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DAVOS: The metaverse is the new buzzword, but what is it?

Experts at this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos convened in a panel titled “Shaping a Shared Future: Making the Metaverse” to discuss what the metaverse is, how to build it and, most importantly, how to regulate it.

For Meta’s chief product officer Chris Cox, the metaverse is the “next chapter, the next evolution of the internet except it’s the part where it gets less flat.” It is a way of describing the internet’s transition into a three-dimensional environment, he said.

On the other hand, “For me, the metaverse was this idea of a place that was somehow simulated on computers that were connected by the internet,” said Philip Rosedale co-founder of High Fidelity and founder of Second Life, a metaverse that allows people to create avatars of themselves and lead a “second life” in the virtual world.

Much of the metaverse’s perception seems to be centered around virtual reality. But, truly, the metaverse is “a seamless integration of your digital and physical worlds,” said Peggy Johnson, CEO of Magic Leap.

That sentiment was echoed by Omar Sultan Al-Olama, Minister of State for Artificial Intelligence, Digital Economy and Remote Work Applications, Office of the Prime Minister of the UAE.

“We can (now) imagine a new paradigm between the virtual and the physical, which is augmented reality and create a bridge that we could never have imagined in the past,” he said.

The metaverse’s ambition to be a borderless, unifying space for people around the world makes it particularly challenging to regulate, given that every country has its own rules.

“There are different types of risks that we need to pay attention to,” said Al-Olama.

Some of the risks relate to financial transactions or scams that exist between the physical and virtual worlds, while others are more extreme, such as violence in the metaverse, which can be even more terrifying than violent content that currently exists in the digital space.

Al-Olama added that there needs to be a nongovernmental body, such as the UN, that sets standards.

Cox agreed, saying: “We’re already managing, as are most internet companies, the reality that you want companies to have their own community standards, but (we) also recognize that that exists in tension with national laws and in some cases, as we’re beginning to see, state laws.”

With most things in life, be it work or university, people receive some sort of orientation. However, that has never been the case with the internet, Al-Olama said.

“There needs to be a way for us to orient people” on how to use the internet, and this should be part of a child’s basic education in every school in the world, he said.

“Certain business models made sense for the internet and social media. For the metaverse, we need to actually take them to the next level.”

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