The Metaverse Facilitates Concurrent Existence Of Various Worlds- Takahito Iguchi


DESIGN VISION is a Sony design research project that aims to gain insight into upcoming world developments and consider directions for the future. In this project, designers from the Creative Center conduct their own research and interviews, using their findings to derive analyses and recommendations.

In 2022, the designers conducted field research and expert interviews in the metaverse to deepen their knowledge and understanding of the digital world. In the interview, TAKAHITO IGUCHI, CEO of Audio Metaverse, Inc., discusses his work to build an inclusive metaverse.

For the DESIGN VISION Annual Report 2022, designers conducted field research in locations throughout the world, including the metaverse, extracting insights from their observations and findings, and deriving four themes to focus on for the future.

One of these themes was “Social Porosity,” or “More resilient social ties in the contemporary new communities.” Something being porous means it has many “holes” and “crevices.”

People in modern society tend to congregate with those of the same values, with communities becoming more and more segregated from each other as a result. “Holes” and “crevices” in society, however, allow room for the development of autonomous communities and an influx of various kinds of people.

Advancements in technology and the shift of communities from the physical to the digital realm have also made it possible to build inclusive places where all people—regardless of disability—can interact with one another.

In this article, we discuss the decentralized and autonomous communities that feature this sort of “space,” through our interview with Takahito Iguchi, who is working to realize an inclusive metaverse.

DESIGN VISION: You’re working on developing the audio metaverse, an inclusive metaverse using audio. First, could you give me a summary of the service?

TAKAHITO IGUCHI:  We’re providing a service that offers a metaverse space using audio AR technology by means of spatial audio.

There was audio social media before this, but first of all, one of our significant features is that making the audio three dimensional lets you experience a sense of distance and positional relation, giving you immersion and an in-the-moment feeling as if you’re really there. We started offering our first app, Cubemint, to beta testers this March. People meet each other and have spatial interactions like conversations and listening to music together.

Next, we combined NFTs with the audio metaverse. This is an attempt to build an economic ecosystem in the metaverse space. While Cubemint is a browser for accessing the metaverse, many audio spaces called ‘Cubes’ exist in the metaverse, and users secure their ownership of the spaces as assets using NFTs.

Our audio metaverse also introduces technology corresponding with location information in the physical world and virtual reality. This is an effort to integrate the real and virtual worlds by overlaying the metaverse created using audio AR onto the physical world.

DV: What led you to think of developing this service?

TI: We’ve been developing our audio social app Dabel in the United States and Japan since 2016, and we’ve had a particularly big response from minority groups. Diverse users in positions prone to social isolation, from people who are visually impaired to those with ADHD and LGBTQ people, are connecting through audio communication. They have found a way to meet and support one another, and their response made us realize that this space is also a metaverse.

People who are good at sharing visual information gain recognition through their communication. But there is also great value in people with the ability to listen closely to what others say, if the communication is via audio. I thought NFTs, a decentralized base, would be effective in creating a structure for users to recognize those people. I wanted to build a world where NFTs made the audio space into digital assets to circulate value so all participants, speakers and listeners, could enjoy the benefits. Actually, minting*1 of audio spaces has started in Cubemint too.

I wanted to build a world where NFTs made the audio space into digital assets to circulate value so all participants, speakers and listeners, could enjoy the benefits.

Speaking of why we insisted on this detail, it originated from my experience of stepping down one after the other from being the CEO of Tonchidot, where I myself developed the AR app Sekai Camera, and the CEO of Telepathy, launched to develop wearable computer glasses. Through that extremely hopeless experience, I felt an intense desire to speak with people. That’s why I devoted myself to creating a place where everyone can overcome various obstacles to talk to one another and launched this company in 2014*2.

Sony has a variety of stereophonic sound technologies, and audio communication is a field gaining attention. For example, offering a service that plays back audio based on users’ location information via Sound AR technology at Moomin Valley Park in Hanno, Saitama. I was deeply impressed that you offer a 360-degree metaverse experience using audio AR while trying to create economic and social circulation.

There are around 400 million people in the world who are visually impaired. I also want to contribute to solving isolation, which is a big problem for this group. However, to realize an inclusive metaverse, how to maintain and grow that world is important. As a startup, we’ve established the following points for grasping the keys to growth.

First, having a unique world view and distinct product value. Next, that a market exists. Isolation is an issue that exists as long as life continues, and we have a track record of pursuing spatial experiences through audio, so we know there is a market. And the NFT metaverse is an area that has achieved enormous growth.

To begin with, yet another characteristic of audio AR is that it comes across more easily and in a way that’s easier to understand than reading something to comprehend it. Next, the point can be raised that you can move right away to spaces that can’t be accessed directly because they’re separated by distance or barriers in the physical world. That last point makes it possible to enter a room immediately just by accessing a link to our company office, for example. It can save the substantial labor of the act of people traveling to see someone.

DV: What benefits are there to deliberately omitting the visual when communicating?

TI: I feel narrowing down the senses to hearing allows for a purer expression of humanity. Omitting visual information, like attire, that signifies social status and attributes, brings out the character of the people themselves.

Some visually impaired Dabel users could tell things like height, weight, health, and emotion just by listening to someone’s voice. In other words, there is potential to realize deeper communication by not getting caught up in the social surface.

Furthermore, from the standpoint of augmented reality, I believe the possibilities for expressions difficult in the real world will also grow, like conveying your own emotions with sound effects.

Meanwhile, there’s the difficulty of imagining offering a space using audio. What comes to mind when you say “audio utilities” is basically the radio and the telephone. Radio is a one-way and the telephone is a two-way medium, so it’s still pretty difficult to imagine the communication itself, adding spatiality to those so people can travel to meet and have conversations. The key will be how to expand the level of familiarity.

I feel narrowing down the senses to hearing allows for a purer expression of humanity.

DV: What kind of future development of specific functions do you foresee?

TI: Interviews show a lot of people wanting constant live audio, connecting specific spaces by GPS. There is a desire to be immersed in ambient sound in places like parks, streets, cafes, and the office. I think there’s potential to target a global market if we can reproduce the sounds of particular places around the world, similar to how you see street views from around the world using map services.

Another request was to link movement in physical space with movement in the metaverse. Meaning people wanted to move in the Cubes using their own physical behavior, with the sounds changing with the movements.

The company aims to expand into the global market by reproducing sounds from around the world and providing an experience as if you were there.

Cubemint is an application that allows users to create a voice augmented reality (AR) space called a “cube” in the real world. Cubemint can be used to transmit performances and voice performances to the world, and can also be used to freely interact with people in remote locations. Cubes can be converted into digital assets in the form of NFTs (non-replaceable tokens), which can be traded, lent, and moved.

Where We Are Heading in the Web 3.0 Era Is Uncertain

Inclusive Structures

DV: The discussion of communication in the metaverse until now has tended to focus entirely on visual avatars. What do you think about this? The mainstream tendency in the United States and Europe is to perceive avatars as an extension of yourself, but in Japan there is a strong trend to actively use a persona that’s different from you.

TI: Sure, avatars in the metaverse are an effective indicator to access the profile and assets you have. How to express that effectiveness using audio and not vision is still under development both technologically and from a design perspective, but I sense new possibilities in striving for an inclusive world. Japanese companies also have to work actively on the areas of accessibility and inclusive structures for people with various disabilities, like Big Tech has organized teams to do.

Looking from the perspective of my college major in Indian philosophy, the relationship between a person in the real world and their avatar tends to be that they both seek an identity in our relationship to our surroundings. On the contrary, the Western way of thinking is that there exists an immutable core called the “self”. I think that human existence, whether real or virtual, comes down to what we can offer each other in mutual relationships.

I think that human existence, whether real or virtual, comes down to what we can offer each other in mutual relationships.

And this aspect also relates to the difficulty of Web 3.0 services. The user cycle through Web 2.0 revolved around providers offering the core experience. However, in Web 3.0, providers have to plan the whole ecosystem of how things relate to each other, including economic circulation. They have to precisely define ‘what to do’, then the cycle needs to revolve around two things: the core experience and the ecosystem.

Meaning you’re not just perfecting an open world. You have to quest to figure out what to do.

Already-established open systems have overwhelming power even without quests, like Minecraft or Animal Crossing. The most difficult part is how to construct an open, communicative ecosystem that users can join with their own respective objectives – that includes joys and difficulties just like life.

DV: You need a headset to experience the metaverse visually, but you can access it with already widespread wireless earphones if you experience it through audio. Isn’t that another significant benefit?

TI: Exactly. NFT-related projects by Cubemint users have already been launched. Visiting particular places in reality plays audio from science fiction stories linked to them in users’ earphones. In that sense, you could probably also say the Sony Walkman® was an early stage of AR. So, there should be enough potential to build a global platform that depends on the use of existing technology. We also believe we have to focus on the Web 3.0 era to further refine the worldview.

Outlook on DAOs

The question is going to come up about how Web 3.0 will curb division between people, like hate speech, while maintaining freedom of speech, just by having a decentralized structure – in contrast with Web 2.0, where administrators have controlling authority.

I think a DAO (decentralized autonomous organization)-like structure will necessarily factor into that point. In other words, how will governance through mutual user autonomy be cultivated with all changes in the relationships between people recorded on the blockchain? Social inclusivity and autonomous structures will be sought from individuals once the hierarchy is being decentralized.

Social inclusivity and autonomous structures will be sought from individuals once the hierarchy is being decentralized.

Furthermore, another feature of the metaverse is that various worlds can exist concurrently. Taking a broad view of the world at present, social welfare systems, the ease of starting a business, and public order vary in the United States, northern Europe, and Japan. People will choose their own metaverse to stand on according to the degree of freedom of the culture and organization and the risks, like choosing those areas. Won’t that also be a way for the metaverse to grow in the future?

  • Iguchi is CEO of Audio Metaverse.  
  • Editor’s Note: Interview held online from Tokyo on May 31, 2022. The reproduction of this article is in line with the CSR policy of Cyber Era NG.

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