Following the news of Facebooks’s rebrand to Meta showing the world that metaverse is here, Microsoft announced its new, meta-style 3D avatars for Microsoft Teams, its video conferencing tool equivalent to Zoom. But the real news isn’t the development of a virtual reality tool for meetings that happens to align with Facebook’s dream of building a metaverse conference room. It’s one innovative feature that, unlike avatars and their artificial facades, actually holds the power to create genuine global connections.
In the shadows of the shiny 3D avatars that merely change how we see those we are communicating with, is translation technology. Which could enable us to break down language barriers with live, multi-language conversations, which not only transforms who we are able to communicate with but how we communicate in general. In other words, imagine a video conference where participants speak in different languages but hear only in their own language.
Though more practical, and therefore perhaps less exciting, the translation technology that Microsoft is reportedly working on will more effectively accomplish its mission to connect the world. By enabling multi-language meetings, with instant translation to each participant’s preferred language, it creates a more connected world, with more real connections.
Not only would it lower the cross-cultural barriers where language is simply the gatekeeper to communication, but help people connect and build meaningful relationships built on understanding. So while the Metaverse-style avatars are reminiscent of a late 1990’s video game, this is likely just one step towards progressing technology that could effectively match participants on a screen speaking one language to appear (and sound) as though they are speaking a different language.
The digital world is an international world. And the more digital the world becomes, the more the world will seek what it will end up missing: human connections. While avatars distance people from one another, Microsoft’s translation technology could truly bring people together–no matter where you are in the world, and no matter which language you speak.
As businesses look to the future to make meaningful changes, its vital to look to the core of business: humans. And though we, as humans, are easily distracted by what appears to be the next big thing or the blindly shiny object, the reality is that distractions are often nothing more than just that: a distraction. While the 3D avatars effectively help make Meta more normalized in the minds of consumers, it doesn’t help Microsoft or its consumers. Instead, it makes Microsoft appear more disassociated with reality and the realities of why consumers choose it over its competitors.
In a world built on facades, the visual component of change has very little impact on the optics of meaningful change, and technological advancements. What matters in the 21st century has little to do with what we see, but what we experience, how we feel, and who we connect with. Connecting the world requires lowering barriers, not building facades. That is, until the facade can come in the package of someone communicating with us in a language we understand.
Microsoft seemingly undermines its brand with the gimmicky 3D avatar feature. But below the surface is the application of technology that could change the future. Microsoft, after all, knows how to create great, yet outwardly boring products. And the brilliance of these is that they’re incredibly practical. It’s in its vast practicality that Microsoft has amassed such success and dethroned Apple. Because building a successful business isn’t just about chasing the most exciting thing, but locking down the most meaningful things.
While 3D avatars only transform what we see, translation will change who we are able to communicate–and more importantly, connect–with. Microsoft might be using avatars to stay relevant in the present, but it’s the use of meaningful technology, services, and products that create a positive impact that will carry it–like any business–into the future.