It was a technological feat that made history, wowed audiences, and brought a dead rapper back to life. In April 2012 at the Coachella festival in California, Tupac Shakur took to the stage with Snoop Dogg and Dr Dre. Since he had been dead for 16 years by 2012, it was a human-like hologram of Tupac performing before a “shocked and then amazed” crowd. Fast forward ten tears and May 2022 will see the latest technological advances in musical immortality when Abba returns to the live stage after a 40-year absence. But this time, they return as humanoids – the digital hologram “twins” of the original global phenomenon.

George Lucas’s Industrial Light and Magic has created holographic lookalikes that interact with a live band in a specially designed purpose-built theatre in east London, while Benny, Björn, Frida and Agnetha have provided the pre-recorded vocals and motion-captured movement which will then be reproduced by the digital avatars. The doppelgangers are more youthful in their appearance – seemingly in their 30s, when they were at the peak of their music fame – raising an interesting conundrum concerning Abba’s human mortality against their new immortality in the metaverse.

Abba’s music is undoubtedly timeless; the simple tunes with incredibly complicated structures appeal to millions. The “Abbatars” are a reinvention for a new audience, but will they continue beyond the lives of their originals, with new creators pulling the strings? Besides Abba and Tupac, there are other instances where “digital twinning” has been identified as a key money-making strategy. The digital band Gorillaz’ 2006 Grammy performance blended flawlessly with Madonna’s. And Richard Burton’s hologram performed on a global tour of War of the Worlds in another 2006 performance. 

Music in the Metaverse

Customizing 3D avatars has become a unique way for artists to create virtual brands across several digital platforms. They can connect virtually with fans and increase loyalty and engagement, while fans can interact, express themselves and experience new things. This is now achievable using AI software to make holograms, as researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology demonstrated in an experiment that created holograms fairly instantaneously.

Ziva Dynamics a pioneer in simulation and real-time character creation, employs synthetic AI-powered avatars to create autonomous and complex movement simulations based on real muscle, fat, soft tissue and skin contact. In April 2021, in a project called Lost Tapes Of The 27 Club, Google’s Magenta AI was even used to compose songs in the styles of musicians who notoriously died at the age of 27, including Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, and Amy Winehouse. 

These technologies have the potential to create realistic synthetic and AI holographic representations of departed artists, allowing them to continue creating, influencing, and performing for future audiences. Epic Games, creators of the phenomenally successful Fortnite, predicts that digital twins will combine with the metaverse, an emerging network of fully immersive digital worlds.

Disrupting the Music Business

Whereas live tours are time-intensive and costly for new artists, a low-cost metaverse “tour” might be a new way for music lovers to see live performances, especially as virtual performances by Justin Bieber, DeadMau5, and The Weeknd have already become popular recently. In this emerging branch of the music industry, record labels and marketing firms could be replaced by decentralized autonomous organizations (“DAOs”), which are organizations that operate like cooperatives, making all decisions jointly. DAOs are already disrupting the music business – along with non-fungible tokens (“NFTs”), which are a way of transferring property between people online. For instance, in October 2021, PleasrDAO – a collective of decentralized finance leaders, early NFT collectors and digital artists – paid $4 million for Once Upon a Time in Shaolin an album by New York hip-hop legends Wu-Tang Clan.

While the release of the album predates the rise of NFTs, PleasrDAO now owns the rights and has imposed strict restrictions on duplication, distribution, or public exhibition. A music-focused DAO like Pleasr may acquire opt to finance and organize events and manage fan-owned record labels and marketing agencies to secure investable commodities like first-edition LPs, artwork, and instruments. 

This could create a new, decentralized route to the market for artists free of corporate interests or interests of individual producers, developing a fairer landscape for the future. With digital avatars likely to be at the center of this new vanguard, it will be fascinating to see how it develops in the months and years to come – and whether it will be enough for music audiences.

Theo Tzanidis is a Senior Lecturer in Digital Marketing at University of the West of Scotland. Stephen Langston is a Program Leader for Performance at the University of the West of Scotland. (This article was initially published by The Conversation.)

The idea of spending thousands or even millions of dollars to buy fictitious “land” in a virtual world may sound absurd. But in recent months, we have seen significant investments in virtual land within the metaverse. PwC is among the latest to dive in, having purchased real estate in The Sandbox, a virtual gaming world (where adidas has similarly acquired land), for an undisclosed but likely handsome sum. If other reported sales are anything to go by, PwC likely paid a handsome sum. One person recently bought a plot of land in the Snoopverse, a virtual world rapper Snoop Dogg is developing within The Sandbox, for $450,000. Meanwhile, Tokens.com’s Metaverse Group bought a plot of land on virtual platform Decentraland in November for $2.43 million.  

These deals come amid the rise of the “metaverse,” a term that has been used a lot as of late, including when Facebook re-branded to Meta in October 2021. The metaverse describes a vision of a connected 3D virtual world, where “real” and digital worlds are integrated using technologies such as virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR). This immersive environment will be accessible through the likes of VR headsets, AR glasses, and smartphone apps, and users will meet and communicate as digital avatars, explore new areas, and create content. The idea is the metaverse will develop to become a collaborative virtual space where we can socialize, play, work, and learn.

There are several, individual metaverses already – for example on virtual gaming platforms like The Sandbox and virtual worlds like Decentraland. In the same way a website is part of the broader 2D world wide web, individual metaverses are expected to one day form a larger, connected metaverse. And just as in the real world, it is – and increasingly will be – possible to buy things in the metaverse, including real estate.

Virtual land as an NFT

Looking beyond platform specific currencies like Robux, transactions in the virtual world are generally monetized using cryptocurrencies. Other than cryptocurrencies, digital assets like non-fungible tokens (“NFTs”) are a method for exchanging value within the metaverse. Although NFTs are primarily tied to items like digital art, a variety of assets may be linked to an NFT (and the underlying code, which records ownership), including virtual real estate. On platforms like OpenSea, where people go to buy and trade NFTs, there are now plots of land, and even virtual houses.

To ensure that digital real estate has value, supply is limited – a concept in economics called “scarcity value.” For example, Decentraland is made up of 90,000 pieces or “parcels” of land, each around 50 feet by 50 feet. 

And we are already seeing examples where the value of virtual real estate is going up. In June 2021, a digital real estate investment fund called Republic Realm spent 1,295,000 MANA (worth $913,228 at the time of sale) to buy an NFT representing a plot on Decentraland. According to DappRadar, a website which tracks NFT sales data, it was the most expensive purchase of NFT land in Decentraland history. Fast forward to November 2021, and the Metaverse Group bought its plot in Decentraland for 618,000 MANA (the equivalent of $2,428,740 at the time). Turns out, the plot of land that the Metaverse Group acquired was actually smaller than the former – 116 land parcels compared to 259 bought by Republic Realm.

It is not just Decentraland that is seeing land value appreciation. In February 2021, Axie Infinity (another virtual gaming world) reportedly sold nine of its land parcels together for 888.25 ETH (the equivalent of $1.5 million at the time), or roughly 98.7 ETH per plot – a record, the company said – before one single land parcel sold for 550 ETH (worth $2.3 million at the time of the sale) in November 2021. While it appears that values are climbing, it is important to acknowledge that real estate investment in the metaverse remains extremely speculative; no one can be certain if this boom is the next great thing or the next big bubble.

The future of metaverse real estate

Financial incentives aside, you may be wondering what companies and individuals will actually do with their virtual land. As an example, the Metaverse Group’s purchase is in Decentraland’s fashion precinct. At the time of the sale, the Metaverse Group said the space would be used to host digital fashion events and sell virtual clothing for avatars – another potential area for growth in the metaverse. The company has since revealed it will stage the impending Metaverse Fashion Week on that very plot of virtual real estate.

While investors and companies are dominating this space at the moment, not all metaverse real estate is expected to cost millions. But what could owning virtual land offer you? If you buy a physical property in the real world, the result is tangible – somewhere to live, to take pride in, to welcome family and friends. Virtual property does not provide physical shelter, but there are still some parallels. In shopping for virtual real estate, you could buy a piece of land to build on – or you could choose an already-built virtual house that you like. You could make it your own with various digital objects, and invite visitors, and visit others’ virtual homes, too.

This vision is likely a while away, but if it seems completely absurd, we should remember that once upon a time, people had doubts about the potential significance of the internet, and then social media. Technologists predict the metaverse will mature into a fully functioning economy in the coming years, providing a synchronous digital experience as interwoven into our lives as email and social networking are now.

Theo Tzanidis is a Senior Lecturer in Digital Marketing at the University of the West of Scotland. (This article was initially published by The Conversation.)

According to recent McKinsey research, 2021 was a year of transformation: people, corporations and society began to look ahead to influencing their futures rather than just surviving the present. It was the year that hopes for herd immunity, an end to pandemic lockdowns, and a return to normality were dashed – at least for now. And aside from the Great Social Media Resignation, which saw burnt-out Gen Z workers announce that they had quit their jobs via TikTok and Instagram, the rise of non-fungible tokens (“NFTs”), and the introduction of the metaverse, the world’s space-going billionaires were as wealthy and productive in business and technology as ever. 

It is difficult to make accurate predictions in the unpredictable environment we have been experiencing over the last two years; the year ahead will undoubtedly bring many surprises. However, here are six digital trends that will influence life in 2022 … 

1. Social Media: More Privacy, Quality and Algorithm Tweaks

Platforms will concentrate on privacy and content quality in feeds. Despite recent public criticism, Facebook is likely to grow in terms of its members, as well as its revenues. With an eye on privacy and content quality, all major social media platforms will likely have updated their privacy policies and tweaked their algorithms by the end of 2022. All the while and due to the demand for strong, engaging content, a new tribe of creative influencers will grow rapidly and make an impact on branding and engagement. 

Thanks to the growing popularity of short-form video content, Instagram and TikTok are likely to witness a rise in ad expenditure in 2022 and Instagram will continue to grow beyond its 50 percent ad revenue share. Underutilized social media marketing components like customer service and relationship management will soon thrive on these platforms.

2. Enter the Metaverse: From 2D to 3D Web

Mark Zuckerberg announced a corporate name change to “Meta” in October 2021, indicating the former Facebook, Inc.’s wish to shape the metaverse transformation. The term refers to the possibilities of virtual and augmented reality. Users may interact, socialize, explore and create content in the virtual environment, and monetize their virtual transactions using blockchain technology and cryptocurrency. The metaverse (or Web3) is intrinsically linked to NFTs and cryptocurrencies, which help to commercialize interactions by creating or selling digital artifacts. In 2022, Web3 is expected to be a big commercial issue and is backed by major brands including NikeAdidasGucci, Dolce & Gabbana, Burberry, Microsoft and others.

3. Acceleration of Crypto & NFT Growth

The adoption of non-fungible tokens (“NFTs”) increased significantly in 2021 and will continue to in 2022. A new value exchange mechanism in the global online economy (and one of the most notable digital trends of the past year), NFTs have the potential to change the value and function of digital assets and artworks, including by enabling artists to reap resale royalties. The Frankfurt School Blockchain Centre predicts a $1.5 trillion market for tokenized assets in Europe over the next three years – with real estate, debt, bonds, shares, virtual art and even tangible collectibles being among the types of assets that can be linked to NFTs. 

4. Growth of Artificial Intelligence

Artificial Intelligence could well change the way we conceptualize, create and enjoy food – or fashion – or look for a job. Michael Spranger, COO of Sony’s artificial intelligence team, explains that labor shortages have led many organizations to use AI to broaden the way they evaluate and assess job applicants. He also notes that some of the most exciting applications of AI in gastronomy will enhance the imagination and creativity of chefs and culinary experts beyond what is possible today. And robots like Flippy are already flipping burgers at McDonalds and other restaurants.

5. Increased Connectivity = More Digital Transformation

5G and the new Wi-Fi 6 standard will enable faster connection – crucial if the world is to embrace these new digital trends. Jerry Paradise, VP of product management for Chinese tech company Lenovo, has said 5G and Wi-Fi 6 are about more than just speed: “Future applications will include smart cities, the internet of things, and vehicle-to-vehicle communications – which would ideally improve traffic flow and safety.”

According to Lenovo, working from home will grow to become more “hybrid” as consumers and organizations continue to think beyond the office. A large majority of IT executives expect to work outside of the office in the future, with smaller and smarter devices, as well as wireless and noise-cancelling headphones. And in this vein, it is expected that hybrid employees will participate in video meetings and conduct phone calls not just from their home office – but from anywhere.

6. New Workplace, New Skills

With workplace set to change, skills will presumably be next. According to the World Economic Forum, in 2022, new occupations will account for 27 percent of big corporate employee bases, while technologically outmoded positions will decline from 31 percent to 21 percent. A shift in the division of labor between humans, computers and algorithms has the potential to remove 75 million current job openings while generating 133 million new ones. 

Data analysts, software and application developers, e-commerce specialists, and social media specialists will continue to be in high demand, including for retail companies. Meanwhile many “human” jobs, such as customer service, organizational development and innovation management, are expected to grow. So, far from “taking our jobs,” AI will create jobs and ensure employment across an array of different field, and further accelerate larger digital trends.

Theo Tzanidis is a Senior Lecturer in Digital Marketing at the University of the West of Scotland.