Making Sense of the Metaverse
(theme music) - [Duncan] Hello, everyone, welcome to the SAG-AFTRA podcast. I'm Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, National Executive Director of SAG-AFTRA. - [Ben] And I'm Ben Whitehair, Executive Vice President of SAG-AFTRA. - [Duncan] The metaverse promises to revolutionize our world by creating a new virtual one, but what is it exactly, the future of the internet, or one evolutionary step in the world of video games? And what does this virtual world mean for actors and influencers? - [Ben] Recently, as part of SAG-AFTRA C Space series at CES in Las Vegas, we gathered an impressive panel of content creators, performers, industry experts, and contract professionals to explore the metaverse, how it will change the entertainment landscape, and what it will mean to be an influencer or celebrity in that space. The panel was hosted by my fearless co-host, Duncan Crabtree-Ireland.
- [Duncan] That's right. I really enjoyed our conversation and learned so much. Panelists included Solo Ceesay, CEO and co-founder of Calaxy, Charles Okochu, Senior Business Development Manager at Amazon Managed Blockchain and Amazon Web Services, Boo Wong, Director of Live Entertainment at Unity, and SAG-AFTRA's very own Shaine Griffin, who is Manager of Contract Strategic Initiatives. - [Ben] So strap on your VR headset, and enjoy this informative look at the metaverse.
(ride cymbal shimmering) So without further ado, I'm going to introduce our panelists. First of all, Solo Ceesay is the CEO and co-founder of Calaxy, an open social marketplace, designed and built by creators for creators. Next is Charles Okochu. Charles is Senior Business Development Manager at a small company you might have heard of called Amazon, Amazon Managed Blockchain at Amazon Web Services.
Please welcome Charles. Next we have SAG-AFTRA's own Shaine Griffin, who is a longtime labor and community organizer, and is SAG-AFTRA's Manager of Contract Strategic Initiatives. And finally, Boo Wong, who is Director of Live Entertainment at Unity, she's an accomplished inventor, she's a patent holder, she's an author and a speaker, and her contributions to the film industry are numerous. So welcome to all of you, so glad to be here with you, and I'm gonna start it off with a question, and then I'm gonna join you in a second.
What is the metaverse anyway? (chuckles) I know it's hard to define in the general lexicon, it's hard to nail down, but I think maybe we can ask each of our panelists to dig in a little bit into that question. So Boo, why don't we start with you on that. - [Boo] We're all developing this right now. It is a evolving space. It's not set, if anybody says the metaverse is dead, they don't realize it's not really born yet. It's being created.
We're as you know, kind of pioneers in this space. We're developing it, so in many ways we're helping to define it. I think that the most common way people think about it is that it's a kind of an interactive 3D social space that also will have utility, will have entertainment, will have games, and that it is a space that is contextually and spatially aware as well. So right now we think about it as perhaps as VR only, you're only in a headset, and now you're in the metaverse, welcome, you know, ready player one.
But I think that it's really going to launch once AR really kicks in, and then we're really gonna be able to have these digital layers in our life that is pervasive. - [Duncan] Shaine, do you wanna comment on what the metaverse is from the Unity perspective? - [Shaine] Well, I definitely agree with what everything Boo said, but I would add also that my understanding of the metaverse is it's right now, a collection of virtual spaces that are very immersive and experiential, that integrate some component of artificial intelligence, augmented reality, virtual reality, mixed reality, but at its core, are meant to bring people together, bring community together, and build connectivity. And so as it pertains to SAG-AFTRA, we're gonna see a lot of ways that the metaverse engages people, entertainment, but also work, and just fostering that sense of comradery among humans that might not be able to sit next to each other. - [Duncan] Awesome. Charles, I think you have a perspective on this issue too. - [Charles] Yes, so from our perspective at AWS, we look at the metaverse as a combination of virtual reality, mixed reality, or augmented reality, which you know, can be accessible through either a phone or a virtual reality headset, and you know, allows people to interact with each other or share experiences with each other over distance, you know, using the internet.
From our perspective, the metaverse can be broken up into seven layers, so there's seven layers that make up the metaverse. The first layer is the infrastructure layer, which is where AWS plays, and on top of that layer is what you would call the human interface layer, which is the virtual reality headsets that you see, and that's kind of, for most people, when you talk about metaverse, that's the first thing they do, you know, they think, and then above that layer is the decentralization layer, which is what you call the ownership layer. That's the layer that you have, you know, your ownership of the assets or objects that are being created in the metaverse.
And most of the time, at least more recently, it's built on top of blockchains, which allow you to create tokenization of physical and virtual assets in that space, and allows you to claim ownership or prove that you own the specific assets in the metaverse. Then after that you, after the decentralization layer, you also have what I call the spatial computing layer, which is the layer that allows you to validate where you are within that virtual world, so you also can include things like geospatial mapping like GPS, and so when you are interacting or moving inside of the metaverse, you have a sense of where you are. And then on top of that, the next layer, we're almost there, seven layers, I'm at the fourth layer now, so just bear with me, okay? And then so on top of that layer is what you would call the creator economy layer because you have to allow people to be able to create tools. You have tools to create objects or create experiences on top of, you know, the platform that's been built so far.
And then on top of that, the final layer is the experience layer, so you can decide exactly what you want to watch, whether you wanna watch a 3D or virtual reality movie like "Avatar," which you just saw recently, or you want to engage in eSports and engage with the rest of the metaverse. So that's how we define metaverse, and that was longer than two minutes, but hope it helps. - [Duncan] No, I mean, I think that seven layer burrito explanation is definitely, it's good, it's what we're looking for. Solo, do you wanna add anything to that? - [Solo] I mean, I think I now know what the metaverse is. (all laughing) But yeah, no, I think the most important thing, the idea of how important web three technologies are in making the metaverse something that can scale practically and something that can be usable, right? Like, when you think about the traditional internet and being able to just interact, and like, the idea of version one of the internet was read, and version two is interact with, and the third is ownership. I think the idea of blockchain technologies makes this a lot more practical and allows these technologies to scale.
And so lastly, I think it's important to note that the metaverse is something that has been around for a long period of time, and are the basis between the value we put on things in the physical world, in the digital world has continued to compress for many, many decades, and blockchain technology's evolved as that next sort of step to compressing that even tighter, but making these technologies more real, and more usable in our everyday lives. - [Duncan] And how does that relate to what Calaxy is doing? I mean, it's been described as a open social marketplace by and for creators, and it seems like it approaches the metaverse as a creative space. I mean, how does that fit into the broader advent of the metaverse and the sort of the reshaping of the metaverse and the sharing of ideas? - [Solo] Yeah, absolutely. I think the world doesn't get to a decentralized world or like, a metaverse world in a day. I think it's something that's gonna be a long process, and so us as a company long-term, we very much have so resonate with those ideals and those core principles that made blockchain such an important technology within our generation. Calaxy specifically wants to be a sandbox for where a content creator, famous influencer of some type, or anybody with an audience is able to better connect with their fans and start to extract value from their own ecosystem in the form of monetization.
We've seen the rise of applications like Cameo, Patreon, other of these creator-centric platforms, and the reason why they've been able to do so well is that there's a huge ownership problem within the traditional internet, and so Calaxy's like a web three, that next step in iteration in allowing people to take ownership of their things and have, you know, verifiable identities, and ways to assign ownership to certain things, and being able to collaborate in a way that keeps everything very public and transparent. And so us, we hope to, you know, walk those lines immediately. We're more of like a web two and a half project, which feels more and looks like a web two application, but underneath the hood, we're gonna continue to unveil the curtains and you know, explore those great opportunities within the metaverse, but to start, it's gonna be a lot more like those applications that live in the web two space. - [Duncan] That's really interesting, and in an earlier panel today on AI, we were talking about the importance of being able to authenticate and sort of confirm, you know, the origins of content as AI becomes more and more powerful and therefore, the source of things becomes questionable, so that's fascinating.
Boo, can I turn to you and ask you in what ways you see the metaverse sort of changing how we experience entertainment? - [Boo] The first thing and most obvious thing that it brings are those new platforms. These are new places that you can go to to experience content, whether it's linear films or an interactive game. These are new platforms that you can go to. It's not just sitting in, you know, in a movie theater, or going to your living room to turn on the television, or even flipping open the laptop or sitting on with the iPad.
This is actually bringing different types of platforms, so the format itself is changing. Also, I think that it's adding interactivity to it as well. You're no longer a passive viewer. You could be, sure, but in, I think, the kind of deeper experiences that we're gonna be seeing going forward, these are interactive, lean forward experiences for audiences.
It's gonna change the way you interact with content. You know, if you ask, you know, a lot of the younger generation or whatever, they're interactively dealing with content as is, and they're leaning towards those types of formats as is. This is not to say this is not sub-institutional. It's not like linear content is gonna go away anytime soon, but this is adding another layer to it.
And then the other thing is that it is a kind of a pervasive, or a persistent, actually more, that's probably a better word, a persistent experience. It doesn't necessarily have to turn off. It's not like a show that is on for 40 minutes, or 33 minutes, or a two hour format. This is, once you get onto these platforms, it is 24/7.
You can just log in, it's on demand, it's there all the time, so I think that just the format itself is really going to change things. One other thing I wanted to, as I was sitting there listening to y'all talk, you know, we did a virtual concert recently with Blu DeTiger, and the thing that was super unique about it was that we actually, it was a virtual concert, so we volumetrically captured her and her band, and then we streamed that, simulcast that to two different metaverse or interactive platforms. Now, the thing that's interesting to think about that is that a lot of times, when you see virtual shows, you can only see it on say, Roblox or Sandbox or Fortnite, or one particular venue.
In this case, we basically had a concert and we streamed it to Future Fest and to Vroom on VRChat. So we actually had a concert that went to two different virtual venues. Now, think about it, in the real world, could you get Blu to perform at the Ace Hotel in LA, and then also simultaneously, you know, in New York in a theater? She couldn't be in both places at the same time, but in this case, once you basically go to this format, you actually have that interoperable content.
You have that open format where you could, if you wanted to, and actually more importantly, if the artist wants to, they can meet audiences not just in one venue, whether it's physical or virtual, but they can go to as many venues as they want. And so that's something that we, you know, we always hear a lot about interoperable content, open content, open metaverse, and we wanted to not just talk about it, we actually wanted to do it. So we actually made that happen in I think November. So that was a really cool thing for Blu. - [Duncan] And speaking about the open metaverse, one of the things we talked about when we had a prep conversation for this that we should make clear is even though there's a company that's appropriated that beginning of that name, the metaverse is not a proprietary place, but to the contrary, it's the opposite of that, right? Anyone want to comment on that point? - [Solo] Yeah, I mean I think it's interesting. Like, the rebrand from Facebook to Meta was quite, I mean, presumptuous, I think a little bit in certain ways, but at the same time, it was bold, it was bold.
But I think the idea was really good though, 'cause like, anybody that's a deep person in the space, like, you know, everyone that thinks as a, you know, web three person, you don't really like big large enterprises, but I'm actually on the other side of the coin. I think them doing that was very big signaling on like, where the world is going, and so I think that was, you know, good within itself, but to what had been stated here before, like, the power of the metaverse is really like, it creates practicality, and the power of blockchain in the metaverse is what makes this stuff useful, practical. It's the only way for this stuff to exist. - [Duncan] Shaine, I wanted to ask you what you think about the role of influencers in the metaverse, does the metaverse change what it means to be an influencer? How are you looking at that? - [Shaine] It's a great question, and I think there's a few ways we can tackle it, 'cause are we talking about virtual influencers who are digital representations of people and are amassing followers that way? Or are we talking about influencers in the traditional sense whose subject matter expertise is the metaverse? Or are we talking about influencers, again as we traditionally know and love them, who are now engaging inside of the metaverse? So I think as the metaverse continues to evolve, 'cause it's still very nascent, our conceptualization of influencers will change as well. But that said, SAG-AFTRA really believes that influencers, actors, any entertainers who are pioneers in this space, really are best served when we are there to help support, guide, and protect them, because it is very much still the wild, wild West.
- [Duncan] Well, you know, it's funny that you say that, the wild wild West. We were talking in an earlier panel about implications for rights and copyright, but not only copyright, also rights of publicity, other related rights. Charles, I wanted to ask what you think about how the metaverse is going to, what impact it's gonna have on copyright and what impact copyright's gonna have on it, and other rights that are crucial for creators in our industry. - [Charles] I mean, as CEC'S mentioned several times, you know, using the power of decentralization and blockchains allows you to create NFTs, which are not the typical NFTs that you guys are used to, but you can tokenize any type of asset. It could be real estate. It could also be the digital likeness of an actor, or an influencer, or a movie star, and so we are working with companies in the space to, you know, like, a company I call HG Registry IO they're working with right now who's digitizing the likeness of movie stars or even football players, or you know, and basically, they're using volumetric 3D video and audio to record every move or every motion, and capture that motion, and store it as an NFT in the blockchain.
So you mentioned about the fact that you can actually be in more than one place, and that, you know, what they're using that solution for is to allow an artist or an influencer to direct or act in a movie, and maybe attend a keynote at a conference like this, and also maintain NFTs and do anything they want to do all at the same time, just using the digital likeness that's been recorded, and allowing them to be in more than one place at one time. Even long after they're gone, they can still, their beneficiaries, or you know, who will inherit those rights will continue to be able to monetize those assets on an ongoing basis. So that's, it's a very, very powerful platform, and that's kinda where copyrights kind of comes into play, because you also have to ensure that the underlying asset itself, you know, you don't just assume that because you mint an NFT for the asset, you already taking care of your copyrights. You also have to ensure that from the legal perspective, that you have ownership of the underlying assets itself. So that's kind of how we see it at AWS. - [Ben] It's funny how you're, I think making the point to distinguish the concept of NFTs generally from sort of what people think of as NFTs.
And I remember vividly back in this area in 2019 here at CES 2018 and 2019, everyone was talking about NFTs. NFTs were gonna change the world, they were gonna change the entertainment industry, et cetera. That seems, I'm not saying NFTs have no role in the industry, but I think we could say that the predictions that within a year or two, everything was gonna be all about NFTs can't be, you know, the sort of entertainment focus NFTs, we could say that didn't pan out exactly that way. - [Charles] We're in the valley of despair right now, innovation cycle and no thanks to a 29 year old billionaire.
- [Ben] Well there's that, and some others. - [Charles] I think we'll get there. I mean, we're, I mean we're, at this point, you know, we support builders. You know, even though the markets are down, you know, and a few of you probably invested in NFTs, but don't worry, things will come back. (chuckles) - [Duncan] They always say that. - [Charles] What I can say is this.
I talk to different companies, builders across the globe, and when you look at the number of smart contracts that are being developed, and the number of ideas that I hear on a daily basis, and we're not talking about just virtual assets. We're talking about physical assets like copyrights, or even real estate, or any type of asset that you can think of right now that requires contracts. They're all being digitized. Vital records like birth certificates are being digitized.
You know, California just recently announced, you know, put in a executive order saying that all birth certificates and other vital records have to be on the blockchain. So it's happening, it's just taking a little bit of time to get there. - [Ben] To me, I think one of the key points there is to make sure people aren't just thinking about the various clubs and other sort of forms of NFTs that have been sort of popularized in the media, but actually, like you said, smart contracts and other utilities that are attached to NFT, and those more fundamental uses of NFTs being the building blocks of the metaverse, and also the ability to authenticate content and to verify the source of things in the future. I mean, I think there's a lot of functionality there that's beyond how people are thinking about NFTs just as a asset to be traded, you know, in the world. - [Charles] Yeah, you can also, I mean, for instance with, you know, what you guys do at SAG-AFTRA, you know, looking after actors, and you know, you can actually use it to keep track of any time a piece of content is played back, so to ensure that the actors that are involved in the movie or the production get paid their royalties.
So that's another area where NFTs are being used to ensure that they get paid royalties in any region. Let's say you convert the, you know, "Friends" movie or "Friends" TV show, and play back in say, a different country, and you wanna ensure that anytime that piece of content is played back, that those actors are actually paid. So that's, it's one use case that we're seeing right now. - [Ben] Well, you know, we're here at CES in SAG-AFTRA's future shock, you know, panel track, which means we don't shy away from the tough questions. And so you all know I'm about to ask this question, but I think it's something probably on everyone's mind, which is where should we go, and where are we gonna go in terms of regulation and sort of rule setting for the metaverse? Because surely we've learned some lessons from our experience in the past about what happens with a true wild West situation.
So I'm gonna ask each panelist to comment on this, and even though I started with you last time, I'm gonna start with you again this time, 'cause it's been a second since you've were talking. So could you share what your thoughts are about what's the proper role for organizations like SAG-AFTRA, for organizations like the government in setting boundaries and setting sort of parameters about how content is used, how creators are protected in the metaverse? - [Boo] Yeah, I mean that's, this is a very big question. I think you would probably actually be better positioned to answer this, but I think that from a platform builder point of view, from a content also builder point of view, you know, we wanna make sure that we are respectful of the talent that making these things, whether it's technology or if it's a creative. And so how do we even support that in the right way in this kind of new environment? I mean, we're seeing things right now, you know, when you look at, you know, image generation like with through AI with Midjourney, or you know, it's amazing what is going to be possible, but how we manage it is really still up in the air.
I do think that it is important to figure out how to support the artists, but also not dampen the creativity that's possible through these, you know, AI tools and other, you know, kind of metaverse platforms that will spring up as well. So it's really a fine line that we're gonna walk. I don't have an easy answer for that. I think that there will need to be some guidelines to protect creators and talent, but I also think that we need to be able to enable, you know, some open development, because otherwise, we're not going to evolve the space at all.
- [Duncan] Shaine, how about you? - [Shaine] Yeah, I mean, I agree with everything you said, Boo, and I would just add that with the digitalization of performers, right? It's gonna have incredible implications both in opportunity, but also how folks are potentially exploited and compensated, and so while we would love for every actor, no pun intended, to be a good player in this space, and treat our talent fairly and equitably, we also know that there have to be rules to the road, right? And there has to be some kind of engagement with folks like SAG-AFTRA who are there to advocate on behalf of performers who really just want to do their craft and do what they love, and so we are there to support, advocate, guide, and grow with the industry. We want to collaborate with producers so that everyone wins and you can make amazing content, but our performers are also safe and protected in this space. - [Boo] And think about like, the near future when we actually will have to deal with, you know, AI generated talent who may have an opinion about what their rights are, and how they wanna be represented and protected as well. - [Charles] We're already there, actually. I mean, you talked about DALL·E 2, they're generating art, and then when you couple that with ChatGPT, which is kind of the new craze that can actually act as a chat bot and respond, you already have companies already building corporate influencers already that actually respond to customers within the metaverse. - [Boo] Yeah, or writing pitch decks for you.
- [Charles] Pitch decks, exactly, or college acceptance resumes and things like that. But as far as on the, on the question of regulation, from my perspective, I mean, I think back to the '90s during the Clinton administration. I'm sure you guys, some of you here are old enough to remember the V-chip and what a disaster that was. We don't want that in this new age with the metaverse. I think that when you leave politicians and lawmakers who don't understand the technology to begin with, and that's why there's actually no regulation in cryptocurrency markets, and web three currently, in general, 'cause they don't know what to do. They don't understand the technology well enough to actually construct regulation.
That's my personal belief. So I think the industry, you know, and that's where we should take leadership in actually helping to draft standards that are acceptable across, and that's where Screen Act, you know, SAG-AFTRA can actually help set the standards, and at least put forward those standards to kind of, you know, keep actors safe, and ensure that their digital likeness is not used in contents that they did not approve of like, you know, pornography or things like that, 'cause it's possible once they have access to your content, it can be used in ways that you don't expect. So that's my own personal view as far as regulation and policy. - [Ben] Solo? - [Solo] I would say, yeah, I've been a little bit quiet, but I have some thoughts. So I think when you think about the core ethos of blockchain technologies and like, what you might hear, all the FUD that you read about or hear about on the internet about how cryptocurrencies or decentralized technologies are all Ponzi schemes, they don't have a value, it's because we, especially in the developed world, don't see the benefits of truly decentralized technologies and how much more trust you can have in technologies if they aren't able to be manipulated by one person or one party, right? And so I think when you think about the government doing exactly that, which is setting the standards about some things that they may not, one, know enough about or also have incentives to try and manipulate a certain way for their own personal gain, I think that's where I would be an advocate for there to be more so like, entities and parties like SAG-AFTRA or like, shepherds, if you will, of people from the community to mobilize the entire group of people and have it be reflective of truly what we want it to be, right? Like, that's the whole, and that's like, the kumbaya vision of like what blockchain technologies are, what web three is.
But reality, it's our one chance to help have a say in defining the rules and standards that affect us the most, which I think we should be a lot more active about, versus waiting for the government to come in and try and regulate us. - [Charles] Yeah, I would also add that I'm hoping that the Screen Actors Guild will also work with other guilds in other countries as well, and maybe you form, you know, like, a decentralized autonomous organization made up of, you know, guilds across the world, especially in third world countries like in India, Africa, to help kind of help set those standards to ensure that their rights are not violated as well in terms of that. - [Ben] I'm so glad you said that, and I'll take the opportunity to plug the International Federation of Actors, which is exactly the type of organization you're talking about that has representatives from the actors unions in India and in several countries now as well. - [Charles] I did not know that, so I learned something new today. (all chuckling) - [Ben] But you know, and I think the points you've made are excellent, and I guess I would just, what I would just add is what history has taught us is this industry needs to work together, and when I say this industry, I don't mean only the entertainment industry.
I mean the technology industry. Everyone who's got an interest in the metaverse needs to work together to come up with an agreed framework for protection of people, people's rights, their image and likeness, copyright, content, et cetera, because if we don't, that's when things happen that people don't like, like government, you know, extreme behaviors occurring that cause governments to feel like they have to get involved, and perhaps people who may not have as much of a nuanced perspective on how all of this works start making mandatory rules and things like that. So hopefully, we can all work together to help avoid that. I wanna really just say thank you so much to this amazing panel, Boo Wong, Shaine Griffin, Charles Okochu, Solo Ceesay. You guys have been amazing. Thank you so much, and thanks to everyone for being here.
We'll see you next year. (bright music) - [Duncan] The SAG-AFTRA a podcast is produced and edited by Aaron Goddard and Jon Small. Supervising producers are Pamela Greenwalt, Sheara Reich, and Michael McNulty, with production and marketing support from Damon Romine, Jalika Conteh, Margo Giordano, Bernadine Robbins, and Maria Cabezas. This podcast is hosted by Ben Whitehair and me, yours truly, Duncan Crabtree-Ireland.