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OPINION 26.5.2022 For some people, this will be their only escape, if not the only existence hence why it is crucial to work on shaping society even before the Metaverse emerges Alexiei Dingli Prof Alexiei Dingli is a Professor of AI at the University of Malta and has been conducting research and working in the field of AI for more than two decades, assisting different companies to implement AI solutions. He forms part of the Malta.AI task-force, set up by the Maltese government, aimed at making Malta one of the top AI countries in the world E verybody's talking about the Metaverse, but there is a tech- nological barrier today since the hardware available is not mature enough, and we still require good light- weight headsets. However, these tem- porary limitations should not fool you since various organisations are already laying the foundations. So the issue is not whether we will live in the Metaverse but when. Large companies such as Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Apple are all investing heavily in these technologies. ey want to be the first to launch their Metaverse. For Facebook, it's a natu- ral evolutionary step since they know they need to reinvent social media and expand it further. Microsoft aims at a workplace Metaverse that greatly en- hances individuals' work capabilities. ese corporations are looking at it from different angles, but ultimately, it is all about the money. Bloomberg Intelligence claims that the Metaverse is the next big technology platform, so everyone is eager to capture a slice of the nearly $800 billion market oppor- tunity. Governments are no different, and there has been a rather massive push from some countries to create a Governmental Metaverse. e Caribbean Island of Barbados will be opening the first virtual em- bassy. eir idea is to support all those organisations currently setting shop in the virtual land. ey plan to use tech- nology for cultural diplomacy, thus boosting the trade of art, music and their civilisation in general. Dubai, too, aims to become a world leader in the virtual world. eir Vir- tual Assets Regulator became the first authority to enter the Metaverse. It aligns with their idea to set up a de- centralised regulator model, which offers real-world services. ese in- clude the initial application process, welcoming new licensees, and sharing global expertise. Furthermore, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum launched a higher committee to devel- op the Dubai Metaverse strategy since the country aims to position itself as a global centre for new metaverse technologies. ey see it as part of an extensive restructuring plan whereby the Dubai Municipality will create a futuristic but human-centred version of the city in the Metaverse called One Human Reality. e fulfilment of this strategy shined through the Future In- novation Summit held in 2022, where high profile individuals from around the world showcased their vision of the Metaverse and other emerging topics. Santa Monica is one of the first towns in the United States to migrate to the Metaverse. Interestingly, they aim for a mixed reality approach whereby cit- izens can use augmented reality tech- nologies to unlock collectables and re- wards spread around the physical city. South Korea just launched a $3.3 million project to establish Metaverse Seoul. is virtual location will feature a city hall, touristic landmarks and social centres. In 2023, the city also plans to organise a live event called the Seoul Lantern Festival, where us- ers just need a headset to attend. ese activities are all part of the Seoul Vi- sion 2030, which includes a five-year plan based on three stages, the "intro- duction" stage in 2022, "expansion" in 2023 and "settlement" by 2026. ere is a lot of excitement going on, and we expect that developments will accelerate in the coming years. However, the big question is wheth- er we can manage to engineer a good Metaverse. With the Internet, social media (and most technologies), it was the other way around – first, we create the tech- nologies, we start experiencing prob- lems, and countries start legislating (where possible and before it is too late). e Metaverse will lead to more significant issues, so we should tack- le them from now. Of course, it won't be easy, but we should be cautious and not just let the big companies dictate. at is why the involvement of govern- ments at such an early stage is crucial. Let's not forget that our sedentary life is causing many deaths, which can only increase once the Metaverse be- comes a reality. On the other hand, as the virtual world becomes increasing- ly indistinguishable from real life (with technologies such as NeuroLink), mi- gration into the virtual world will be- come inevitable. For some people, this will be their only escape, if not the only existence hence why it is crucial to work on shap- ing society even before the Metaverse emerges. Of course, we shouldn't be pessimistic about such a technology, but a balanced discussion must ensue. In the end, the Metaverse will become a reality, and it will offer a lot of advan- tages. It is essential to take a cautious approach whereby governments and big companies engineer together, the world of tomorrow, so that we avoid the mistakes of the past. It should be a technology which increases opportu- nities for everyone, not just for the few and only by working on it from now can we manage to reduce its adverse side effects. Pushing the gas pedal on the Metaverse

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