Being Intentional About Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in the Metaverse
A few months ago, I went through a part of my usual Saturday routine: I took my child to soccer practice and cheered from the sidelines. But this time, I wore my Ray-Ban Stories glasses. With a simple voice command, I was able to take photos and videos without having to fiddle with my phone or be separated from the moment by a screen. For the first time, I was right there the entire time — never missing a moment.
That afternoon, I got a glimpse into what’s possible with presence thanks to technology. It was so powerful and magical that it felt like the gap between my memory and experience had completely collapsed.
The metaverse — the next generation of digital experiences — will transform the way we connect. With today’s internet, we connect with people mostly by looking at screens. But in the metaverse, we’ll be able to share the same spaces three-dimensionally.
In the next decade, more than a billion people may be in the metaverse. And because companies like Meta are starting to think about this future now, we have the opportunity to help build the metaverse with diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) from its inception. There’s no doubt that it’s an enormous responsibility. And it definitely isn’t easy to resolve the complicated issues of DEI in technology, especially at a global scale. But working on these issues is one of the things that excites me most about Meta, and our role in using technology to have a positive impact on society.
It’ll take years for the metaverse to be built, so we have a long road ahead. Here are a few things we’re doing — and being intentional about — now.
1) Asking the right questions
To work toward an inclusive metaverse, we need to ask the right questions about what inclusivity must look like in immersive experiences. Meta is doing that through a two-year, $50 million investment in partnerships with U.S. civil rights groups, nonprofit organizations, academic institutions, and other organizations globally to explore issues related to the metaverse from different perspectives. And through a partnership with Howard University, researchers will explore historical barriers to information technology; they’ll share recommendations on what we can do to remove those barriers and offer insights to better inform our work from the ground up.
2) Building networks of diverse talent
Diverse people shouldn’t just participate in the metaverse as consumers; they should be its architects and builders as well. To make that happen, we need to increase the diversity of people working in the tech industry, particularly in areas like artificial intelligence (AI), gaming, virtual reality (VR), and augmented reality (AR).
We’re partnering with institutions across the United States — historically Black colleges and universities, Hispanic-serving institutions, and Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander–serving institutions — to attract more students to deep learning courses and increase diversity and equity in the field of AI. Through the AI Learning Alliance, more people from underrepresented groups will be able to take free online courses in AI to prepare themselves for the jobs of the future. Courses will be available through our online learning platform, Meta Blueprint, and open to everyone, whether they are a student, professional, or hobbyist.
3) Breaking down language barriers
For people who speak or read languages like English and German, the internet offers endless possibilities. But many people who speak only an unwritten or nondominant language are cut off.
Today’s translation tools typically use English as an intermediary when translating between two different languages, which can be less accurate than direct translation. They also aren’t capable of translating speech in one language to speech or writing in another. That’s why using new technology to break down language barriers is so important. People will feel more connected to others if they can communicate, work, or produce art in their chosen languages. They’ll also have the potential to immediately reach billions of others across the world regardless of their preferred language. Can you imagine how that would change our lives?
Possibilities like these drive our long-term efforts to build new translation tools that will give creators and consumers the ability to participate equally in the metaverse in more languages and reach people in the farthest corners of the globe.
4) Broadening access to the metaverse for users and creators
Participation in the metaverse will not depend on having access to a headset. There will be many entry points through which people can participate using any device, including mobile phones. For those who do want the experience that a VR headset allows, we are working to make them as affordable as possible. It’s also important to remember that, as an industry, we’re still at the very early stages of building devices with VR and AR capabilities.
Enabling access for creators from diverse backgrounds is equally important, and I’m pleased with the progress we are making with our Spark AR platform. It’s already being used by hundreds of thousands of creators in 190 countries to build immersive experiences across Meta’s apps and devices. Spark AR and similar platforms are making it possible for people from diverse backgrounds to build effects and other things in AR that will enrich our VR and AR worlds of the future.
5) Creating myriad options for self-expression
Representations in the metaverse should reflect the diversity of the real world. Recently, we announced improvements to our Meta avatars, including new facial shapes and assistive devices such as cochlear implants, over-the-ear hearing aids, and wheelchairs for people with disabilities. When you create your avatar, you can choose the facial features, body type, clothing styles, and more that are right for you. We offered more than one quintillion different combinations when we launched our updated avatars last year, and we’re continuing to add more options to give people even more ways to express themselves. And now you can choose to bring that avatar across VR, Facebook, Instagram, and Messenger.
Appearance is important, but representation in the metaverse will also be about voice, sound, and other ways we express ourselves. Avatars are just the first step toward enabling everyone to show up however they choose.
Here’s the “ting”
I love my native country of Trinidad and Tobago. In fact, I love the entire region of the Caribbean. However, by virtue of size and scale alone, educational and work opportunities were more limited than if one had the offerings of the entire globe from which to choose. If I had the ability to “be” in other places while physically staying in the country I loved, it would have changed my entire life trajectory. I grew up at a time when long-distance phone calls were exorbitantly expensive, so writing and mailing letters was how I kept in touch with family and friends far away. When I moved abroad to further my education, whether in the United States or in England, I would ration my letters home because stamps were so expensive and the letters took forever to move back and forth! Now, with Ray-Ban Stories and Portal, I can easily share everyday moments with family back home, in real time, no matter where I am. In the metaverse, even more education and work possibilities will open up so that people can pursue their dreams while staying close to the people and places they love.
It’s important to remember that an inclusive metaverse benefits everyone, including people from traditionally underrepresented groups. What inclusivity in the metaverse will look like is a difficult question with no easy answers. As with any transformative technology, it will take a while for everything to come together, and even when the metaverse is realized, it will continue to evolve with time. I am encouraged by the active investments Meta is making to approach inclusion holistically and to engage with partners and experts in ongoing conversations about what it will truly mean to help build the metaverse responsibly.