Web 4.0 (or Web4) is an innovative concept outlined by the European Commission, designed to compete with the rapidly emerging trend of Web 3.0, which is gaining significant momentum in countries or regions such as the USA, Mainland China, Hong Kong, and Singapore. The Commission’s vision for Web 4.0 aims to position the European Union at the forefront of the next technological transition, surpassing the decentralization of Web 3.0.
Web 4.0 is anticipated to provide truly intuitive, immersive experiences by seamlessly integrating digital and real objects and environments, enhancing interactions between humans and machines. This integration is expected to be achieved through advanced artificial and ambient intelligence, the Internet of Things (IoT), trusted blockchain transactions, virtual worlds, and extended reality (XR) capabilities. It is expected to be driven by open technologies and standards that ensure interoperability between platforms and networks, and freedom of choice for users.
Virtual worlds, integral to Web 4.0, are immersive 3D environments that merge virtual, digital, and physical realities, offering highly interactive experiences. These environments persist and evolve even without user interaction and serve diverse purposes, including design, simulation, collaboration, learning, socializing, transactions, and entertainment.
These next-generation virtual worlds are finding applications across sectors such as education, healthcare, manufacturing, and public services, transforming the way we learn, work, and interact. However, they also present challenges, including privacy, security, ethical considerations, and societal impact, necessitating a balance between opportunities and risks.
In the EU, approximately 3,700 entities operate within the virtual worlds subdomain, contributing to about 24% of the global total. Policymakers are tasked with fostering economic growth and digital evolution while ensuring the creation of responsible and fair virtual worlds.
Web 4.0 and virtual worlds hold significant opportunities across industrial and societal domains. In manufacturing, virtual twins can help optimize production processes, making them more efficient and sustainable.
In the cultural and creative industry, virtual worlds offer new ways to create, promote, and distribute content and engage with audiences. In education and training, especially in the medical field, virtual worlds can be used for simulations, reducing risks and improving accuracy.
Virtual classrooms can enable students and teachers to visualize abstract subjects or simulate scientific experiments without taking any risks.
Web 4.0 and virtual worlds also present several challenges, including issues related to awareness, access to trustworthy information, digital skills, user acceptance, and trust in new technologies. There are also broader challenges related to fundamental rights and business challenges such as ecosystem fragmentation and access to finance.
The European Commission has launched a strategy for Web 4.0 and virtual worlds to steer the next technological transition and ensure an open, secure, trustworthy, fair, and inclusive digital environment for EU citizens, businesses, and public administrations.
The strategy aims to empower people and reinforce skills, support a European Web 4.0 industrial ecosystem, support societal progress and virtual public services, and shape global standards for open and interoperable virtual worlds and Web 4.0.
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