Photo: Julia M Cameron via Wikimedia
Dr. Winnie Tang discusses how technologies like the metaverse and virtual reality can be harnessed in diverse fields from arts, to retail to psychology for the future of Hong Kong’s job market.
Jobs related to the digital field are expected to have a brighter future. In the near term, both employment service company JobsDB HK and consulting firm Links International predicted that the information technology sector will see the highest pay rise this year as companies move rapidly towards digitalisation. With the emerging Metaverse, digital jobs are certainly on the rise to dominance.
It coincides with a global survey by consulting firm McKinsey on whether and how the COVID-19 epidemic has affected an organisation’s digital transformation strategy. The survey, conducted early last year, interviewed over 1,100 C-level executives and senior managers from different regions and industries, such as financial services, high tech, healthcare, and public sectors.
One of the alarming findings is “what was considered the best-in-class speed for most business practices in 2018 is now slower than the average”. In other words, the previously effective ways adopted by those high-performing companies (with revenue growth of 25% or more in the past 3 years) in the same survey in 2018 have now become outdated. During the epidemic, these high performers in 2018 responded slower to market changes than the average. On the contrary, companies that embrace technology demonstrated a quicker response. They were able to use multiple sources of customer data to assess the shortfall in meeting customer needs as frequently as weekly, and to rigorously review digital projects so as to trim down those underperforming initiatives on a monthly basis. On the other hand, the 2018 top performing companies only did it quarterly.
Despite the belt-tightening in all industries in 2020, most of the executives interviewed (65%) stated that the expenditure on digital initiatives or technological upgrade was increased during the period, which was 1.5 times more than other funding such as variable costs (i.e. contract workers, materials) as digitalisation is now considered “a way to strategically differentiate themselves from competitors”.
What does this mean for companies that are not technology-based, such as those in the retail industry? What talent will be needed for the future?
The global innovation evangelist of cloud software company Salesforce.com thought that the most successful retailers in 2030 would hire game designers and spatial computing experts who could offer personalised experiences with seamless blending of the virtual environment and the real world.
The shopping scenario in 2030 would be like this: 5G is expected to be giving way to 6G, while sensors, artificial intelligence, computer vision, augmented reality (AR), and immersive and spatial computing would become more popular. These technologies would help companies grasp the shopping habits and preferences of their customers. Without the feeling of privacy being invaded, customers would immerse themselves in a tailor-made virtual environment for them to enjoy shopping to the fullest.
This imagined scenario is actually the meaning behind the buzzword “metaverse”.
Hong Kong people may have some idea about the metaverse. More than twenty years ago, a telecom company’s commercial using John Lennon’s best selling single Imagine as the theme song was popular. At the end of the commercial, a little boy sat on the floor of a living room, happily playing a clapping game with a virtual child. With no dependence on a computer screen or a headset, the virtual environment and the real world were smoothly integrated. This is a vision of the metaverse.
Today, technologies like virtual reality (VR), AR, and extended reality (XR, achieving human-machine interaction and combining virtual and real world through wearable devices), are not new anymore.
However, Facebook (FB), which announced the change of its name to Meta in October this year, said that it would take 10 to 15 years to fully realize the metaverse. Even though many technologies have already existed, one of the major issues is the insufficient supply of talents to develop and support the entire ecosystem.
Recently, Meta just sold 10 million Oculus VR headsets, the main hardware for human-machine interaction which is essential in the metaverse. Although it is still far away from the goal of 50 million to 100 million expected by FB founder Zuckerberg when he acquired Oculus seven years ago, as he said, the 10 million users marked a key threshold before the explosion of the ecosystem.
However, when FB announced in October that it would open 10,000 new high-skilled jobs within the European Union (EU) in the next five years to build the metaverse, people questioned whether the existing talent pool is numerous enough to do so.
The metaverse would be a digital twin of the real world. New jobs are expected to be created, from fashion, healthcare, social activities, and leisure to even law enforcement. Below are some examples:
• Digital Fashion Designer
In the future, everyone in the metaverse would have an avatar, a virtual twin that presents one’s personality, style, values, yet different scenes might require a different image. Therefore, digital fashion design would become a hot profession.
Today, in order to attract the attention of Gen Z (individuals aged 9-24 years old in 2021) who are mostly tech-savvy clientele, many luxury brands have dipped into digital fashion. For example, this year, a Gucci handbag was sold for 350,000 Robux (virtual currency of game platform Roblox) or US$4,115 (about HK$32,000) in the real world this year; while in a September auction, Dolce & Gabbana sold nine-piece collection of digital non-fungible tokens (“NFT”, a new carrier of digital art driven by blockchain technology, the record of owning virtual assets such as digital art cannot be tampered with, making NFT assets unique), alongside some physical (non-digital) couture for a total of 1,885.719 Ether (Ethereum cryptocurrency), or the equivalent of nearly US$6 million (about HK$46.8 million); Balenciaga has partnered with an online game, Epic Games’ Fortnite, which has 400 million players globally to release four virtual outfits (“skins”) and accessories. In future, we expect to see more of this.
• Metahuman Doctor
All of our biometric and physiological data will be digitised and contained in our metahuman avatars, thanks to inserted nanotech sensors, these data will be updated in real-time. This will allow meta doctors to diagnose and run tests of different treatments to our virtual twin to find the best options for our real bodies.
• Smart Contract Lawyer
To conduct transactions in the metaverse, people need to consult a consultant, a Smart Contract Lawyer. Through coordinating the application of common law, business law, and pure mathematical logic transcribed in algorithms on the blockchain, the professional would ensure that the terms of your agreement are perfectly encoded to ensure confidentiality, while transactions of cryptocurrency or those involving royalties on an asset are also protected.
• Data Bounty Hunter
If data is the energy that drives the metaverse, personal data is the most precious part of it. By then, sensors would be everywhere, and the metaverse platform can record more personal information than any current social media.
How can individuals control their data scattered across different websites, organisations and governments? A new service would emerge to search for your data to ensure that you have access and ownership of all your data. These companies have expertise in personal privacy regulations in different places and are able to manage personal data. They are also strong in data mining in order to track your data like a data bounty hunter.
At the same time, the risk of data theft will be more severe than today. It will be a big challenge for companies to ensure protection of users’ privacy and to prevent the dissemination and manipulation of false information. This makes the jobs related to information verification a popular choice of profession.
This profession is very important no matter in the metaverse or in the real world.
The popularity of social media has not eased the problem of interpersonal alienation although our images in the digital world look beautiful. We still have to face the real problems in school, work, family, relationship, finance, and more. How to balance between the virtual and real world can be disturbing, especially for the digital native-born in the information age. Early this year, the Boston Children’s Hospital in the US launched the Digital Wellness Lab to study the effects of digital technology on our brains, bodies, and behaviours, so as to propose feasible solutions based on scientific evidence.
Except for the traditional profession of psychologists, all the jobs mentioned above require mastering digital skills by which writing computer programmes (coding) is essential. Coding training not only helps the development of the metaverse and related information technology but also promotes logical thinking and problem solving skills; when you start breaking down what’s happening now, you can start predicting what’s going to happen next.
A report from the EU in 2015 found that at least 15 member countries have already integrated coding in their school curriculum, including Denmark, France, Spain, and the UK. Some states in the US, Asian countries like Singapore and South Korea have also introduced coding as part of the mandatory education.
Therefore, I would like to urge the authority once again to include coding in the regular curriculum of primary and secondary education in Hong Kong, equipping our young people in preparation for the new world in the future.