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Conceptually, we’re starting to hear a great deal about the metaverse and its various potential applications for bringing people together and enhancing or reinventing the way everyone conducts their daily lives. But when it comes to specific, practical applications, these conversations can often stall out.
It’s easy enough to envision the next generation of virtual meetings, in which everyone has digital avatars and attends via telepresence devices, but that already feels like the next logical step for a company like Zoom or Skype, not a total rethink of how we interact with the world around us.
What we mean when we talk about a connected city, or a physical space that’s integrated with the metaverse, changes and shifts all the time. There’s no one clear model for what a “meta city” might look like, or what sorts of public services would be offered in a digital vs. brick-and-mortar interface. We’re in a nebulous and experimental time, where international cities across the globe are launching an array of intriguing proposals.
In Los Angeles, the city’s Bureau of Engineering recreated the new Sixth Street Viaduct bridge within the metaverse as a promotional effort, to help generate excitement around the new project. (Who doesn’t get excited by virtual bridge tours?) But the major local play so far comes to us from Santa Monica, where civic leaders teamed with the locally-headquartered FlickPlay app to functionally “gamify” the city’s downtown area.
FlickPlay, a modified social wallet app with augmented reality features, is already integrated with a number of digital art and collectible platforms, and was recently accepted into Disney’s venture-backed accelerator program. The app aims to make NFTs and other web3 applications more immediate and tangible, by tying them to an augmented reality system and integrating them with the user’s real-world environment.
Anyone with FlickPlay on their phone can walk around Santa Monica with the app open and search for interactive “tokens” and collectibles, encouraging them to visit local businesses, grab special items or engage with their surroundings. Some discoverable tokens unlock new photo filters or videos within the app, while others contain actual NFTs that come with their own assets and benefits. (For example, NFTs featuring the character of “Flicky” grant the owners special privileges within a mobile game known as “The Sandbox.”)
These kinds of tests and experiments aren’t just limited to Southern California. Local leaders in Seoul, South Korea, have fully embraced the metaverse, and introduced a five-year plan – known as “Metaverse Seoul” – for introducing various applications for the technology across the city’s municipal government. One of the ways they’re accomplishing this is via the use of 3D digital twin technology. These are virtual representations that simulate real-world environments in as specific and detailed a way as possible. For example, a 3D digital twin of an auto assembly plant could help owners determine the most efficient combination of human workers and robots, or the most effective floor plan. A 3D digital twin of a computer network helps coders troubleshoot or prepare for cyberattacks. A 3D digital twin of “The Muppet Show” theater would let you know exactly how far away you could place Statler and Waldorf’s balcony, while still allowing Kermit and Fozzie to hear their heckling.
As well, The Crown Prince of Dubai, Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, introduced a new metaverse strategy earlier this summer, aiming to turn the city into “a global hub for the metaverse community.” His plan centers on fostering metaverse innovation, and in particular, cultivating local talent to design breakthrough applications.
Such proposals have raised concerns about deepening technological and social inequality. Seoul is one of the world’s most connected places; over 95% of residents already have personal 4G or 5G internet service, and there are over 100,000 free wifi access points across the city. (Santa Monica, by comparison,offers 25 free public “hotspots” across the city, though granted it’s considerably smaller in terms of land mass.) In these sorts of situations, moving public services to the metaverse seems not only rational, but downright necessary. A convenience that will save time and potentially even lives.
But in cities where just 70 or 80% of local residents have smartphones and easy, ready access to the internet around the clock, moving vital services to the metaverse could prove problematic, leaving a lot of people behind, or at a new kind of disadvantage. A gradual approach, integrating metaverse technology over time, and evaluating what percentage of the total population has access to the new services and developments, could help stem this issue. But it will be important to continually evaluate whether these metaverse developments are making life easier and more enjoyable for all residents, or creating a tiered system in which some citizens get a new kind of favored status. — Lon Harris
The Santa Monica-based company is reportedly in the early stages of preparing job cuts. A new report, which cites two anonymous sources familiar with the plans, said it’s unclear how many of the roughly 6,000 employees will be laid off.
"Selling Sunset" star Christine Quinn's RealOpen aims to help buyers looking to purchase properties with cryptocurrencies. Now, the platform is launching a crypto credit scoring system to predict volatility and help buyers close deals at the right moment.
What We’re Reading...
- San Pedro-based “blue economy” incubator AltaSea will launch two new funds later this year at a total investment of $600 million.
- Crypto platform [Ledger] Market and the Los Angeles hybrid community space BRICK released a trailer for their new collaborative collection of 10,000 unique NFTs.
- TikTok parent company ByteDance purchased Amcare – which runs women’s and children’s hospitals across China – for $1.5 billion.
- In a deal certain to enthrall all the insurance-heads out there, Tangram Insurance Services acquired L.A.-based New Empire Entertainment Insurance.