Joggers in Shanghai, China on April 10, 2021.
Qilai Shen | Bloomberg | Getty Images
BEIJING – China’s largest city takes seriously the metaverse, the technology that has captured the attention of the masses this year for its potential to shape the next generation of the Internet.
Chinese government departments and local authorities released five-year development plans this year to show how they aim to implement the central government’s five-year plan released in March.
One published by Shanghai on Thursday contained the first mention of the metaverse, according to Chinese media. Technology extends human interactions to a virtual world of three-dimensional avatars.
The metaverse is one of the four frontiers to be explored, the Shanghai Municipal Economics and Information Technology Commission said in its five-year plan for the development of the electronic information industry.
The document called for “encouraging the application of the metaverse in areas such as utilities, business offices, social entertainment, industrial manufacturing, production safety and electronic games,” according to a CNBC translation of the Chinese text.
The commission said it plans to increase research and development of underlying technologies, including sensors, real-time interaction and blockchain.
The document did not present a specific timeline or goals for metaverse research and development.
Beijing’s latest five-year plan released in March named seven technologies “frontiers” that China would focus on as it seeks self-reliance in science and technology.
The metaverse has since become a buzzword, most notably with US social media giant Facebook changing its name to Meta in October. Earlier this month, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates said he expects most virtual meetings to move to the metaverse over the next two or three years.
This week, Beijing-based Baidu hosted what it claims to be China’s first metaverse conference. The event was supposed to mark the opening of Baidu’s metaverse app to developers, and an executive told reporters he expects it will be six years before the app’s full launch.
In addition to the general metaverse buzz on Chinese social media, state media published several articles on the subject, mostly on the risk of scams.
After a year of stricter bans and regulations on various types of technology, including cryptocurrencies, new rules on metaverse development are expected to follow, said Winston Ma, an assistant professor of law at the University of New York, on CNBC’s “Squawk Box Asia”.
He highlighted how aspects of the global metaverse development relate to gaming and cryptocurrency products such as non-fungible tokens, all of which have come under more scrutiny in China. Ma was not speaking in the specific context of the Shanghai commission’s development plans.
– CNBC Eustance Huang contributed to this report.