Facebook is investing $50M to 'responsibly' build the metaverse
In an announcement yesterday, Facebook said it is investing $50 million to partner with organisations to "responsibly" build the metaverse - a digital world that users can access through a range of devices and move around and communicate in its virtual environment.
Facebook explained that its new XR Programs and Research Fund will invest the money globally over two years to ensure metaverse technologies are "built in a way that's inclusive and empowering".
It plans to work with researchers across data privacy and safety, inclusivity and accessibility, and also research technologies in a manner that would "encourage competition" in the nascent industry, it added.
So far, the Mark Zuckerberg-led social media giant has invested heavily in virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality(AR), working on AR glasses, wristband technology, VR headsets (Oculus), etc. The company is also the owner of Instagram and WhatsApp - platforms that could act as building blocks of the first metaverse prototypes.
Howard University in Washington D.C is reportedly a partner for its new metaverse fund, and will research the history of diversity in the IT industry and how it could shape opportunity in the metaverse. Seoul National University and the University of Hong Kong will research safety, ethics, and responsible design.
Facebook's announcement comes roughly a month after it launched a VR app named Horizon Workrooms.
Workrooms lets VR headset-enabled users meet remotely in a virtual space populated by avatars. People without a headset can join with a video call. Up to 50 people can be on the call, but only 16 can be in the VR space with avatars.
Earlier in July 2021, Facebook has unveiled its ambitious plans to build a metaverse. CEO Mark Zuckerberg has long been a fan of the metaverse, which he expects to be the next stage of how people experience the internet.
However, critics argue Facebook's vision of the metaverse - which comprises a top-down control of its virtual spaces - is the opposite of what the metaverse should be.
Jerod Venema, Founder and CEO of real-time video communication company LiveSwitch, argued in a post on VentureBeat recently:
"Everything Facebook does is inside a closed experience controlled by their engineers and admins. Zuckerberg probably sees this metaverse expansion as a way to more fully immerse his userbase into Facebook and get even more data and dollars from them."
Instead, the metaverse should be open, cross-platform, and inclusive to everyone, even to those outside the Facebook network, he said.