Video meetings could look very different in the near future, according to Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates.
"There's still some work to do, but we're approaching a threshold where the technology begins to truly replicate the experience of being together in the office,"
In an annual blog post published on December 7, Gates said that he predicts most virtual meetings could move from "2D camera image grids" to the metaverse within two to three years. He said it would be a 3D space with digital avatars.
"The idea is that you will eventually use your avatar to meet with people in a virtual space that replicates the feeling of being in an actual room with them," Gates wrote.
Although the term "metaverse" is still quite vague, it's seen by many as the next stage of digital communication. Some, like Gates, said it could resemble a form of cyberspace, in which users interact through 3D avatars. Others say it's simply a concept.
The word was coined by author Neal Stephenson in his book Snow Crash, but both Meta (formerly Facebook) and Microsoft have announced plans to develop a virtual reality-based metaverse.
Gates said that the pandemic has accelerated technological changes that otherwise would have taken years. Under his vision, Gates said VR goggles and motion capture gloves would be needed to accurately capture a user's body language, voice, and facial expressions while in the metaverse.
This could slow the adoption because many people don't own these tools yet, he said.
Gates wrote that Microsoft plans to roll out an interim version next year, which will use a webcam to animate an avatar for workers to use in current 2D web screens.
He also revealed that he had the opportunity to test prototypes of 3D avatars being developed by other companies.
"There's still some work to do, but we're approaching a threshold where the technology begins to truly replicate the experience of being together in the office," Gates wrote.
Gates often uses his annual blog post to reflect on the past year and offers predictions for the future.
He said that 2021 — which saw him separate from Melinda Gates, his wife of 27 years — had been the "most unusual and difficult" year of his life.