What is the the metaverse? There is no uniform definition of the metaverse as of yet. Core technologies of the the metaverse are still in an embryonic stage, but after achieving breakthroughs on underlying technologies and innovative content, the industry will reach the growth stage.
Definitions of the metaverse
Even though there is no clear and unified definition of the the metaverse, experts have offered their versions from both the academic and industry perspectives.
Wang Tianfan, a partner at BAI Capital, categorizes the metaverse into three narratives: open world game, extended reality (XR), and crypto or Web3.0.
“The metaverse will allow people to replicate or enhance their physical activities. This could happen by transporting or extending physical activities to a virtual world or by transforming the physical one," says Marty Resnick, VP Analyst at Gartner.
Shen Yang, Executive Director of the New Media Research Center at Tsinghua University, believes that from the perspective of various concepts, the metaverse is a new Internet application and social form that integrates the virtual and the real worlds through a variety of new technologies. The “China Metaverse metaverse White Paper” shows that the metaverse is a digital world created by computer technology that is parallel to the real world."
Roblox (NYSE: RBLX), the first metaverse-related stock, listed eight features of the metaverse in its prospectus, including identity, friends, immersive, low friction, variety, anywhere, economy, and civility.
Realizing all these features requires support from advanced underlying technologies. In “The Metaverse Token,” a book on the metaverse, this umbrella term comprises six types of underlying technologies, which are blockchain, interaction, game engine and spatial technologies, artificial intelligence (AI) and algorithm, networking technologies, and Internet of Things (IoT).
According to many authors, the metaverse will eventually reflect the physical world onto a virtual world while still being independent from the physical world thanks to the above technologies.
Artificial Intelligence is the core of the metaverse development
1. Artificial Intelligence enriches the content of the metaverse
Artificial intelligence can greatly improve the efficiency of content creation. For one thing, developers can leverage AI to automate content generation or content enhancement. For example, from simple random object placement to fully automatic generation of scenes, buildings, objects, shapes, and other things, AI algorithms can be employed to enhance the quality of content presentation and expand people's visual boundaries. For another, AI assists content creation. For example, a Generative Adversarial Network (GAN)-based smart brush can turn sketches with only a few outlines and colors into photo-accurate pictures.
2. AI helps the metaverse to connect with the physical world
AI can open up the connection between the real and the virtual world and transmit information in the real world into the metaverse, truly reflecting the state of the real world in the virtual world in three steps. The first step is the creation of a "virtual copy of the real world" through 3D modeling of the physical world. Then, coupled with AI visual intelligence, the raw (non-structured) data is converted into structured data that can be read by machines, and the processed data is accurately mapped to a "virtual copy" to establish the interconnection between the real and virtual worlds. And the last step is automation, realizing AI-enabled decision-making and process automation to help improve operational efficiency in the physical world.
3. AI enhances human-computer interaction
AI will become the brain of the non-player characters (NPC) in the metaverse, enabling independent communication and decision-making abilities. It can judge human intentions and needs through continuous learning and self-reinforcement, and respond in a timely and accurate manner, which will make human-computer interaction more intelligent. AI is going to become an AI agent in the digital world, providing people with various consultations and services.
Current challenges and future trend of the metaverse
The metaverse-related technologies are still in the stage of innovation trigger. In Gartner’s report entitled “Hype Cycle” for emerging technologies, the life cycle of the metaverse is divided into innovation trigger, peak of inflated expectations, trough of disillusionment, slope of enlightenment, and plateau of productivity.
According to Gartner's 2021 emerging technology maturity statistics, the underlying technologies closely related to the the metaverse, such as artificial intelligence, decentralized finance, and digital humans based on physical information are still in the innovation trigger stage, and it will take five to 10 years or even more than 10 years for the metaverse to reach the plateau of productivity stage.
At the current stage, immature technology is still the major challenge in realizing the metaverse. Each company working on the metaverse is developing its own sub-industry. Some applications already have the key elements of the the metaverse. But the connection and interaction protocol between the metaverse have not yet been opened.
According to the "Metaverse Development Research Report 2020-2021" by the New Media Research Center at Tsinghua University, among the major companies currently engaged in the metaverse, Meta (NASDAQ: FB) has outstanding performance in extending reality, social systems, User-generated content (UGC) ecology and Massively multiplayer online (MMO) games, but there is still a lack of image engine dimension. Roblox and Epic mainly started with games, and Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) explores the corporate metaverse. Domestic leading metaverse companies include Tencent (HKG: 0700) and ByteDance, which have advantages in social systems and UGC ecology respectively.
At present, the development of the metaverse is still in the multi-platform stage. Major Internet companies have released the metaverse platforms. These platforms have their own development priorities and will continue to expand the scope of their applications. In the middle and later sections of this stage, platforms will try business integration and consumption. The main interface of the metaverse human-computer interaction is XR products (AR, VR, MR). Artificial intelligence, blockchain, information technology, and automation promote the development of the metaverse.
‘Program and protocol are eating humanity’ -- Wang Tianfan
During the platform integration period, platforms will experience quantitative explosion and gradual integration. In the process of quantitative explosion, the metaverse platforms that are adapted to the interface and information technology of the new metaverse will be developed, and professional platforms and general-purpose platforms will continue to emerge.
Finally, several huge metaverse platforms will appear. Then, brain-computer interface technology will continue to mature, with artificial intelligence expected to achieve breakthroughs.
Wang Tianfan of BAI Capital believes that when the digital effects cover more over physical effects in daily life, the metaverse will eventually become a reality. During the development of the metaverse, BAI Capital believes that companies with such attributes as nonconsensus, non-lining, and non-continuity are “worth investing in.” It has already allocated 30% of its fund to invest in the global metaverse-related industries, according to Wang, the partner of BAI Capital.