We have a vague understanding of what defines metaverse. Does it encompass virtual reality, cyberspace, augmented reality, Web3, digital avatars, non-fungible tokens and blockchain? Optimistically, it is a new way of interacting with futuristic technology. Tech giants across the world like Microsoft, Google, Apple, Snap, Meta, as well as startups and SMEs have embraced metaverse as the future of the internet. As a metaverse hub, Dubai has not bucked the trend. The city’s technological prowess, vibrant innovation, research and development ecosystem and advanced digital infrastructure, provides a foundation upon which metaverses can be built. The combination of a flexible, robust regulatory framework and supportive government-led efforts are helping cultivate a culture of innovation and a smooth transition to a digital economy in emirate.
According to economic analysts at the Analysis Group, adoption of the metaverse over the next 10 years could lead to a $3tn contribution to the global GDP in 2031. With an aim to place Dubai among the top 10 metaverse economies globally, Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai, Chairman of the Dubai Executive Council and Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Dubai Future Foundation (DFF) launched the Dubai Metaverse Strategy.
The strategy seeks to support as many as 40,000 additional virtual jobs and generate up to $4bn for the city’s GDP by 2030. These jobs will mostly be in fields such as augmented and virtual reality. Providing a roadmap for the future, the strategy is in line with the recently concluded ‘Dubai Metaverse Assembly’. Organised by DFF, the event was held at the Museum of the Future and AREA 2071 in Emirates Towers, Dubai from September 28 to 29. Hosting more than 500 global experts, policymakers, thought leaders and decision-makers from over 40 organisations, the event explored how revolutionary technology can be deployed across vital sectors to create a better future. Many international organisations and companies participated in the assembly, including the World Economic Forum, Meta, Binance, MasterCard, The Sandbox, Bedu, PwC, Accenture, BCG Digital Ventures, Dubai Blockchain Center and DeCentraland.
The assembly also witnessed participation from government entities and local organisations, such as the Dubai International Financial Centre, VARA, Majid Al Futtaim, DAMAC and Dubai Digital, among others, with the aim of evaluating national projects and exchanging experiences on the metaverse.
Highlights of the event
Over two days, the Dubai Metaverse Assembly brought together experts to engage in over 25 sessions, activations, workshops and side-sessions. Discussions covered the latest developments in metaverse technologies and explored partnerships to develop digital infrastructure to create future applications for government services, finance, communications and other industries.
Omar Sultan Al Olama, Minister of State for Artificial Intelligence, revealed the five pillars that will reinforce the new Dubai Metaverse Strategy: tourism, real estate, education, retail and government services. He stated how Dubai is serious about sowing the seeds and discovering the potential of the metaverse. “Our population in the metaverse is already the same size as those in India and China, despite our smaller geographic size. This shows that we continue to punch above our weight as a nation. And as we aim to become a top ten ‘metaverse’ economy, we will create a digital twin of Dubai to simulate our plans for tourism, real estate, education, retail and government services in the virtual world.”
Attendees got to witness a glimpse of the future, such as the Ministry of Economy’s metaverse headquarters where meetings can be held. Abdulla bin Touq Al Marri, UAE Minister of Economy stated, “We are setting up a third office, this time in the metaverse, to complement our physical locations in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. The metaverse is a new economic equaliser and under the vision of our leaders, we will continue to pave the way for a new era of opportunities that accelerate our knowledge-driven economy.”
Sultan bin Sulayem, group chairman and CEO, DP World reiterated how the metaverse presents a huge opportunity to solve real-world supply chain bottleneck. He explained that especially in the last two years, “global supply chains have undergone turbulent moments because of the pandemic and geopolitical tension. Now more than ever, businesses and governments are ready to embrace technologies that will boost the resiliency and sustainability of our supply chains”.
Meanwhile, Khalfan Belhoul, CEO of DFF emphasised how the metaverse will likely infiltrate every sector in some way in the coming years, with the market opportunity estimated at over $1tn in annual revenues. He said, “Under the UAE’s leadership, Dubai can become as a testbed to build a network of technology leaders and create collaborations to build a metaverse ecosystem that will allow us to seamlessly connect between real and virtual worlds.”
Some panels emphasised blurred lines between the physical and digital world and the role of augmented reality in developing vital sectors and successfully applying new and innovative practices to advance healthcare, manufacturing and automotive. A discussion on real estate in the virtual world explored the opportunities to engage customers in virtual activities. Another panel on how to maximise the metaverse’s potential examined its various building blocks, including decentralised technologies, platforms and applications.
The assembly also witnessed seven side-sessions. It included a group meeting by World Economic Forum on value creation in the metaverse, which outlined the parameters of an economically viable, inclusive and safe metaverse, focusing on two core areas: governance, and economic and social value creation. Adel Al Redha, COO at Emirates Airline, delivered a keynote as part of the ‘Aviation in the Metaverse’ side session held by the airline. His speech was followed by panel discussions on interoperability and reality gradient. Themes included realism of avatars, AR and VR, regulation and the role of standards.
Big technology companies offered public immersive metaverse activations and experiences, showcasing their innovative projects and state-of-the-art technological solutions at the event. Microsoft, Binance, Bedu, Meta, Accenture, Mastercard and Meta held side-sessions and activations for delegates and revealed how digital worlds have the power to shape existing and emerging industries, such as art, healthcare, education, gaming, space tourism and more. Showcasing immersive mixed reality training with the HoloLens, Microsoft highlighted how immersive technology can close the skill gap, catalyse the Fourth Industrial Revolution, drive augmented reality-enabled workplaces and improve worker safety. Binance plugged users into the evolution of gaming and metaverse finance with its Ultiverse and Orbofi virtual environments.
Furthermore, Accenture forayed into immersive learning with a virtual booth designed to address the future of work and contribute towards building Dubai’s skilled workforce. UAE’s Bedu allowed visitors and delegates to experience life on Mars, inspired by the Emirates’ mission to the Red Planet. Users had the chance to discover what life on Mars would be like in the year 2117, when the Emirates’ aims to build a human settlement on Mars.
Metamall offered retail and real estate through a virtual lens through a variety of solutions including test tokens and customised avatars. Another side-session titled ‘Road to the Metaverse: Innovating Governance’ was held by Meta to explore the impact of the metaverse on governments and public service delivery. In addition, Everdome presented a workshop on ‘Creating Worlds and Experiences for a Hyper-Realistic Metaverse’, which included an interplanetary journey to Mars. MasterCard meanwhile hosted a workshop on ‘How Shopping, Banking, and Gaming are Spearheading the Metaverse’, while another workshop by Verse Estate ‘The Metaverse: Not Just a Game but a Game Changer,’ examined how the metaverse is increasingly impacting sectors outside of gaming. Another session ‘Venture Capital for the Metaverse’, led by the Crypto Oasis explored investment opportunities in virtual worlds.
Is Metaverse the future?
After an outstanding success in its debut year, the Dubai Metaverse Assembly is all set to return again on October 11-12, 2023. Slated to be a bigger and more immersive experience, the city’s decision to launch an assembly based on harnessing the metaverse reflects its confidence in the future of emerging virtual worlds that will shape how humans live, work and interact. The concept of the metaverse has served as a powerful vehicle to reinvent old tech, understand new technology’s benefits and capture people’s imagination. Are we on the verge of a massive paradigm shift? We will have to wait and see.