new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) sees a slew of opportunities for the extended reality (XR) technology within the Federal government, but also cautions that several cyber-related challenges remain.

XR technology combines elements from the real and digital world to create new kinds of interactivity and perception. Among other advantages, the report explains that XR technologies offer new ways to access and use information to train, educate, entertain, and collaborate.

“XR technologies can be used for workplace collaboration, training, education, therapeutic treatments, and data exploration and analysis. XR also enables the creation of online universes, or ‘metaverses,’ where users can interact with each other,” the report reads.

Specific XR opportunities for the Federal government include:

  • Providing better access to jobs, medical care, and other opportunities for remote communities or people with few or no transportation options;
  • Providing data sharing and digital workspaces that support collaborative design, planning, and decision-making;
  • Analyzing data in XR environments might allow new knowledge generation or decision-making;
  • Immersive environments could be used to treat addiction, anxiety, autism, and other conditions; and
  • Expensive or dangerous procedures might be taught more cheaply and safely in XR environments.

Cyber, Enabling Concerns

However, cybersecurity concerns remain because XR-related data is still transmitted and shared through networks, or an individual data center, GAO said. XR also will require more diverse and complex data, thus offering new targets for cyberattack and exploitation.

“[It] makes data more vulnerable to cyberattacks and privacy threats, as well as creates new avenues for online harassment,” the report says.

In addition to the cybersecurity concerns, GAO also said another challenge with XR technology deployment by Federal agencies revolves around enabling technologies. Specific emerging technologies are necessary for XR – including artificial intelligence and 5G wireless capabilities – and they may not yet be affordable or accessible to all users.

Big Questions

In light of those challenges, GAO offered the following questions that Federal agencies should consider when implementing XR technologies:

  • What incentives or barriers exist to the XR industry coalescing around common software and content development standards that address ethics and vulnerabilities, among other issues?
  • What barriers and challenges, such as 5G maturity and improving user experience, exist to the appropriate expanded adoption of XR in the private and public sectors, including health care, education, and the military?
  • What new cybersecurity, privacy, harassment, and other threats are XR technologies vulnerable to or could be inappropriately used for, and what new or enhanced safeguards might be needed as a result?
  • What steps could be taken to improve the affordability and accessibility of XR and its enabling technologies, particularly 5G networks?
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Lisbeth Perez
Lisbeth Perez
Lisbeth Perez is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.