed it recently and the criminals just moved the mining farms to sketchy countries that already glamorize the production of those oh-so-important Liberal Products: Drugs and Marxists. https://www.google.com/search?q=south+america+legalize+cryptocurrency&source=hp&ei=s4zEYdzyMYqvqtsPrsiv2AY&iflsig=ALs-wAMAAAAAYcSaw5dZax9SI_xcUUA59Z8FrQsZI6xq&oq=south+america+legalize+crypt&gs_lcp=Cgdnd3Mtd2l6EAEYADIICCEQFhAdEB4yCAghEBYQHRAeMggIIRAWEB0QHjIICCEQFhAdEB46CwgAEIAEELEDEIMBOggIABCABBCxAzoOCC4QgAQQsQMQxwEQowI6EQguEIAEELEDEIMBEMcBENEDOg4ILhCABBCxAxDHARDRAzoFCAAQgAQ6EQguEIAEELEDEIMBEMcBEKMCOgsILhCABBDHARCjAjoICC4QgAQQsQM6CwguEIAEEMcBEK8BOgUIABCxAzoICAAQsQMQgwE6DggAEOoCELQCENkCEOUCOgUILhCABDoICC4QsQMQgwE6CwguEIAEEMcBENEDOgsILhCABBCxAxCDAToICAAQgAQQyQM6CAgAEBYQChAeOgYIABAWEB46CQgAEMkDEBYQHlAAWJNVYLBqaAZwAHgAgAFxiAGXFZIBBDMxLjOYAQCgAQGwAQg&sclient=gws-wiz
    I really do not want to empower the same bad actors in South America that place so much priority on Narco terrorists farming/selling addictives substances. When if/when crypto is shut down, we’ll just face even more waves of illegals from failed South American countries.

    As much as I like what Marc Andreessen and A16Z do, Web3, the Metaverse and Crypto are his babies. The Metaverse is a just another conduit to ‘spend’ crypto and normalize it (no thanks, I have a credit cards and debit that work pretty friggin great to purchase things online)…sorries, I have no interest in VC’s owning or designing the internet that I use (as about as much enthusiasm for the low barrier of entry NAR clones to own or be in any way ‘running’ a blockchain of public data regarded as a tokenized authority. *Full stop. Fuck that*).

    The grifters of Metaverse and blockchain are all intertwined in the background, the same VC people and companies. This is a multiprong advertising blitz that they are on right now to get over on Americans.

    As much as I can’t stand that bearded socialist Dempsey from Twitter, I agree with him and others on this. There is just too much at stake.

  7. “Maybe you’re right and we have hit the maximum point of tech development as a species”

    I ever said that. I actually follow tech. I said we are a decade out (largely due to manufacturing).

    I think it’s disingenuous that you say that you do not see a very public spat going on right now, regarding how crypto is part of the larger scheme with the Metaverse.

    But hey… I get it. You already stated that you are going to be focusing on crypto.

  8. Great post but the Metaverse is ultimately old FB and I am humbled to say I was hacked on New Year’s Eve this year. The hacker took my FB profile, changed my email and my cell phone. He then made himself Business Manager of my company FB page and took over my ad account. He somehow found an old domain name I used to own (that was tied to FB) and I had let it expire. He renewed it. Created a new email for himself (Erica@theoldwebsite.com) and used it to totally fake FB out. It’s been 10 days and I cannot get my old profile back. Complaints to FB led them to deactivate my account. But not to help me resolve it. The hacker turned on 2FA so I am screwed. My requests to change email or send new link go to my hacker. FB has no email or phone support. You enter a request for help online and then wait. I have done this 5-7x for the past 10 days (per their recommended support) and uploaded my Driver’s License 50-70x. I don’t care about my personal account. My chats with family and photos are gone. But my business account is unfixable at this point. I don’t trust FB or the Metaverse even if it looks so pretty. My mistake – our office private FB group was our main point of contact for my entire office. We used it because 90% of our people are on FB and prefer to interact there rather than another site to log in. My mistake.

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