At the start of the year, the World Bank issued a stark warning that the global economy stands “perilously close to falling into recession”. But this doesn’t give the tech world permission to stand still until markets improve.
We need egalitarian innovation more than ever. Pricing the most transformative technologies so that only the most affluent counties and individuals can afford them will have dire consequences for all of us.
We are often reminded that necessity is the mother of invention. In India, there’s a word for frugal innovation – ‘jugaad’– which originally meant using clever shortcuts to solve problems in the face of scarce investment. Increasingly, it has come to mean innovations centring on optimizing and economizing to give consumers access to tech previously considered high-end or unaffordable.
Initially, this placed an emphasis on levelling up developing nations to meet the same standards of living as in more developed ones, but this concept can be applied to any market in the midst of a downturn.
I was able to attend the Slush festival in Helsinki in mid-November, which is dedicated to provocative start-ups and edge technologies. While the likes of CES and MWC reveal the technologies that will hit the shelves in the next 12-18 months, Slush offers an early glimpse of the tech that will come to fruition up to a decade down the line.
The concept of ‘jugaad’ was alive and well at Slush, with frugal tech standing as a prominent theme across multiple categories – from retail to edtech to the metaverse, and more.
Numerous exhibitors at Slush demonstrated it is very possible to offer great technology-led experiences that distil down the key features without the unnecessary bells and whistles that confer an idea of ‘premium’. With just a few tweaks and shortcuts, they offer what the market leaders can – but at a fraction of the cost.
Reducing costs doesn’t always have to mean cutting corners or reverse engineering top-tier tech and using cheaper components. Resources are better used in thinking about what makes an experience work so well. As such, the biggest expense in product development should always be brain power.
What is the World Economic Forum doing about the metaverse?
Experts believe that the metaverse will come to represent the next major computing platform, transforming consumer experience and business models across industries.
Fashion brands are one example. Over years, apparel companies have perfected the design, manufacture, and distribution of clothing to anticipate consumers’ wants and needs in line with seasonal changes. But today, most of their revenue is surpassed by the $3bn worth of sales of digital cosmetic items in Fortnite, which have a cultural significance that extends far into the physical world.
This is one of the economic opportunities of the metaverse – the possibility to “assetize” digital content, creating a framework of digital ownership for users. If it is replicated at scale and across sectors, then entire industries will be reshaped by changes to their traditional value chains.
However, the promise relies on the advancement of several key technologies, including augmented, virtual and mixed reality (collectively known as XR), as well as blockchain, connected devices and artificial intelligence. How should these be governed in a way that promotes their economic upsides while protecting individuals’ safety, security and privacy?
The World Economic Forum is bringing together leading voices from the private sector, civil society, academia and government to address this precise question. Over the next year, it will curate a multistakeholder community focusing on metaverse governance and economic and social value creation.
It will recommend regulatory frameworks for good governance of the metaverse and study how innovation and value creation can be strengthened for the benefit of society. Updates will be published on the World Economic Forum website on a regular basis.
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