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Understanding the Metaverse

A world within our world

The Matryoshka Doll or the Russian nesting dolls to the naive foreign eye symbolizes traditional cultural values of family and legacy. The artifact also represents the idea of continuation and the different dimensions of reality that are so often depicted in our science fiction narratives and representations. The Metaverse in the same vein in a world embedded in our world. Just like there is a smaller doll within a bigger one, there is currently a world being developed within our world. Just that it is not necessarily smaller but rather much bigger. It is essentially a world embedded in our world. But what kind of world is it, exactly?

The Digital Space

The Metaverse can be understood as a human machine interaction through hardware devices such as Virtual Reality (VR) or Augmented Reality (AR) gear and a software component to it. They serve as an interface between human and machine interaction. This new framework is based on technologies that enable people to have another life within this world. This is done through several means like lifelogging. The practice of making a continuous record of your daily actions and activities through a digital device. It can also be done through mirror worlds that is mapping out our physical world into a virtual space. Simply a digital twin of what we already know. Another way the Metaverse is being developed is through a glimpse of it in our physical world through Augmented Reality technologies.

Think: a digital pet Llama in your living room! 

This machine generated input can simulate reality or at least our idea of it. It can range from sound to video, to graphics to GPS overlays. And what makes them more realistic is the ability of this content to respond in real time to changes in the user's environment including movements. So yes, you can take your pet Llama clubbing with your friends!

The Foundational Technologies and Governance

While there is an ecosystem of technical developments facilitating the Metaverse like Game Engines (Unity and Unreal) and Hardware Developers (VR headsets), this article will delve into Blockchain and its role in the foundational development of the Metaverse.

Blockchain as a publicly open, decentralized, digital ledger is one of the technologies that can be leveraged within the metaverse for governance, transactions and ownership. The utopian core principles of the Metaverse like universality and decentralization that are marketed to us are also similar in essence to those of Blockchain. Through creating immersive experiences, we create tonnes of data generated through simulations. Interacting in these virtual environments and scenarios, we emulate on the one hand real world decisions and actions and create new behaviors and consumption habits on the other. Consumer scientists and behavioral scientists can better answer the questions of: who is consuming what and their underlying motivations. However, one of the big criticisms of Web 2.0 was the data usage by platforms for advertisements and personalized recommendations without any transparency into collection processes. Moreover, the prioritization of applications to drive profitability and lock-in users through addictive design by leveraging data collection was an ethical consideration that Web 2.0 failed to react appropriately to.
Web 3.0 technologies therefore, aim to tackle some of these challenges. This is one reason why Blockchain is a promising technology for governance and transactions within these immersive worlds. Primarily, blockchain owing to its distinct features of decentralization, immutability, and transparency provides a promising solution. It does so in three different ways:

1. Quality of the Data for Processing

In order to create another world, the metaverse collects, processes and uses vast amounts of sensitive and personal data of users. The difference in the amount of data collected should not be underestimated. This is not just click-data, scrolling behavior or commerce activities based data. It is highly intimate, personal data of users that companies will use for further development of the systems. This development is done through powerful Artificial Intelligence (AI) based algorithms. So this data has to be reliable and checked for quality. Blockchain, provides complete audit trails of transactions, allowing individuals and organiza- tions to validate all transactions. This will increase the data quality in the metaverse.

2. Security of Data

Having established that this data is of a highly private nature, it is clear that any breach of it could result in this data going into the hands of people who would use it in our physical world for their nefarious means. Due to its authentication protocols, access controls, and the consensus mechanisms it provides the users complete control of their data thereby securing the data privacy of the users. The blockchain uses asymmetric-key encryption and hash functions which ensure security of data in the metaverse. 

In short, the metaverse’s data would be saved as a copy in every block in the chain it utilizes and can’t be amended or removed without the consent of majority of the participants. This immutability mechanism provided by the blockchain enables integrity and reliability of data. 

3. Access to Data and Interoperability of Data

Naturally, another part of the Metaverse is the seamless integration of the data from and the pertaining integration and functioning of the AR and VR devices. This is essential to creating more immersive experiences in a non-physical world. The success of applications is therefore dependent on the seamless sharing of AR and VR data. The advanced encoding schemes and information system of the Blockchain enables the data sharing to be seamless across devices. Moreover, various stakeholders need to make transactions and access assets in these virtual worlds. This means applications like smart contracts and Non-fungible tokens (NFTs) built on blockchain provide a track of secure ownership to facilitate an economy. However, cross blockchain transactions from different metaverses can also be accessed via the Bloockchain technology.

The Educational Use Case - Author’s Personal Favorite

While Educational Technologies (EdTech) are developing throughout the world increasing equity in opportunity of education between the global north and south, I wanted to mention a personal favorite application of mine in the realm of the Metaverse. Language learning courses require a certain amount of immersion to develop fluency. This is facilitated in our real, physical world by exchange programs and semesters abroad during schooling. Beyond a certain age, research shows it is more difficult to become proficient in the language. The Metaverse can increase the effectiveness of language learning programs through providing simulations of a real world context and enabling practice within this virtual setting. It would further entail providing cultural competencies that are so essential to language learning through working, learning, social events and entertainment within the target language and country.

Another instance where the metaverse Ed Tech can be useful is in the case of skills based training. In such an AR-based training mode, the main aim is support in the training program but as of now the benefits of putting the full program in this setting is unclear. However, the learners in a short-term can complete an activity to complete a specific skill and practice it. In the metaverse, as it develops, full-fledged training for pre-service trainees in a professional training institute in the virtual world could also be beneficial. This is where they could take a formal training program with instruction from a professional for an elongated period of time to experience and complete an authentic training process and develop real world skills. 

There are many applications within the Metaverse for instance, we get a lot of requests of innovation within retail and e-commerce. Here’s a sneak preview from one of our landscapes:

Some start-ups we have identified within the Metaverse include Zetsy Market, NFT Plazas and Dematerialised. If you are developing a promising startup in this field, we would be happy to hear from you. And if you, as a corporate, would like to explore the applications for your corporation within the Metaverse or develop an understanding of the landscape out there, simply reach out to us with your specifications.

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