A file photo taken on July 8, 2022 shows a view of the Museum of the Future in the Gulf Emirate of Dubai. The UAE has unveiled its first ministry in the Metaverse and a virtual trip to Mars, while Dubai is trying to become a hub for the immersive world, which is still in its infancy but is attracting growing interest. — AFP image
Monday 03 Oct 2022 12:46 PM MYT
DUBAI, October 3 – The United Arab Emirates, which already boasts the world’s tallest skyscraper and has embarked on a bold Mars mission, now hopes to become a pioneer in the depths of the metaverse.
In a project launched in Dubai’s gleaming Museum of the Future, it announced that the UAE’s Ministry of Economy is settling into the immersive virtual world that is now taking shape.
Those who don their virtual reality goggles or use other means to venture in will find a ministry open to doing business with companies and even willing to sign bilateral deals with foreign governments, officials said.
The Metaverse is an online world where users can eventually play, work and learn, its proponents say – although it’s still in a “testing phase,” the UAE’s economy minister acknowledged.
Abdulla bin Touq Al Marri spoke at the first Dubai Metaverse Assembly, held at the museum, whose innovative ring shape with Arabic calligraphy flanks the city’s main thoroughfare.
Representatives from tech giants mingled with entrepreneurs and developers exploring the potential of the Metaverse, a network of digital spaces envisioned as an extension of the physical world.
“In the last couple of years we’ve seen investment, we’ve seen companies move in and with the changes in the (visa) regime … we’re seeing talent coming in,” Al Marri said in an interview with AFP.
“We’ve trained our staff to really dive into the Metaverse, use the Metaverse, and engage with the upcoming Gen Z,” he added.
The UAE, which has a history of bold projects including the 830-meter-tall Burj Khalifa, hopes the Metaverse will add $4 billion (RM18 billion) in annual GDP by 2030 and create 40,000 jobs for its workforce can.
In its bid to become one of the top 10 metaverse economies in the world, Dubai aims to attract 1,000 companies specializing in blockchain and related technologies, aided by eased visa requirements for freelancers, entrepreneurs and creatives.
As the coronavirus pandemic pushed more people online, “Covid has really accelerated the trend,” Al Marri added.
“We thought the metaverse was a phased technology” that could take 10 to 20 years to form,” he said. “Covid-19 really immersed us so quickly and accelerated the use of the metaverse.”
A file photo taken on June 20, 2022 shows a view of the Museum of the Future in the Gulf Emirate of Dubai. The Economy Ministry’s metaverse address, unveiled this week at Dubai’s Museum of the Future, is a place to interact with governments, businesses and even for the UAE to sign bilateral deals with other countries, officials said. — AFP image
Virtual Mars Journeys
Unlike the UAE’s oil-rich capital, Abu Dhabi, crude oil accounts for just five percent of Dubai’s economy, which has focused on business, tourism, real estate and new technology.
The UAE has already introduced a virtual assets law and a cryptocurrency regulator, while also welcoming major crypto exchange platforms.
One of the UAE’s early private Metaverse projects is called 2117, named after Dubai’s ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid’s dream of colonizing Mars in a century.
Metaverse users can now purchase tickets to join a virtual shuttle that takes settlers to the red planet.
“Many of us will not live long enough to see this mission with our own eyes,” said Amin Al Zarouni, founder of the start-up Bedu behind the virtual Mars journey.
“We will try to replicate this experience in the metaverse.”
So far, usage of the metaverse is niche, and even its architects say widespread adoption is years away. How it will develop is unknown.
According to Meta, which owns Facebook and other social media titans, Analysis Group research has shown that the Metaverse could boost GDP in the Middle East, North Africa and Turkey by $360 billion in 10 years if it follows the growth pattern of mobile technology.
“We also know that when policies support innovation, adoption of new technologies is accelerated,” the company said when asked about Dubai’s prospects of becoming a Metaverse hub.
“If we look at the context of Dubai, there is already a clear strategy and goals in place to accelerate Metaverse adoption and investment in the building blocks of the Metaverse.” — AFP