Seoul has announced how it will become the world’s first metaverse city – it won’t be the last with some European cities working towards the same goal. What is the blessing of its citizens and what is the curse of the new system?
True story: I lost a credit card in Seoul and when I realized it informed my bank to cancel it, I also learned that I hadn’t lost a cent. Also, I left my cell phone on a restaurant table and the bag lying on the next chair, confident that no one would steal it from me.
You see, in Korea, what the CCTV cameras – which are everywhere – don’t record, the black boxes on the windshield of all cars record. So, anyone who breaks the law knows that 99% of the time they will be caught and punished for their actions.
This is just one example of the level of technological dependence this country has. Let’s look at some others.
- Korea is the first country on earth to give the people 5G and now has the fastest average Internet speed (121 megabits per second).
- It is also the country where mobile internet speed is 3.4 times faster than the global average (with an average of 35.96 Mpbs). SK Telecom is the second fastest mobile network in the world – after Etisalat in the United Arab Emirates.
- In Seoul, they are already using artificial intelligence software to monitor sewers and where water waste is collected.
- AI chatbots are already operating, as public concierges, but also as secretaries (receptionists) collecting and sorting out questions from citizens and complaints about everything from parking violations to those concerning public health rules to protection from Covid-19.
- Not to bore you, AI chatbots notify authorities as soon as citizens report those who ‘break’ quarantine (within 10 minutes, at the latest, the offender has been identified and fined thousands of dollars).
- In addition, a series of sensors and base stations have been installed throughout the city, collecting information on traffic, public safety and environmental measurements. All the data goes to a platform managed by municipal officials.
It’s becoming clear that not all of the Koreans’ experimentation with technology has been successful – but they insist to believe that there’s no harm in trying until they get what they want.
The Failed Experiment Of The High Tech City Built From Scratch
For the past two decades, Koreans have been busy developing Songdo, the city with the most LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified projects on the planet. It cost $40 billion to build, as it was created from scratch. The goal was to become the new global financial center. It still hasn’t made it.
The 1,500-acre city, an hour outside Seoul – near Incheon airport – has a state-of-the-art water recycling facility, a state-of-the-art waste management system (you throw the garbage in the bins and a special system does the separation automatically), large green areas, and the largest 100-acre waterfront park named after New York’s Central Park – was the inspiration of its creators, who are Americans.
There you will find all kinds of comfort that “solves” the problems of urban life. Namely, traffic on the streets, crowded sidewalks, and air pollution. Everything is controlled by sensors that are present on all the streets and record everything. Apparently, the homes are smart too -with everything regulated by a central control panel.
One thing is missing in this city: lots of people and therefore human contact. Although the authorities have promised tax incentives and privileges to attract people, there are few companies and non-profit organizations in Songo, as well as university offices.
The population is in the 100,000 range-with half of them living in the business district. It can accommodate 3,000 families. Those who have taken the plunge say “Songdo seems cold and abandoned.”
“There are many people living in Songdo, but you don’t see them. The city is alive, but it’s also invisible,” a resident told Bloomberg. Communication with residents in other areas is done via the Internet. “What began as a model for what cities of the future should look like has become a reason to rethink the connection between technology and community, as something has gone wrong,” ArchDaily writes, pointing out that “as it turns out, cities are built for people, not for impressive AI with sensors.”
And That’s How The Metaverse Seoul Project Came About
As the country that is among the most technologically advanced in the world, it does not hesitate to try everything that is new out there in this field. Just as it doesn’t hesitate to tap into the talents of people from around the world who have been working lately on ways to make Seoul the first metaverse city.
Surely, it won’t be the last though.
There are currently hundreds of projects being run worldwide by individuals trying to build various metaverse cities (including in Europe).
But let’s take a moment to explain what a metaverse is. Linkedin is introducing it as follows:
“Before the Internet, when you wanted to find information about a trip you were taking or the city you were visiting, you either had to go to a library and find a book about it or employ a travel agent. You could also, after you arrived, pick up the relevant brochures that were available. Since the advent of the internet, travel sites appeared, with public comments and information on everything.
With the metaverse, we will wear a special Magic Leap or Oculus mask (with goggles and headset) and be ‘transported’ to the city we are planning to go to – ourselves – for a virtual tour. As we ‘see’ things we are interested in, we will ‘save’ them to the relevant -obviously digital- list. So it is the result of what we can get from a travel agent, the Internet, and our personal judgment.”
Techxplore had given an example that touches the soul of those tormented by the old-fashioned way of working.
“Imagine a place where you can sit on the same couch with a friend who lives thousands of miles away or display a virtual version of yourself at work while you’re on the beach.”
It is believed that before the end of the decade, you’ll be able to shop from home, with your avatar visiting the store of your choice where you’ll also be served by an avatar saleswoman – possibly living in Spain or wherever in the world. Clothing companies, footwear companies, etc are already working on this.
In Seoul they’re about to experience it very soon. Of course, there GenZ is already living in the metaverse, to ‘cope’ with the reality that they can’t afford to own their own home – with real estate prices soaring in new highs and worker salaries being burned to the ground.
End Of Visits To Public Services
The Metaverse 120 Center was unveiled with glory and honor at a special ceremony that was held on New Year’s Eve in Seoul. The plans have already been made known, from last September’s press conference, where Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon was introduced as an avatar, in a metaverse environment, to say the following:
“The fourth industrial revolution and the explosion of ‘intact’ civilization during the coronavirus require a change in the way we deliver public services. This is how the Metaverse Seoul platform is created.”– Seoul Mayor, Oh Se-hoon
What does this mean? From 2023, residents of the South Korean capital will be able to be served virtually, by avatars, for issues of concern, and until then they can only solve them by visiting City Hall or public services.
In the same way, they will be able to enjoy shopping and cultural events. If the experiment succeeds, the service will be extended to tours of historic places, and to the ways citizens will have available to make complaints.
Initially, the system will be available on smartphones. Slowly it will move to augmented reality ‘tools’ (special ‘glasses’ and controllers).
This investment amounts to $3.3 million and is part of the 10-year plan that the Mayor of Seoul has in place to make his city a global hub of emerging technology. The project will cost close to $34 million over the next five years.
As Oh said, the Metaverse 120 Center will improve social mobility among citizens and make his city even more attractive to the whole world. It is part of the Digital New Deal plan, which is about ways and digital and virtual tools that will enable all citizens to ’embrace’ technology to improve their lives at all levels. Healthcare was mentioned as an example.
As they do this, the economy of the Covid-19-affected country will improve. Between the lines, there is always concern about the level of surveillance of citizens who will no longer be able to keep anything hidden.
The Reality Might Be Perceived As A Threat
Quartz wrote that the platform will be ready by the end of 2022 (and when the Koreans say it will be ready, be 100% sure/certain that it will be ready) and in 2023 the first virtual public service center will appear, staffed by avatars of public servants.
Everything that happens in the halls of City Hall until then, will be moved to the metaverse. From 2023, it will also be possible for anyone to visit the best festivals in the city, as well as the biggest tourist attractions, without leaving home, through the Virtual Tourist Zone.
By 2026 the project will be operating at full capacity.
As the people who inspired what you’ve read so far say, the objective of the plan is that everyone should be able to access everywhere, no matter where they are or whether they have a mobility or other disability or there is a language barrier.
What those who use the platform will need are virtual reality headsets that right now, cost between $300 and $600, which doesn’t make them as accessible as smartphones and computers.
Before I let you go, let me tell you something that those who have been involved in Virtual Reality since its inception had pointed out: they had warned that in a few years, we will spend more time in the Metaverse than we spend in real life.
Are you worried? Then it might be useful to put down your phone, where you spend half your day – as a warm-up for your resistance to what’s coming.
I think the video posted by Mark Zuckerberg’s company Meta will help you a little bit for good, but we probably don’t receive it as such for those of us who caught up with life before cell phones.