As Bill Gates reflected on what he calls his "most unusual and difficult year," the billionaire also looked ahead to 2022 and beyond with no shortage of optimism — including when it comes to our "more digitized future."
In a year-end post on Gates' personal blog, the Microsoft co-founder included a prediction about the future of work, and how it could be changed by the rise of the metaverse, the virtual worlds being built by tech companies like Meta (formerly Facebook) and Microsoft, where users will be able to work, play and socialize.
Gates notes that the Covid-19 pandemic has already "revolutionized" the workplace, with more companies than ever offering flexibility for employees who want to work remotely. "Those changes will only intensify in the years to come," Gates writes, and he says remote working will only pull more people into the metaverse.
"Within the next two or three years, I predict most virtual meetings will move from 2D camera image grids...to the metaverse, a 3D space with digital avatars," Gates writes in his blog post.
That two-dimensional, grid view Gates describes, and which he likens to the game show "Hollywood Squares," is what you currently get with most video conferencing platforms, like Zoom or Microsoft's Teams. Meanwhile, in the metaverse, you would have a 3D avatar that would be able to attend meetings in a virtual office space or other destination, where it could interact with your co-workers' avatars.
"The idea is that you will eventually use your avatar to meet with people in a virtual space that replicates the feeling of being in an actual room with them," Gates writes. But — awkwardly — Gates says users will have to wear virtual reality headsets and or goggles to do so.
Gates, who stepped down from Microsoft's board in 2020, adds that his former company is working on adding 3D avatars and other metaverse-friendly elements to its Teams workplace software. And Teams might even have a clear on-ramp to the metaverse now that Microsoft is partnering with Mark Zuckerberg and Meta to make the latter's Workplace social network for businesses compatible with Teams.
Of course, Gates notes that it will take time and willingness from users and their employers before his vision for a virtual workplace in the metaverse becomes reality. First of all, tech companies like Meta, and even gaming platforms like Roblox and Microsoft's own Minecraft, are still developing the virtual worlds that will make up the metaverse. Gates also admits that, in order "to accurately capture your expressions, body language, and the quality of your voice," people will need expensive tech devices, like VR headsets and maybe even motion-capture gloves.
"There's still some work to do," but it won't be long before the metaverse is making remote work feel a little less remote, he says.
"We're approaching a threshold where the technology begins to truly replicate the experience of being together in the office," he writes.
In his blog post, the philanthropist, climate activist and public health advocate not only expressed his excitement over how an increasingly digital future will affect the ways we work, learn and even visit the doctor's office — he also touched on several other topics, including our progress in tackling the Covid-19 pandemic, fighting climate change, his concerns over America's deepening political divisions, and even Gates' own 2021 divorce.