Meta executive says metaverse will provide for more engaged, present workforce interactions

The metaverse is not designed to replace in-person interaction, but instead is intended to give people a “feeling of presence, feeling like you are right there and with other people,” a Meta executive told an audience recently during a joint presentation with the Iowa Business Council.

Dena Feldman, 
policy director for reality labs at Meta, said the metaverse will have applications in workforce training, education and healthcare. Meta has a data center in Altoona, which once the addition of two buildings is complete in 2025, will be the company’s largest data center in the world at more than 5 million square feet.

Feldman said the metaverse “is the next evolution in our current technology.”

“It’s a virtual environment where you can be present with other people in digital spaces that are interconnected,” she said during her presentation at the Des Moines Golf and Country club on Friday, Sept. 30.

The rebranding of the former Facebook into Meta and the vision for the metaverse was announced in October 2021. The metaverse is a digital space where avatars of people can meet, work and play.

“You experience it as if you are really there,” Feldman said.

The metaverse will allow someone to travel anywhere at any time, such as being at Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a Dream” speech,” or attending a virtual concert.

It will allow someone to pick up a piece of art or a sculpture and move it around and look at it from all angles, or view math concepts and allow people to “whiteboard” with each other in 3D.

“Nothing will replace everyday human interaction; that’s not the goal here,” Feldman said. “The goal is to provide opportunities to travel across time and space and do things you couldn’t otherwise do in the physical world.”

The full build-out of the metaverse is five to 10 years away, but much of the core technology that will be used is already available, she said.

Feldman said the metaverse will provide an exciting opportunity in workforce development and training.

“You can use this technology to scale workforce training in very complex situations across geographically distributed areas,” she said. “For example, you can set up a Walmart storefront in virtual reality and walk people through situations. It is applicable to lots of different sectors. Hy-Vee could use technology to train workers in a more cost-effective way.”

“We’ve all taken workforce training on our computers, but as we talk about the sense of presence, it really does enhance not only the experience but the retention and the ability to really connect with what you’re learning,” Feldman said.

She said the metaverse will provide a greater sense of presence than being on a telephone or a computer screen.

“It will be more engaging, and again we’ve reported that businesses have said that their employees retain a lot more, just like you retain a lot more from a conversation you have in person where you’re really using all of our senses than something you hear through a 2D medium,” Feldman said.

Feldman said there will be similar applications of the metaverse across several industries.

“The common link is the ability to combine productivity increases and the benefits of having a digital economy with the sense of presence and human connection that you really cannot get in 2D, and so no matter if you’re training workers on a manufacturing floor, if you are training emergency workers, if you are working in education, [it’s] the ability to make people feel as if they are there. If you are doing telemedicine, rather than having somebody in through a 2D screen, to be able to provide 3D assistance in a rural area would just transform the ability to use technology in these ways.”

The metaverse also has platforms to conduct meetings in 3D that allow people to feel as if you’re in the same room and sitting next to someone.

“You actually feel the person next to you, you can hear the spatial audio, it actually sounds to your brain like they are sitting next to you and your body will move to talk to somebody,” Feldmann said.

She said businesses should start preparing for the metaverse today by educating themselves about what the metaverse is, being open to the new technology and how it can be used for workforce training and to reach customers.

Everyone will play a role in building the metaverse, Feldman said.

“Meta is not building this alone,” she said. “Everybody will have a role to play. We are helping to bring about this technology with business leaders, industries, civil society, academic and government, so we hope business leaders will play an active role in shaping this technology.”

The biggest challenge right now is getting people to understand what the metaverse will look like.

“It’s hard to envision,” she said. “It was hard to envision what the internet was going to look like and what the digital economy is going to look like, and people are wondering what’s coming.”