The Metaverse is a complex topic. Ask 10 different people, and you'll probably get 10 different answers about what it is…but I guarantee at least three of those will reference Snow Crash (no shade Neil Stephenson — and if you're lost, this novel is where the term originated).
But, if you're wondering why there is no simple answer to this question, well, first, I would urge you to try to define the Internet. Because the Metaverse aims to be about that expansive, if not more.
And, part of what lends to this complexity is the tech stack behind the Metaverse. From AR/VR to AI and blockchain, and beyond. To have a grasp on how the Metaverse might shake out, you first have to understand the capabilities and potential future changes of all of these technologies. But, this is a difficult task. And, if you go back to those 10 different definitions at the beginning (seriously, ask Google), you'll find that often definitions will focus on just one, or maybe two of these technologies.
And that's because this is informed by the person's background and knowledge. Fair, to be sure, but not a full picture.
So, just what are the different tech layers that, do and will, contribute to the Metaverse?
Metaverse Tech Layers
While you won't become an expert in each of the tech layers of the Metaverse from just one article, we'll at least give you a brief overview of each, so you have a working knowledge of the moving parts to start from. Then, you can head out into your own deeper discovery and begin to understand how each might work together to create the fully immersive blend of digital and physical.
Blockchain — Base Layer, Identity, & Scarcity
Blockchain brought us digital scarcity in the form of NFTs. If you're looking to remake the digital world in the image of physical reality, scarcity and ownership that mirror the rest of the world are called for — including for ourselves with virtual identities that represent us across ALL online platforms.
But, what blockchain brings to the Metaverse is far more than this. Many have come forward in the movement for this digital identity to come with greater privacy (although, in the battle to build and monetize the Metaverse, this will be one to watch), which blockchain holds some promising potential solutions to, as well as concerns for, due to the immutable and often public nature of the ledger. In addition to tackling this issue, blockchain is also important for automation through smart contracts, governance models, and, of course, a payments layer.
By building the Metaverse on a blockchain as the foundational layer, all of these possibilities open up, creating room for unified virtual identities, scarcity, true ownership, and digital scarcity.physical that the Metaverse of SciFi promises.
AR/VR/XR — Visualization Layer
Confused by this alphabet soup? To break it down:
- AR refers to Augmented Reality, so this would be your Snapchat filter, which adds virtual elements to a real space.
- VR is Virtual Reality. This is for the spaces that are fully digitally created, such as with Oculus headsets or Decentraland, although these two will give you vastly different experiences due to the different entry points — a headset versus a screen.
- XR is the broadest category, standing for Extended Reality. This covers any kind of combined real and virtual experiences, so both AR and VR.
These technologies seek to make digital worlds more engaging by having them mirror our physical world, enable the same types of interactions that we do with physical products, and import digital augmentations into the IRL world, largely relying on 3D modeling to bring more of a realistic feel than the 2D visuals that currently populate digital spaces.
But, essentially, this will be how the Metaverse is visualized. How you look in the Metaverse, what your surroundings look like, and, even, the different methods you have to interact lay here.
AI — Data, Personalization, & Automation
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is not new. It's now commonplace to interact with many different AI algorithms in any given day, from Google to TikTok, our world is now filled with AI to sort, personalize, and scale how data is used and delivered.
With the level of personalization that people want — even demand — from online services, AI is a foundational building block. But, in addition to that, with ever more of our interactions taking place online, and the advent of more interactive technologies, the types and scale of data collected in the Metaverse will be enormous. To be able to sort and make any of that data usable, AI will be necessary.
IoT — IRL Services
IoT, or the Internet of Things, refers to all of the small connected devices that increasingly break down barriers between digital and physical spaces. Everything from a self-driving car to a smartwatch to even a smart light bulb, with voice and app activation, fall under the domain of IoT.
While IoT is already making people's lives easier, by allowing us to interact with technology more similarly to how we interact with other humans — you can now just speak to your speaker — these devices also lend to the data collection and automation that the Metaverse is bringing. And, when paired with others, like blockchain, they offer powerful solutions, such as a smart fridge that can not only order new milk when you run out, but even pay for it through a smart contract.
Essentially, these products bridge the gap between your real world problems and digital solutions to those issues, making them more seamless for users.
How does it all come together?
Well, that’s the million…maybe even billion….dollar question. But, each of these technologies has a central role to play in building out a hyper realistic digital or augmented reality. The end goal of the Metaverse is modeled on many SciFi representations. One where you can hang out and interact in ways that are as engaging as the real world…if not more.
Of course, to get to this future vision will require a far more comprehensive list of all of the technologies that will — and likely, already are — lending to the Metaverse. But, for now, this is the basics of the different technologies and basic services that they will lend to the Metaverse, as well as a picture for how these different layers might interact.
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