Should State and Local Governments Care About the Metaverse?

Def: Metaverse generally refers to the concept of a highly immersive virtual world where people gather to socialize, play, and work.

Governments cannot know for sure how metaverses will develop or if they’ll live up to the hype, but now may be the time to start exploring the possibilities and making plans to guide the space’s development.

Cities in the U.S. have left the technological development to the private sector — but a number have been making use of underlying technologies like virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and blockchain as well as 3D modeling and digital twins.

Still, obstacles remain, and many state and local governments may be taking a wait-and-see approach before getting more involved.

In Utah, it was determined that state officials would struggle to make the case to legislators that today’s metaverses offer enough return on investment (ROI) or generate enough resident demand to justify the costs of government adoption.

These early days are a chance for governments and private-sector players to help guide how the metaverses develop. Early interventions could hopefully avert some of the bias and equity issues that have emerged with technologies like artificial intelligence (AI)..

Seoul, South Korea hopes to host metaverse-based festivals, attracting virtual tourists worldwide, and let residents meet virtually with avatars of public officials instead of traveling to city hall to meet in person.

The National League of Cities (NLC) highlighted possibilities: including a future in which U.S. residents could quickly access city services and public meetings through the metaverse in a more user-friendly manner than that offered by other digital channels.

Santa Monica, California launched an AR app where users viewed an interactive map of the local retail district and gathered virtual tokens when visiting different areas. Users could redeem the tokens for real-world items with participating retailers or use them to unlock app-based experiences.

Governments could also use metaverses to better inform residents and entice public participation. When planning construction projects, states could hypothetically spin up a 3D digital twin mockup and invite residents to virtually visit and give feedback on specific design elements.

Ultimately, state governments will likely engage with metaverses “to some degree,” but just how seriously they do so depends on how these platforms and their use cases develop.

Right now state and local governments may be more interested in the technologies that underpin the metaverse. Those can include digital twins, blockchain, IoT and virtual and augmented reality.

Boston used a digital twin to model a proposed building and the shadow it would cast, leading authorities to modify the design.

Austin, Texas, explored using blockchain to securely store identifying records of people experiencing homelessness, enabling them to access medical and social services even if their paper ID documents become lost, stolen or damaged.

Public agencies like the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service brought immersive VR headsets to career fairs to show potential recruits simulations of what work at a slaughter plant looks like.

This could be a prime time for governments to consider how they want to shape metaverses, even if they refrain from making investments.

It is believed that the metaverse will open new economic opportunities, in part by creating rising demand for coders and graphic designers as well as by encouraging heavier use of NFTs and cryptocurrencies.

Now is the time to ensure that marginalized communities are equally able to access and participate in the emerging digital economies, because early interventions can get ahead of equity issues while the metaverses are still forming.
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