Categories
Computing

New metaverse standards to address lack of interoperability

Big-name tech companies such as Meta, Microsoft, and Epic Games have formed a standards organization called the Metaverse Standards Forum (MSF). This is meant to be a group that creates open standards for all things metaverse, including virtual reality, augmented reality, and 3D technology.

Over 30 companies have signed on, some of which are deep in metaverse technology like Meta itself. Others include Nvidia, Unity (the creators of the popular game engine), Qualcomm, Sony, and even the web standards organization itself — the Worldwide Web Consortium (W3).

Meta Quest

According to the official press release:

“The Forum will explore where the lack of interoperability is holding back metaverse deployment and how the work of Standards Developing Organizations (SDOs) defining and evolving needed standards may be coordinated and accelerated. Open to any organization at no cost, the Forum will focus on pragmatic, action-based projects such as implementation prototyping, hackathons, plugfests, and open-source tooling to accelerate the testing and adoption of metaverse standards, while also developing consistent terminology and deployment guidelines.”

This seems to imply that many of the future technologies created for the metaverse will include some level of interoperability between companies. That doesn’t mean the metaverse will be the Internet 2.0, but it may allow users to use certain profiles or data across metaverse platforms. In fact, this is directly stated in the press release:

“The metaverse will bring together diverse technologies, requiring a constellation of interoperability standards, created and maintained by many standards organizations,” said Neil Trevett, Khronos president. “The Metaverse Standards Forum is a unique venue for coordination between standards organizations and industry, with a mission to foster the pragmatic and timely standardization that will be essential to an open and inclusive metaverse.”

A vision of Meta's metaverse in the work setting.

Besides the W3, other standards organizations have also joined the Forum, such as the Open AR Cloud, Spatial Web Foundation, and the Open Geospatial Consortium. This gives a lot of weight and much needed legitimacy to the organization, as the metaverse is very much a burgeoning field of technology.

Interestingly, major VR/AR players are conspicuously missing at the moment. Apple, who has already invested much in AR technology and is planning its own headset, has not yet joined the MSF. Niantic, maker of popular AR game Pokemon Go, is also missing from the roster. Protocol also points out that the Roblox Corporation, maker of the wildly successful Roblox game, has also declined to join for now.

While not considered a “metaverse” in the popular usage, Roblox in particular has been able to create an immersive 3D world where people can create entire games within it.

The exclusion of Apple, Niantic, and Roblox isn’t a forgone conclusion, however, as the MSF has just begun. The good thing is that most of the major players in the metaverse tech are agreeing to create some kind of unified standard to make development much easier. The press release named several important technology fields, including avatars, privacy and identity management, and financial transactions.

The Metaverse Standards Forum is scheduled to begin meeting next month.

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Categories
AI

Linux Foundation initiative advocates open standards for voice assistants

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Organizations are beginning to develop, design, and manage their own AI-powered voice assistant systems independent of platforms such as Siri and Alexa. The transition is being driven by the desire to manage the entirety of the user experience and integrate voice assistance into multiple business processes and brand environments, from call centers to stores. In a recent survey of 500 IT and business decision-makers in the U.S., France, Germany, and the U.K., 28% of respondents said they were using voice technologies and 84% expect to be using them in the next year.

To support the evolution, the Linux Foundation today launched the Open Voice Network (OVN), an alliance advocating for the adoption of open standards across voice assistant apps in automobiles, smartphones, smart home devices, and more. With founding members Target, Schwarz Gruppe, Wegmans Food Markets, Microsoft, Veritone, Deutsche Telekom, and others, the OVN’s goal — much like Amazon’s Voice Interoperability Initiative — is to standardize the development and use of voice assistant systems and conversational agents that use technologies including automatic speech recognition, natural language processing, advanced dialog management, and machine learning.

The OVN emerged from research conducted between 2016 and 2018 on the impact of voice assistance on retail, consumer goods, and marketing industries by MIT’s Auto-ID Laboratory, Capgemini, and Intel. It was first announced as the Open Voice Initiative in 2019, but expanded significantly as the COVID-19 pandemic spurred enterprises to embrace digital transformation.

“Voice is expected to be a primary interface to the digital world, connecting users to billions of sites, smart environments and AI bots … Key to enabling enterprise adoption of these capabilities and consumer comfort and familiarity is the implementation of open standards,” Mike Dolan, SVP and general manager of projects at the Linux Foundation, said in a statement. “The potential impact of voice on industries including commerce, transportation, healthcare, and entertainment is staggering and we’re excited to bring it under the open governance model of the Linux foundation to grow the community and pave a way forward.”

Standards development

The OVN will focus specifically on standards development, including research and recommendations toward global standards to engender user choice, inclusivity, and trust. It’ll also work to identify and share conversational AI technologies, with best practices both horizontal and specific to vertical industries, serving as a source of insight for voice assistance. Lastly, OVN will collaborate with and through existing industry associations on regulatory and legislative issues including those of data privacy.

Ali Dalloul, GM at Microsoft’s Azure AI division, notes that as voice becomes a primary interface going forward, the result will be a hybrid ecosystem of general-purpose platforms and independent voice assistants that calls for interoperability. OVN’s mission is supporting this transition with industry guidance on the voice-specific protection of user privacy and data security.

“To speak is human, and voice is rapidly becoming the primary interaction modality between users and their devices and services at home and work,” Dalloul said in a statement. “The more devices and services can interact openly and safely with one another, the more value we unlock for consumers and businesses across a wide spectrum of use cases, such as conversational AI for customer service and commerce.”

Membership to the OVN includes a commitment of resources in support of the alliance’s research, awareness, and advocacy activities and active participation in the OVN’s symposia and workshops. This year, OVN plans to partner with enterprises, voice practitioners, platform providers, and industry associations in North America and the European Union and has formed a working relationship with the China Netcasting Service Association, the Beijing, China-based industry association responsible for voice assistance.

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