The joint Saudi anime film “The Journey” premieres in Hong Kong

The joint Saudi anime film “The Journey” premieres in Hong Kong

INTERVIEW: We are “about a decade away” from realizing the full potential of the metaverse, says Meta CEO

DUBAI: The term “metaverse” became as ubiquitous as Facebook when the parent company of the social media platform renamed itself Meta last year, signaling its vision for the company’s future.

Meta aims to reach one billion people through the metaverse over the next 10 years, and it has made a number of investments in the past year alone to help realize this ambition.

From startups to large conglomerates, a wide range of businesses are already making significant investments in the metaverse. This is hardly surprising given that the metaverse economy will be worth an estimated $360 billion in the Middle East and North Africa and Turkey, and more than $3 trillion globally within a decade, according to consultancy Analysis Group.

“We don’t know what the metaverse economy will look like yet, but it’s hard to imagine the direction of travel will change,” said Derya Matras, Meta’s vice president for the Middle East, Africa and Turkey.

Meta is already working to make the metaverse more accessible, she said, through tools like Horizon Workrooms, Portal and Workplace, which will “shape the building blocks and entry points for the metaverse at work.”

This means that the metaverse will be accessible from all devices, from virtual reality headsets and desktop computers to mobile devices and smart glasses.

In an exclusive interview, Matras shared the company’s plans for the sector it renamed itself.

Derya Matrasvice president for the Middle East, Africa and Turkey at Meta.

What value does the metaverse have for businesses and consumers that cannot be offered by other media or channels?

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Bringing the metaverse fully to life is still about a decade away, though you can experience glimpses of it today. When fully materialized, it will open up a whole new set of possibilities where human interaction will be raised to a new level.

Of course, nothing beats being together in person, but in times when that’s not possible, the metaverse will get us pretty close. Interactions will become more embodied and immersive.

We expect the metaverse to be completely transformative in many areas of life, such as business, education, work and healthcare.

For business, our expectation is that over the next decade, the metaverse will reach 1 billion people, host hundreds of billions of dollars of digital commerce, and support jobs for millions of creators and developers.

Another key area I am passionate about is education. The metaverse can revolutionize the way we learn. We will be able to learn by doing and not just passively absorb information.

The metaverse also has the power to completely transform the world of work.

How does Meta aim to make the metaverse more accessible to the public?

The Metaverse is about bringing the world closer together, and that is also our company’s mission. Making the metaverse accessible to more people is the key to its success. It depends on improving access to reliable internet, hardware and experiences.

While we are at the beginning of this journey and much infrastructure still needs to be built, we have already taken many steps in this direction. We invest in giving more people access to fast and reliable internet, and support programs and research focused on making the metaverse accessible to more people.

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For example, in 2020 we announced the 2Africa submarine cable, which will provide almost three times the total network capacity of all the submarine cables serving Africa today. Last year, the consortium added several new locations for the cable in Oman, UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, Iraq, Pakistan, India and Saudi Arabia.

We’re also building the metaverse in a way that will be accessible through many entry points, including through cell phones and the apps people use today.

At a time when regulation of social media – which has been around for over a decade – is still under scrutiny, what are your thoughts on the regulation of the metaverse?

The issue of regulation is extremely important because if our vision is to have a billion people accessing the metaverse as part of their daily lives within 10 years, we need to invest a lot of resources to make it a safe and secure place.

That’s why we’ve established the Extended Reality Programs and Research Fund, a two-year, $50 million investment in programs and external research aimed at responsibly building the metaverse.

Collectively, we can think of this process as developing a management system for the metaverse that addresses how the technologies and environments for the metaverse can be developed in safe, secure, interoperable and inclusive ways.

To us, investing in the metaverse means investing resources towards safety and security. And it must not be shaped by technology companies, such as Meta, on their own. It must be developed openly in a spirit of collaboration between the private sector, legislators, civil society, academia and the people who will use these technologies.

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One such multi-stakeholder initiative, called “Defining and Building the Metaverse,” was launched this year at the World Economic Forum, and it focuses on two key areas: governance of the metaverse, and economic and societal value.

With more and more businesses going digital – and now virtual in the metaverse – is it a threat to brick-and-mortar businesses?

This is not about spending more time on screens. Real life interaction is always better, but we are often limited by space and time to enjoy such moments whenever we want. Our vision for the metaverse is about enhancing our experiences, not replacing personal contact.

Ultimately, it’s about finding more and more ways to feel the benefits of the online world in our daily lives, enriching our experiences, not replacing them.

Digital transformation will only be enhanced by the metaverse. It will be possible to create more immersive, more social, more detailed experiences than ever before, all from the living room, or spare room, or garage, or wherever it is that you hold your Zoom meetings.

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