Technologies and Concepts that will Enable the Metaverse
Exploring the technological and conceptual foundations and future implications of the metaverse.
Understand the vast technological and conceptual ecosystem we need in order to enable the metaverse with all its possibilities and challenges.
The metaverse is often seen as the next generation of the Internet, a three-dimensional digital universe where users can interact with information, each other and explore data dnd virtual environments in real time. As we continue to merge our physical and digital lives, the metaverse has become an important topic for technology enthusiasts, businesses, and futurists and it also fueled the fantasy for science fiction.
But in order to enable this science fiction version of the next generation of the internet, the Metaverse needs various technologies which coming together to bring the concept of “the Metaverse” to life. Each technology is needed and is contributing unique capabilities that form the pieces of the puzzle. From wearable interfaces and spatial computing to artificial intelligence and advanced networking technologies, these disruptive innovations are driving the evolution of the Metaverse. This article looks at these key technologies and their role in developing and improving the metaverse, many of them are also the technologies that will shape our future.
Wearable Interfaces – Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR).
Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) are two of the most important technologies for creating immersive experiences in the metaverse, as these interfaces enable users to perceive 3D worlds at all.
However, it is important to distinguish between “Virtual Reality, VR” and “Augmented Reality, AR”. While VR immerses the user in a completely digital environment, AR overlays digital information on the user’s real world, i.e. the information is displayed on the real world instead of creating a completely new world as in VR.
In the metaverse, these technologies work together to create experiences that blur the line between the physical and digital worlds. VR can provide fully immersive experiences that allow users to explore digital worlds as if they were physically present. AR, on the other hand, can integrate digital elements into our everyday reality, enabling seamless interactions between users and digital content.
The technology is still very much in its early stages although AR and VR devices have been around for decades. As such, several VR and AR devices have already been developed, each offering unique features and experiences. VR devices such as the Oculus Quest 2 and the HTC Vive offer high-end immersive experiences, while AR devices such as Microsoft’s HoloLens and Apple’s rumored AR glasses aim to overlay digital information on top of the real world.
Internet of Things (IoT)
The Internet of Things (IoT), describes a network of interconnected smart devices. Specifically for a metaverse, this plays a role in enabling the connection of the physical and digital worlds. IoT devices and sensors can collect real-time data from the physical world and feed it into the metaverse to enhance user immersion and interaction. This could be data from wearable devices, environmental sensors, or even smart home systems.
Neural interfaces, also known as brain-computer interfaces, are another technology that would significantly change the Metaverse. These devices can convert brain activity into computer commands, allowing users to interact with the Metaverse with their thoughts or possibly even play virtual worlds directly in their brains.
This could create a whole new level of immersion and interactivity, as users can control their avatars, manipulate objects, or communicate with others through their thoughts alone. The implications for privacy and other concerns are immense, and it would also raise significant ethical concerns about the blurring of reality and virtual worlds, but also open up the world to science fiction-like possibilities to create user experiences that are beyond utopia.
Spatial Computing and 3D Rendering
But before the interfaces are able to display something, we need spatial computing and 3D rendering. Those wo technologies are key to bring the metaverse to life. Spatial computing enables digital objects to exist and interact in a three-dimensional space, allowing users to interact with these objects as they would in the real world. With this technology, you can “touch” a virtual object or navigate through a digital environment.
3D rendering, on the other hand, converts 3D models into 2D images or animations. This creates the visually stunning and lifelike graphics that make the Metaverse believable (think of it like computer games). Advanced 3D rendering techniques can create realistic lighting, shadows, and textures that give the Metaverse a level of detail and realism previously only possible in high-end video games or CGI movies.
Platforms like Roblox and Minecraft allow users to create and interact with 3D objects in a shared virtual space, so these games can be consiedered early contenders for the Metaverse. When it comes to 3D rendering then companies like Unity and Unreal Engine offer powerful engines that allow developers to create lifelike digital environments.
3D Engines and Programming Languages
As mentioned with 3D rendering, the 3D engines and programming languages are critical the tools and basics for developers use to create the virtual worlds of the Metaverse. They provide the framework for designing, creating, and rendering 3D environments and for programming the behavior of objects and characters in those environments.
3D engines such as the Unity and Unreal engines are widely used in Game/Metaverse development. They provide robust tools for 3D modeling, animation, lighting, physics, and more. They also offer APIs for integrating VR and AR capabilities, making them ideal for developing immersive experiences. One of the major problems is that all of these 3D engines need to be further improved and also optimized as many effects and renderings are still very inefficient and take up too much computing power. There might be even the need for new programming languages that are specialized in 3D modelings and renderings and are more efficient for future generations of GPUs and chips.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML).
Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) bring dynamic interactivity and adaptability to the Metaverse. Specifically, generative AI will enable worlds, content, and objects to be created quickly, personalized, and intelligent virtual interactions without needing to be a programmer or expert.
AI in the metaverse can help deliver personalized content based on user behavior, preferences, and interactions, and as the metaverse also delivers much more data, this personalization can become increasingly grannular. It is also conceivable to generate dynamic content in response to these factors, providing a fresh and engaging environment each time. AI, for example, can alter a digital environment based on a user’s previous interactions to create a unique and personalized experience, evoking the feeling of “new” and “discovering” over and over again.
Machine learning, a subset of AI, allows systems to learn from data and improve over time. This can be used to improve virtual assistants and non-player characters (NPCs) in the metaverse, enabling them to interact with users in a human-like manner. Over time, these AI-driven NPCs can learn from each interaction, become smarter, and provide users with a more immersive experience. Thus, “Virtual Partners” or even “Virtual Relationships” would be quite possible, as we are already seeing this with technologies like Replica.ai.
5G, 6G, 7G and advanced network technologies.
Fast, reliable, and low-latency connectivity is a cornerstone of the metaverse, and this is enabled by advanced networking technologies such as 5G or the next generations with 6G or 7G. Because the metaverse involves real-time interactions between a potentially vast number of users in a shared digital space, a robust network infrastructure is essential and especially wireless technologies will play a huge role in this.
The current 5G technology would already provide the high-speed, low-latency connectivity required for seamless experiences in the metaverse. It can support a large number of devices simultaneously, handle large amounts of data, and maintain a stable connection even in densely populated areas. This means that users can explore the Metaverse without experiencing major delays or interruptions, regardless of how many other users are present.
Advanced networks also include technologies such as edge computing, which brings computation and data storage closer to where it is needed. More of it here:
Cloud Computing and Edge Computing
When we talk about a persistent virtual world, where users can access their virtual worlds at any time and any place, this means that we need huge amounts of computing power to create and maintain such a virtual universe. This is why cloud computing and edge computing play a crucial role in the functioning of such a persitent metaverse. Cloud computing, with its vast resources and scalability, provides the computing power needed to run complex, resource-intensive virtual worlds. It enables the storage, retrieval, and processing of vast amounts of data, allowing millions of users to interact simultaneously in the metaverse.
Edge computing complements cloud computing by processing data close to the source where it is generated. This physical proximity reduces latency and enables real-time interactions in the metaverse. It provides better performance, especially in scenarios that require immediate feedback, such as VR experiences or fast-paced games where every millisecond counts.
Many metaverse platforms already use a combination of cloud and edge computing. For example, cloud gaming services such as Google’s Stadia and NVIDIA’s GeForce Now use cloud computing to run games on powerful remote servers, while edge computing is used to reduce latency and provide a smooth, lag-free gaming experience. This synergy between cloud and edge computing will be critical to enabling high-quality, immersive experiences in the metaverse, so we will see a lot of developments in this field.
Chip technology and production (CPU and GPU).
No matter if headsets or servers are used, the metaverse requires high computational power to function effectively, making advanced chip technology and production essential and one of the most crucial factors. Especially two types of chips are important – Central Processing Units (CPUs) and Graphics Processing Units (GPUs).
CPUs perform most general computing tasks, from basic system functions to complex calculations. In the context of the metaverse, CPUs keep applications running smoothly, manage input and output, and ensure a seamless user experience.
GPUs, on the other hand, are specifically designed for fast image rendering and are therefore critical to the visually rich environments of the metaverse. They do the heavy lifting of 3D rendering, processing complex calculations (like AI or Generative AI) and producing lifelike images/objects at high velocity.
Recent advances in chip technology, such as the development of more powerful and energy-efficient CPUs and GPUs, have had a significant impact on new technologies like we have seen in generative AI and also the creation of high quality 3D worlds in games. However, the industry also faces challenges, such as the ongoing global chip shortage, and the fact that the current CPU/GPU generations are not powerful and energy efficient enough to create realistic 3D experiences. This is why many CEOs, also Intels CEO, don’t see a persistent “real metaverse” feasible before 2030 as the chips need to get more efficient and faster.
Quantum computing is still in its infancy, but it has the potential to revolutionize the technology world. In addition to classical computer systems with CPU/GPU, quantum computers could perform much more complex calculations, making them especially useful for AI algorithms or 3D simulations. This could lead to more realistic simulations, significantly improved AI capabilities, and the computational speed to enable a metaverse populated by millions or even billions of users.
Asset creation and management software
Asset creation and management is an important part of the Metaverse’s development as the resusability is key. By assets, we mean all the elements that make up a virtual environment, including 3D models, textures, animations, sound effects, and more. Software tools for creating and managing these assets are essential for developing rich, detailed and interactive metaverse environments. Also generative AI will play a huge role in this as this AI needs to be trained on such assets and also should enable fast and convenient creation of digital assets without experts.
Currently different kind of software like Blender, Autodesk Maya and Adobe Photoshop are widely used to create 3D models and textures. These tools are rather targeted towards artists and developers rather than users.
Platforms like Unity’s Asset Store and Unreal Engine’s Marketplace are also early forms of marketplaces that allow developers to store, manage, and share assets. Similar to these platforms there will be a need for such marketplaces to create, share and store ideas, designs and assets to make it available for users to use in their own metaverse worlds.
Identity and Avatar Management
Identity and avatar management are important components of the metaverse that determine how users represent themselves and interact with others. This includes creating, customizing, and managing digital avatars – virtual representations of users in the metaverse. But one of the most important systems will be identifying a person and linking them to a digital identity.
While avatar management systems are simpler and take care of the functional aspects, such as customizing avatars with clothing and appearance. Or they are used to track and implement user movements in the virtual environment. This can go as far as managing interactions between avatars and keeping an avatar’s identity consistent across different Metaverse platforms.
One of the even more important roles is identity management. To make the Metaverse a safe place, it is so important that a user can be connected to a real person to verify that virtual entity, so that even illegal actions can be tracked and no one can “hide behind a virtual avatar.” This is also where many problems arise. Without it, there would be a risk of virtual worlds becoming an anonymous place where anyone can commit illegal acts hiding behind a virtual avatar, but with the link between the physical and virtual identities, a number of problems also arise, from privacy to personal freedom.
Financial systems and services
To enable a truly functioning metaverse, financial systems and services must be created. It may be necessary to create a completely independent virtual economy that can decouple from the real economy with its own financial systems and mechanics. It must be kept in mind that these financial systems not only support the buying and selling of virtual goods and services and may even support entire financial markets in the metaverse, but that the economy may function differently.
This is because there are no physical limitations in the metaverse. A huge amount of land can be created, objects can be created out of nothing, a house can be cloned without any effort and digital design can be created quickly and easily thanks to generative AI. This means that our values in the real world no longer have any value in the digital world and are interchangeable or eternal. A T-shirt thus becomes infinitely wearable and a house on the beach can simply be cloned. The implication is also that we will see even a broader spectrum of digital business models.
Financial systems and services in the Metaverse are still in their early stages and face many challenges, including regulatory issues and security concerns. However, as these systems evolve, they will play an increasingly important role in the Metaverse economy and might be even decoupled in a way that there will be completely virtual financial systems in place with own rules and own regulatory environments.
In addition to financial systems, marketplaces are of course also important in the metaverse. As described above, other values play a role in the digital world, since everything can be copied and generated infinitely. Nevertheless, marketplaces will also be needed where users can buy, sell or exchange digital goods. These will include virtual services, digital art, avatar accessories, virtual goods, objects, and much more that we may not yet be able to imagine.
We are seeing the first prototypes of such virtual marketplaces, but they all have their limitations and problems. An example is the VRChat marketplace, where users can buy and sell custom avatar designs, props, and other virtual goods. These marketplaces not only facilitate commerce within the metaverse, but also offer users the opportunity to earn income in the real world from their digital activities.
As the metaverse evolves, these virtual marketplaces are likely to become more widespread and complex, incorporate more advanced financial instruments and services, and offer a wide range of opportunities for commerce and entrepreneurship. As more work is also done remotely and a community of “metaverse digital nomads” is likely to develop over the next decade, virtual labor marketplaces are a new market that will open up.
Interoperability standards vs “Winner takes all”
If there is no “winner” in the metaverse platforms then also different interoperability standards need to be in place and developed. Therefore, the development of interoperability standards and protocols is critical for a seamless user experience across multiple metaverse platforms and for the overall ecoystem a must-have.
Interoperability standards would ensure that a user’s digital identity, assets, and experience can be transferred between different parts of the metaverse. For example, an avatar created on one platform should be able to move freely on another without losing its appearance, skills, or digital assets.
However, the challenge of interoperability can contribute to the “winner takes all” problem. Large technology companies with popular platforms may resist interoperability in order to keep users in their ecosystem – as we see with Apple currently protecting their own ecosystem. If the few dominant platforms refuse to interoperate with others, they could monopolize user experiences and limit the diversity of the metaverse, which could lead to a network-effect run duell of platforms which usually results in 1 dominant platform taking the userbase like we have seen for Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, TikTok etc. – so we can’t expect that the metaverse platforms will be have different and that 2 major platforms emerge at the same time for the same type of interaction.
Regulatory frameworks, rules, accountability, and laws.
As the metaverse evolves and expands, so does the need for comprehensive regulatory frameworks, rules, accountability, and laws. These factors play an important role in how individuals, businesses, and governments interact in this digital universe. Also, who “creates” this virtual universe and which companies are responsible for it will become critical.
The demands on regulators are still uncertain. For there will have to be some important decisions. From the power of the providers of a metaverse up to the regularien around fianzsysteme, to mental property, data security, Legislative and Judikative in the virtual area in addition, which rights have users of other states.
The rules and laws in the metaverse itself also need to be defined. Just like in the real world, there must be guidelines and norms for behavior in the metaverse. These can include everything from appropriate behavior between users to rules for buying, selling, and trading digital goods.
Accountability is another important aspect. This includes the accountability of the companies that operate the metaverse platforms, which must ensure the safety and fairness of their users. It also involves holding users accountable for their actions on the metaverse, especially when those actions have an impact on other users.
Various questions arise in these contexts:
- Does a Chinese citizen have the same rights in a U.S. company-based metaverse?
- How is a dispute between users on the metaverse resolved and who is responsible?
- Who is responsible for fake content or misinformation?
- Who owns an avatar and its data and who as access?
- How much tracking of people is allowed and who is allowed to use these profiles?
- Which government is paying for legal prosecution?
- Where are taxes paid and how is a virtual economy controlled?
- Which labor laws apply?
- Who owns the copyright of virtual goods and AI created content?
All of these problems and questions are challenging and require careful thought and planning. However, they are essential to ensure that the metaverse is a safe, fair, and enjoyable place for all users, which is where many platforms currently fail.
Conclusion – The metaverse, challenges and possibilities
The journey into the metaverse is a venture into uncharted territory with great potential and significant challenges. The technologies we have explored here are far from complete. Each component, from the Internet of Things to quantum computing, neural interfaces, and interoperability standards, represents a complex ecosystem of hundreds, if not thousands, of technologies, protocols, and concepts. Some of these technologies have yet to be invented or brought to market, while others have yet to make significant progress to realize their full potential.
We are on the cusp of this expansive digital realm, and the road ahead is long and complex. The development of the metaverse is not an event, but a process that will continue to evolve over the coming years and probably decades. We can expect rapid progress, but also times of slower progress as researchers, developers, and innovators grapple with the many challenges of this new field.
But the technological landscape is only one facet of the evolution of the metaverse. The growth of this new world will have profound implications for how we live, work, and interact. It will require the development of robust regulatory frameworks to manage this digital realm, which will exist in parallel with our physical world.
Non-governmental institutions can be expected to wield much power in this realm, potentially establishing virtual governments, jurisdictions, and economies. The metaverse could become a world in its own right, where people earn, spend, and invest virtual currencies, engage in digital commerce, build virtual careers, and live digital lives.
The implications are far-reaching, touching on personal, economic, legal, and ethical dimensions. How will virtual income be taxed? How will digital ecosystems and financial systems work? How will our current worldviews adapt to this new reality? Will there be 2 economies? These are just a few of the many questions we must consider as we cross this digital frontier.
The road to the metaverse may be long and full of challenges, but it also holds a one of the biggest potential in human history, a world with unlimited possibilites, experiences and a world that can exist without physical limitations. It promises a new era of human interaction, creativity and experience enabled by a variety of technologies. As we move into the Metaverse, we have the opportunity to shape this new world and create an environment that is as diverse, equitable, and inclusive as the technology that enables it.
The journey may be complex, but the possibilities are limitless – even beyond of what we can imagine.
The full List
- Virtual Reality (VR)
- Augmented Reality (AR)
- Spatial Computing
- 3D Rendering
- Artificial Intelligence (AI)
- Machine Learning (ML)
- 5G, 6G and Advanced Networking Technologies
- Cloud Computing
- Edge Computing
- Cybersecurity Technologies
- Privacy Technologies
- Haptic Feedback
- Sensory Technologies
- Internet of Things (IoT)
- Quantum Computing
- Neural Interfaces (Brain-Computer Interfaces)
- Interoperability Standards
- Central Processing Units (CPUs)
- Graphics Processing Units (GPUs)
- 3D Engines (e.g., Unity, Unreal Engine)
- Programming Languages
- Digital Asset Creation Software
- Identity and Avatar Management
- Digital Financial Systems & Services
- Virtual Marketplaces
- Regulatory Frameworks
- Data-sharing Agreements
- Open-source Protocols
- Industry-wide Standards
- Virtual Governments and Jurisdictions
- Digital Ecosystems and Economies
- Platform Economy and Digital Business Models
- Blockchain (optional)
- Decentralized Systems (optional)