Meet the metaversers: The Digital Speaker

Mark van Rijmenam on creating a digital twin, speaking via hologram and ethical issues in the metaverse

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In early 2020, when the COVID19 outbreak meant cancelling all travel plans, keynote tech speaker Mark van Rijmenam decided to practice what he preached by creating a hologram version of himself that could speak anywhere, regardless of restrictions. Two years later, and with a fourth metaverse focused book coming out in May, we sat down with Mark to discuss the future of the metaverse, creating ethical spaces and his next digital adventure. 

How did you become known as The Digital Speaker?

I have been a keynote speaker for almost a decade now, and I have been talking about the digital transformation of big data blockchain AI. I’ve written a few books on this topic. When the pandemic hit and I couldn’t fly anymore and my in-person speaking business came to a halt, I decided I needed to reinvent myself. I thought: why don’t I practice what I preach, and digitalise myself? That’s how I came up with the concept for the digital speaker. I'm now available as a keynote speaker in person, as well as an avatar or a hologram. Nowadays it’s a lot more common, but 2 years ago it was quite novel and new. Also, The Digital Speaker is a lot easier to pronounce than my surname, so it makes my life a little bit easier. I’ve created a new website, and also a podcast where my avatar interviews my guests. I'm currently creating a digital human, which is a lifelike digital twin of myself. I’m exploring my options – I might add a real-time chatbot so that you can chat with my digital twin 24/7. I also delivered the world's first TED X Talk in virtual reality, which was cool – it’s me with my avatar giving this talk

You’re also an author – tell us a bit about your books.
I have three books published already, one about big data, one about blockchain and one about the organisation of tomorrow. I've just finished my fourth book, which is called ‘Step into the Metaverse’. In it, I talk about the opportunities that can occur within the metaverse, and how brands can step into the metaverse and what it means for enterprises and what economics are available. It's a broad discussion on the metaverse, and for this book, I did over 100 in-depth interviews with people who are building in the metaverse, including artists and collectors. I wanted to get as much information and news from the community to understand what is going on. That will be available as a kindle version in May, and the paperback in early June.

You’ve spoken before about creating ethical spaces in the metaverse, how do you think we can achieve that? 
It’s very complex, and we haven’t managed to make web2 an ethical place. In the metaverse, which doesn't necessarily require web3, we will create 10-100 times more data than we do today so all the dangers that we have in the current web – deepfakes, misinformation, sexual harassment, bots, you name it – will be extrapolated in the metaverse. If you think that web2 polarised society, web3 and the metaverse will polarise it a lot more. I think that is very problematic. I mentioned that I am creating a digital human of myself. If I can do it, you can do it, you can clone my voice and be me in the metaverse. There’s nothing I can do about that. It also happens on Twitter, when 'Elon Musk' gives away free bitcoin. We know it’s not Elon Musk, but people still fall for it. Now imagine having a hyper-realistic avatar that looks like Elon Musk and sounds like Elon Musk. People will think it is him, but that is probably not the case. We need a solution for that.

How do you think the metaverse could positively change the future of work for young people?
Firstly, it’s going to be a way to attract talent. Gen Z and Gen Alpha are metaverse natives and they live and breathe Roblox, Minecraft and Fortnite. You won’t find them on Facebook, you’ll find them on Roblox. That’s where they have birthday parties, it’s where they socialise, so to attract those people you need to be there as well. They have a different approach to life, so if you were to put them in a 9-5 cubicle job that’s not going to work. They are much more open to a more globalised world, and they have a completely different perspective. There is also room for collaboration. We already see the first phase of VR meetings happening. Humans are made for 3D, not 2D. I’ve spoken to several people who have moved their meetings to the metaverse to VR and they all say it’s a lot more intuitive, you don’t get Zoom fatigue and it’s a different way of working that makes collaboration easier. But it will also enable co-creation, with products, and design things in virtual reality, with people who are dispersed all over the world. It will have an effect on career mobility. You don’t have to live where work is anymore.

What would you consider to be a career highlight?

I am particularly proud of the book I've written. The market has to see if they agree with me but I wrote it in 3 months, which is pretty insane, so that’s a nice highlight!

You can check out Mark's website here.

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