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Public Administration and the Spatial Web

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Bill Brantley
September 19, 2019

“The emergence of smart cities and factories, autonomous cars and homes, smart appliances and virtual reality worlds, automated shopping and digitized personal medicine are transforming the way we live, play, work, travel, and shop. All across the planet, our technologies are breaking out from behind the screen and into the physical world around us. Simultaneously, the people, places, and things in our world are being digitized and brought into the virtual world, becoming part of the digital domain. We are digitizing the physical and ‘physicalizing’ the digital. Clear boundaries between the real and the virtual are dissolving.”

This is an excerpt from the 2019 publication, The Spatial Web: How Web 3.0 Will Connect Humans, Machines, and AI to Transform the World by Gabriel Rene and Dan Mapes.

Rene and Mapes’ recent book on Web 3.0, the Spatial Web, is an extended argument on how artificial intelligence, augmented and virtual reality, the Internet of Things, blockchain, and 3D printing will converge to create a new network of everything. Web 3.0 is the natural evolution from Web 1.0, which was a network of computers and then Web 2.0 which was a network of interactive applications. Web 3.0 will be a, “’Living network made up of the interconnections between people, places and things, their virtual counterparts and the interactions, transactions and transportation between them.”

Digital Twins and Smart Twins

Digital Twins are the software equivalent of physical objects. For example, you may have a loyalty card on your keychain or a mobile app on your phone for your favorite restaurant or retail store. Among my loyalty apps is the Starbucks® app, which I use to deposit my coffee money and to collect reward points. I know that Starbucks® has a digital twin of me built of my history of purchases and the Starbucks® stores I have visited. Thanks to my digital twin, Starbucks® knows how to personalize its offers to my tastes and locations.

A Smart Twin is a step up from the digital twin because the smart twin will be powered by machine learning and linked to me spatially. The smart twin will be a merging of my physical and digital activities. Thus, using my smart twin, Starbucks® can not only send me virtual offers but, can prompt the barista to offer my usual coffee drink and breakfast item when I enter my usual Starbucks® location.

From Fake News to Fake Reality

The fake news problem has been well-studied by the public administration community. The Computational Propaganda Research Project (COMPROP) by the Oxford Internet Institute does a great job in demonstrating the power of fake news to the world’s governments. As you can see from the site, fake news has disrupted elections and caused great distrust in governments by their citizens. The rise of social media has helped incubate malicious artificial intelligence bots designed to nudge citizens in acting for the gain of the bot makers.

With the rise of Web 3.0 technologies, augmented reality and virtual reality will be the architectural infrastructure. Augmented reality, which provides computer-generated information over the top of the real world, is widely accepted by the public. Remember the incredible popularity of Pokemon Go just a few years ago?

Rene and Mapes write that virtual reality is on a slower adoption curve than augmented reality but is quickly catching up. The cost of virtual reality hardware is continually dropping, and the software tools to create virtual worlds are becoming more powerful in the ability to create realistic worlds. Rene and Mapes predict that soon it may be hard to distinguish between the real and artificially generated. Think of the threat that deepfakes may pose to U.S. 2020 Presidential elections. A fake reality in a shared virtual world will have even more disruptive effects for societies.

The Black Mirror or the White Mirror Version of Web 3.0?

The Black Mirror is a popular series that speculates on the dangers of modern technology; a Twilight Zone for the digital age. In the Black Mirror version of Web 3.0, Rene and Mapes warn us that if we allow, “Dysfunctional and/or, proprietary technologies become permanently embedded into the infrastructure of our global systems,” that innovation, freedom of speech, freedom of thought and fundamental human rights will be threatened.

However, there is a white mirror version of Web 3.0 in which, “We have the opportunity to use these technologies to assist us in working together more effectively to improve our ecologies, economies and governance models, and leave the world better than the one we entered.” Understanding and preparing for the new Web 3.0 world will be a great challenge for public administration in the next few decades of the 21st Century.

Author: Bill Brantley teaches at the University of Louisville. He also works as a Federal employee for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. All opinions are his own and do not reflect the views of his employers. You can reach him at http://billbrantley.com.



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