Would you go to the Job Centre or DMV in the Metaverse?

I'm just getting started with the Oculus Quest 2 from Facebook Meta. It is amazing.

OK, that's a lie. It's a pretty good tech demo of what one vision of the future could look like. But it is making a little bit of my brain itch.

What Government services1 could / should be run in the Metaverse?

Obviously, the answer is "none". Sure, you could create a virtual job centre, housing office, or DMV - but would you want to sit in a virtual waiting room for a couple of hours waiting for your name to be called? No. Even if the room was designed to look like a spaceship and the staffs' avatars were funky robots, it would be a pointless experience.

Or would it? One of the worst things about waiting on hold on the phone is the inability to see how fast a queue is moving. Would you like to see a visual representation of how long you had to wait? Would it calm and reassure you if your case-worker looked like a friendly muppet rather than a disembodied voice?

(There's a side issue of whether VR headsets are likely to be owned by people going to a job centre. At the moment, a Quest 2 is about the same sort of price as a mid-tier smartphone - so the equipment isn't out of reach for all but the richest. Many people at the job centre were previously in employment and would have had enough disposable income to buy one.)

The other things which tickles my fancy is the idea of using humans' natural spatial awareness and memory. One of the great things about browsing the Web in the Metaverse is the ability to physically place screens around you. No more alt-tabbing. Twitter is a small screen by your feet, the news is a big screen up and to the left, and so on. It quickly becomes really convenient to remember where tabs are in 3D space, rather than a one-dimensional browser tab bar.

If you're applying for a Government service, and need to provide evidence, would it be helpful for you to have all your files laid out in front of you?

Remember, the youth of today don't understand how file systems work. So having a large visualisation of their documents may be just what they need in order to present their evidence.

People who have played the amazing game "Papers Please" will recognise just how difficult it is to organise lots of documents on a small screen.

Lots of official papers cramped on a tiny phone screen.

Is this sensible?

We shouldn't be recreating offline experiences - turning unlimited potential into a janky skeuomorph. Otherwise you end up with this abomination:

(OK, that's a 2017 tech demo rather than a real product)

Queuing up to speak to an advisor or handing over documentation are probably the stupidest examples I could come up with.

But there's something there.

It's very easy to go from filling in a paper form to filling in a web form.

And it's easy to go from an in-person chat to a typed-chat or video-chat.

So what are the governmenty things which can go from "X" to "X-but-in-the-Metaverse"?

A few ideas

Here are a few random ideas which might lend themselves to a VR experience. Remember - I am not a VR expert, nor do I have the ability to put any of these ideas into practice.

  • Does an inspector need to visit an abattoir, farm, or factory? Would it be easier to ship a robot to the location and have it controlled by inspectors in a remote location?

  • How do you test whether people know how to perform an emergency drill? Running an exercise in a Nuclear power station is expensive - so strap everyone in to a headset and have them play in a Digital Twin.

  • UK driving tests already have a video-based hazard perception test. Could the entire driving test take place in VR?

  • If you are offered council housing, would you like to be able to view the property in VR before deciding if you wanted to move?

  • Would hustings and other public discussions benefit from being in the Metaverse? A remote video call is good - but being able to collaboratively look over a 3D model of proposed designs for a new shopping centre might be helpful.

  • Should a jury in a trial use the Metaverse to visualise where a suspect was found? Or to see a visualisation of a reconstruction of a crime scene?

Some (most?) of these ideas are ridiculous. Some could be commonplace in the future. The Metaverse might explode like the Web or collapse like MySpace. But I think it's a good idea for any organisation to play with new technology and explore ideas. You never know what the future will bring.

  1. I work for a bit of the UK Government. This isn't an official blog from them. I don't make any decisions about these things. I bought the headset with my own money and didn't expense it. These are the random musings of some bloke on the Internet. 

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6 thoughts on “Would you go to the Job Centre or DMV in the Metaverse?”

  1. djh says:

    Could the entire driving test take place in VR?

    Not sure about doing the practical test in VR, but incorporating VR into the UK theory test might be interesting.

    One aspect of the hazard pereception test is all the video clips are CGI (since 2017). The graphics are not the best but I think it allows the DVSA to come up with new scenarios without having to orchestrate them in the real world, and making sure the corpus of video is refreshed regularly to avoid leaks.

    Replacing that aspect of the test in VR could be very beneficial as it would (hopefully) replicate the actual driving experience and give you a more accurate perspective as the field of view would be more realistic.


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