Immersive technologies are a constantly evolving sector. New concepts emerge every year, sometimes creating a lack of understanding. Yet these virtual tools are profitable allies for businesses and citizens alike. With this in mind, the Commission of the European Union has just adopted a strategy around Web 4.0 and virtual worlds to frame the next technological transition, with three clear objectives: to align Web 4.0 and virtual worlds with the values of the European Union; to respect and enforce the fundamental rights of citizens; and to ensure the prosperity of businesses across the continent.
Web 4.0: what are we talking about?
While virtual worlds are already well known to everyone, Web 4.0 requires some clarification of its definition. Throughout the history of the Internet, there have been several versions of the web. Naturally, this began with Web 1.0 in the 1990s, through to the Web 3.0 we use today. Now we’re talking about Web 4.0, an even more advanced version that aims to break down the boundary between the real and the virtual.
How will Web 4.0 be different? We’re talking about the future here, because we’re still in the early stages of this concept. Web 4.0 will be an ultra-smart Internet, where tools such as artificial intelligence, augmented reality, the Internet of Things and machine learning will be at their peak. Search engines will act like virtual assistants, able to understand Internet users, their needs and their requests. They will be endowed with great analytical capacity to translate behavior into useful data.
Interaction between humans and machines will thus be improved and smoother. That’s why we believe that Web 4.0 will be the “invisible” Internet, present in our daily lives and connected to all the objects around us, with a single goal: to simplify our lives. Web 4.0 embodies the “phygital” world, merging the physical and the digital.
Virtual worlds: a growing market
Since the pandemic, virtual worlds have become popular. The need to communicate remotely has propelled their rise throughout the world. The industry’s biggest brands have (re)released their platforms for more immersive communication. The world’s biggest companies have been tempted by these virtual solutions. The market for virtual worlds promises a prosperous future.
Actually, by 2022, the global market for virtual worlds will be worth €27 billion, including €1.9 billion in the automotive industry. In Europe, more than 3,700 companies, research institutes and government bodies have virtual worlds as a sub-field. By 2030, estimates predict these same figures to explode, with market growth of 800 billion euros and the creation of 860,000 jobs in the extended reality (XR) sector.
Today, virtual worlds are used in a wide variety of fields. In healthcare, they can be used to train students and caregivers through simulations of operations or emergency situations. In industry, virtual worlds accelerate R&D processes and production, leading to shorten delivery times and a reduction of the carbon footprint associated with manufacturing. On education, experiential teaching is emerging as one of the solutions enabling students to better learn and understand. In the field of art, virtual worlds open up infinite creative possibilities, resulting in unique, immersive artistic experiences. In short, virtual worlds have a positive impact on all sectors of activity.
The European Union’s 4-pillar strategy
Web 4.0 is only at the conceptual stage today. Virtual worlds, on the other hand, have been a reality for some years now. By building a strategy, the European Union is demonstrating its ambition to place the continent in the vanguard, with the aim of mastering and massively embracing these technologies.
The Commission has based its approach on 4 pillars:
- Informing citizens fairly
- Making virtual worlds more opened and secured
- Supporting Europe’s industrial ecosystem
- Make virtual tools available to everyone
Informing citizens fairly
One of the first steps, according to the European Union, is to inform civil society about these two new technologies. By the end of 2023, the Commission will be promoting the fundamental principles of virtual worlds. Then, in the first half of 2024, it will release a toolkit for citizens, with guidelines and advice on the subject. The aim is to raise awareness and sensitize the inexperienced public. In this respect, an effort will be made to train specialists in virtual worlds. To this end, a talent pipeline will be created in collaboration with EU member states.
Making virtual worlds more open and secure
One of the most important issues when it comes to virtual worlds is security. The European Commission is well aware of this, and is focusing part of its strategy on this issue. Its ambition is to sit down at the table with Internet Governance stakeholders to set Web 4.0 standards in line with its vision and values. The main objective is to make virtual worlds and Web 4.0 tools interoperable, to facilitate their use and regulation. To achieve this, it is important to establish common standards and rules.
Supporting the European industrial ecosystem
No European ecosystem currently exists to bring together players in the virtual worlds and Web 4.0 sector. The Commission’s objective for 2025 is to encourage excellence in research and propose an industrial and technological roadmap for virtual worlds. To encourage innovation, it will also support European creators and media to test new creative tools, and bring together developers and industrial users.
Make virtual tools available to everyone
To capitalize on the opportunities offered by virtual worlds, the European Union is already leading initiatives to enable researchers and industry to develop applications that can be used by everyone. With this in mind, the Commission is planning to launch two virtual tools: “CitiVerse”, an immersive environment used for urban planning and management; and a virtual twin that copies the human body and helps carers make clinical decisions. The European Commission’s idea is therefore to show that virtual worlds and Web 4.0 have benefits for us all.
In a nutshell, the European Union intends to seize on the phenomenon of virtual worlds and Web 4.0 to make them fruitful tools for its citizens and economic players. The European Commission’s aim is to provide a framework and boost the future technological transition, opening up a horizon of expansion for the continent’s businesses. They will benefit from a helping hand to promote their virtual tools to a more informed and aware public.