Expanding the metaverse and its technologies will require collaboration
A group of panelists gathered at the GEOINT 2023 Symposium to discuss how metaverse and metaverse-adjacent concepts for areas like planning and training, modeling and simulation, and testing and evaluation are expected to advance warfare tactics in modern theatre.
Moderator Amber Nicholas, director within Oracle’s National Security Group, opened the discussion by asking panelists how they each defined the “metaverse” and what changes they anticipated in the coming years.
Michael Torres, SpaceVerse Architect and Chief of Digital Infrastructure at the U.S. Space Force’s Chief Technology and Innovation Office, stated that “the metaverse is more about the integration of environments” than smart glasses, dragon avatars, or digital block worlds. He emphasized the benefits of real-time data exchange in military contexts to bring a more unified training and operational landscape across multiple domains.
Christopher Johnson, deputy chief technology officer at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), echoed Torres’ comments. “The metaverse is a buzzword,” he said. “The metaverse has been around for a while. It’s everything from how we interact with people online, to the early days of massive multiplayer online games, to wearable technology today.”
He argued that much of the data that feeds the metaverse is not new. Instead, “it’s all about how we interact with data differently.”
Colonel Molly Solsbury, Commander of the 513th Military Intelligence Brigade for the U.S. Army, agreed with the definitions presented by her fellow panelists and turned to focus on what she sees for the future of the metaverse.
“What we have right now are useful 3D-type models where we can take an operator ready to go on an objective through a scenario where they are going to learn and understand what the thought calculus needs to be” for a future—or even hypothetical—military operation. Solsbury called for more, however.
“We need to go from that—which is extremely useful—to something that is multi-INT and multi-domain,” she said. “[We need to] ensure that this is not just GEOINT, and not just SIGINT-enriched, and is not just helping us understand one constraint or one domain.” The metaverse has the potential to bridge gaps within and between each agency in the Intelligence Community and every military service branch in the Department of Defense.
Though expanding the metaverse requires meticulous forethought, it can protect precious lives, save taxpayer dollars, enhance international partnerships, and provide an overall advantage to the warfighter if implemented correctly. “It’s a lot less expensive to take somebody through a training scenario or a simulation,” Solsbury explained. “We can bring partners together from around the globe” more efficiently, especially in time-sensitive contexts common to military activities.
According to Torres, the flexibility the metaverse provides can yield “more cognitively elastic individuals.”
“They’re not only learning to do one function on one simulation for one purpose. Being able to bring land, sea, air, and space into a common simulation across multiple platforms” allows for better reactions, decision-making, and cognitive docility.
Nicholas pointed the conversation towards current and future use cases that can help describe the budding possibilities the metaverse enables.
“It’s important that the technologists aren’t defining the use cases,” Johnson asserted. “It’s important that the technologists are listening to the users and to the customers, understanding what their needs are, and then making sure that we have the data, platforms, and the applications coupled together in a manner that can answer those really hard questions.”
“It’s not just about mission use cases; it’s also about how we empower all of the people around us,” he added.
This transitioned to a broader discussion on collaboration across agencies to ensure that the development and use of metaverse technology are coordinated, consistent, and standardized.
“The reality is that the problem set and the landscape are way too large to point out a singular point of integration,” Torres explained.
“It’s not enough that there’s collaboration amongst the government,” Johnson said. “The problem is global. There has to be collaboration between governments, academia, and industry partners in order for this to be successful.”
He continued: “The amount of data that’s going to be required in order to make the metaverse a reality is unfathomable.” Panelists—and several other speakers throughout the week—agreed that the metaverse cannot only be designed for one sector, for one type of user, or for one type of problem. Instead, it should be created with the contributions of different experts and average users equally.
“Technologists can solve the problem, but we cannot define the problem,” Johnson affirmed.
Solsbury expressed her hope for the future: “The challenges are infinite just like the opportunities are infinite.” Adaptability, interoperability, and harmonization are at the core of an effective metaverse. Adoption of metaverse-adjacent, immersive technology is a requirement if we want to maintain an intelligence advantage over our adversaries.
To conclude, Torres described, in his experience, the most popular comments from metaverse skeptics. “That’s against tradition…and protocol…and policy…”
But this week’s programming has established that disruption is at the core of the metaverse, after all.
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