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November 06, 2022  |  permalink

What Is The Metaverse Metropolis?

1. What is “The Metaverse Metropolis?”

The Metaverse Metropolis is a new initiative of the Urban Tech Hub of the Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute at Cornell Tech (seen above). Befitting the Hub’s mission to improve people’s lives, train the next generation of urban technologists, and convene cities, companies, and communities to achieve better outcomes, the project aims to build a coalition of municipalities, metaverse builders, designers, legal experts, and citizens to design and deploy industry standards and best practices for public safety in augmented reality environments.

The goal is to define the metaverse equivalent of the traffic light or stop sign — clear, universal signals and infrastructure expressly designed to protect everyone in the public realm, including those in its new virtual dimensions. By starting now and working together to save lives and ground safety at the center of any real-world metaverse, we can begin to lay the foundations for a new generation of computing that is inherently urban.

2. What do you mean by “the Metaverse,” exactly?

This project is specifically concerned with augmented reality (AR) and “extended” reality (XR), which overlay visuals and information on the physical world through the use of headsets and handheld devices. This differs from virtual reality (VR), which typically aims to create self-enclosed worlds with their own dynamics. For example, Niantic’s Pokémon Go is an augmented reality game, using real world locations and infrastructure as backdrops, while Roblox and Minecraft are proto-metaverses inviting players to create their own virtual spaces in 3D-rendered environments.

Reflecting this divide, AR is sometimes described as “spatial computing” and the “real-world metaverse,” foregrounding the importance of physical world. This is why it’s critical to ensure cities and their inhabitants have a say in the implementation of augmented reality at scale.

3. Why augmented reality? Why now?

Why AR rather than VR? Consider Pokémon Go, which in 2016 briefly became the most popular smartphone app on Earth. Players chasing digital creatures stormed businesses, stampeded through parks, and erased the line between online and off-. Tragically, some chose to play while driving. By one back-of-the-envelope estimate, vehicular crashes caused by Pokémon Go may have killed hundreds and injured tens of thousands of bystanders in its first few months alone. Given a precipitous rise in pedestrian fatalities over the last two years, how do we ensure the real-world metaverse won’t make reality worse?

Why now? Because for more than a decade, cities have suffered from the unintended consequences of disruptive business models designed to wring value from urban space. Whether ride-hailing, short-term rentals, or the “sharing economy” writ large, they have increased congestion, shrank housing supply, and exacerbated inequality in favor of a fortunate few. Only after great effort did public officials learn how to regulate and partner with these startups to share the benefits and burdens of their technologies. As technology giants such as Meta (and perhaps soon, Apple) launch new XR headsets, it’s imperative cities prepare for the implications of a real-world metaverse.

4. What do you hope to achieve?

Over the next year, the Jacobs Urban Tech Hub at Cornell Tech will convene partners and stakeholders to explore the urban implications of widespread augmented reality hardware and software, with a particular focus on inequality and potential impacts on already marginalized communities. During the course of The Metaverse Metropolis, we will explore the implementation of voluntary standards guaranteeing interoperable safety across all major platforms. While industry and practitioners groups such as the Metaverse Standards Forum, XR Association, and XR Guild are already doing vital work in creating open and ethical standards, cities have typically not been participants until now.

5. How can I help?

We can’t do this alone — we need your help. We are actively seeking partners to increase the number of participants and widen the scope of our activities over the next year. We are specifically seeking partner cities and governments willing to devote staff time and resources to help guide the creation of standards; companies eager to ensure their real-world metaverse is compatible with improving people’s lives; designers, artists, and technologists grappling with new visual languages and wayfinding for an augmented world; and activists determined to not repeat the same mistakes of previous inequitable urban technologies.

We all have a vested interest in ensuring the metaverse is safe and accessible to all — join us today to act on it.

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Greg Lindsay is a generalist, urbanist, futurist, and speaker. He is the chief communications officer at Climate Alpha, an urban tech fellow at Cornell Tech’s Jacobs Institute, , a senior fellow of MIT’s Future Urban Collectives Lab, and a non-resident senior fellow of The Atlantic Council’s Scowcroft Strategy Initiative.

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