Photo by Luis Villasmil on Unsplash

With all the hype over GenAI, the metaverse, the digital world where people/avatars can mingle, has been largely forgotten. After all, the notion of working in teams of cartoonish avatars seemed unlikely at best. And silly at worst, particularly for any business purposes. No one seemed interested in dealing face to face with an avatar that looked like, say, Donald Duck. So, most of us dismissed the metaverse, putting it in the same class as blockchain. Much ado about nothing. Solutions in search of problems.

But then I happened to come across some groundbreaking work that Meta (formerly known as Facebook) is doing. The program is called Codec Avatars. It focuses on making the avatars closely resemble what we really look like and less abstract. They call these things Codec avatars. The goal is to make the avatars what they call “photo realistic” as opposed to expressive. Ok, you say, big deal, they are still unrealistic avatars with no arms and legs, etc. Why not just keep using Zoom?

But then I saw a video podcast interview of Mark Zuckerberg by Lex Friedman. Friedman and Zuck were not in the same physical location, but when they were videoed in the metaverse, it was almost like they were together. The faces were realistic, down to the movement of eyes and eyebrows and facial movements. Even the lighting was realistic. The effect was striking. Friedman was frankly blown away, even stating that he quickly forgot that they were not in the same room. The effect he noted was completely different than the two dimensional effect you see on plain video and Zoom.

Of course, the two of them were wearing the cover your face headsets. But that did not interfere with what Zuck called the “sense of physical presence” the effect provided. Friedman even wondered aloud how nice it would be to use the metaverse to converse with a friend over beers at a virtual beach. Again, this metaverse looked real, unlike more abstract characters and venues sometimes seen before.

How does this work? The avatar is created by taking various scans of your face, and you go through a variety of facial expressions. Right now, it’s time consuming. But the goal will be to develop the ability for your smartphone to create the avatar very quickly. So, in short order, there can be personal avatars that look like us.

There are lots of uses, of course, from meetings to interactions of all sorts. Meta has already created avatar bots of various celebrities you can communicate with. Snoop Dog, for example, is a life like Dungeon Master.

But what about the uses in legal? One of the big objections to use of video conferencing and Zoom in legal is that it takes away from the physical presence that Zuck references. The argument is that you can’t really assess body language and the demeanor of others in the Zoom world. But this is where the Codec avatars excel. It may not be exactly like being together in person, but it may be pretty damn close. And if so, that has enormous implications for how we meet and communicate with one another. It may be like the difference between audio only calls and Zoom. Zoom is so much better; the Codec metaverse may surpass Zoom in a realistic feel.

Zuck did bring up some interesting points. The avatar is created at a point in time and won’t change unless you change it. What does that mean for things like court appearances, depositions, or even trial testimony? Do we need to require people to appear as they are? Do we need a warning that they don’t really look exactly like their avatar in real life? Of course, we can subtly change our appearance (or try to) in various ways. And if you look at my picture with this blog, you will not see me as I am not but as I was a few years ago. But this technology makes that so much easier.

The metaverse, Web3, and AI will have a more significant impact on society and business (and by extension legal) than the printing press, electricity, and the internet combined

Mitch Jackson is one of the foremost thinkers of the future of the courtroom and litigation. He recently posted an article on LinkedIn about a trial in the future using these kinds of technologies. He discusses how virtual reality, artificial intelligence, blockchain, and various sensory devices can allow people to participate worldwide in a “dynamic, engaging experience for all involved.” He talks about how the technology would allow the jurors to participate in real-time in a realistic courtroom, eliminating some of the problems associated with Zoom trials. In his post, he says:

With technology’s incorporation into the legal system through AI, Blockchain, and virtual reality, we see a potential future where justice is not only efficient but also accessible , regardless of physical and geographical limitations. This digital approach to justice shows promise in providing a reliable, swift resolution to disputes involving modern technology… pointing towards a new, innovative direction for legal proceedings.

I had a chance to chat with Mitch at ClioCon this week. Mitch believes that the metaverse, Web3, and AI will have a more significant impact on society and business (and by extension legal) than the printing press, electricity, and the internet combined.

Mitch had seen the Codec avatars demonstration and was impressed. But he told me that many things the Meta technology can do are already being done, just not quite as graphically. Metaverse platforms can allow parties to meet at a variety of simulated locations like the French Riveria. And current avatars can read faces and face gestures, just not quite as well.

Mitch is right, of course, but the realism of current avatars still leaves something to be desired, which may be why the metaverse has yet to catch on. The Codec avatars may change that.

Oh, and by the way, remember the blockchain? Mitch thinks it may yet be a revolutionizing technology. He told me that as of February, the bitcoin blockchain will accept things other than records of cryptocurrency transactions. This acceptance will open the door for all sorts of documents, like medical records, pleadings, driver’s licenses, etc, to be stored on one central blockchain. Mitch says this will create digital wallets on our smartphones, and all important records will be kept there. Access will be governed by permissions the filing party will file. All will be powered by web3.

The metaverse. Blockchain….WE’RE BACK

Photo by Luis Villasmil on Unsplash