Seoul, Barbados checks into the metaverse while governments see virtual presence

Metaverset will soon be a place to not only buy virtual goods and meet avatars, but also get essential public services as governments prepare to enter the fast-growing digital world despite concerns about privacy and others. rights.

The city of Seoul and the island nation of Barbados said earlier this month that they will enter the meta-verse to provide administrative and consular services, respectively.

Other cities and countries could follow suit if the technology becomes more mainstream, analysts say.

The statements came amid a barrage of announcements from companies, including Facebook – now called Meta – that they would invest in metaverse, an online world that uses augmented and virtual reality (VR) to help users interact.

“It’s in the best interest of governments to know this universe closely, because the virtual world wants to copy life and business,” said Keith Carter, an associate professor at the National University of Singapore’s School of Computing.

Metaverse – a term first invented in science fiction – is a combination of the prefix “meta”, meaning beyond and “the universe”.

It has been used to describe a range of shared worlds accessed via the internet, ranging from fully immersive VR spaces to augmented reality accessed via devices such as smart glasses.

According to the analysis company Strategy Analytics, the global metaverse market is expected to reach around DKK 6 billion. $ during the pandemic.

There will be new roles for governments in this space where jurisdiction is not so clearly defined, said Steve Benford, professor of computer science at the University of Nottingham.

“Cybersecurity, freedom and protection of information and online security are issues that governments are already interested in, and this list can be expected to grow if and when the meta-verse becomes an everyday experience for people,” he said.

“Governments are already shaping policies that will affect metaversers, so they have a duty to be visibly present in it for reasons of accountability,” said Benford, co-founder of the University’s Mixed Reality Laboratory. and creates interactive technologies for everyday life.

Civil complaints

Seoul is the first major city to announce its entry into the metaverse, where the Seoul Metropolitan Government (SMG) is building a “metaverse ecosystem for all administrative services related to economy, culture, tourism, education and civil complaints”.

Metaverse Seoul, a public services platform, is scheduled to be completed by the end of next year. A virtual town hall where citizens can meet avatars of public officials and lodge complaints will be set up in 2023, a statement said.

Barbados will open what it says will be the world’s first metaverse embassy in the virtual reality platform Decentraland, with embassies on other platforms also planned.

“We are a small island nation – this gives us a way to expand our diplomatic footprint without adding dozens of physical embassies, which is not possible for us,” said Gabriel Abed, who heads the Caribbean nation’s metaverse strategy.

“It gives us diplomatic parity with larger nations and a completely immersive way to showcase our culture and business opportunities while having full control over our environment,” said Abed, who is also an ambassador to the United Arab Emirates.

Smaller nations have much to gain in the metaverse, he said, noting that Barbados was also quick to embrace a digital currency, just like other small nations including Malta, the Bahamas and El Salvador.

“Covid really shook up the world. Who knows when the next pandemic or lockdown will come – we can not afford not to try new technologies that can help us overcome these limitations,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Limited options

Although it is unclear whether full real-life replication is possible in the metaverse, or even how long it will take to build, technology and legal experts disagree on who should have control and how much cities and national governments can win.

Users are pushing for an open, decentralized universe, and it is possible that the metaverse “may eventually become its own constituency or jurisdiction with its own representatives and bureaucracies,” Benford said.

But governments also want a presence, he added.

“Where else will the citizens of the metaverse stage a future protest?”

Governments can also make the metaverse more inclusive, with Seoul saying it will have “many services for the vulnerable, including the disabled,” for their safety and convenience. It also trains senior citizens in helping navigate the virtual world.

But current technology is not good enough or cheap enough so cities ‘face high costs and no guarantee of return’, said Tony Matthews, an associate professor of urban and environmental planning at Australia’s Griffith University.

“I doubt many cities will rush to establish themselves in the metaverse … the opportunities right now are limited and very expensive,” he said, noting that people have been quite resistant to VR since it became mainstream for a couple of years ago.

However, when the technology becomes good enough to encourage widespread deployment, large permanent virtual cities may emerge with their own economies and markets, he said.

For some years “we can all be just as familiar with the cities of the metaverse as London, Paris and Tokyo. It could really be transformative for real world cities and their virtual siblings.” – Thomson Reuters Foundation

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