EU Commission Unveils Ambitious Strategy for the Metaverse and Web 4.0

The European Commission is preparing to unveil its strategy for virtual worlds and the next generation of the internet, known as Web 4.0. An early draft of the initiative obtained by EURACTIV sheds light on the Commission’s vision for the metaverse and its plans to harness emerging technologies.

Web 4.0, as defined by the European Commission, represents the fourth generation of the World Wide Web and is expected to integrate artificial intelligence (AI), ambient intelligence, the Internet of Things (IoT), trusted blockchain transactions, virtual worlds (VR), and augmented reality (AR). The aim is to create a highly connected network that leverages various technologies, including AI, to enhance user experiences and provide innovative services.

Ambient intelligence refers to the ability of devices and sensors embedded in the environment to understand user needs and automatically offer services. This concept aligns with the Commission’s goal of promoting open and highly distributed technologies and standards that ensure interoperability and freedom of choice for users while prioritizing sustainability in technological advancements.

The European Commission’s strategy recognizes the metaverse, also known as virtual worlds, as immersive environments that blend the physical and digital worlds in real-time using technologies such as 3D and extended reality (XR). Companies like Meta have made substantial investments in the metaverse, reflecting the growing market potential. Estimates suggest that the metaverse market could reach over €800 billion by 2030, highlighting the need for a comprehensive approach to this emerging sector.

The EU executive intends to leverage existing legislation in areas such as privacy, consumer protection, data governance, and platform regulation to ensure that the regulatory framework covers the metaverse. However, the draft does not explicitly address emerging threats such as new forms of gender-based violence, leaving some concerns unaddressed.

To support the development of skills relevant to virtual world technologies, the Digital Europe and Creative Europe programs will play a crucial role. Additionally, research on the impact of the metaverse on people’s health will be funded through the Horizon Europe program.

Recognizing the importance of international collaboration and standards, the European Commission plans to engage with standardization organizations to ensure interoperability of virtual worlds. This initiative aims to prevent the creation of closed ecosystems by big tech companies and promote an open and interconnected metaverse.

The Commission also emphasizes the need for collaboration between EU countries and relevant stakeholders to address challenges faced by companies specializing in 3D modeling, gaming, and virtual reality. The establishment of regulatory sandboxes for virtual worlds and Web 4.0 will provide a safe environment for businesses to test new technologies and innovative business models. Furthermore, the Commission plans to conduct a study to analyze the business opportunities and practical barriers of these technologies, including developing a toolbox to combat counterfeiting and protect intellectual property rights in the metaverse.

Governance plays a vital role in the Commission’s strategy, and it aims to establish a technical multi-stakeholder governance process to address crucial aspects of virtual worlds and Web 4.0 beyond the scope of existing internet governance institutions. The Commission will also create an expert group to share best practices and engage in international fora to shape the future of Web 4.0.

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