When Facebook changed its name to Meta last year, many greeted this vision of a new era of integrated immersive technologies, called “the metaverse,” with skepticism. It’s understandable. Skepticism is a natural reaction to something that seems like something out of a science fiction movie. But the emerging technologies laying the groundwork for the metaverse are not as far-fetched as they may sound and will have real-world applications in industry, education, healthcare, and commerce, among other activities.
Many people assume that the metaverse refers to virtual reality (VR), where we put on a headset to step out of the physical world around us and into a new space. But VR is only part of the spectrum. Actually, it ranges from the use of avatars, or access to the metaverse from a phone, to glasses that project computer-generated images on the world we are in, or mixed reality experiences that mix physical and virtual environments.
The metaverse is not a single product like Facebook or Instagram, nor is it an operating system like Microsoft Windows, or a device like Apple’s iPhone. Like the internet, the metaverse will be a collection of technologies, platforms, and products. And, like the Internet, it will not be built or managed by a single company.
In many ways, this is a natural evolution of the internet. We have moved from primarily text-based web services to voice and video-based services. The metaverse is the next generation. It is a 3D experience, more immersive, and characterized by the sensation of presence, as if you were there with another person or in a different place. It will be, ultimately, a more human experience than what we have today on the Internet. More physical, interactive, and speech-based than flat screens covered in text and images. Furthermore, it has the potential to open up a world of opportunities in Latin America.
Metaverse technologies are gaining momentum in the region, especially when it comes to augmented reality. More than 100 million people in Latin America use augmented reality effects on Facebook and Instagram every month. This is equivalent to almost the entire population of Italy and Spain combined. And the region is a hotbed of creative talent: Brazil and Mexico are among the 10 countries that most use Meta’s software, Spark AR, to develop Instagram and Facebook filters.
Let’s look at the example of Peter Afonso Y Thomas Posse, two young artists and entrepreneurs from São Paulo and Buenos Aires, respectively. Pedro trained himself in 2D and 3D digital design while working in advertising. Over time he built his own business, created more than 120 filters and worked with well-known clients like the NBA. Tomás left his job as a web designer in 2019, when the augmented reality filters he made in his spare time became popular. He opened Tokyyto Studio, where he creates augmented reality experiences for Instagram, Facebook, and Messenger. The more than 20 filters of him on Instagram accumulate an impressive total of 5,000 million impressions.
Think of the potential for education and training. With the metaverse it will be possible to learn empirically, not just as passive actors. We’ll be able to do it in 3D, bringing studies of history, geometry or architecture to life in ways that blackboards or flat screens never could. Learning will not be geographically limited and a student in Santiago de Chile will be able, for example, to attend a professor’s seminar in Frankfurt; or a student in Montevideo taking a field trip to the pyramids of Giza.
And the economic opportunities are enormous. A recent study by the financial consulting firm Analysis Group, commissioned by Meta, estimated that the economy of the metaverse in Latin America could be $320 billion in a decade. Y Bloomberg Intelligence noted that the global economy of the metaverse would reach the 800,000 million dollars in 2024.
An industry of that size could be a powerhouse of jobs. Jobs that would not be limited to Silicon Valley. The economy of the metaverse will not only impact the industries that will create its infrastructure, including hardware, software, payment systems and broadband providers, but also sectors such as e-commerce, education, gaming and other goods and services .
All of this may sound far-fetched when we know that today many people cannot even afford a simple data plan. Of course, anything that relies on hardware will have a cost, and anything that has a cost will be less accessible, in some cases even prohibitive, for low-income people. There will be low-priced entry points into the metaverse, such as mobile devices, but paying for VR headsets will be unavoidable. We are determined to make our viewers as accessible as possible, as part of Meta’s efforts to actively consider diversity, equity and inclusion during the construction of the metaverse.
Developing the metaverse will require the support of companies large and small, civil society and the public sector, Peter, Thomas, and millions of creators around the world. To help with this goal, Meta is working with the Organization of American States to offer training and develop the skills of students, creators and small business owners in Spanish and Portuguese. In the area of education, we also partnered with the Platzi online education platform and the Mexican university of visual arts, CENTRO. In the last six months, these programs have delivered more than 13,000 training courses.
We are in an initial and crucial stage for the development of these technologies. Many of these products will be a reality in 10 or 15 years. While they are being built, time is on our side to establish adequate rules and protections to maximize their potential, generate well-being, and minimize potential harm. And it must be done in an open and collaborative way between the private sector, legislators, civil society, academics and users.
For this reason we also allied ourselves with various Latin American organizations, such as safenetin Brazil; C-Minds Eon Resilience Lab, in Mexico; Y San Andres University Foundation, in Argentina. All of them through our Global Fund for Program Development and Research on extended reality (XR), which has 50 million dollars. These collaborations are part of an effort to consult in a timely and constant manner with independent experts, academics and civil society in those areas that require a foundational approach to ensure that these technologies are developed responsibly.
The metaverse will bring great potential for social and economic progress in the world and in Latin America. Also, it will represent risks and challenges, many of which can be anticipated. Our hope is that we have learned the lessons of previous technological advances, and that the rules, standards, and norms that govern the metaverse can be perfected in tandem with the very technologies that will constitute it.
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