Photo by Martin Adams on Unsplash
Humans have sought interconnectivity with each other since early days, and throughout history there have been specific technological developments that have each spurred human interaction significantly forward. As early as 3500BC, one of the earliest technological developments was written language. Allowing people to interact with one another more decisively regardless of physical distance, written language offered early humans an efficient and accurate system with which to facilitate trade, cultural expression and person communication. The desire to connect even inspired the development of written languages in separate parts of the world simultaneously. As technology advanced, faster and more cohesive ways of communicating were developed. Offering people the ability to speak in real time across virtually any distance, the telephone provided new levels of advanced communication and allowed global industrialization to leap forward with the rapid sharing of ideas. The telephone also paved the way for the medium we use most today — the Internet. From its humble beginnings as a US military project, the Internet now connects numerous aspects of everyday human life, and its capabilities encompass the sharing of voice, text, images and video. It facilitates virtually instant interactions in the social sphere, business, entertainment and commerce. It is also, like its predecessors, setting the stage for the next great technological development in human interconnectivity — the virtual world.
What is a virtual world, and how are they changing?
Virtual worlds, by definition, are environments that first and foremost are computer-generated. A virtual world, secondly, must have a quality called persistence — meaning that unlike a game booted up from a disk, they exist regardless of whether or not a user is interacting with them. The multiplayer game “Maze Wars” was one of the very first virtual worlds built on the US military’s ARPANET. Evolving over time from environments as simple as chat rooms to interactive simulations like the Sims and Second Life, the virtual worlds of today’s massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) such as Eve Online and World of Warcraft are played by over fifteen million people.
The tech that powers these virtual worlds is becoming increasingly advanced. Likewise, the interactive capabilities of today’s virtual worlds are becoming more and more sophisticated. Old technologies such as 2D and even 3D imaging are giving way to 3D virtual reality. Powerful graphics cards are rendering detailed images with minimal lag time. Combinations of wearable hardware and advanced software are making for immersive, realistic simulations that are increasingly indistinguishable from natural life — allowing for intuitive physical interactions rather than using clunky controllers and offering optical views that mirror real fields of vision.
Meanwhile, tech companies are working rapidly to expand the capabilities of virtual reality technology further. Something called the “six degrees of freedom” — basically describing every direction in which a human can naturally move — is being increasingly integrated and refined through both hardware and software. All-direction treadmills, tactile tech like gloves and wireless hardware without the hindrance of clumsy cables are offering more freedom of movement. Software that can track eye movements, offer 360-degree views with peripheral vision and map increasingly large physical spaces is advancing. As the tech continues into the future, the augmentation of virtual reality with artificial intelligence may offer even more possibilities. AI, because of its vast computing capability, could cater to multiple users simultaneously. Through its ability to learn, it could develop highly realistic in-world elements, such as virtual characters based on human design. In the same way, AI could adjust a virtual environment automatically based on a user’s interactions or past preferences, providing the virtual world with truly dynamic and interactive spaces that respond organically, in real time, rather than a static predetermined design. Consider how different the world looks today from how it did twenty years ago. While these technologies are still developing, they are well on their way in creating the next iterations of the virtual world. Yet, while the virtual worlds of the past have existed for decades, virtual worlds of the present are wildly popular and those of the future infinitely exciting, all iterations of virtual worlds have failed to integrate real world value — until now.
Crypto: The Missing Link
As popular as they have been, the reality is that no one can prolongedly interact with the virtual world when they have to go to work. Money makes the world go ‘round — and until the advent of crypto, virtual assets did not hold real world value and real world value didn’t exist in digital form. The integration of cryptography and digital assets means that for the first time digital assets are immutable. Ownership rights are indisputable and no asset can be counterfeited. It’s this same immutability that allows digital assets to hold real world value, allowing them to be exchanged for real world items without question.
This is the missing link between the virtual and physical worlds. The introduction of cryptoassets allows the integration of the two. The virtual worlds that many people have enjoyed for so long are no longer limited to pastimes or hobbies. Instead, the virtual world is as financially viable a place to work, trade, buy and sell as any other. Apple, for example, has a store in the virtual world Second Life.
Customers can check out the newest iPhone, but not buy it. With the integration of crypto, they can. Every shopper has dealt with the online versus in-person conundrum: it’s easier to buy online, but more informative to buy in-store. The virtual shopping experience offers both. Offering expanded capabilities to many industries, virtual commerce is just one area that could be revolutionized by the integration of crypto. The products and services available for sale and purchase would only be limited by imagination, and businesses could reach millions more customers more efficiently.
Likewise, jobs worked in the virtual world would earn real world money and assets acquired in the virtual world could be sold for real world cash or redeemed for real world products. While every previous iteration of the virtual world was missing this essential element, crypto provides for the monetization of the virtual world.
What might the virtual world look like?
The more time people spend in the virtual world, the more businesses will invest in reaching customers there. Ecommerce will become virtual commerce, advertisers will shift their efforts to the virtual world, and everything from socializing to gaming, entertainment and even work will move online. While many previous virtual worlds were limited in scope, such as gaming, the virtual worlds of today are increasingly integrating with other aspects. Decentraland, for example, is one instance of a virtual world in production today that currently encompasses over 35 different districts. Each with their own focus, some of the largest are geared towards entertainment, gaming and shopping, while others include areas for education, socializing, business and art, with a single entrance point called Genesis City. Esports is a growing arena that is already integrated with virtual reality, meanwhile companies are beginning to offer virtual experiences in travel and sell tickets to semi-virtual spectator sports. The ability to virtually combine two parties in different physical locations offers myriads of new possibilities in socializing, work, education and more. Additionally, the ability to create new experiences in a virtual world has applications not only in entertainment but in practical fields such as training. Emergency respondents and doctors are just a couple examples of professions that could greatly benefit from the ability to practice handling extreme situations without taking real world risk. Just as ecommerce has revolutionized shopping, esports have changed gaming and avatars are becoming the new face of social interaction, the physical world will very likely also be altered by the integration of the virtual one.
The virtual world has a lot of appeal for a lot of reasons. Not only increasing efficiency and expanding opportunities, the virtual world is desirable for another reason that stems from a very basic human desire. Through its advanced capabilities, it allows people to more vividly experience their imagination. Since the Oculus Rift’s first debut in 2016, virtual reality users today total over 170 million worldwide, and virtual reality is estimated to be close to a fifty billion dollar industry by 2025. As the physical limitations of the natural world are reduced, people can change their appearance, simulate abilities such as flight or magic and build their homes and environments according to their preferences. They can connect with one another in person from across the globe and share with each other essentially without limitation. While humans have been inching closer for thousands of years, the virtual world promises to bring them closer than ever before. From the first written records shared in 3500BC, the virtual world is simply the next step forward in a long line that is the evolution of human interconnectivity.