Should State and Local Governments Care About the Metaverse?
Apr 28, 2022
Governments may be reluctant to invest in metaverse-based services without a clearer sense of how the space is forming and how residents want to use it. These early days could be time for learning what the technologies might offer and how interventions could encourage equitable development.
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.
The city of Seoul, South Korea, appears to be embracing the technology, and officials last year announced plans to deliver a variety of metaverse-based public services and events by 2026. Gartner Technology Innovation Research Director Marty Resnick told GovTech that city stands out because the local government is working to build, not just acquire, metaverse infrastructure.
Cities in the U.S. haven’t gone so far — instead leaving 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.
Several U.S. state universities are also trialing metaverse versions of campus buildings and classes this fall. They aim to test how such tools can enhance classroom teaching, improve remote learning and prepare students for future jobs requiring metaverse skill sets, New Mexico State University and South Dakota State University faculty told GovTech.
Still, obstacles remain, and many state and local governments may be taking a wait-and-see approach before getting more involved.
Utah Chief Technology Officer Dave Fletcher often explores new technology spaces to see what they could mean for government, including trying the virtual environments of Second Life and World of Warcraft. But he told GovTech 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.
Resnick pointed to another hurdle: the fact that there isn’t yet one “the” metaverse. He expects governments will wait until the space consolidates more so they don’t end up investing in a metaverse only to see residents flock to a different one.
But that doesn’t mean state and local governments should step back entirely. These early days are a chance for governments and private-sector players to help guide how the metaverses develop, according to Susan Gonzales, CEO of the nonprofit AIandYou, which helps marginalized communities learn about new technologies and their implications.
Early interventions could hopefully avert some of the bias and equity issues that have emerged with technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) from infusing metaverses, said Gonzales, who is also a member of the National AI Advisory Committee.
PROMISES AND VISIONS
Visions swirl over just how the metaverse could help government agencies...