The metaverse is coming, and GEOINT will be one of its biggest benefactors
Talking about the metaverse in 2023 is a lot like talking about the internet in 1993: Some of it has been built already, some of it is under construction, and a lot of it has yet to even be conceived.
So said Cesium CEO Patrick Cozzi during a panel discussion Sunday morning at GEOINT Foreword, GEOINT 2023’s pre-conference science and technology day. Titled “The Metaverse Reality,” the 45-minute session featured Cozzi as moderator, along with panelists Jennifer Arnold, professional visualization executive, federal, NVIDIA; Sid Dixit, vice president of engineering and product at Maxar; and David Sracic, technical lead, Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock Division, U.S. Navy.
Like the internet 30 years ago, Cozzi observed, the metaverse today has both fans and critics. The former are early adopters whose enthusiasm for the technology is pure and unbridled. The latter, skeptics with legitimate concerns who are determined not to conflate fact and fiction.
Whichever group you belong to, you probably agree on at least two fundamental truths, Cozzi suggested during his remarks: One, that the concepts at the heart of the metaverse—collaboration, innovation, immersion, and open interoperability—are genuinely valuable and sincerely worthwhile. And two, its unique talent and tradecraft make the GEOINT community perfectly positioned to deliver them to users across the public and private sectors.
If you can accept those two premises, the panelists agreed, then you can appreciate the potential of the metaverse—even if you don’t want to call it “the metaverse.”
And to be clear, many don’t.
“We need to stop saying ‘metaverse,’” Sracic said in response to an audience question. “If I look at the National Defense Strategy, the word ‘metaverse’ is nowhere in it. The National Defense Strategy calls for joint all-domain command and control. It calls for collaboration with allies. It calls for open architectures and open standards. It doesn’t ask for metaverse. So there’s a vocabulary conflict.”
That conflict is thanks in large part to the origins of the metaverse. Because its first use case was gaming, Sracic said, many leaders and lawmakers have trouble taking it seriously. When they begin to understand what the metaverse actually entails and accomplishes, however, its merit becomes obvious.
With that in mind, panelists spent the bulk of their time on stage peeling the metaverse onion for those who’ve yet to taste it.
Step one was defining in basic terms what the metaverse is. “To me, metaverse is the fusion of everything around you in the geospatial temporal context that should have an influence on your decision-making,” Sracic said.
Echoed Dixit, “For me, metaverse is a manifestation of our physical world into a digital construct.”
It’s what users can do with that digital construct that makes the metaverse so compelling, according to Arnold, who described several use cases for the metaverse within the GEOINT community. The U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, for example, is using metaverse technology to replicate environments, from deserts to jungles to undersea ecosystems. By virtually recreating those environments and running simulations on them, Arnold explained, the Navy can enhance its predictive capabilities for use in training, strategic planning, and operations.
“One of our CEO’s greatest visions is to create an Earth 2,” explained Arnold, who said a digital twin of the Earth could help with forecasting weather and climate, monitoring infrastructure needs and performance, and even anticipating the movements and activities of individuals and assets within given geospatial domains.
That has implications for everything from disaster planning and emergency response to urban planning and military operations.
“When a platoon has to fly overseas…[they can] be mission-ready even before they have landed,” noted Dixit, who said a digital twin of the Earth could give warfighters prescient powers by equipping them with tactical information about physical and human terrain, allowing them to respond proactively instead of reactively to threats and opportunities.
It’s an exciting prospect. And GEOINT is at the heart of it.
“If you’re trying to inform tactical decision-makers, conveying not just latitude and longitude, but also the uncertainty and assumptions behind it, is critical,” explained Sracic, who said the metaverse’s success will hinge largely on its architecture, pillars of which already exist in GEOINT applications and systems. “If we want to make the metaverse truly function, that needs to be a machine-to-machine thing…and I don’t think there’s anybody better equipped than the GEOINT community to describe how that should work.”
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