In the last few months, there has been a huge hype for the Metaverse, the 3D virtual space in which the users, through their avatars, can interact with other people and software applications. The rapid progress of multimedia technologies like Virtual and Augmented Reality has certainly has speeded up the development of the Metaverse. At the same time, this virtual world will for sure benefit from the technical advances of blockchain, which will allow building a fair, free and sustainable virtual society.
In this paper, the researchers of the Chinese University of Hong Kong propose a blockchain-based three-layer architecture for the Metaverse, analyzing and discussing several open challenges that we will have to consider in order to enhance the virtual world in which many people will spend several hours of their life. The researchers also implemented a metaverse prototype of their campus, in which they are conducting different studies for further research. In the figure below, you can see a screenshot taken from such a prototype.
Currently, we are at the early stages of Metaverse development, so a consistent architecture definition does not yet exist. For this reason, the researchers propose the three-layer architecture shown in the next figure to connect our physical world with the virtual one of the Metaverse.
The Infrastructure layer contains the infrastructures of the physical world that we need to support the operations of the virtual world, like computation, communication, blockchain, and storage.
Computation and Communication: Since it is a large-scale multimedia system, the Metaverse requires huge computational costs. So we need to enhance the user experience considering how to support this consumption while coordinating different computational resources like cloud computing and mobile devices. At the same time, the Metaverse should be accessible from everywhere and at any time, hence we also need to design methods that are capable of transmitting large-scale virtual data in real-time.
Blockchain and Storage: With the Metaverse, an enormous amount of data will be generated by many people around the world. Hence, another essential infrastructure will be mass storage. At the same time, blockchain should be included in the virtual world in order to guarantee decentralization and fairness.
Immersive User Experience: To guarantee an immersive user experience, the Metaverse will allow the users to control their avatars thanks to technologies like Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR), and haptic devices. A challenge will be, for example, how to understand the emotions of the users during their interactions to enhance their experience in the virtual world.
Digital Twins: Digital Twins are virtual copies of objects that exist in our physical world. There will be consistency between the states of these physical objects with their corresponding virtual copies. IoT technologies should be exploited to collect data related to physical objects in order to update their digital twins. At the same time, operations applied to the digital twins in the virtual world will be transmitted to the physical devices to change the real world states of the objects.
Content Creation Interface: To accurately reconstruct existing physical buildings in the virtual world, users could use 3D modeling software applications like Maya or Blender. However, such applications require professional knowledge and experience. Hence, a crucial challenge that we are going to face while developing the Metaverse is the following: how to ease the users’ content creation process with the existing or novel interaction modalities?
User-generated Content: In the Metaverse, the purpose of many users will be to freely explore the virtual world and to create their own content. This means that the virtual world requires ownership. That’s why you can see huge expectations around Blockchain-based Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs). Indeed, they can be used to certify that a digital asset is unique and not interchangeable. In this way, users can store their creations as NFTs on the blockchain and also trade them to earn money.
Economics: The main problem of the implementation of decentralized finance based on smart contracts and NFTs is that we are going to deal with potential external attacks. So, cybersecurity will be another important building block of the virtual world’s applications.
Artificial Intelligence: Artificial Intelligence (AI) already covers an important role to analyze and understand the streams of Big Data that are generated around the world. Considering the Metaverse, the AI will be for sure used to create Non-Player Characters (NPCs), that is characters controlled by the computer that act, for example, as enemies or partners. The NPCs are able to provide challenges and help to the users as well as to support any storyline. We need to exploit AI technologies such as Deep Learning and Reinforcement Learning with their unbelievable progress in Computer Vision and Natural Language Process (NLP) to enhance the user experience and improve the comprehension and communication capabilities of NPCs.