Neal Stephenson, a renowned science-fiction author and co-founder of Lamina1, a blockchain-based start-up that aims to build an expansive metaverse, recently discussed his views on the metaverse with Tim Bradshaw, the FT’s global technology correspondent. Stephenson’s breakthrough 1992 novel Snow Crash predicted many technological advancements, such as cryptocurrency, Alexa, avatars, virtual-reality goggles, multiplayer online games, and destructive computer viruses, that are now part of our everyday experiences. The concept of the metaverse, which is a virtual universe where people interact with each other through audiovisual bodies called avatars, was also first introduced in his book.
According to Stephenson, the metaverse is a shared, fictional space where people have shared experiences in virtual reality. They can interact with others in real-time, regardless of their location. The different parts of the metaverse are created and maintained by different people, but they all share a common map that shows their location. Stephenson thinks that the gaming industry will be the foundation of the future metaverse, and the metaverse will be an economic engine for many businesses.
When asked if people know they are entering the metaverse while playing a video game, Stephenson stated that most people are just playing the game, but people who spend a lot of time playing multiplayer online games are becoming accustomed to the idea of moving around in shared three-dimensional spaces, which is the most basic idea of the metaverse.
Stephenson founded Lamina1, a blockchain-based start-up that creates a foundational layer for the metaverse, to build underlying infrastructure that helps metaverse builders create their own experiences in a way that is consistent with the vision in his book. Stephenson believes that creating a platform that enables others to build their own experiences is a smarter approach than building one experience that may not be successful. The value of a metaverse platform, such as Fortnite to Epic Games, is more than just the revenue generated by the game. It also provides a way to test their own technology and demonstrate its capabilities to others.
Stephenson believes that the foundational layer of the metaverse is about enabling and making things available, rather than deciding how things ought to be. He states that there are a number of basic capabilities that the metaverse has to have on an engineering level, and these capabilities are a necessary foundation for the metaverse to be built upon. Stephenson thinks that people can come along later to determine the rules of the road for the metaverse.
In response to a question about decentralisation, Stephenson believes that the principle of decentralisation is essential to the metaverse. People can create their own experiences in the metaverse without having to rely on a central authority or a single company. The decentralisation principle also applies to the blockchain technology used by Lamina1, which enables the creation of a trustless environment where people can transact without intermediaries.
When asked about his thoughts on Facebook’s metaverse plans, Stephenson thinks that it is a good thing that Facebook is showing an interest in the metaverse, but he is skeptical about their motivations. Stephenson believes that Facebook’s goal is to capture and monetise as much of the metaverse as possible, which would be contrary to the decentralisation principle of the metaverse. Stephenson thinks that it is essential to create an open and expansive metaverse where anyone can create their own experiences and transact without intermediaries.
Stephenson believes that the biggest challenge facing the development of the metaverse is creating a sense of presence. The metaverse needs to provide a sense of being in a shared space with others, and this sense of presence can be achieved through the use of haptic feedback and other sensory technologies. Stephenson thinks that the metaverse has the potential to be a transformative technology that can change the way we interact with each other and the world around us. It can enable people to connect and collaborate in ways that were previously impossible, regardless of their physical location. The metaverse can also provide new opportunities for businesses and entrepreneurs to create and monetise their own experiences.
However, the development of the metaverse also raises some important questions about privacy, security, and ethics. As the metaverse becomes more integrated into our daily lives, it will be essential to establish rules and regulations to protect individuals and their rights. The development of a decentralised metaverse that is not controlled by a single entity could help to mitigate some of these concerns.