James Kotecki (00:08): 

This is CES Tech Talk. I'm James Kotecki, bringing you an interview that I recorded live at the C Space Studio at CES 2023. Enjoy. 


Hey, you're back with me, James Kotecki and the C Space Studio is sponsored by Salesforce here at CES 2023. And it's time to talk about the Metaverse with Denise Zheng, the managing director of Metaverse Continuum Business Group at Accenture. Welcome to the C Space Studio. 

Denise Zheng (00:39): 

Thanks so much. It's great to be here. 

James Kotecki (00:40): 

So we've talked about the Metaverse with several folks here in the C Space Studio, but everybody has their own definition of it, and we probably need to start this conversation by just level setting. How do you define what the Metaverse means? 

Denise Zheng (00:51): 

Well, from my perspective, the Metaverse is really a continuum. It's 2D to 3D, it's immersive, it's gamification, it's blockchain. It's a lot of different technologies coming together to form the next generation of the internet. So we're going to see a lot of new interfaces, much more immersive interfaces, and frankly, a lot of technologies that are enabling this new trend. 

James Kotecki (01:13): 

So Metaverse Continuum Business Group, the continuum part is right in the name of your title there. 

Denise Zheng (01:17): 


James Kotecki (01:17): 

So what are you up to at Accenture? What is your day-to-day look like? What are you doing with clients? 

Denise Zheng (01:22): 

Well, we're helping clients test and learn in the Metaverse and understand where they can realize real true value and how it fits into their strategy. So right now we're seeing a lot of brands engaging with the Metaverse, doing experimentation, launching campaigns even. And for a lot of the clients that we're working with, they want to understand what's the value? How do I gain strategic competitive advantage by leveraging the Metaverse and how do I enter? 

James Kotecki (01:50): 

Is it too early to talk about ROI in a lot of these conversations? Are people really still at that experimental level? 

Denise Zheng (01:55): 

It's a really good question. I think that for many companies, they're already seeing a lot of ROI, and I want to talk about how that's being realized in the consumer space. Obviously it's a consumer electronic show, but it's also being realized in the enterprise space as well. So take Accenture for example. We have the largest enterprise, so we have 150,000 people that have been onboarded into our company as new joiners using the Metaverse. And that's because during the pandemic, people were not able to come to our office for the first time. 


So folks were being onboarded into Accenture as a new joiner in the nth floor, what we call our enterprise metaverse. And we realized true value from that because we were able to show our new people what does our office look like, enable those water cooler conversations. And that is really priceless when it comes to creating those bonds, creating that sense of identity within our company. On the consumer side, take Nike, Nike's a great example of a company who's entered the Metaverse experimenting with Web 3 and has realized a tremendous amount of revenue from digital sneakers, NFTs. So values being realized across the board. 

James Kotecki (03:06): 

When you're talking about the Accenture Metaverse, what was the technology people were using to actually access that? Are they at home with VR headsets on? What does that look like? 

Denise Zheng (03:12): 

Exactly. So we deployed VR headsets to our people, and we also built our own custom environment in Alt space, and we're actually migrating and experimenting with other Metaverse platforms as well. But for some of our people that aren't used to wearing the headset or they have some limitations that prevent their ability to engage in that way, they can use a 2D screen. And so it is accessible in that realm, and we've been very thoughtful to try and make sure that all people can leverage it. 

James Kotecki (03:45): 

So how much does the gear, does the equipment matter to what the ultimate vision of the Metaverse is? Can people in the future fully realize the Metaverse without strapping on a VR headset in a haptic suit? 

Denise Zheng (03:55): 

Absolutely. I haven't put on the haptic suit yet. I don't know if you have. I imagine it would be a little bit uncomfortable at this time. Absolutely. So as I mentioned, we really view this as a continuum of technology and that it's accessible from a 2D screen all the way to 3D immersive, fully VR, augmented reality, mixed reality. Right now we're using headsets, we're experimenting with a lot of different headsets, but we're primarily using Oculus right now. And there have been tremendous improvements that we've seen from Oculus Quest to Oculus Quest Pro, and I'm really excited to see what new innovations and frankly some lower price points as well, so it becomes more affordable to more people. 

James Kotecki (04:38): 

What kind of data do businesses get when they operate in the Metaverse? I imagine it's theoretically possible to get data points on every single move that I'm making in this 3D environment, but maybe that's too much data to actually be useful. So how do you think about data in these terms? 

Denise Zheng (04:52): 

There's a lot of data that's accessible and really valuable data to get you much, much closer to the user to understand what are their physical reactions, what are their emotional reactions, how do they respond to advertising perhaps that you deliver through these mediums? I think we need to be extraordinarily careful about how we leverage that data, especially in the environment that we're in now, where people feel like their data's being exploited. So being super transparent about what data's being collected, how it's being used, and acquiring the consent in order to leverage that data so that companies can really realize the value of user data in the metaverse. 

James Kotecki (05:28): 

What are the technological issues right now that are preventing the metaverse and the experience of it from getting to whatever the next level is? What are the current biggest hurdles? 

Denise Zheng (05:37): 

Gosh, there are a number of hurdles, as you know. So latency is one of the issues. We need more powerful graphic processing capabilities on device. Another big challenge, which I think actually AI is helping to solve, is creating these really rich, sometimes photorealistic virtual environments. There frankly aren't enough people in this space, 3D artists and others, that are capable of generating these environments. And I think with technology, with artificial intelligence, we talk about ChatGPT all the time. I think your previous speaker was just talking about, it's one of the hottest, most exciting things right now. But OpenAI has recently developed as well something called Point-E, which uses text inputs to generate 3D point cloud imagery in three dimensions. So that's going to significantly lower the barrier to creating these environments. And you and I, we can say create a CSE C Space Studio and perhaps even have this meeting in a virtual environment. 

James Kotecki (06:37): 

I look forward to that. There is something nice about having people in person though, especially coming out of the pandemic. So we really appreciate you being here for that. You have an international security background, which is cool. Do you ever think about the international boundaries questions when it comes to the Metaverse? Do you think about it in those terms at all? 

Denise Zheng (06:55): 

I do think about it in those terms, and sometimes it goes to a slightly more dystopian place, perhaps. I think of the Metaverse is one of those areas where you see, again, a lot of technologies coming together to create it and enable it, but it's technologies where countries, jurisdictions are really battling over who's going to win in the future of this technology. AI being one, immersive interfaces being another, compute capacity, compute power as well. And there's also the blurring of geographic lines, just as there is blurring between what's physical and what's real. 

James Kotecki (07:31): 


Denise Zheng (07:32): 

There's blurring of geographic lines as well. 

James Kotecki (07:34): 

People from different countries can get together in the metaverse and all be in the same shared space. 

Denise Zheng (07:37): 

Exactly. So if you have a user in China who's engaging in a platform, there are very different laws and regulations in China that govern data privacy than in the European Union. So how do you as a company that's providing a global service, reconcile all of those different regulations and create a seamless experience? That's going to be tricky. It's going to be difficult. 

James Kotecki (07:59): 

Does that point to a future of multiple fractured walled off metaverses? Do you see a future of the Metaverse? Where do you see that going? 

Denise Zheng (08:06): 

I don't think there's going to be one single metaverse. There are going to be a lot of different virtual platforms, a lot of different metaverse spaces, and they'll operate under different governance rules. Some of them may be decentralized built on Web 3, others may be fully centralized, some may be walled, some may be open. What I hope, though, is that the standards bodies, the companies that are building the devices, the platforms, especially the largest ones, will come together to agree on a set of standards that make the metaverse interoperable and that allow users to have a much more seamless user experience. And when we asked users, we conducted a global survey, 19 countries, about 18,000 respondents, they said this is really important that they are able to take their avatars, their identities, their wallets, their objects from one platform to another. 

James Kotecki (08:56): 

Yes. What's the question that I should ask others about the metaverse here in the C Space Studio? 

Denise Zheng (09:02): 

That's such a good question. I was thinking what question would be really interesting? I would probably ask people, what do they think the biggest killer app is going to be in the Metaverse? What's the one thing that's going to take us over the threshold into making this truly mainstream? We talk about the Metaverse a lot today. 

James Kotecki (09:21): 


Denise Zheng (09:21): 

We have great examples of it, but what's going to make it and bring it to every household in America? 

James Kotecki (09:27): 

Do you have any thoughts on that yourself? Just pivot the question. I'm lazy-. 

Denise Zheng (09:27): 

I guess. Sure-. 

James Kotecki (09:33): 

I'm asking you to ask your own question and then ask it right back to you, but it's a curious question. 

Denise Zheng (09:36): 

So I think affordability is one of them. So right now the devices are still expensive, and if we could drive down that cost more people could get access to it. I think the second thing is actually around digital safety. A lot of families see their kids playing more, spending more time on gaming, spending more time on social media. I'm wondering, is it safe for my children? So if we could put in some norms, some code of conduct, practices in place to create that digitally safe environment for people of all ages, and then address that affordability question, then the metaverse could be in every household. 

James Kotecki (10:09): 

Well, come back and talk to us again, please, here or in the metaverse, Denise Zheng at Accenture. Thanks so much for joining us. 

Denise Zheng (10:14): 

Thanks so much, James. Great to be here. 

James Kotecki (10:16): 

Well, I hope you enjoyed that live conversation from CES 2023. Look up the CES C Space Studio for more conversations like that and get even more CES at ces.tech. That's C-E-S.T-E-C-H. And of course, please subscribe to this podcast so you don't miss a moment. I'm James Kotecki, Talking Tech on CES Tech Talk.