Seoul, South Korea, says it will be the first big city to settle in the Metaverse. On Nov. 3, the South Korean capital announced a plan to provide various public services and cultural events in the Metaverse, an immersive internet that relies on virtual reality. If the plan is successful, the citizens of Seoul can wear virtual reality glasses, visit a virtual town hall, and do everything from visiting historic sites to filing civil lawsuits.
The 3.9 billion won ($3.3 million) investment is part of Mayor Oh Se-hoon’s 10-year plan for the city to boost social mobility among citizens and boost Seoul’s global competitiveness. It will also take full advantage of South Korea’s Digital New Deal, a nationwide plan to use digital and artificial intelligence tools to improve health care, central infrastructure and the economy to help South Korea recover from the economic crisis caused by the new coronavirus epidemic.
The Seoul Metropolitan Government will develop its own metaverse platform by the end of 2022. When it officially opens in 2026, it will host a number of public functions, including a virtual mayor’s office and space dedicated to the business sector; a fintech incubator; and a public investment organization. The platform will kick off this December with a virtual New Year’s bell ringing ceremony. In 2023, the city of Seoul plans to open the “Metaverse 120 Center,” a venue for virtual public services. The avatars will be here to address the concerns of citizens that previously could only be addressed by visiting the town hall in person. So far, the plan has provided few details about the devices citizens will use to access the Metaverse platform, and Seoul city officials stress that the goal is to expand the reach of public city services, regardless of citizens’ geographic locations or disabilities. But professional equipment can be a hindrance for many citizens. Virtual reality headsets still cost $300 to $600 and are not as ubiquitous as smartphones and computers.
As part of the “smart city” movement, municipalities everywhere are using digital technology and real-time data to optimize city operations. The metaverse could be its next evolutionary stage. Although the details of how the metaverse will work are still unclear, even for the companies trying to build it. But it was a natural next step for Seoul. Seoul is planning to use artificial intelligence to monitor its sewers and wastewater treatment centers. AI chatbots provide public services to handle public concerns and complaints about everything from illegal parking to COVID-19 policies. Earlier this year, Seoul rolled out a public IoT network plan, installing a series of sensors and base stations across the city, collecting data on traffic, public safety, and environmental metrics and feeding it back into a central operating platform managed by city officials . The future of the Metaverse will be built almost entirely by corporations. Meta, the parent company of Microsoft, Nike, and Facebook, is making a big splash in the digital space. South Korea is one of only a few governments trying to rebuild the virtual plaza. But if South Korea can pull off its plan, it could expand the utility of the metaverse to millions of citizens who might otherwise be excluded.