Bill Gates reflected on his “most unusual and difficult year,” but he also looked ahead to 2022 and beyond with a sense of optimism, including about our “more digitized future.”
In a year-end post on Gates’ personal blog, the Microsoft co-founder made a prediction about the future of work and how it might be altered by the rise of the metaverse, the virtual worlds being built by tech companies such as Meta (formerly Facebook) and Microsoft in which users will be able to work, play, and socialize.
The Covid-19 pandemic, according to Gates, 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 ahead,” Gates writes, and he believes remote working will draw more people into the metaverse. “Within the next two or three years, I predict that most virtual meetings will transition from 2D camera image grids…to the metaverse, a 3D space with digital avatars,” Gates writes in a blog post.
That two-dimensional, grid view Gates describes, which he compares to the game show “Hollywood Squares,” is what most video conferencing platforms, such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams, currently provide. Meanwhile, in the metaverse, you would have a 3D avatar that could attend meetings in a virtual office space or other location and interact with the avatars of your coworkers.
“The idea is that you will eventually use your avatar to meet with people in a virtual space that simulates the feeling of being in a physical room with them,” Gates writes. However, Gates says that users will have to wear virtual reality headsets or goggles to do so.
Gates, who retired from Microsoft’s board of directors in 2020, adds that his former company is working on adding 3D avatars and other metaverse-friendly elements to its Teams workplace software. And now that Microsoft is collaborating with Mark Zuckerberg and Meta to make the latter’s Workplace social network for businesses compatible with Teams, Teams may have a clear on-ramp to the metaverse.
Of course, Gates acknowledges that his vision for a virtual workplace in the metaverse will take time and the willingness of users and their employers. To begin with, tech companies such as Meta, as well as gaming platforms such as Roblox and Microsoft’s own Minecraft, are still developing the virtual worlds that will comprise 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 such as VR headsets and possibly even motion-capture gloves.
“There’s still some work to be done,” he says, but it won’t be long before the metaverse makes remote work feel a little less remote.
“We’re approaching a tipping point where technology begins to truly replicate the experience of working together,” he writes.
In his blog post, the philanthropist, climate activist, and public health advocate not only expressed his excitement about 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 combating the Covid-19 pandemic, combating climate change, his concerns about America’s deepening political divides, and even Gates’ own divorce in 2021.