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A Metaverse Beyond Gaming


Immersive technologies are increasingly enabling new opportunities for schools and organizations to serve their communities and their mission. Learn how AR and VR are changing practices in education, job skilling, building communities, and taking on global challenges.


Music. Hello, and welcome to a Metaverse beyond gaming. My name is Kevin Chan, and I am part of the global policy team here at Meta. We are constantly working with external stakeholders to build for the Metaverse Collaboratively, which is why I am so excited to be speaking today with two wonderful partners from our XR Programs and Research Fund. The XR Fund, announced at Connect 2021, is a twoyear $50 million investment in programs and external research to help us think through the issues and opportunities in the Metaverse. Through this fund, we are collaborating with industry partners, nonprofits, and academic institutions to enable the full value of the Metaverse and to do so responsibly. We have with us today Alex Schwarzel from Jobs for the Future, based in Washington, DC, whose work is all about skills training, showcasing how small businesses and communities can leverage the Metaverse for economic growth, and Sarah Lisa Vogel, based in Berlin, who is championing diversity and inclusion for underrepresented groups in the Metaverse. Welcome, Alex and Sarah Lisa. Let's start off with each of you introducing yourselves and telling us a bit about your XR Fund projects. For so many, VR and AR are synonymous with gaming, but both of your stories illustrate what is possible beyond that. Alex, do you want to go first? Sure. Thanks so much, Kevin. I'm Alex Schwarzel. I work at Jobs for the Future, which is a national U. S. Based nonprofit that's focused on transforming education and workforce systems. Our mission is economic mobility, and critical to that is positioning people to get the skills they need for quality jobs that will help them support their families. And to do that, they need the best quality training. So often, for skills that are accessible to people. Even without bachelor's degrees, training can be difficult to access, very timeconsuming costly, or even somewhat risky. So think about an electrician trying to figure out which wire to insert or to tweak, or an airplane manufacturer building an engine, a nurse drawing blood, or even a customer service representative working with a frustrated customer. These are very challenging skills to learn. And as we started digging into the world of immersive learning technology, we were blown away by its potential to train people for these kinds of highly accessible and often highquality jobs more quickly, more effectively, so that they can advance in their careers. We were really excited in an early stage of our partnership with Meta to do work to bring augmented reality technology into eight small advanced manufacturing businesses across the United States, where we instituted technology that allows workers to digitize their checklist processes to power up or power down or repair a piece of equipment, for example. And what we saw was that these workers collaborated with their supervisors and others across the company to develop over 40 different use cases for this technology that ranged from cross training opportunities to quality control to process improvements. One worker even caught an error that could have made a significant cost difference in the product that they were creating. And all of the businesses said that using the technology helped increase collaboration and communication across the firms. We're really excited to build on this work and to showcase all of the different ways that VR can be used for training and upscaling opportunities that are connecting people to better jobs and ultimately better lives. That's super exciting, alex, thank you for sharing that and looking so forward to seeing the work that you and your organization are going to do going forward. Sara Lisa, how about you? Hi, I'm Sarah Lisa. I am a VR creator. And I'm also cofounder of Feminine Immersive Tech Europe, which is a Brussels based NGO. We enable female and unrepresented groups in the creation of the midavers XR and in general Immersive technologies. I'm also a participant at the Diazpora Solutions Lab where we are using the Mitaverse and VR to enable solutions for refugees that are especially living in Europe and not in their home countries. Yeah, thank you for that. That actually is a great segue into an issue that I was hoping to speak with both of you about, which is this question of diversity and inclusion. They're really important issues as we work to find partners to build the Metaverse. Sarah Lisa and Alex, I know that you are both explicitly focused on these areas in your own work and I'd love to get your thoughts on that. Sarah Lisa, how can the Metaverse and XR technologies support diaspora communities and bring them closer together? Yeah, thank you so much for that question. That is really a thing that is very close to my heart because a lot of diaspora that had to leave their home and their home country are in whole new environments, in whole new circumstances. And VR and the Mittavers has the power to not only put yourself into a whole different environment that might come way closer to what you're used to, but also to be able to enable you to talk to other people that are not at the same place than you are. So we can communicate over borders, we can come together in a space that we can make our home how we want our home to look like no matter where we currently are. That is a huge opportunity and that highlights the huge potential that Immersive technologies have for everyone, but especially for people that are struggling to find belonging and trust in the places that they are right now. Usually not by choice, but by the circumstances of society. Yeah, thank you for that. I mean, I think one of the big things that we think is going to be unlocked is a greater sense of presence with the metaverse and that's why we see this as such an important part of building the next generation of social technologies to bring people closer together online. Alex, I know that your work is focused on upskilling and training in traditionally marginalized communities. How are you ensuring that you are reaching this important audience? And how is the meta risk helping you do that? Yeah, it's a great question, Kevin. So in many ways, we start by the kinds of occupations that we focus on because in many instances we're supporting training for jobs that don't necessarily require a college degree, which means by nature, often they're more accessible. We also work very closely with JFS networks across the country to seek out partners and sites that have a higher representation of populations that are typically not given access to technologies like this or not seen in projects like the ones that we do. And once we're on the ground, we really make an effort to cocreate the work that we're doing with workers and learners that we're supporting through these solutions. I have a great example from some work that we've done with a project called Skill Immersion Lab, where we brought enterprise grade virtual reality skill training to high school age students in lower income communities across the country. And we've been partnering with those students to actually build simulations and design simulations that are reflective of their lived experiences. And they're coming up with ideas that we would never have thought of. So the more that we can really incorporate the voices of the communities that we serve. The perspectives of the communities that we serve. And put this technology in their hands to make it as accessible as possible. Not just will more people have the opportunity to benefit from the solution. But the technology and the experience in immersive learning in virtual reality. It's going to be richer and deeper and better because it's more reflective of the lived experiences of everybody that's using this technology. Yeah, that's super important. And I love this idea of making VR and AR more accessible to more people. And I think you're underpinning also this idea that we're talking about increasing the opportunities, the economic opportunities for a much broader segment of people. Let me switch to a more technical question. XR technologies obviously are still very much in their infancy as creators and leaders, building out the value of the metaverse. What would be a capability or functionality that you would love to see built to help maximize your impact? Alex? Thanks, Kevin. I'm actually going to pick two. The first is anything that makes this technology even easier to use and anything that makes it even more reflective of the human experience. So, for example, everybody out there who's working on low code or no code platforms keep at it and keep working to make them as user friendly and accessible as possible. There is always going to be space in the metaverse and a deep need in the metaverse for highly customized, highly tailored scenarios. And at the same time, the more that we can make creating worlds, creating avatars in the metaverse easy and accessible for as many people as possible, the more people are going to have the experience of using this technology and to have a deeper understanding of what it can do. And when it comes to the human experience, I think Sarah Lisa spoke to it eloquently earlier, and I'm also thinking about things like machine learning, natural language processing and AI, some of these tools that can help make, for example, a human avatar even more flexibly responsive to the cues that come in a natural conversation. For instance, if I say something as the user to provoke a response, the more highly sophisticated we can make those kinds of interactions, the more complex and interesting scenarios we can explore. Ultimately, the deeper skills and learning will help develop and the more sophisticated skills so that as people continue to upscale into jobs that offer more and more opportunity, this technology will continue to enable that. Yeah, thank you for that. I think this idea of trying to make avatars even more lifelike is something that we've been working at for a while and I look forward to seeing what's next there. Sarah Lisa. Yeah, so I can definitely add on to what Alex said in terms of creation tools just to enable this diversity of content and this richness of experiences that we get if we actually get a broad spectrum of creators from all kinds of backgrounds, from all kinds of countries and communities. So that is definitely from my side. One of the most important wishes. But I also believe bringing the whole body with its senses into virtual reality is the last thing that's basically missing. Like the seeing. Hearing and also the upper body dynamics and interactions are great. But I think what really is still missing to fully step into this other reality and fully make use after opportunities and also after impressions that we can get in those realities. Also to feel ourselves in certain scenarios. That is something that I think will add a lot still to the realm of the Metaverse and Immersive technology. You know, in many respects, the Metaverse is creating new paths for creators. Alex, do you want to share with us a bit how JFF is exploring this pathway as well for creators? Sure. Thanks Kevin. So I couldn't agree more. The number of jobs and career opportunities that are going to emerge in the coming years as this community builds and develops the Metaverse are really going to be extraordinary. I think we've just scratched the surface of what's possible. As part of our partnership with Meta and the Immersive Learning Fund, we are digging deeply into that work of jobs for the future to both map out what are not only the job opportunities, but the skills that will be needed to step into those jobs for the creators and developers and designers of the future. And we're looking at how we can support some of those communities to actually experience the training that they're going to need to help them develop those skills. I know Matt is on the forefront of developing some of those trainings, and we're excited to partner together to bring some of those experiences to students across the country. Okay, great. Thank you. Last question for the panel. With the time remaining, what are you most excited about in terms of AR VR in your work? That just wouldn't be possible without it. And maybe we'll start with Sarah Lisa. Yes. So virtual reality really, for me is this amazing opportunity to be whoever I want to be and to step into whatever scenario that I want to step in. So in general, I noticed on my own experience that VR just makes me way more confident in certain situations, being a rather shy person, actually, in real life. So in virtual reality, I get this opportunity to express myself freely and not show up with my real life body that can potentially be judged or misinterpreted. But in virtual reality, I have the safety and, like, the comfort of my home to actually express myself in the way that I would like to. That's really interesting. And I like this idea that being in a virtual space allows you to try different things, and I think it also tends to build empathy for each other and allows you to sort of get into the skin of somebody else. Alex, what are your thoughts on this? Yeah, I would love to build on that and just say that the thing that most excites me is how profoundly virtual reality, extended reality, immersive learning, can tap into experiential learning for people. For so many of us, learning by sitting behind a desk, learning only by reading or only in certain modalities just isn't as effective as when you can move around, when you can experience something, when you can be in a different setting, and when you can do that from a firstperson perspective rather than just than just by observing others. It is incredibly powerful. I'm increasingly thinking about tools in VRS, as well as all of the different platforms on which people can experience the metaverse, including even two dimensional platforms like laptops and tablets as a flight simulator for any job. And the more that we can make this kind of experiential learning and training available to more and more people, we just accelerate the progress through which people can step into the next opportunity in their career and their lives, and the next one after that, and the next one after that. That, again, ultimately makes their lives richer and deeper and more fulfilling in the end. What a great way to end this conversation. Thanks again to our panelists, alex Schwarzel from Drops for the Future and Sarah Lisa Vogel for a great discussion. And thank you to our audience for tuning in.