The Age of the Multilingual Metaverse
Metaverse: it’s a word you hear frequently tossed around on the Internet, the metaverse is the next evolution, the metaverse is a hypothetical iteration of the Internet. The term metaverse has taken a life of its own in the past few years, spurred on by the likes of Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Meta (PKA Facebook), who has renamed his company in honor of this new, futuristic concept that he believes will profoundly influence the world as we know it.
But to this day, most people struggle to define what exactly a metaverse is. Older generations might be familiar with the term via Neal Stephenson, the science fiction writer who coined the term in his 1992 novel Snow Crash, in which the denizens of a futuristic world have access to a virtual urban environment where they can portray themselves to be anyone they want. The concept has since been replicated and made familiar to younger generations through the likes of the Spielberg film Ready Player One, the Kosinski film Tron: Legacy, or popular online games such as Fornite or Roblox. The general consensus regarding the definition of a metaverse seems to be a virtual reality immersive enough for its users to take on entire personages and lives disparate from the ones they live in their immediate reality. One of the main components of this immersion is the very tangible social relationships users form through these metaverse platforms.
But just how accurate is this understanding of the metaverse? Is there a singular definition of the metaverse that we can all agree to? The notion of the metaverse isn’t as straightforward as one would like it to be, and for a good reason: it’s not actually real. In an article for The Verge, reporters Adi Robertson and Jay Peters note that the metaverse “doesn’t necessarily exist,” and is “partly a dream for the future of the internet and partly a neat way to encapsulate some current trends in online infrastructure, including the growth of real-time 3D worlds.” Others beg to differ, one example being Matthew Ball, the author of the Metaverse Primer, who defines the metaverse as “an expansive network of persistent, real-time rendered 3D worlds and simulations that support continuity of identity, objects, history, payments, and entitlements, and can be experienced synchronously by an effectively unlimited number of users, each with an individual sense of presence.” Though more articulated, this definition is similar to our general consensus of the metaverse.
The company Meta goes even further and sums up the metaverse in a single sentence: “the metaverse is the next evolution in social connection and the successor to the mobile internet.” Meta describes the metaverse as “a set of digital spaces that you can move seamlessly between,” a world that will help “connect with people when you aren’t physically in the same place.” Meta’s definition retains the social aspect of the metaverse that we are familiar with; on the other hand, it introduces the metaverse as the successor—and replacement—for the internet.
Overall, it’s helpful to think of the metaverse as a collection of loosely stringed-together ideas and desires that paint individual images of a vague notion of the metaverse. Robertson and Peters provide a list of features that contemporary tech figures usually refer to when speaking of the metaverse:
- Feature sets that overlap with older web services or real-world activities
- Real-time 3D computer graphics and personalized avatars
- A variety of person-to-person social interactions that are less competitive and goal-oriented than stereotypical games
- Support for users creating their own virtual items and environments
- Links with outside economic systems so people can profit from virtual goods
- Designs that seem well-suited to virtual and augmented reality headsets, even if they usually support other hardware as well
Definitions aside, how exactly big of a market does the metaverse boast? A report by Grand View Research on the global metaverse market roughly estimates the value of the market to be USD 38.85 billion in 2021. The authors expect the market to grow at a CAGR of 39.4% between 2022 to 2030. The growth is attributed to “a growing focus on integrating digital and physical worlds using the Internet, increasing momentum and popularity of Mixed Reality (MR), Augmented Reality (AR), and Virtual Reality (VR), and the outbreak of COVID-19, as well as the situation’s subsequent developments and outcomes.” The report also notes that, according to industry experts, the metaverse market could one day reach more than USD 1 trillion in yearly revenues.
The GVR report also cites two other major drivers of growth for the metaverse market, the first of which is the “growing demand for metaverse to purchase digital assets using cryptocurrencies.” Every metaverse has a specific cryptocurrency used to purchase virtual items and is integral to connecting the physical and virtual realms. Aspects of commercialism, business, economics, and trade are naturally reflected in the hyper-realistic worlds configured by the metaverse and tie into the tangible, realistic economics of the real world. The second major driver is “expanded opportunities for Business-to-Consumer (B2C) and Business-to-Business (B2B) enterprises.” The metaverse is rich in opportunities that will help businesses more effectively reach their consumers or facilitate their operations. For example, the metaverse can one day host “trade exhibitions, product demos, client meetings, customer service, and commercials” or aid “workers from low-income countries… find work in western corporations without emigrating.” Virtual reality will also “enhance educational options, as they are a low-cost and effective way to learn.”
Given the immersive nature of the metaverse—and how communication-heavy it all seems to be—translation is a necessary step in building a metaverse that is linguistically and culturally varied enough to cater to the majority of its users. After all, it’s hard to feel immersed in a location, virtual or otherwise, when you don’t speak the language that is spoken in that locale. But the metaverse is an ambiguous, burgeoning field of technology, and for this reason, it is difficult to tell how pre-existing translation methods and tools will be implemented in the realm of the metaverse.
However, there are already researchers, specialists, and translation agencies mapping the frontiers of this new era. In introducing a multilingual AI-based translation system, Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg confesses that such instantaneous, large-scale translation models will be “especially important when people teleporting across virtual worlds and experiencing things with people from different backgrounds… Now, we have the chance to improve the internet and set a new standard where we can all communicate with one another, no matter what language we speak, or where we come from. And if we get this right, this is just one example of how AI can help bring people together on a global scale.” In other words, Zuckerberg’s plans of expanding the reach and possibilities of the metaverse are to be facilitated by the complementary development of an all-purpose translation model.
There are others that believe that AI-based machine translation will be the solution to the metaverse’s language problem. In a short paper titled “Evaluation of Language Translator Module for Metaverse Virtual Assistant”, presented at the 2022 Korean Institute of Communications and Information Sciences Summer Conference, authors Cosmas Ifeanyi Nwakanma et al. configure a basic translation module for the metaverse, examining the possibilities of using front-end translation models such as DeepL, Google, and Rozetta in the new field of technology. It’s not a perfect fit, however; there are problems that remain. The authors pose important questions necessary for the implementation of machine translation in the metaverse: how many languages will be supported? Will various metaverse platforms be interoperable? Will apps and interfaces be capable of being integrated?
These cases paint a grim picture for human translators and translation agencies: what kinds of roles do human translators play in the localization and translation of the metaverse? As much as the looming notion of a metaverse seems threatening—bringing the world ever so closer to the extinction of human translators—quite the opposite is true. Just like translation and localization in non-metaverse spaces, the metaverse is populated by real-life people (in their avatar forms, presumably) communicating via languages grounded in real-life situations. That means that communication in the metaverse carries connotations, nuances, and deliberation that only human translators can get across; AI-based machine translation still has a long way to go in developing the kind of finesse required to carry out cross-lingual, cross-cultural translations.
There are already localization agencies that offer services catered to the metaverse. Stepes, for example, provides “metaverse translation services and solutions… across linguistic and cultural barriers.” The company offers translation services that help in the localization of “software GUI strings, product documents, training videos, or marketing websites; their translators are experts at translating “the latest metaverse technology products, utilizing systems to allow “professional human linguists to translate at efficiency.”
Another example is Bureau Works, which, in their blog post, note the specific kinds of linguistic differences that require careful human oversight and supervision. The company notes how “Arabic screen applications are read from the top right-hand corner” as opposed to many other languages that don’t, and thus require deliberate localization efforts to make sure translated texts and content are formatted in the correct way in the metaverse. The company also explains how “symbols also have their own specific cultural contexts” and how “colors are also heavily influenced by culture.” These are the kinds of cultural and linguistic differences that only human translators and localization experts can offer; these differences persist in the metaverse and must be dealt with by experts.
Here at Sprok DTS, our localization experts provide tailored support for clients seeking translation and localization services relating to the metaverse. Covering a wide array of languages and domains, our experts offer top-tier services, aided by numerous machine translation technologies employed here at Sprok DTS. Visit our website and start your journey with Sprok DTS today.