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Accepted Paper:

A next generation internet: How Chinese tech companies imagine the metaverse  
Gabriele de Seta (University of Bergen)

Paper short abstract:

By early 2022, all the major Chinese tech companies have jumped on the metaverse ('yuanyuzhou' in Chinese) bandwagon. This presentation draws on the author's ongoing research on the Chinese AI industry to discuss how different metaverse imaginaries are articulated by tech companies and the public.

Paper long abstract:

By early 2022, all the major Chinese tech companies have jumped on the metaverse bandwagon. The term has been granted a quite literal Chinese translation ('yuanyuzhou'), and is quickly replacing other terms like rengong zhineng (artificial intelligence) or dashuju (big data) in product descriptions and value propositions. For tech giants like Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent, the metaverse is a convenient placeholder for an imagined technological assemblage that will require the convergence of their commercial offerings, including cloud computing, machine learning platforms, AR & VR ecosystems, holographic rendering, and even the blockchain. The metaverse also functions as an attractor for other imaginaries, including those of internet celebrities and their fans, cryptocurrency investors, and ACG (animation, comics and games) communities: the promise of a seamless augmented world integration with everyday life drives the proliferation of art exhibitions sponsored by e-commerce platforms, NFT collectibles for app avatars, and virtual brand ambassadors. As both tech companies and users experiment with product prototypes and engage in speculative exercises about the "next generation internet", questions including what the yuanyuzhou is, who will build it, and how it will be governed, remain open. This presentation draws on the author's ongoing research on the Chinese AI industry and its impact on everyday life to discuss how different metaverse imaginaries are articulated by tech companies and other commercial actors. Combining the analysis of industry material and digital ethnographic approaches, this contribution offers a snapshot of the current overlap of various sociotechnical imaginaries.

Panel P33
What can anthropology offer to the study of 'a metaverse with Chinese characteristics'?
  Session 1 Tuesday 7 June, 2022, -