Digital spaces can be an extension of reality, not just a lower resolution “digital version.” This article is part of “Metaverse Week.”
The metaverse isn’t just about making realistic virtual experiences, but in enabling hyperreal ones. This is the process of creating personalized content based on data, or the things people do and say and what that reveals about them.
In some sense, the hyperreal isn’t just a goal but potentially a necessary end state of the metaverse. Scaling immersive digital experiences to billions of people will only be possible when content creation is automated with artificial intelligence (AI). Hyperreality happens when we interact with photo-realistic digital content that looks exactly like real life – it is so immersive that the distinction between “real” and “digital” is less important than the experience itself. In this way, hyperreality is an extension of reality not just a lower resolution “digital version.”
The ways AI can use biometric face and voice data – and our revealed preferences in that data – won’t just recreate our favorite physical environments online but transform them. In this scenario, it’s essentially that we build tools that help regain control of our digital lives and experiences.
The metaverse promises that everything from work meetings to parent teacher interviews will take place in photo-realistic virtual worlds that look exactly like our homes, schools and offices. We’ll interact with each other as embodied photo-realistic avatars. There will also be game worlds and fictional universes – we can be whoever or whatever we want.
As this hyperreal metaverse emerges and as our avatars blend seamlessly with who we are in real life, it is necessary we maintain control. We need to safeguard our identities and own the deeply personal biometric data used by AI models to build and animate our life-like avatars.
Indeed, Web 3 adds a user-centric ownership layer onto the existing “read/write” internet. Non-fungible tokens (NFT) will play a critical role in enabling more realistic forms of participation in content and lead to the creation of new digital economies. Ultimately, the Web 3 internet will become “read/write/own.” NFTs and blockchain technologies are essential elements of the tech stack that will empower regular people to create and own their own hyperreal synthetic avatars in the metaverse.
In the future, every person will have an NFT in their wallet that links to their sensitive biometric data that is stored offline. These NFTs will provide the basis for our persistent virtual identities. We’ll log in to experiences like “3D Immersive Zoom” and “Hyperreal FIFA 2025” using our wallets, just like how we use “Sign in with Google” today.
However, this is a radical departure from the relationship people have with their data in Web 2 paradigms. Blockchain will enable users to verify their real world identity, control access to their biometric data and consent to how they are rendered in hyperreal content.
This also allows us to directly participate in a new wave of virtual economies. For example, we will be able to track our participation in virtual events and be compensated for both the data we create online and for a portion of any ad revenue or brand activations that we make possible by participating in a metaverse experience.
We will also be able to contribute our personal datasets to build more representative and true-to-life virtual worlds. When we become part of a content experience, it is reasonable that we share in its financial upside. This is the power of Web 3.
The new data ownership
Since the birth of the internet, we’ve lost control of our data in two ways: gradually, then suddenly. For a long time, the only people raising concerns about data ownership were activists who watched in horror as companies built toll booths on the information superhighway and began extracting value from individual’s personal data.
With the rise of social media and Web 2, it has been impossible to ignore how big tech has amassed unimaginable troves of personal information often without our knowledge or truly informed consent. Who really reads the terms and conditions?
For many people, relinquishing control of their data is an easy choice. The internet services and products we use every day are infinitely convenient and our personal data is the price of admission. Web 3 offers a game-changing window of opportunity where we can claim our hyperreal virtual identities without having to cede our personal data to centralized third-party platforms.
There are many questions that still need to be answered about data security in Web 3 – like the ability to restore our identities if we lose our keys. Likewise, it is essential that the high-resolution biometric data that personal avatars are based on does not find its way into the hands of every company or developer that builds virtual experiences in the metaverse.
The concept of extending our individual sovereignty into virtual space without being beholden to corporations is a powerful idea.
If the metaverse is going to become a seamless extension of physical reality and then some, we’ll need to enable persistent, portable versions of our virtual selves. We don’t have to change our identities when we go to the store, the office or a friend’s party in the real world and it should be the same in the metaverse.
While we may have multiple versions of our hyperreal avatar that allow us to play with our identity, such as creating younger versions of ourselves, or rendering ourselves as a different gender, these hyperreal creative permutations are all ultimately based on our real world data, personalities and desires.
When we securely store our personal data in NFTs, we are able to transport this information across virtual spaces in the metaverse. At the same time, NFTs give the user complete control over when and how this personal information is used by third parties. We can prove we are who we say we are in any context without requiring that we first reveal sensitive personal information.
Hyperreal NFTs like these can become a decentralized and user-controlled identity verification platform built into the fabric of the metaverse.
This transition to hyperreality is already well underway. Those working to secure personal data with NFTs are plotting the course toward a metaverse where our virtual selves have all the characteristics that we value in our flesh-and-blood identities. Indeed, our physical selves are non-fungible and, in ideal conditions, we are in control of our bodies and actions. Now we finally have the technology to allow regular people to protect and control who they are and what they do in the metaverse.
But the more realistic the metaverse becomes through technological advancement, the more we need to consider who we “become” in an internet that looks and feels like reality. The hyperreal metaverse might be more Web 3.1 than Web 3.0 – explained as the emergence of a “read/write/own/be” internet.
If the digital worlds we occupy look exactly like they were shot with a camera on location and are populated with photo-realistic versions of ourselves and loved ones, is it still just the internet?
Or are we creating a seamless extension of reality that forces us to “be” ourselves beyond the confines of the physical world? Or are we creating something a bit more than ourselves?