Report: Governments should benefit from the “metaverse” and its associated technologies

Since Facebook became Meta, the “metaverse” – a term coined in the early 1990s referring to a network of three-dimensional virtual worlds – has been a hot topic of conversation online, at home and in many town halls. . The implications of this new generation of digital interaction and the technology that drives it into reality are profound.

“The most common future vision and current application of the metaverse is very tourism-based – local governments are thinking about how to use augmented reality to attract people to their local tourist towns or historic sites,” said said Lena Garrity, director of iinnovation and sustainability to the National League of Cities (NLC) Urban Solutions Center. Garry is author of a report published on Monday entitled “Cities and the Metaverse”.

Beyond regulating these and other emerging technologies, it’s important to be informed and engaged in whatever the metaverse evolves into, as it’s critical that admins be “part of the conversation.” , determining what is the purpose of a new technology and what are the benefits? Garry continued. “There are some versions of the metaverse that could definitely really help people live their lives the way they want to live it.”

From apps to help people with reduced mobility to digital communities connecting people to each other through augmented and virtual reality, Garrity said it’s important that local leaders start thinking about how they can advocate for interests of their constituents instead of letting tech companies drive the conversation.

And beyond advocacy, the metaverse could offer local administrators an opportunity to better serve their communities, strengthening economies, increasing accessibility, and creating new connections, among other benefits.

What if a true simulation of our physical world could be recreated virtually? What value would it bring to people’s lives, what challenges would it present and ultimately prove to be a net positive for cities? asks the report. “Imagine a future where community members can interact ‘face-to-face’ with building department staff on plans for their new patio from the comfort of their homes, comment in a virtual town hall meeting from their office, or even connect with their mayor without having to enter the town hall.

Although the technology required to fully launch a global metaverse is not yet developed, it is progressing, and some US governments have begun experimenting with technologies that will serve as the basis for future development of the metaverse.

“We’ve seen governments using everything from augmented reality to virtual reality to blockchain and cryptocurrency, which we see as the building blocks of a larger metaverse,” Garrity said.

As an example, she cited a project in Massachusetts led by the Boston Planning and Development Agency that built a digital twin that maps the city’s physical landscape, “from water and sewer systems to treetops. trees,” the report noted. “In the case of a controversial development proposal, the digital twin was used to assess the shadows a proposed new building would cast on a popular park, leading (the agency) to change building plans and minimize the ‘impact on the park’ while remaining in the planning process.

From urban planning to climate change and natural disaster mapping, digital twins, a virtual model designed to accurately reflect a system or location, are clearly beneficial to governments. The Internet of Things, a term that refers to devices loaded with artificial intelligence and advanced computing, is another aspect of the metaverse that can clearly be exploited for the benefit of the public.

In Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, for example, administrators deployed “adaptive traffic lights that change lights based on actual traffic to reduce travel times and fuel consumption. The Intelligent Traffic System has reduced travel delays in Pittsburgh by approximately 20%,” the report states.

And in Austin, Texas, homeless people can get a digital identity that’s stored via blockchain so they don’t have to carry around a physical ID card, Garrity said.

In addition to boosting tourism with three-dimensional virtual reality tours that users can experience before visiting, other applications of metaverse-related technologies include a virtual reality town hall where voters can conduct business remotely.

“Increased access to information is going to be really critical,” Garrity continued. When you visit local government websites, “sometimes it can be very difficult to find what you need.” In this, a virtual advisor could “point people in the right direction”.

Within the broader Metaverse, Santa Monica, California was the first US city to join the Metaverse, according to the report.

“The city now offers a virtual way to experience its downtown neighborhood through FlickPlay, a Santa Monica-based metaverse social app company. In its partnership with Santa Monica, FlickPlay provides users with an interactive map of the downtown shopping district. city ​​where they can collect tokens as they move around the city,” the report says. “Some tokens can be used to unlock digital experiences in the app and others can be redeemed for physical items at retailers. of the region.”

Beyond a pilot program to test emerging technology, the company is pushing foot traffic to local businesses and underutilized spaces, the report continues.

As local leaders begin to navigate this unprecedented next step in the digital universe, they should “feel empowered” to investigate further, Garrity noted.

“We are still in the early stages of these conversations,” she said. “How local governments use these technologies and how local governments might engage with the metaverse in the future is an important first step.”

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