Tech giant Facebook today announced its plans to create 10,000 new high-skilled positions in the European Union over the next five years to build the "metaverse", a virtual reality version of the internet that the social media firm sees as the future.
Target markets for the hiring include the Republic of Ireland, which unlike Northern Ireland remains part of the European Union, as well as Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Poland, and the Netherlands. A spokesperson for Facebook confirmed to Bloomberg the UK wasn’t being included.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been talking up metaverse since July and the buzzy word, first coined in a dystopian novel three decades earlier, has been referenced by other tech firms such as Microsoft.
The technology might, for example, allow someone to don virtual reality glasses that make it feel as if they're face-to-face with a friend -- when in fact they are thousands of miles apart and connected via the internet.
"No one company will own and operate the metaverse," Nick Clegg, Facebook's vice president of global affairs, said in a blog post. "Bringing this to life will take collaboration and cooperation across companies, developers, creators and policymakers."
"The metaverse has the potential to help unlock access to new creative, social, and economic opportunities. And Europeans will be shaping it right from the start," the Facebook blog post read.
Using technologies such as virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR), Facebook plans to create a greater sense of "virtual presence", which will mimic the experience of interacting in person.
The Covid-19 pandemic has shifted much of the office meetings online, leading to the rise of conferencing apps such as Zoom, and big tech companies are looking to capitalize on this shift.
Facebook, which has invested heavily in VR and AR, including buying companies like Oculus, intends to connect its nearly three billion users through several devices and apps.
The Facebook CEO believes that the metaverse would be accessible across VR, AR, PC, mobile devices and game consoles.
It has already committed $50 million for building the metaverse, and testing a new remote work app where users of Oculus Quest 2 headsets could hold meetings as avatar versions of themselves.
While Facebook did not say what roles it would hire for and where they would be based, the company has been facing antitrust probes in the region, and is often criticised over online safety and hate speech on its platform.
"We look forward to working with governments across the EU to find the right people and the right markets to take this forward, as part of an upcoming recruitment drive across the region," Clegg wrote.
What is the 'metaverse'?
Metaverse is a broad term. It generally refers to shared virtual world environments which people can access via the internet.
The term can refer to digital spaces, which are made more lifelike by the use of VR or AR.
Some people also use the word metaverse to describe gaming worlds, in which users have a character that can walk around and interact with other players.
There is also a specific type of metaverse which uses blockchain technology. In these, users can buy virtual land and other digital assets using cryptocurrencies.
Many science fiction books and films are set in fully-fledged metaverses - alternative digital worlds which are indistinguishable from the real physical world. But this is still the stuff of fiction. Currently, most virtual spaces look more like the inside of a video game than real life.
Blurring the lines
Metaverse evangelists point out that the internet is already starting to blur the lines between virtual experiences and "real" ones.
Stars such as pop diva Ariana Grande and the rapper Travis Scott have performed for huge audiences, watching at home, via the hit video game Fortnite.
In Decentraland, another online platform widely seen as a forerunner to the metaverse, you can already get a job as a croupier in its virtual casino.
"No one company will own and operate the metaverse. Like the internet, its key feature will be its openness and interoperability," Facebook said.
Other companies are pouring millions into developing the technology that could turn a fully-fledged version of the metaverse into reality.
Epic Games, the company behind Fortnite, has raised $1 billion in new funding, with some of that money set to support its vision of the metaverse.
Meanwhile, other technology giants – Google and Amazon – are investing heavily in innovations that could prove crucial to the development of the metaverse, not least cloud computing and data storage.
With agency inputs
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