In the last year, the idea of Metaverse has exploded in popular consciousness. A brave new digital frontier in which everything seems possible, powered by some of the most advanced Internet and Communication Technology that is currently available.
Currently, it’s taken the form of a 3D virtual space that is explored via an avatar.
Proponents of Metaverse, such as Mark Zuckerberg, expect this technology to become part of our daily lives. A virtual place where we will go to socialize, shop, play games, and even work.
Many companies and brands are already capitalizing on the trend. Virtual shoe collections are a thing. So are virtual co-working spaces.
And over on the crypto and blockchain side of things, people are building entire ecosystems powered by decentralization and permissionless networks such as Decentraland and Cryptovoxels.
The race has heated up to become the first project to do everything that people want out of Metaverse, a truly interactive and living digital space that will sit atop the real world and extend our reality.
If you’re wondering how does all this works and what deep tech powers the Metaverse idea, you’ve come to the right place. We are going to look into some of the things underpinning Metaverse, to give you a better idea of how it all fits together and why it is so exciting to so many people.
Cryptocurrency and Blockchain
Crypto and Blockchain have emerged as some of the major components of Metaverse. This is because blockchain and crypto technology offer a solution for digital ownership.
Remember that digital data is inherently fungible and easily copyable. As in the real world, Metaverse users want to feel a sense of connection with items they own. This is where non-fungible tokens (NFTs) come in. In Decentraland, for instance, players can purchase plots of LAND using cryptocurrency. These virtual homesteads are NFTs.
So are the hoodies, pants, and shoes that the avatars can wear.
In this way, the ownership of these digital items can be verified.
Another reason why crypto is such a huge part of Metaverse now is that it fits in the broader Web3 vision. This is a decentralized Internet, where users own their content and digital assets.
Not all Metaverse applications are Web3, but many of them are. Blockchain also allows for things like smart contracts to enable Metaverse worlds to communicate and exchange info with other apps such as decentralized finance, crypto-wallets, and more. Therefore, it’s no wonder that Decentraland runs on Ethereum, the world’s biggest smart contract network.
Finally, crypto can be used as an incentive for people to contribute to Metaverse projects. Designers can sell their items on crypto marketplaces. Those who really a certain world can get involved in its future if the world is run like a DAO. Many of these have tokens which can be staked to provide liquidity and earn rewards.
And once Metaverse truly gets big, it’s not unrealistic to think some people may even have Metaverse-job and will receive their pay in cryptocurrency.
Metaverse and VR are clearly a match made in Heaven. While moving around a 3D world with a keyboard and mouse is fine, and in fact it is what gamers have been doing for more than 30 years, having a fully immersive world in front of your eyes is clearly better.
The pioneer in this sector is currently Zuckerberg’s company Meta (previously known as Facebook) and their Horizon Worlds. Previously, Meta has launched Horizon Workrooms, a VR app that lets people collaborate with their teams in real-time in a shared virtual environment.
Essentially, virtual reality is a computer-generated space that is displayed on small screens which are positioned close to the eyes within a headset. This gives the impression of actually being within a virtual space as it takes up the entire field of vision.
And when motion detection and tracking is added, it ends up being very immersive.
Right now, VR is pretty limited in the Metaverse. Most of the projects that are about building Metaverse worlds have VR support somewhere in the pipeline. As VR equipment is bound to get more advanced and cheaper (like any other new technology) it will become more available to both users and developers.
Expect this convergence very soon as companies that work in Metaverse would be foolish not to invest in virtual reality. It would be a shame for those 10 million Oculus Quest 2 headsets (data by Qualcomm) to sit around unused.
AI and Machine Learning
Artificial intelligence and machine learning are two very important technologies in general. And they are used more often than people think. According to a McKinsey survey 50% of companies use these technologies for at least one business application.
AI and ML allow for facial recognition apps (think Face ID on your iPhone), natural language processing (Google Assistant, Siri) and making smartphone camera pictures better. These are just some of the benefits that these technologies bring to the ICT industry.
So, obviously, AI and ML are also Metaverse tech. There are many ways in which they could be leveraged to help with creating Metaverse apps.
Avatar creation is one of them, where ML algorithms can generate 3D models based on 2D images of the user. Tech like this already exists and has been used by some video games in the past. To make the worlds seem even more lively, AI can be used to give non-player characters real personalities and allow them to appropriately react to user behavior.
Live translation is also something AIs can do as well eventually designing the virtual worlds themselves through a process known as procedural generation.
In the end, the application of AI in Metaverse will only depend on the creativity of Metaverse project developers.
Taken together with virtual reality, augmented reality (AR) makes up the concept of extended reality (XR). Augmented reality refers to overlaying digital images on top of the real world, either through a headset or through the camera of a smartphone.
The implications of XR for both Metaverse and society are vast. Depending on who you ask, these will either replace or extend the real world.
There’s a bit of a split between VR and AR here obviously. VR is more about replacing and AR more about extending. This flows naturally from the nature of these technologies, one replaces your field of vision, the other just overlays stuff over it.
John Hanke, CEO of Niantic (makers of the Pokémon Go AR game) is one of the rare critics of Metaverse in the tech industry. He called it a “dystopian nightmare” and instead called for the virtual being used to make the real better rather than replace it.
Regardless, both VR and AR will definitely have their place in the Metaverse, and it will ultimately be up to end users to decide which concept they like better.
While there do exist some 2D Metaverse projects, most are aiming for three-dimensional space. It makes sense, the real world is 3D too. And generations of young people raised on modern video games are also used to virtual spaces being 3D.
Currently, the graphics of Metaverse projects tend to veer toward cartoonish and unrealistic. Just look at Horizon World or Decentraland.
This is only partly an aesthetic choice. Simply put, realistic 3D graphics require very powerful hardware in order to run. Powerful means expensive too.
Most likely, this will not chain the short term but in the long term we can expect that better graphics can be achieved with cheaper hardware. Think of how a relatively cheap PlayStation 5 can now produce the kind of graphics that just 5 years ago were reserved for only top of the line PCs.
There is also emerging tech that can make 3D models in Metaverse better, such as 3D reconstruction. This method of using special 3D cameras results in photorealistic models of buildings, physical locations, and objects. Using this data computers can generate virtual replica of a neighborhood in the Metaverse.
Internet of Things (IoT)
Before Metaverse, it was the internet of things (IoT) that was the buzzword of the industry. In short, the IoT refers to internet-connected smart devices that measure various data points and use that data for various purposes.
Think of smart watches. A smart watch sits on your wrist, measures your steps, heart rate, and other stuff, sends that data to an app on your phone and then gives you insight based on all that.
Eventually, as proponents of this idea imagine, all devices will be smart internet devices. From your fridge to your shoes. This massive web of data would enable various predictions, insights, even possibly warning you about potential diseases.
IoT applications are basically endless. Entertainment, MedTech, blockchain, and, of course, Metaverse.
In the Metaverse, inputs from IoT devices could be used to change parameters within the world. Maybe it rains in the virtual world when it rains in the real one. This is where AI and machine learning come into the picture again as this mass of data will require them in order to be processed as fast as possible.
Brain Computer Interface
For many in the Metaverse game, this current use of VR and 3D technology to render virtual spaces is only the beginning.
VR headsets only stimulate the visual sense, while touch, smell and taste are left unchanged.
If people like Elon Musk get their way, we may soon be implanting Brain Computer Interfaces to enable a much higher level of immersion.
Essentially, if BCIs advance enough we may actually have a proper Matrix at our disposal. That’s still a way away of course.
Nevertheless, BCIs are definitely coming and will have implications for every industry, from healthcare to video games. Controlling avatars with your mind, virtual smells, virtual touch.
It really is the next step in the whole Metaverse idea, and if it seems like sci-fi to you, remember that video calls were once thought of as futuristic.
Right now, Musk’s Neuralink is still in the early design stage with some experiments being done on primates. A human trial is very far away. Of course, this device requires actual implantation into the skull, and we have to wonder just many people would agree to that.
There are non-invasive options however. OpenBCI is working on the Galea headset which integrates EEG, EMG, EDA, PPG, and eye-tracking into a single headset and can push this data into mixed reality apps.
The big-name gaming company Valve is already working with OpenBCI to explore use cases for video games. MIT Media Lab and eye tracking company Tobii are also involved in the project.
Metaverse is, or least can be, a part of Web3 but not all Web3 is Metaverse. Web3 also includes things like decentralized finance, blockchain-enabled decentralized autonomous organizations, and a lot more.
It’s a vision of the internet that belongs to its users, and of services and virtual worlds run like participatory democracies.
The outline of this idea is already visible in some projects like Decentraland. Decentraland is the intersection of Metaverse, DAO, blockchain, cryptocurrency, and NFTs. All of this is powered by the various technology that we wrote about here, that currently makes up the Metaverse landscape.
Of course, it’s too early to tell if this is the vision that will win out in the end. The one put forth by Big Tech is somewhat different and more similar to how things already work on the Internet. It’s not unrealistic to expect that Horizon Worlds will ultimately end up being a 3D version of Facebook.
Whatever happens, Web3 will endure. If at least among blockchain and cryptocurrency enthusiasts.
Mobile Device Processors
Smartphones are really everything these days. You can use them to shop and visit top online casinos and even prove that you’re vaccinated.
It’s very clear that mobiles will play a large role in the Metaverse. This is especially true in emerging markets where many people don’t even have traditional computers and use the internet and access the digital world through phones only.
What people often forget about mobile phones is that they are really powerful in raw computing ability. The processors found in all consumer smartphones are orders of magnitude stronger than the ones that helped send people to the Moon.
Such computing power being available to pretty much everyone is something that Metaverse can benefit from.
And with there already being VR headsets that use phones, you can see where this is going. A VR headset powered by a phone with a strong processor means that Metaverse can be accessed at any time and from anywhere.
Fifth generation mobile networks (usually shortened to 5G) offer many advantages. Chiefly, they are much faster (with data transfer speeds of up to 20 gigabits per second), have lower latency and allow for some cool new things such as network slicing.
There are also important implications for the internet of things and for Metaverse. Both of these technologies are very heavy on data usage. There is a lot of stuff that is moved over the Internet in Metaverse, blockchain, and IoT. So faster speeds and lower latency are very advantageous.
Over time, Metaverse could grow to include holographic projections and the like, which would require blazing fast internet speeds.
With powerful mobile processors and 5G technology, mobile platforms would become the natural home of Metaverse experiences.
Telecom companies are monitoring Metaverse closely and some have even launched their own takes on the idea. South Korean SK Telecom launched a platform called “Ifland” focused on being a virtual meeting space.
United States-based Verizon has also explored Metaverse: in 2021 they launched a virtual 5G stadium in Fortnite Creative as a part of a Super Bowl-related promotion.