The Metaverse - The Start of a New Era of Public ServicesJan 18, 2022
Author: Bianca Schroeder, Legal Creatives' Executive Director
The Metaverse has been a popular topic in the past few months, and for good reason. It is an immersive virtual world that allows its users who have the access and ability to use this technology, to create solutions that defy the current use of technologies. This article will be discussing what it takes to develop the Metaverse and why governments, public ministries, and the legal industry should not ignore this. We must first understand where each technology is today and how the Metaverse will impact the future of governmental services.
What is the Metaverse and the Web 3.0?
The Metaverse is the network where Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) applications converge. Those who use these technologies can immerse themselves in this virtual world and build on it, so users can interact with, work, do business, learn and enjoy themselves in this environment. However, governments and the legal industry have been very slow in adopting new technologies. For better or worse, it is without a doubt that soon the connected world will be meeting, working, learning, enjoying themselves, and perhaps getting access to public services in the Metaverse.
The Metaverse is a virtual world that is built on blockchain. It uses web 3.0 technologies to provide a secure and private environment for users to interact. It also uses smart contracts to enable transactions between users without the need for intermediaries.
Web 3.0, also known as the decentralized web, is an evolution of the Internet that allows users to interact with each other in a more secure and private way. It does this by using blockchain technology to create a peer-to-peer network where users can transact without relying on intermediaries. This makes it ideal for developing virtual worlds, as it provides a platform for users to interact without fear of censorship or data theft.
To better understand how Web 3.0 and the Metaverse are structured, it helps to build on what we already use today, which is Web 2.0. This illustration explains well the evolution of the Web over the years.
Today most of the world uses Web 2.0. We communicate with touchscreen mobile smartphones instead of using a huge desktop to do so. We store our data in cloud computing instead of a physical server. This unstructured data is called "big data," which can be organized using the distributed ledger technology known as blockchain. Web 3.0 is powered by 5G Internet technology, which is not yet available worldwide.
Why the Metaverse is not a game, but a game-changer
The conservative Legal Industry and some governments are notorious for being slow to change. Tradition plays a role in reinforcing non-digital practices, that fill-up the time of professionals feeding a slow and expensive machine that puts a heavy burden on clients and taxpayers. This traditional way of working, earning wages, and looking at life is about to change dramatically, and the people who are slow to adapt, may be end up without a job. This problem alone will be addressed in a separate article.
Marvin Minsky, the founder of MIT's A.I., has said that the only reason we cannot fly as high as we want to with science and technology is that we believe that our current knowledge is all there is. He believed that as soon as you recognize that what you know is not everything, then your mind will become free and capable.
Imagine what this could mean for the future of our governments if we were able to take advantage of these opportunities? The Metaverse offers us a way to provide more accessible services through avatars that will be available 24/7 at any time. The metaverse is a big step in public services because it provides a more convenient way for citizens to access the services they need. It also allows for more communication and engagement between the government and the people. Additionally, the Metaverse can be used to reinvigorate industries that have been impacted by COVID-19.
Most of us can foresee, unfortunately, that the world pandemics will not cease any time soon, more biological and mobility threats will come to challenge people's access to public services and education. The Metaverse could be a solution making service available using a technology that mimics our 3D world.
Currently, the most common type of technology is the 2D, which leads to boredom and a common home office disorder, zoom, and computer fatigue. Now, imagine if you could jump from work to running your private administrative task and accessing public services in seconds all in a 3D digital world? For instance, avatars will be used to provide advice to foreign investors and offer one-stop startup services. The Metaverse will be used to provide public and legal services, such as civil complaints, consultancy, and reservation of public facilities.
That seems too good to be true now at the beginning of 2022 with all the technological and structural challenges the world has. Right now, the Metaverse is in its baby stages. Users complain of nausea and have strong headaches after being in it for too long, and it does not seem real, instead, feels childish and cartoonish. Privacy is also a big issue here and some are concerned about the impact of being exposed to 5G can have on one's health. Most importantly, this technology is energy-heavy and expensive, and that alone excludes a vast majority of the world's population.
On the other hand, there is a city that is ahead of the curve, such as Seoul in South Korea. South Korea is investing significant amounts of money and human talent in developing the Metaverse to improve access to government services, that because South Korea is among the world's most technologically advanced and digitally connected countries, as its citizens enjoy free and fast WiFi on public transportation and in public buildings and streets.
Meanwhile, in most parts of the world, consumers pay much more for internet services. That makes it challenging, especially for developing countries, to get an early start on obtaining this technology. The question that arises is this: will any government have the budget or energy to support implementing the Metaverse in the public service to all of its citizens? Who will be able to reap the benefits of the Web 3.0?
The development of Web 3.0 presents several challenges for governments. First, the technology is still in its early stages and is not yet fully developed. This makes it difficult for governments to determine how best to regulate it.
Second, the decentralized nature of the technology makes it difficult for companies to control. The lack of trust in web 3.0 can lead to numerous issues, such as the proliferation of fraudulent news and internet scams. Finally, a lack of user confidence in Web 3.0 can prevent companies and governments from adopting it.
Still, Web 3.0 offers governments many possibilities to improve their services, so they should invest in it. Firstly, it offers a secure and private infrastructure for governments to transact with their citizens. This makes it ideal for developing virtual worlds, as it eliminates the risk of data theft and censorship.
Second, it allows governments to interact with their citizens in a more secure and private way. This makes it ideal for the development of online government services such as health and education. Finally, it presents an opportunity for governments to improve their transparency and accountability by using blockchain technology to track transactions.
Despite these advantages, the world, not only developing countries, has its greatest challenge ahead. A high amount of energy will be required to make this transition from Web 2.0 to 3.0 and be able to create a Metaverse to serve the population as a whole.
The Problem of Energy in the Metaverse
The problem of energy supply is one of the main challenges that the Metaverse faces right now. It just requires a whole lot of energy to function. Corporations are working hard to solve it, because it is in their best interest to have the Metaverse available to the masses, but right now in early 2022, the amount of energy required to run the Metaverse is much greater than the amount of energy that is currently available.
Another reason for the energy problem is the fact that most of the energy that is currently available is being used by those who are wealthy. This is because they can afford to pay for it, especially with the current rise of energy around the world. The Metaverse will not be able to operate effectively until this issue of cost of energy is addressed and renewable energy, such as wind and solar, is now still difficult and costly to obtain.
Another type of energy that can be used to power the Metaverse is hydrogen fuel cells, which are a type of fuel cell that uses hydrogen and oxygen to create electricity. The hydrogen is split into its electron and proton, and the electron is used to create electricity. This process makes water, which is expelled as waste.
Fuel cells have several advantages over traditional sources of electricity. First, they are very efficient- up to 60% of the energy from hydrogen can be converted into electricity. Second, they are clean- they produce no emissions other than water vapor. Third, they are quiet- there is no noise from a fuel cell running. Finally, they are reliable- they can last for years without needing any maintenance.
So, why this type of energy has not become mainstream yet? That could be the topic of another article.
The Problem of Metaverse Hardware
To enter the Metaverse, people today need a visual accessory. This hardware will allow you to see and interact realistically with the virtual world. One of the most popular visual hardware for entering the Metaverse is Head-mounted displays (HMDs). These devices are worn on your head and allow you to see the virtual world in front of you. They are often used for video games, and provide a very realistic experience.
The cost of HMDs can vary depending on the quality and features of the device. Some of the most expensive HMDs can cost several thousand dollars. There are also many affordable devices that cost less than a hundred dollars.
Maybe this is affordable in richer countries, but in developing countries where people can barely afford to put gasoline in their cars, buying an HMD is a superfluous cost and today seen only as a toy for the children of rich folks.
Another major challenge is that all our electronic devices will have to be adapted to accommodate the 5G Internet technology, because with the the Metaverse is born also with the need for faster and more reliable internet speeds. 5G is the next generation of cellular phone technology that is designed to meet these needs. It promises to provide download speeds of up to 1 gigabyte per second, which is about 20 times faster than the current 4G standard.
However, according to the International Telecommunication Union, half — roughly 3.8 billion people — remain unconnected and are unable to reap the benefits of the key social and economic resources in our expanding digital world. We’ve been told 5G is the future, but many rural communities are still stuck with dial-up and 3G phones.
The gap between those with internet access and those without is a phenomenon called the “digital divide,” and the companies working to bridge this divide and the solution for this can be found right above us, in space!
That being said, Techs Giants that already sell their products on the Internet, are the ones investing resources in improving Internet access for the world population. These companies have much more working capital than any government in the world, that's because most governments are increasingly in debt while these companies, like Amazon, Apple, Google, Meta, Microsoft, i.e. the Techs Giants, got richer during the pandemic.
Although governments have measures to expand the Internet in their national territories, we know that it is these super rich & powerful companies, and not governments or public ministries, that are leading this digital revolution and developing technologies that improve people's access to the Internet.
The space industry, for example, does not have with its highest priority to create rockets that the wealthiest people can visit cyberspace, but it is essential to expanding access to the Internet worldwide.
There are an increasing number of satellites being put into space, which will provide Internet access to people in the most remote parts of the world. This could help bridge the digital divide, but we don't yet know exactly at what cost. Also it won't do any good to have this technology if the people don't know how to use it.
So also investing in education is one of the most effective ways to reduce the digital divide and bring more people into the digital world, but in order to educate the people, you also need to have the infrastructure, because without the infrastructure, then we are sure that the Metaverse will not work.
The Challenge of Building the Metaverse Infrastructure
Space-based infrastructure can help to bridge the digital divide by providing internet access to rural and remote areas. This would help to connect more people to the global economy and allow them to participate in the digital world. In addition, space-based infrastructure can help to support other new technologies, such as 5G and virtual reality.
To accomplish this, more satellites will be launched in the 2020's than in the entire history. The greatest and brightest businesses are aiming to establish trustworthy and long-term internet via new satellites that will link the world.
However, there are many legal implications for space exploration. A number of laws have been created to regulate who can explore space and how, including the Outer Space Treaty (OST), the Rescue Agreement (1967), Liability Convention (1972), Registration Convention (1975) and Moon Agreement, but now new laws need to be created to mitigate problems that we need to collaborate across many different fields in order to predict, and you can find more information about the risks in the Global Risks Report by the World Economic Forum launched in 2022.
As countries around the world continue to develop their space programs, there is a growing risk of militarization of space. This could have a negative impact on both international cooperation and civilian use of space. The development of national space programs is often seen as a symbol of prestige and power, and many countries are eager to expand their capabilities in space. However, this can lead to competition and conflict, as each country tries to gain an advantage over its rivals. That is why the collaboration between attorneys and public sectors to come up wit legislation to prevent certain world leaders and "Space" CEOs from abusing their power.
That said, I have a few concerns for you, my fellow readers. Will corporations and law firms that are early in the game and can afford these technologies dominate others in delivering public and legal services? Or will enterprises based in space, powered by decentralized blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies, be able to offer innovative services at a fraction of the cost?
As the popular saying goes, if you do not pay for yourself, you are the product. In this situation, I believe that governments who can't afford to invest in technology, regular citizens who don't have the financial means to subscribe to these services, and local law firms that can't keep up with bigger businesses will become a commodity for these organizations.
As advances in technology are taking us further and further into a virtual world, it is only a matter of time before people no longer trust real governments. With the implementation of the Metaverse, a virtual world where anyone can be anyone they want to be, people will finally have the opportunity to experience life in their "own government", and be able to do business directly with the people concerned, in an uncomplicated way.
Although innovative governments are beginning to adopt Web 3.0 and create their Metaverses, as is already happening in South Korea, it still seems to be a long way from becoming a reality, but nothing is stopping us from creating a bill where governments offer public services to their citizens through the blockchain network and stop investing taxpayers' money in weak technologies with out-dated processes.
5G networks and other cutting-edge technologies will be required for this transition and the start of regulation in this new Universe space industry, as well as renewable energies that will power the Metaverse.
Although governments may be the ones to realize and jumpstart this new industry, it will be developed and sustained by space corporations. This puts a huge responsibility upon the legal industry to ensure that the legal frameworks and regulatory rules to protect users in this virtual world are compliant with international or even "spatial" laws.
For governments and the legal sector to write laws successfully, they will need to collaborate with experts from a variety of industries and tackle issues using Legal Design, an innovative approach based on design thinking. That is because we cannot solve a problem with the mindset that has created them in the first place, therefore we must look at them from a perspective that is radically different and will allow us to frame and solve the problem in a new way.
That's why we need attorneys, designers, business model canvas experts, government officials, and more from various disciplines need to work together to develop a new legal framework for the virtual world that meets the demands of the digital era.
The good news is that Legal Design, a human-centered innovation methodology that employs design thinking to create a new legal approach from the user's perspective. Legal Design is essential because we must examine these issues from a new viewpoint and in cross-disciplinary and international collaboration.
If you're an attorney or a professional who wants to learn more about it, several online schools teach it, one of them is called Legal Creatives, the pioneers in teaching Legal Design since 2017 with a Certification Program.
Before the Metaverse officially arrives, we need to shift our mindsets from the individual to the collective and look at space as a common good, therefore we need to ensure that this new space industry meets the needs of everyone, not just those who can afford it, not just for the benefit of a few, but for the benefit of the planet and society as a whole.