Metaverse set to play big role in UAE’s future

Technology aside, bringing the metaverse to life will require collaboration and cooperation across companies, developers, creators, and policymakers


Rohma Sadaqat

Published: Thu 24 Feb 2022, 7:26 PM

Technology is giving people new opportunities to become entrepreneurs and content creators, and the metaverse is set to play a big role in this future, said Ziad Traboulsi, global director, Business Engineering, Reality Labs at Meta.

Speaking to Khaleej Times during the Step 2022 Conference in Dubai, Traboulsi noted that the UAE and the wider Mena region’s emerging digital landscape represents a powerfully diverse pool of talent, and one that holds the key to reaching the next billion people who are coming online.

“Technology doesn’t stand still,” he said. “The future of social technology is changing, and so are we. It won’t happen overnight, as this is a journey of more than a decade, but over time, the metaverse will unlock new opportunities for people and communities globally and in the Mena region.

Mobile Internet has already allowed people to work, learn and socialize in ways that are less limited by their physical location. The metaverse will help expand these opportunities even further, he explained. “People will be able to choose to study and train in places that felt off limits because of where they lived or what they could afford. For instance, imagine being able to go to any university in the world by teleporting in to lectures by the most famous teachers, sitting next to new classmates in VR, or participating in a live hands-on training — all from your home, without having to move out, pay for travel or leave family.”

As the world moves from remote work to hybrid work, the ability to effectively collaborate, wherever you are physically located, will be crucial to ensuring workplaces can be genuinely inclusive. These could help spread economic opportunities and help grow significant sectors of the global economy, he noted. “More people will be able to choose to turn their passions into careers because they won’t have to rely on access to expensive tools, vast workshops or precious materials in order to train, study or make digital art, games or experiences for people to enjoy.”

Asked which technologies will be critical to the success of the metaverse, Traboulsi said that the world was only at the start of the journey, and that a lot still had to happen before the vision of the metaverse becomes a reality.

“Hardware needs to be built. Even if we just look at AR, to bring this vision to life we basically need to fit a supercomputer into a pair of normal-looking glasses. We have to fit hologram displays, projectors, batteries, radios, custom silicon chips, cameras, speakers, sensors to map the world around you and more into glasses about five millimeters thick. This is still years in the making. Infrastructure also needs to be transformed and access needs to be improved,” he revealed.

While the metaverse feels like a far off vision, glimmers of it can already be experienced today, he added. “Virtual reality is already letting us create immersive experiences that deepen our sense of presence online. For example, we recently launched Horizon Workrooms which lets people collaborate in digital spaces — letting you turn your gaze to see a group of people around you, read people’s body language, and use spatial audio to hear quiet chatter, interruptions or laughter from wherever it is coming in the room.”

Building for the metaverse will also require major breakthroughs in Artificial Intelligence.

“Our AI labs are already making advancements in research and development as part of a long-term effort to enable the next era of computing,” Traboulsi said. “Mark Zuckerberg recently announced AI for building the metaverse; we showcased some of our work including ‘No Language Left Behind’ which is working to create a single system capable of translating between all written languages, breaking down barriers for nearly half the world’s population, who can't access the Internet in their preferred or native language today. We also recently announced our AI Research SuperCluster, which we think will be the world's fastest supercomputer once it's complete later this year.”

Technology aside, bringing the metaverse to life will require collaboration and cooperation across companies, developers, creators, and policymakers, he added. “As we build towards the metaverse, it will be more important to be smart than be fast. In the past, the speed with which new technologies have emerged has sometimes left policymakers and regulators playing catch-up. This time around, a core principle for us is going to be ‘don’t surprise people’.”

Although it’s a long road ahead, a two-year $50 million investment in global research and programme partners has been announced to help in the effort effort.

“Investing to help build the skill sets of the people who build these experiences, will also be important,” Traboulsi said. “This is why we're setting aside $150 million to train the next generation of creators to build immersive learning content and increase access to devices.”

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