We’re all living and working in a world of ongoing change. But there’s one constant amid the disruption: the relentless advance of technology. Hardly surprising, then, that in Accenture’s Technology Vision 2022 research, executives across all industries said technological advancement is the principal point of certainty in an uncertain world.
Public service participants agreed: 98% said continuous advances in technology are becoming more reliable than economic, political or social trends in informing their organization’s long-term strategy. The implication? If there's one thing that every public safety agency should be thinking about, it's what advancing technology means for its organization – and how it can turn these advances into an advantage.
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Of public service executives say continuous advances in technology are becoming more reliable than economic, political or social trends in informing their organization’s long-term strategy.
Of public service executives believe the metaverse will have a positive impact on their organization.
Of public service executives say they’re concerned about deepfakes and/or disinformation attacks.
Of public service executives agree their organization depends on AI to function effectively.
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Two lenses on technology…
This year’s Accenture Technology Vision 2022 focuses on the blurring of physical and digital worlds through the metaverse. Accenture defines the metaverse as an evolution of the internet that enables a user to move beyond 'browsing' to ‘inhabiting’ in a persistent, shared experience that spans the spectrum of our real world to the fully virtual and in between. The metaverse continuum is where so many emerging technologies are evolving, such as virtual reality, artificial intelligence, blockchain, advanced sensors, 5G and digital twins. Each is powerful, but by converging they create nearly endless new possibilities.
While this blurring has long been talked about, we’re now living through it: this year, 150,000 new Accenture hires will work in the metaverse on their first day. And even if some aspects of new technology seem far-fetched or too amorphous to embrace right now, agencies that fail to engage with it risk being left behind – or ending up in a hybrid physical and virtual environment shaped by somebody else.
So, what does all this mean for public safety agencies? The metaverse is reinventing how organizations operate, interact with citizens, and develop and deliver services. In my opinion, public safety agencies need to view this new reality through two lenses. One focuses on the opportunities it offers to better protect and serve citizens. The other looks at the potential risks and threats that new technologies can present when used by bad actors. Across both lenses, trust and legitimacy are key: when the physical and digital lines are blurred, attributes like privacy, fairness, transparency, human intervention, and freedom from bias are more important than ever.
…and four technology trends to navigate
For public safety agencies, the metaverse continuum heralds a complete transformation of the operating environment – one that, as our Accenture Technology Vision 2022 highlights, is being driven by four distinct but interrelated trends.
1. WebMe: Putting the Me in Metaverse
In the metaverse’s 3D world, moving from one distinct ‘place’ to another is as simple as walking between two rooms. That’s why 70% of public service executives believe the metaverse will have a positive impact on their organizations, with 50% already saying it will be breakthrough or transformational.
But what does embracing the metaverse mean for a public safety agency? Essentially a fundamental rethink of how it positions and portrays itself online and its interactions with the public. And this is already happening. We’ve helped West Midlands Police transform its website into a place where citizens can ask “What if…” questions and get information and updates digitally while also having the option of human interaction. Or another example, the rollout of virtual courts where technology is used to bring parties together via video, delivering an entirely new experience of the justice system.
Then there’s the huge potential of virtual reality (VR). It’s being used by public safety agencies today to:
- Provide immersive training from the physical to the logistical, from entering a blazing building to using firearms.
- Build greater levels of empathy and understanding of unconscious bias. Our Accenture Virtual Experience Solution is a great example of how this is being done in child welfare.
- Immerse jurors in the scene of a crime by bringing VR into the court room; we’ve successfully done this with the Finnish Courts.
- Help people re-enter employment when coming out of the criminal justice system, building the confidence to tell their own stories and highlight their strengths and capabilities. We collaborated with Goodwill on Project Overcome to help create a unique VR experience for those they support in this area.
2. Programmable World: Our Planet, Personalized
As technologies like 5G, ambient computing and smart materials advance, they’re becoming increasingly woven into the fabric of physical organizations. And these organizations include public agencies: 80% of public service executives say the number of IoT/edge devices in their organization has increased significantly or exponentially over the past three years.
Again, this embedding raises risks and opportunities. The risks? As the world becomes more digital, the ways cybercriminals can penetrate it also increase. But by harnessing the mass of data generated by smart infrastructure and sensors, the programmable world also opens up big opportunities. From rail networks to entire smart cities, digital twins mirroring the physical environment can not only provide powerful insights into safety and security – through simulating and testing incident responses – but also help develop new policing models and approaches.
A related opportunity is around conversational AI via chatbots and virtual agents – tools that the public are increasingly comfortable with. While they need to be used with care, chatbots can relieve the pressure on call handlers in non-emergency call centers. And this type of technology has broader applications, with conversational AI opening up further possibilities – from enabling people on probation to get support 24/7, to helping citizens access information and guidance.
3. The Unreal: Making Synthetic, Authentic
Organizations are increasingly supported by AI-generated data, images, voice, and video experiences which convincingly reflect the physical world – and 86% of public service executives agree their organization depends on AI to function effectively. The result? Alongside our physical world, we’re creating a virtual world that’s inherently unreal. And as smart machines become increasingly able to pass as humans, so do the risks of malicious AI and the use of deepfakes or bots to commit crime.
Public service executives understand this threat: 99% say they’re concerned about deepfakes and/or disinformation attacks. In fact, just about every crime now has a digital component, making it vital that public safety agencies ensure their people have the right digital skills and capabilities to respond to ever more sophisticated cybercrime. Take consumer fraud: our recent report explores how public safety agencies can crack the code here – including through international and cross-sector cooperation. Technology is also likely to help: for example, using blockchain to create trusted digital identities.
4. Computing the Impossible: New Machines, New Possibilities
A new class of machines is emerging. As innovations like quantum and biology-inspired computing stretch the boundaries of what computers can solve, the effects are double-edged. In the wrong hands these tools create new vulnerabilities: quantum computing will crack today’s security codes. But that same technical power can enhance public services and safety – something citizens want.
Two-thirds (67%) of consumers expect companies to use technologies to solve society’s large, complex problems, because it will benefit them and their communities. However, this will require public safety organizations to collaborate and create new alliances and partnerships to access both technologies and expertise.
Time to engage with the metaverse continuum
The overall message for public safety agencies? At first sight, the metaverse continuum might look like an amorphous and even futuristic mass of technologies that’s hard to pin down – and even harder to turn into meaningful outcomes. But engaging with it isn’t as complicated or daunting as you might think.
The first step is to build understanding and knowledge and to identify how metaverse capabilities can provide value to public safety organizations. Second is to create a vision and identify the partners and solutions that can deliver it. Third is to implement and adapt, by adopting the technology to address public safety needs, then experimenting and refining as part of this process. We are all now in the metaverse continuum and it’s bringing both threat and capability.
So, to avoid being left behind, it is vital that public safety agencies engage with it and understand it, and build these capabilities into their strategies and operating models.