What Does Neal Stephenson Say About The Future Of The Metaverse?

23 Dec 2022

30 years ago, in 1992, the idea of the metaverse was first proposed by author Neal Stephenson in his novel Snow Crash. Now, fast-forwarding to 2022, most of the metaverse concept is happening as numerous tech companies are building their own version of the metaverse.

In a recent podcast of a16z, the famous author Neal Stephenson shared some insight about his new venture Lamina1- a creator-blockchain-based open metaverse. This platform aims to fuse Web3 smart contracts into creator tools so that content creators can be rewarded for producing experiences that people will pay for. The author has also shared that recent metaverse platforms aim to provide a diverse range of experiences that actually different from his early imagination. 

He also discussed the unique opportunities, the intersection of metaverse & gaming, the involvement of AR & VR, the role of IP, how artificial intelligence fits in, intellectual property, the value chain, good and bad tech, fighting the free model, building Lamina1, Snow Crash, carbon removal, and what the future may hold for the metaverse.

At the start of the podcast, the author talked about tech’s highest impact on the job position. He mentioned that the science fiction Nobel has a huge impact & it can serve as a template or roadmap rather than a corporate strategy to organize a tech company & group. Also, Tremendous to keep various departments up to speed. A big amount of energy gets burned & it is possible to replace meaningless PowerPoint & meetings if everyone reads the book on which the project is based.

While talking about the metaverse, he notes, “In general, when people talk about the metaverse, they talk about the next thing. If it exists today, it is largely a pre-metaverse.” But certain kind of games like Roblox is an exception. He also adds, “If I see someone talking about our metaverse, I don’t think they get it. But if they talk about building something in the metaverse, it gives me more of a warm feeling about what they are doing. Because, to me, there is just one metaverse. That does not mean the same thing everywhere. It is an incredibly diverse range of experiences, but you can always get from one to another by moving around within a single unitary space.” According to Neal, people should distinguish between singular and plural metaverse. In Neal’s Snow Crash book, there is only one metaverse.

For the metaverse, another important factor is the interoperability of the platform. It is vital as different virtual worlds and games have different rules, assets, 3D avatars, and currencies. Interoperability allows users to move between different metaverse worlds seamlessly, like in the real world, without any issues. Companies like Meta,  Microsoft & Epic Games are now actively focusing on interoperability. While the podcast host asked Neal about the perspective on metaverse interoperability, he said it is not just on the top-down entity that controls other metaverse companies. He also mentioned that in games like Fortnite, Roblox, and Minecraft- people experience the same space simultaneously. So, Neal suspects that companies can now discuss how they can create bridges to allow users to move easily from one game to another. 

Following the interoperability topic, incentive alignments are also important for portability. So, game developers may not want to interoperate incentives to keep their users in a particular game. Neal added that sometimes it is kind of an insult for the game developers when people suggest extraneous features. He also added that it ruins the game's aesthetic as each has its own art direction, sound design, gameplay, back story, programming & engineering. All mixed up & tuned to give a particular experience.  

When it comes to experiencing the metaverse with VR headgear, Neal is not a fan. He added, “ We absolutely do not need AR and VR to build the metaverse. 30 years ago, when I wrote the book, I had a different view of it.” He assumed that the metaverse would be “all about goggles.” He says, “I like to have an intense experience for half an hour, like a TV show, and then you stop.” He doesn’t like being socially isolated or unaware of the physical world around him. 

While talking about VR engineering challenges, he added that 5-10% of users would experience motion sickness when using VR technology. According to Neal, a completely immersive experience should not last longer than 45 minutes.

As the host asked about some specific constraints about the metaverse, like the real world, he replied that there should be some understanding of the size of metaverse avatars. It doesn’t make any sense if the avatars are thousands of times bigger than others & also, you will see rapid fall if the metaverse doesn’t reach the massive audience. He also mentioned Tim O’Reilly’s quotation that a possible way to think metaverse is as a communication medium.

While discussing AI & gaming, he mentions, “You are building an experience in a game engine, and for it to work, the environment has to be populated by imaginary entities and things that are in the user’s environment that are identified by machine vision and recreated in the virtual world.” He also talked about generative AI text-to-image tools like DALL-E. 

After talking about IP, the impact of smart contracts, and refusal rights for the creators, Neal has discussed his own enterprise, Lamina1. He states, “Lamina1 is a proposal to hook Web3 smart contracts into creator tools so that content creators are rewarded for producing experiences that people will pay for.” Lamina1 is a new attempt at the base layer for the open metaverse. It gives an advantage to the creators, technical & artists. He adds, “We think there’s an opportunity to make a new blockchain that works for content creators that integrate with their toolsets, so they don’t have to become crypto experts in order to do their jobs.” Lamina1 will be carbon neutral by using a proof of stake system. Neal admits that, on some levels, people are still responsible for putting carbon into the atmosphere. So they will design the whole system with carbon credit offsetting.

When Neal was asked where he got the inspiration for his book Snow Crash, he added that he got some contact with the actual technology that he wrote in his book. Looking forward to 2022, Neal adds, “I think the two most important things are carbon and the polarization of society.” Also, the polarization we observe in society is being weaponized by bad actors who benefit from it.

Regarding the carbon removal topic, Neal says, “There are multiple rating agencies for carbon credit schemes. We’re also pursuing more far-out ideas related to carbon sequestration — but these are in the gonzo, probably won’t work phase.” He also added that some new technologies are enabling carbon to be removed from the atmosphere and converting it into synthetic fuels. He also believes that energy consumption can only be bad if the energy is produced from burning fossil fuels. According to him, the energy produced by renewable sources, like photovoltaics, won’t be hurting anyone.


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