Was the metaverse overhyped, and the actual tech trend of the 2020s overlooked?

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The tech sector has witnessed a fascinating duality between the development of virtual reality (VR) and the rising prominence of artificial intelligence (AI). While major tech companies have been investing heavily in the metaverse (hello, Meta, and even more recently Apple), AI has quietly emerged as the real applied use case, transforming various industries in both commercial and consumer spaces.

That brings us to the question – is the metaverse on track to be the next major tech trend? Or will some other trend quickly rise to notoriety and overshadow the Ready Player One fever dream?

AI Generated Virtual Reality Mountains

The Metaverse

Just a quick recap: the metaverse is pitched as a ‘virtual shared space combining physical and virtual realities’. It has gained substantial attention in recent years, with the World Economic Forum predicting that the industry could make upwards of $3 trillion by 2030.

Companies like Facebook, Microsoft, and Epic Games have invested significant resources in developing VR hardware, applications, and platforms. In the second quarter of this year, “Reality Labs, Meta’s department for VR and AR, lost nearly $4 billion this quarter. In all of last year, it lost $13.7 billion,” via TechCrunch.

It’s clear that progress has been slower than anticipated. While VR technology has improved, adoption remains relatively niche due to factors such as high costs, limited content, and the need for dedicated hardware.

According to Statista, South Africans are buying more VR hardware than in previous years, but that means nothing if there aren’t any virtual shared spaces worth hanging out in.

From a business perspective, the metaverse has found some use cases in industries like real estate, architecture, and training simulations. However, widespread adoption and tangible benefits are yet to be realised.

In the consumer space, the metaverse has also struggled to offer practical applications beyond gaming and entertainment.

Although virtual social platforms have gained some popularity, they have yet to become mainstream. The metaverse’s current limitations, coupled with the preference for real-world social interactions, have hindered its widespread adoption among South African consumers.

We reached out to Meta South Africa’s PR firm, Clockwork, for comment. They did not comment before the date of publishing.

The Rise of AI

In contrast to the metaverse’s slower development, AI has experienced an exponential rise in practical applications across various industries in South Africa. Businesses have recognised the potential of AI for optimising operations, improving customer experiences, and gaining actionable insights from data.

It has been deployed in customer service, supply chain management, fraud detection, and predictive analytics. Companies are leveraging AI-powered chatbots, recommendation systems, and intelligent automation to enhance efficiency and deliver personalised experiences.

South African businesses, both large and small, have embraced AI technologies to gain a competitive edge in the market.

For consumers, AI has permeated daily life, improving convenience and personalisation. Virtual assistants like Siri, Google Assistant, and Amazon Alexa have become ubiquitous, aiding with tasks, answering queries, and controlling smart devices.

AI algorithms power recommendation engines on e-commerce platforms, suggesting products tailored to individual preferences. Moreover, AI is making significant strides in healthcare, driving advancements in diagnosis, drug discovery, and personalised medicine.

Metaverse vs. AI in South Africa

While the metaverse has not yet fulfilled the grand expectations set by industry insiders and companies, it would be premature to dismiss its potential entirely. Right now, it’s being likened to the early days of the internet. There is no way for us to know how it could impact our lives in the future.

The pace of technological advancement is rapid, and as VR hardware becomes more affordable, content expands, and user experiences improve, the metaverse could find wider adoption in South Africa. It may just take several years.

On the other hand, AI has firmly established itself as a transformative force in the tech sector. Its practical applications continue to expand across industries, offering tangible benefits to businesses and consumers alike. With the growing availability of data and advancements in AI algorithms, the outlook for AI in South Africa looks very promising.