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Seoul Launches World’s First Public Service Platform in Metaverse

11 minute read
To be at the forefront of a growing trend, the government of Seoul, the bustling metropolis of South Korea, has broadened its services to, literally, another dimension. It has launched the first platform of its kind that provides public services virtually, which will gradually expand to keep pace with the latest developments and relieve citizens of the burdens of traditional methods.
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To be at the forefront of a growing trend, the government of Seoul, the bustling metropolis of South Korea, has broadened its services to, literally, another dimension. It has launched the first platform of its kind that provides public services virtually, which will gradually expand to keep pace with the latest developments and relieve citizens of the burdens of traditional methods.

Ever since the term ‘metaverse’ emerged, there has been widespread speculation about its potential significance, not just for the internet, but for the entire human race. This concept integrates physical, virtual and augmented reality, creating virtual spaces that allow people to engage in activities such as communication, learning, work and shopping, all without the need for physical presence.

In fact, technological advancements have brought about social changes that are now integral to our lives. The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the challenges we face in today's world. In response, governments are compelled to explore new concepts and modern approaches to address the needs of their citizens. Their goal is to assist individuals in overcoming the limitations posed by time, location and language, as well as physical and health issues.

It took Seoul Metropolitan Government nearly a year and a half to strategise its next move. In late 2021, the government unveiled its intention to transform public services by adopting a completely new approach. Launching a comprehensive five-year plan, it aims to become the world's first local government to establish a fully virtualised platform, kickstarting the metaverse race. This visionary platform will serve as a "remote" communication channel, catering specifically to the needs of younger generations, who are now an influential mainstream of society.

With the recent launch of the first phase, this platform enables the city to deliver a wide range of municipal services. These services encompass administrative, economic, tax, and educational domains, with plans for future expansion to include cultural, tourism, and other offerings.

To provide citizens with convenient access, the platform is seamlessly integrated with a smartphone application. Through this application, individuals can easily create an account by entering their data and uploading necessary documents, such as their personal identity, proof of health insurance payment, medical records, and other relevant information. This process ensures the protection of their private information from potential hackers.

The platform has replicated Seoul Square, a large green space in front of the city hall in central Seoul, along with the city's top 10 tourism hotspots. It also offers virtual social events for users to engage in, a library of electronic books, and dedicated spaces for fintech companies to advertise and check out one another. Additionally, there is a designated space for discussing legal matters and exchanging insights on human resources management.

In addition to communication networks, the platform connects businesses with potential customers, both domestically and internationally, via chatting, voice and video calls, in addition to a real-time translation service.

Another pillar of the platform is a space for youth, where they can share their daily concerns and seek help from professionals, especially when they feel reluctant to attend in-person psychotherapy sessions. Additionally, the platform includes a virtual replica of the mayor’s office, where visitors can submit a proposal or just give the mayor a casual greeting anytime.

New content on public safety, real estate, a support centre for foreigners, and another to support socially vulnerable groups, including those with disabilities, is being prepared. The platform will also present virtual versions of Seoul's most renowned events, such as the Seoul Lantern Festival, allowing individuals from all around the world to enjoy these cultural activities regardless of their geographical location.

At the technical level, the government has extended bridges of cooperation with major developers and adopted cutting-edge technology, including blockchain and cloud computing, to create avatars for employees.

Similar to any virtual space, this platform encounters the challenge of ensuring security and preventing potential misuse for illegal activities, harassment, hate speech, or bullying. To address these concerns, the platform has implemented a comprehensive code of ethics. The platform automatically prohibits offensive imagery and insults, while empowering users to report any violations of moral and ethical standards.

Alongside the legally binding code, the Ministry of Science and ICT has developed guidelines that are hoped to establish a strong foundation for user behaviour on the platform. These guidelines are built upon core values, including sincere identity, safe experience, and sustainable prosperity. Furthermore, they prioritise authenticity, autonomy, reciprocity, respect for privacy, fairness, personal information protection, inclusiveness, and responsibility for the future.

The business and investment landscape of the metaverse industry involves several risks, presenting an additional challenge for the Korean government. However, the government is committed to actively supporting domestic companies engaged in the metaverse, including facilitating mergers and acquisitions. To this end, the government has established a fund for metaverse growth totalling more than $30 million. The aim is to assist large enterprises interested in the metaverse industry enter this world.

On the other hand, technological knowledge is not accessible to everyone. This means that unless based on careful planning, a shift of this magnitude may deepen inequality in society. Also, some groups may face financial barriers to acquiring the necessary equipment to utilise the platform, as the cost of certain devices can amount to several hundred dollars.

However, considering Korea's track record in the digital realm, it is probable that policymakers will find ways to ensure equitable access to these services and enhance the quality of life for all individuals. As a result, the Seoul government is poised to become the first Korean government to implement a medium- to long-term plan to embrace the metaverse as part of its Vision 2030, which aims to enhance social mobility among citizens and elevate the city's global competitiveness.

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