Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp — they’re three of the best-known brands at one of the world’s most profitable companies. Yet on October 28, 2021, that company not only changed its name, it also announced a bold strategic shift at a moment when it was already at the pinnacle of business success.
Today, Meta has committed itself to doing for the “metaverse” what it previously did for social media. Through her work as Meta’s director of U.S. public policy, state and local, Kia Floyd is helping lead the company’s historic pivot.
“We are a different company than we were when we began in 2004,” she says. “Our company’s vision is now to help bring the metaverse to life. Yet our mission remains the same: we build technologies that help people connect, find communities, and grow businesses.”
What is the Metaverse?
“There are a lot of misconceptions,” Floyd says, “about how to touch and feel and grasp the metaverse.” Though the term is still evolving, the metaverse refers to a digital experience that seeks to parallel the physical world by blending things such as virtual reality, streaming video, mobile games, cryptocurrency, social media, 5G, and artificial intelligence.
However you define it, the metaverse has a huge upside: Predictions are that its annual economic value will hit $800 billion by 2024. For Floyd, part of the excitement of going all-in on the metaverse is the opportunity to help nurture its growth in exciting, if unpredictable, ways.
“While there are some very aspirational ideas [about the metaverse] that are floating right now, we believe that creators, designers, artists, and those that create the actual feel of the metaverse are going to lead the way,” she says.
Indeed, the possibilities for how the metaverse may evolve are endless. Many of them are also sufficiently tangible — or will be in the near future — that they might even have surprised Isaac Asimov, the great science-fiction writer.
“Let’s say I wanted to, after business meetings, change and go to a gala across the country that I can’t physically attend,” Floyd says. “I might need a stylist in the metaverse to give me a new outfit. I can then participate in the fun of the gala and show up in the way that I would have if I had attended in person.”
The opportunities of the metaverse may be considerable, but so too are the challenges of crafting sensible regulation to govern this burgeoning field. “The goal is to ensure that regulation is fair and balanced in a way that is both protective of consumers’ interests and society’s needs writ large, but also motivates the innovation and technology advances that we depend upon to create whatever the next big thing is tomorrow,” Floyd says.
When it comes to the metaverse, she adds, taking the time to get regulation right should be a greater priority than rushing to simply pass new rules. “It’s going to be important to be smart, rather than just fast. Yes, we need to avoid the mistakes of the past but we also must avoid placing a chilling [regulatory] effect on where we need to go as a society,” Floyd says.
To assist its efforts to build the metaverse responsibly, Meta has, among other actions, committed $50 million over two years to independent research and programs that will focus on promoting progress in four areas:
- digital economic opportunity,
- data privacy,
- digital safety and integrity, and
- diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).
Tying Technology Advancement with DEI Progress
As for the challenge of advancing DEI in the tech industry itself — where women have historically been underrepresented in leadership roles — there are some encouraging signs. Floyd points to broad support for initiatives such as the “Action to Catalyze Tech,” a new manifesto that “calls on tech companies to commit to bold, collective action by open-sourcing DEI best practices, encouraging collaboration on systemic solutions, and increasing accountability to drive change,” she says.
An accomplished lawyer, Floyd’s own career arc has taken her from the public sector to the nonprofit world to, now, the private sector. “My toughest career challenges as a Black woman have involved remaining authentic and being different when sameness was the norm, expectation, and, often, the aspiration of the ambitious,” she says, reflecting on the hurdles she has overcome along the way.
Yet, urges Floyd, far from seeking to paper over their differences, individuals should embrace them. “Over time, I learned that people often built a stronger connection with me when I was authentic and less rehearsed. But if you want to lean into your authenticity, also be prepared to work even harder until you develop a trusted personal brand that precedes you,” she says.