In May 2022, two contractor pilots, each flying a Berkut 540 aircraft, entered a section of sky over Ventura County, California, that took on an added dimension. They had just entered a nascent military metaverse called the Combined Augmented Reality Battlespace Operation Network (CARBON).
Outfitted with customized augmented reality (AR) headsets, the pilots could see each other from their aircraft as they flew. But they could both see something else as well: a virtual Boeing KC-46 Pegasus Tanker, flying in formation with them. Each could see the same virtual tanker, but from their own perspectives based on their precise locations in the sky. While one pilot performed a refueling training mission with the virtual tanker, the other pilot observed in real-time.
This was a notable accomplishment: it was the first time that multiple live aircraft were connected into a common AR environment, outdoors, up in the sky. “Never has it been possible for multiple pilots to communicate simultaneously in AR like this,” said Brandon Harris, a test pilot for Red 6, the Florida-based company that performed the demonstration. He added: “One day, this training will produce the most elite warfighters in the world.”
Impressive as this was, it’s nothing compared to what trailblazers in this space have in mind for the not-too-distant future.
Federal Technology Vision 2022: Government Enters the Metaverse
Executive sponsors and lead authors Chris Copeland and Kyle Michl introduce Accenture’s Federal Technology Vision 2022.
Visionaries like Daniel Robinson, Red 6’s founder and CEO, see this new half-real, half-augmented 3D environment eventually filling up with legions of very real warfighters from multiple services, all training and wargaming and mission planning together: “We are thrilled that our thesis has been validated and this achievement is a major step forward towards the creation of an outdoor Military Metaverse in which all warfighters, across all domains, can train together.”
Elsewhere in California, San Diego County is using the Accenture Virtual Experience Solution (AVEnueS) to train caseworkers how to work with families to determine their eligibility for various benefits. By creating an immersive virtual experience complete with frantic parents, distracted children, and ringing telephones, caseworkers can develop new interviewing skills, such as de-escalation techniques, needed to manage potentially stressful situations. And the results? Over 90% of participants say the training improved their skills in engaging individuals and provided realistic expectations of their new roles, with all saying they would recommend it to coworkers as a valuable training approach.
Welcome to the “Metaverse Continuum” – a spectrum of digitally enhanced worlds, realities, and business models that are rapidly taking shape and proliferating across enterprises. This continuum is bringing the next major wave of digital change to public and private sector enterprises alike, and government leaders need to start making big leaps forward in how they think about their agencies – today.
This Metaverse Continuum is where the real meets the unreal, the physical meets the virtual, and the authentic meets the synthetic. It is a world that holds enormous possibilities because it is where so many of today’s emerging technologies are converging. Extended reality, artificial intelligence, blockchain, quantum computing, advanced sensors, 5G, the Internet of Things, digital twins, advanced modeling and simulation, and other advancements — each of these individually can be considered breakthrough technologies; but when combined in various ways, they create incredible new spaces, rich in capability, that have the power to transform the world as we know it.
In our survey of 200 U.S. federal government executives, nearly all (99%) said continuous advances in technology are becoming more reliable than economic, political, or social trends in informing their organization’s long-term strategy.
If some of this sounds a bit fanciful, think again. Government agencies are already dipping their toes into the future. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory is creating a shared virtual workspace where engineers can collaborate on designing future planetary and deep space remote sensing satellites, landers, and autonomous robots. More ambitious still, NASA is creating a Martian metaverse — complete with realistic Martian gravity, day and nighttime light conditions, atmospheric conditions, space suits and rovers, and 400 square kilometers of terrain — for engineers and developers to create and experiment with as they plan future trips.
Contractors for the Agriculture Department’s Forest Service are using AI and digital twin technologies to simulate wildfires in a metaverse to better understand their dynamics and how they can slow or stop their spread. U.S. Air Force leaders at Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida have created a digital twin of the entire base to help plan rebuilding projects following the 2018 destruction of Hurricane Michael. Using a new virtual portal to access Tyndall’s digital twin, planners can conduct “what if” scenarios and locate and design new flight line facilities that will support new squadrons of F-35 Lightning II strike fighters due to arrive in 2023.
Other governments are exploring the possibilities of the Metaverse Continuum as well. The city of Seoul, South Korea, is creating “Metaverse Seoul” — which combines digital twins, virtual reality (VR), and collaboration — to improve city planning, city administration, and support for virtual tourism. The city of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates has stood up a new government agency to regulate digital assets that will have a headquarters office in The Sandbox, one of the largest virtual worlds today.
Some of these technologies are just getting established and have much room to advance and improve for widespread commercial and government use. But make no mistake — they are advancing and rapidly so, and enterprises today should not question whether they will be impacted by these trends, but rather how soon and how extensively.
Think about those pilots conducting AR-assisted training flights. With that same technology, they can engage in other AI-driven synthetic scenarios beside aerial refueling. They can fly in formation and even dogfight with virtual, AI-powered adversary fighter jets, all while actually flying and pulling real g’s. “We can fly against whatever threat we want,” said Red 6’s Robinson. “And that threat could be controlled either by an individual remotely or by artificial intelligence.”
The Air Force has already recognized how transformative this kind of innovation might be. In February, it awarded Red 6 a contract to integrate its Airborne Tactical Augmented Reality System (ATARS) into the service’s T-38 trainer aircraft. The company said it intends to eventually integrate the AR system into other Air Force aircraft as well, including the T-45, F-16 and F-15E.
These anecdotes only scratch the surface of what is becoming possible as these trends continue advancing and converging. We should expect the Metaverse Continuum to eventually play a key role in arenas such as healthcare, engineering, agriculture, citizen services, logistics and maintenance, industrial operations, research and development, environmental protection, industry oversight and regulation, modeling and simulation, urban planning, training and education, military readiness and preparation, and other traditional government mission categories.
It is important to point out that, while this may all seem futuristic now, this is already well on its way here. Seeing signals of profound change, the Accenture Federal Technology Vision found it apt to set its sights farther forward than ever before. The building blocks of the Metaverse Continuum are taking shape today but will coalesce over the next decade to create an entirely new enterprise landscape. The 2020s will see ambitious enterprises bringing shape to these new physical and digital realities, as well as worlds co-populated by people and AI, industries made possible by new computers, and more.
An era of opportunity — and caution
In many ways, the new worlds that governments and companies are starting to build have no history or legacy – no right way to do anything. This means immense opportunity, but it also means that enterprises will be pushing boundaries far beyond the reach of today’s policy and regulation. This will need to be a big and early area of focus for federal agencies with industry oversight and regulatory responsibilities.
And while the possibilities of these converging technologies are enormous, it is also important to point out that so too are the potential pitfalls.
The Metaverse Continuum is certain to pose significant challenges — such as in the arenas of cybersecurity, privacy, digital identity, trust, and disinformation — to federal agencies that will require early planning and preparation.
Enterprises will find themselves on the front lines of establishing trust and safety and defining the human experience in these new places. Trust will be paramount to adoption of the new experiences leaders are beginning to build. Considerations (and concerns) already held today around privacy, bias, fairness, and human impact are becoming far more acute as the line between people’s physical and digital lives further blurs. Enterprises that wish to lead in this space will shoulder the mantle of building a “Responsible Metaverse,” and the actions and choices they make today will set the standards for all that follow.
It leaves government agencies at a critical moment to decide their path forward. These new frontiers of technology will redefine the entire context of every enterprise, shaping how they will operate and create value for decades to come. Those who shy away from the uncertainty ahead will soon find themselves operating in worlds others have defined – playing by someone else’s rules. But bold government agencies will embrace the uncertainty and wield it as opportunity.
Inevitably, every agency executive will need to ask: What will my role be in this new continuum? Answering this – and acting on it – won’t be easy; it’s a journey riddled with uncertainty well outside the norms of what most companies are comfortable with. But the chance to shape the next decade of government, to build new worlds, and to explore the brand-new opportunities that these worlds create doesn’t come often.
of the U.S. federal executives in our survey agree that emerging technologies are enabling their organization to have a broader and more ambitious vision.
Your future is starting today, are you ready for it?
Four building blocks of the Metaverse Continuum
Enterprises are starting to realize that, in their drive to survive during the pandemic, they have accelerated the future. Though the challenges of the pandemic still weigh heavily on government agencies today, we are starting to adapt to our new reality, and leaders are taking a more deliberate approach to shaping what comes next.
of U.S. federal executives report that their organization has adapted to the disruption of the pandemic and has found a new normal.
In this year’s Vision, we explore how today’s technology innovations are becoming the building blocks of our collective future. The trends investigate the entire continuum, from the virtual to the physical, across humans and machines alike, identifying where perceptive enterprises can find rich opportunity to advance their missions by uprooting themselves from today and planting themselves firmly in the future.
Preview each trend below:
In Trend 1: WebMe, we explore how the internet is being reimagined. The last two years spurred enterprises to explore new modes of digital experience and pushed people to live virtually to an extent they never expected. Now the metaverse is emerging as a natural evolution that reconciles how the internet is designed today with what we will demand from it going forward. The advent of the metaverse, and underlying efforts to reimagine how data shapes our digital experiences, will challenge agencies to rethink their presence online and become a part of shaping the next platform revolution as they build new ways to connect to citizens, constituents, industry and academic partners, and their digital workforces. Explore the trend here.
The value of new virtual worlds would be capped if not for parallel changes that anchor them in the physical one. The Trend 2:Programmable World tracks how technology is being threaded through our physical environments in increasingly sophisticated ways. It projects how the convergence of 5G, ambient computing, augmented reality, smart materials, and more are paving the way for agencies to reshape how they interact with the physical world. As technology becomes part of the fabric of our environment, it allows us to treat our environment more like technology – unlocking an unprecedented fidelity of control, automation, and personalization. Explore the trend here.
When it comes to populating new worlds, humans are the primary residents. But we are also tracking the emergence of Trend 3:The Unreal – a trend where our environments and businesses are increasingly filled with machines that are passably human. “Unreal” qualities are becoming intrinsic to the artificial intelligence, and even the data, that enterprises aspire to integrate into mission-critical functions. At the same time, people are coming face-to-face with bad actors using this technology – from deepfakes to bots and more – igniting a growing concern that may turn into the biggest hurdle for enterprises looking to grow their use of AI. Like it or not, enterprises have been thrust into the forefront of a world questioning what’s real, what isn’t, and if the line between those two really matters. Explore the trend here.
We are on the precipice of resetting the boundaries of traditional industries as we begin Trend 4:Computing the Impossible. The outer limit of what is computationally possible is being disrupted as a new class of machines emerges. Quantum, biologically inspired, and high-performance computers are each allowing federal agencies to tackle grand challenges that once defined and shaped the very core of their sectors. As problems once considered impossible become ever more solvable, government leaders will be pushed to reimagine some of the most basic assumptions about their enterprise. Explore the trend here.
We stand at a unique precipice in time. Not because there are new technologies to master, but rather that mission performance in this next decade will require something more than just increasing technology and innovation skills. It will require a truly competitive vision – both for what these future worlds will look like and also what your agency will need to become to succeed in them. Technology points us in the right direction, but the rest is up to you.
Accenture Research conducted a global survey of 24,000 consumers to capture insights into their use of, interactions with, and beliefs about technology in their everyday lives. In addition, Accenture conducted a survey of 4,650 C-level executives and directors across 23 industries to understand their perspectives and use of emerging technologies across their organizations. This survey included responses from 200 U.S. federal government executives. The surveys were fielded from December 2021 through January 2022 across 35 countries.
The annual Technology Vision takes a systematic look across the enterprise landscape to identify evolving technology trends with the highest possibility to disrupt businesses, governments, and societies over the next three years.
The full report
60 minute read
Government enters the metaverse
The Accenture Federal Technology Vision 2022 explores how the Metaverse Continuum can transform federal government.