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Blockchain: Fortifying Identity, Finance, and Privacy

The Power of Blockchain Technology

Blockchain technology has emerged as a game-changer in the digital landscape, transforming the way we manage identity, finance, and privacy. At its core, blockchain is a decentralized, immutable, and transparent ledger that enables secure and instant transactions without the need for intermediaries or centralized authorities. This revolutionary technology has the potential to disrupt traditional industries, boost innovation, and empower individuals and communities.

In this article, we will explore how blockchain is fortifying identity, finance, and privacy, and its real-world applications, challenges, and future prospects. We will also discuss the legal, cybersecurity, and social impact implications of blockchain, and how it can contribute to a more equitable and sustainable world.

Blockchain and Identity: A New Era of Digital Identity Management

Identity is a fundamental aspect of our lives, both online and offline. However, traditional identity management systems are often fragmented, insecure, and vulnerable to data breaches and identity theft. Blockchain offers a new paradigm for digital identity management, based on decentralized and self-sovereign identity (SSI) principles.

SSI allows individuals to own, control, and share their identity information securely and selectively, without relying on third-party intermediaries or central authorities. By using blockchain-based identity solutions, individuals can authenticate themselves seamlessly, access services and resources, and protect their privacy and security.

For instance, the Sovrin Network provides a decentralized identity infrastructure that enables trusted and verifiable digital identities, based on open standards and interoperability. Other blockchain-based identity platforms include uPort, Civic, and SelfKey, which offer similar features and benefits.

Blockchain and Finance: Towards a More Transparent and Secure Financial System

Finance is another area where blockchain is making significant strides, by enabling more transparent, efficient, and secure transactions. Blockchain-based finance, also known as decentralized finance (DeFi), is a rapidly growing ecosystem that offers a range of financial services, such as lending, borrowing, trading, and investing, without relying on traditional intermediaries or centralized authorities.

DeFi leverages blockchain’s features, such as smart contracts, tokenization, and interoperability, to provide more accessible and inclusive financial services, especially for underserved and unbanked populations. For example, stablecoins, which are blockchain-based digital currencies pegged to traditional assets, can provide a stable store of value and a more reliable means of exchange, especially in volatile markets.

Other DeFi applications include decentralized exchanges (DEXs), which allow peer-to-peer trading of digital assets without intermediaries, and yield farming, which enables users to earn interest on their crypto holdings by providing liquidity to DeFi protocols. However, DeFi is not without risks, such as smart contract vulnerabilities, liquidity issues, and regulatory challenges.

Blockchain and Privacy: Protecting Personal Data in a Decentralized World

Privacy is a critical aspect of digital life, as it enables individuals to control their personal information and prevent unauthorized access, misuse, or exploitation. However, traditional privacy solutions, such as centralized databases or encryption, have limitations and vulnerabilities that can be exploited by cybercriminals or surveillance agencies.

Blockchain offers a new approach to privacy, based on cryptographic techniques and distributed storage. By using blockchain-based privacy solutions, individuals can protect their data from unauthorized access, maintain anonymity, and ensure data integrity and immutability.

For example, zero-knowledge proofs (ZKPs) are cryptographic protocols that enable parties to prove the validity of a statement without revealing any additional information. ZKPs can be used to authenticate identities, verify transactions, and protect sensitive data without compromising privacy.

Other blockchain-based privacy solutions include homomorphic encryption, ring signatures, and multi-party computation, which offer different levels of privacy and security. However, privacy is not absolute, and there are trade-offs between privacy, usability, and scalability.

How Blockchain Works: The Fundamentals of Distributed Ledgers and Cryptography

To understand how blockchain works, we need to delve into its fundamental principles and components. At its core, blockchain is a distributed ledger that maintains a record of transactions, verified by a network of nodes, without the need for trust or intermediaries.

Each block in the blockchain contains a cryptographic hash of the previous block, creating an immutable and tamper-evident chain of blocks. Transactions are validated and added to the blockchain through consensus mechanisms, such as proof-of-work (PoW) or proof-of-stake (PoS), which incentivize nodes to contribute computing power and verify transactions.

Blockchain also relies on various cryptographic techniques, such as public-key cryptography, hash functions, and digital signatures, to ensure data confidentiality, integrity, and authenticity. These techniques enable secure and transparent transactions, without revealing sensitive information or compromising privacy.

Blockchain technology is not limited to cryptocurrency transactions, but can also be applied to various use cases, such as supply chain management, voting systems, and intellectual property management.

Blockchain Use Cases: Real-World Examples of Blockchain Applications

Blockchain has already demonstrated its potential to transform various industries and domains, from finance and identity to healthcare and energy. Some notable blockchain use cases include:

  • Supply chain management: Blockchain can provide end-to-end visibility and traceability of products, from raw materials to distribution, ensuring authenticity, quality, and compliance.
  • Healthcare: Blockchain can enable secure and interoperable sharing of patient data, as well as tracking of medical supplies and drugs, reducing errors, fraud, and inefficiencies.
  • Energy: Blockchain can facilitate peer-to-peer energy trading, renewable energy certificates, and carbon credits, enabling more sustainable and decentralized energy systems.
  • Gaming: Blockchain can enable secure and transparent ownership, transfer, and trading of in-game assets, as well as provably fair gaming outcomes, enhancing player experience and trust.

These are just a few examples of how blockchain is disrupting traditional industries and enabling new business models and opportunities.

Blockchain Challenges: Overcoming Scalability, Interoperability, and Adoption Hurdles

Despite its potential and benefits, blockchain also faces various challenges and limitations that hinder its widespread adoption and scalability. Some of these challenges include:

  • Scalability: Blockchain’s limited processing power and storage capacity can limit its throughput and transaction speed, especially for large-scale applications.
  • Interoperability: Blockchain’s fragmentation and lack of standardization can hinder its compatibility and integration with other systems and platforms, causing data silos and inefficiencies.
  • Adoption: Blockchain’s complexity and unfamiliarity can deter users and organizations from adopting it, especially in regulated industries or conservative environments.

To overcome these challenges, blockchain developers and researchers are exploring various solutions, such as sharding, sidechains, and interoperability protocols, as well as user-friendly interfaces and educational resources.

The Future of Blockchain: Beyond Cryptocurrencies and Initial Coin Offerings

Blockchain is still at an early stage of development, and its potential is far from fully realized. In the future, blockchain is likely to evolve and expand beyond its current applications and use cases, enabling new forms of value creation, governance, and social impact.

Some possible future developments of blockchain technology include:

  • Decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs): DAOs are organizations that operate on blockchain-based smart contracts and are governed by their members. DAOs can enable more transparent and democratic decision-making, as well as more efficient and resilient organizations.
  • Internet of Things (IoT): Blockchain can provide secure and decentralized communication and data sharing among IoT devices, enabling more efficient and trustworthy IoT applications, such as smart homes, cities, and factories.
  • Artificial intelligence (AI): Blockchain can enable more secure and transparent training, validation, and deployment of AI models, as well as more accountable and ethical AI systems.

These are just some of the potential future applications of blockchain technology, and the possibilities are limited only by our imagination and creativity.

Blockchain Regulation: Navigating the Legal Landscape of Digital Assets

Blockchain’s decentralized and borderless nature poses significant challenges for regulatory frameworks and compliance measures. However, blockchain also offers opportunities for more efficient and effective regulation, based on transparency, accountability, and innovation.

The regulation of blockchain and digital assets varies across countries and jurisdictions, reflecting different legal, cultural, and economic contexts. Some countries, such as Malta, Switzerland, and Singapore, have adopted blockchain-friendly regulatory frameworks and attracted blockchain startups and investments.

Other countries, such as China and India, have adopted more restrictive policies and regulations, limiting the growth of blockchain and digital assets. However, the global trend is towards more regulatory clarity and convergence, as blockchain becomes more mainstream and recognized as a legitimate technology and asset class.

Blockchain and Cybersecurity: Enhancing Data Protection and Threat Detection

Cybersecurity is a critical aspect of blockchain, as it enables secure and trustworthy transactions and protects users from various threats, such as hacking, phishing, and malware. However, blockchain itself is not immune to cybersecurity risks and vulnerabilities, such as 51% attacks, smart contract bugs, and social engineering.

To enhance blockchain cybersecurity, various measures and solutions are being developed and deployed, such as:

  • Multi-factor authentication: This requires multiple forms of authentication, such as passwords, biometrics, and tokens, to access blockchain accounts and wallets.
  • Cold storage: This refers to storing cryptocurrencies and assets offline, in physical devices or paper wallets, to reduce the risk of online attacks.
  • Anti-money laundering (AML) and know-your-customer (KYC) regulations: These require blockchain-based businesses and exchanges to verify the identity and source of funds of their users, to prevent money laundering and terrorism financing.
  • Cyber threat intelligence (CTI): This involves collecting and analyzing data on cyber threats and vulnerabilities, to proactively detect and prevent attacks on blockchain networks and applications.

Blockchain and Social Impact: Empowering Communities and Reducing Inequality

Blockchain has the potential to contribute to social impact and sustainability goals, by enabling more democratic, transparent, and inclusive systems and applications. Blockchain-based solutions can empower marginalized communities, reduce inequalities, and promote social innovation and entrepreneurship.

For example, blockchain can enable:

  • Financial inclusion: Blockchain-based financial services, such as microlending, can provide access to capital for underserved and unbanked populations, reducing poverty and inequality.
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Tokenizing Virtual Identity: Blockchain & AI’s Inevitable Impact

Tokenizing Virtual Identity

Tokenizing virtual identity is the latest buzzword in the world of technology. With the rise of blockchain and AI, the process of tokenizing virtual identity has become more feasible and efficient. In a world that is increasingly dependent on digital communication and transactions, virtual identity has become an essential aspect of our lives. From social media to online banking, virtual identity is crucial for individuals and organizations alike. This article explores the inevitable impact of blockchain and AI on tokenizing virtual identity.

What is Blockchain and AI?

To understand the role of blockchain and AI in tokenizing virtual identity, we need to first understand what these technologies are. Blockchain is a decentralized and distributed digital ledger that records transactions across multiple computers, allowing secure and transparent storage of data. AI, on the other hand, refers to the simulation of human intelligence in machines that can perform tasks that typically require human cognition, such as learning, reasoning, and problem-solving.

The Benefits of Tokenizing Virtual Identity

Tokenizing virtual identity offers several benefits. Firstly, it provides a higher degree of security than traditional identity management systems, as it is based on cryptography and decentralized storage. Secondly, it offers greater control and ownership of personal data, allowing individuals to manage and monetize their identity. Thirdly, it offers greater efficiency by reducing the need for intermediaries and streamlining identity verification processes.

The Role of Blockchain in Tokenizing Identity

Blockchain plays a crucial role in tokenizing virtual identity. By providing a decentralized and secure platform for storing and managing identity data, blockchain ensures that personal data is owned and controlled by individuals, rather than centralized institutions. Blockchain also enables the creation of self-sovereign identities, where individuals have complete control over their identity data and can share it securely with trusted parties.

The Role of AI in Tokenizing Identity

AI plays a crucial role in tokenizing virtual identity by automating identity verification processes. By leveraging machine learning algorithms, AI can analyze large volumes of data and make intelligent decisions about identity verification. This can help reduce the risk of fraud and improve the efficiency of identity verification processes.

Tokenizing Virtual Identity: Use Cases

Tokenizing virtual identity has several use cases. For example, it can be used for secure and decentralized voting systems, where individuals can verify their identity and cast their vote securely and anonymously. It can also be used for secure and decentralized identity verification for financial and healthcare services, reducing the risk of identity theft and fraud.

Tokenizing Virtual Identity: Challenges

Tokenizing virtual identity also presents several challenges. One of the main challenges is interoperability, as different blockchain networks and AI systems may not be compatible with each other. Another challenge is scalability, as blockchain and AI systems may not be able to handle the volume of data required for identity verification on a large scale.

Security Concerns in Tokenizing Identity

Security is a key concern in tokenizing virtual identity. While blockchain and AI offer greater security than traditional identity management systems, they are not immune to attacks. Hackers could potentially exploit vulnerabilities in blockchain and AI systems to gain access to personal data. It is therefore crucial to implement robust security measures to protect personal data.

Privacy Issues in Tokenizing Identity

Privacy is another key concern in tokenizing virtual identity. While tokenizing virtual identity offers greater control and ownership of personal data, it also raises concerns about data privacy. It is essential to ensure that personal data is not shared without consent and that individuals have the right to access, modify, and delete their data.

Legal Implications of Tokenizing Identity

Tokenizing virtual identity also has legal implications. As personal data becomes more valuable, it is crucial to ensure that there are adequate laws and regulations in place to protect personal data. It is also essential to ensure that individuals have the right to access and control their data, and that they are not discriminated against based on their identity.

The Future of Tokenizing Virtual Identity

The future of tokenizing virtual identity looks bright. As blockchain and AI continue to evolve, we can expect to see more secure, efficient, and decentralized identity management systems. We can also expect to see more use cases for tokenizing virtual identity, from secure and anonymous voting systems to decentralized identity verification for financial and healthcare services.

Embracing Blockchain & AI for Identity Management

In conclusion, tokenizing virtual identity is an inevitable trend that will revolutionize the way we manage identity. By leveraging blockchain and AI, we can create more secure, efficient, and decentralized identity management systems that give individuals greater control and ownership of their personal data. While there are challenges and concerns associated with tokenizing virtual identity, these can be addressed through robust security measures, privacy protections, and adequate laws and regulations. As we continue to embrace blockchain and AI for identity management, we can look forward to a more secure, efficient, and decentralized future.

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What is Hybrid AI?


Researchers are working to combine the strengths of symbolic AI and neural networks to develop Hybrid AI.

As the research community makes progress in artificial intelligence and deep learning, scientists are increasingly feeling the need to move towards hybrid artificial intelligence. Hybrid AI is touted to solve fundamental problems that deep learning faces today. 

Hybrid AI brings together the best aspects of neural networks and symbolic AI. Combining huge data sets (visual and audio, textual, emails, chat logs, etc.) allows neural networks to extract patterns. Then, rule-based AI systems can manipulate the retrieved information by using algorithms to manipulate symbols.

Researchers are working to develop hybrid AI systems that can figure out simple abstract relations between objects and the reason behind them as effortlessly as a human brain. 

What is symbolic AI?

During the 1960s and 1970s, new technological advances were met with researchers’ increasing desire to understand how machines and nature interact. Researchers believed that using symbolic approaches would inevitably produce an artificially intelligent machine, which was seen as their discipline’s long-term goal.

The “good old-fashioned artificial intelligence” or “GOFAI” was coined by John Haugeland in his 1985 book ‘Artificial Intelligence: The Very Idea‘ that explored artificial intelligence’s ethical and philosophical implications. Since the initial efforts to build thinking computers in the 1950s, research and development in the AI field have followed two parallel approaches: symbolic AI and connectionist AI. 

Symbolic AI (also known as Classical AI) is an area of artificial intelligence research that focuses on attempting to express human knowledge clearly in a declarative form, that is, facts and rules. From the mid-1950s until the late 1980s, there was significant use of symbolic artificial intelligence. On the other hand, in recent years, a connectionist approach such as machine learning with deep neural networks has come to the forefront.

Combining symbolic AI and neural networks 


There has been a shift from the symbolic approach in the past few years due to its technical limits. 

According to David Cox, IBM Director at MIT-IBM Watson AI Lab, deep learning and neural networks excel at the “messiness of the world,” but symbolic AI does not. Neural networks meticulously study and compare a large number of annotated instances to discover significant relationships and create corresponding mathematical models. 

Several prominent IT businesses and academic labs have put significant effort into the use of deep learning. Neural networks and deep learning excel at tasks where symbolic AI fails. As a result, it’s being used to tackle complex challenges today. For example, deep learning has made significant contributions to the computer vision revolution with use cases in facial recognition and tuberculosis detection. Language-related activities have also benefited from deep learning breakthroughs.

There are, however, certain limits to deep learning and neural networks. One argument is that the availability of large volumes of data depends on it. In addition, neural networks are also vulnerable to hostile instances, often known as adversarial data, which can manipulate an AI model’s behaviour in unpredictable and harmful ways.

However, when combined with each other, symbolic AI and neural networks can form a good base for developing hybrid AI systems.

Future of hybrid AI 

The hybrid AI model utilises the neural network’s ability to process and evaluate unstructured data while also using symbolic AI techniques. Connectivist viewpoints argue that techniques based on neural networks will eventually provide sophisticated and broadly applicable AI. In 2019, International Conference on Learning Representations (ICLR) featured a paper in which the researchers combined neural networks with rule-based artificial intelligence to create an AI model. This approach has been called the “Neuro-Symbolic Concept Learner” (NCSL); it claims to overcome the difficulties AI faces and to be superior to the sum of its parts. NCSL, a hybrid system of AI developed by researchers at MIT and IBM tackles visual question answering (VQA) problems; the NSCL uses neural networks in conjunction with neural networks with remarkable accuracy. The researchers demonstrated that NCSL was able to handle the VQA dataset CLEVR. Even more important, the hybrid AI model could make outstanding achievements with less training data and overcome two long-standing deep learning challenges.

Even Google search engine is a complex, all-in-one AI system made up of cutting-edge deep learning tools such as Transformers and advanced symbol manipulation tools like the knowledge graph.


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The Identity Paradigm

Tony Gregory intercultual psychologist

In 1962, Thomas Kuhn published the most important intellectual work of the 20th century, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. In it he argued against the long-held belief that evolution was an uninterrupted and steady continuum. He posited instead that progress came in jerks and starts – long periods of calm that were managed according to widely accepted beliefs and customs interspersed with brief violent periods of enormous change, like the renaissance, when all that had been accepted before was challenged and frequently overthrown. He called these violent brief periods 'paradigm shifts,' and since that time it has become an accepted part of how we see our world.

It was not long after that that Alvin Toffler wrote Future Shock, in which he argued that not only was Kuhn correct, but that the periods of relative stability between the brief and violent episodes of change were becoming shorter, so short in fact that it challenged out ability as humans to adjust to one set of revolutionary changes before another set was already upon us.

He gave as an example the impact of railroads on history. When Julius Caesar marched his legions south from France to Italy to conquer Rome in the first century AD it took more or less the same time as it took Napoleon to cover the same distance seventeen hundred years later. But it was only forty years after that when the railroad linking France and Italy was completed, cutting the journey from two months to three days. When Lincoln was assassinated in 865, it was only noon the next day that they heard about it in San Francisco. I saw the assassination of Robert Kennedy live – at the same time it happened – a century later. There are many examples you can give, but the impact is similar – changes coming at such a fast pace produce stress, and stress is the handmaiden of paradigm change.

One of the most important insights about paradigm shifts is that the animals that did well following the rules of the previous paradigm did not do well in the new one if they continued to follow those same rules because all the rules had changed (just ask the dinosaurs). People that owned stables during the age of agriculture were no longer at the center of things when the automobile replaced the horse as the accepted means of transportation. Quite clearly, there is a clear message here – if the paradigm changes and you don't, your future looks bleak.

But it is important to point out that not all paradigm changes are the same. The industrial revolution was a definite change in paradigms, and economic power in the world shifted dramatically from an emphasis on ownership of land to an emphasis on access to raw materials and the means of production. Yet the family structure survived the change, as did religion and nationalism.

The change from the ice age to the Holocene period which we presently inhabit was also a paradigm shift, but one far more powerful than the movement from agriculture to industry. When the glaciers finally retreated and the planet warmed, our species (Homo sapiens in case you forgot) spread around the globe and our numbers exploded because it became possible for us to sustain ourselves in far larger groups, which in turn allowed us to do things we had never done before, like build permanent dwellings and use the land to provide us with food on a continual basis, which we called agriculture.

We actually started recording events then, some ten thousand years ago – we call it history. The concentration of our species in such large numbers created a need to order things, to solve disputes and regulate affairs, and that led to the birth of customs, religion and culture and the domestication of animals. I could go on but I think you get the point – the change was so dramatic that nothing that had been true before remained. It was a transformation.

The other thing to point out is that all of this happened slowly, over the period of more than one lifetime. The people that came south after the glaciers retreated were long gone before the first cities were built and the first empires were formed. Akkadia was the first human empire, formed in Mesopotamia 4300 years ago, and that’s a full five thousand years after the glaciers began to retreat. We had time to adjust, time to consider how to respond to our new reality, time to try different ways of approaching things, and time to fail and try something else and still survive (unlike the Neanderthals).

Now, at the beginning of what we call our twenty-first century since we started writing stuff down, it appears that we are on the verge of a new paradigm shift, and possibly one as dramatic as that last big one when the ice retreated. If that is true, then we should remember that insight from so long ago – nothing that went before remained. That is the mark of a complete transformation.

It's tough for us to think about that because whether we like it or not we are children of our current paradigm, formed by its assumptions, educated in its customs and brainwashed accordingly. We find it difficult to think of ourselves without these things we are wedded to. Look, when Copernicus stepped forward in 1543 and said "Uh…I just want to point out that the earth is not the center , it’s the sun" even very smart people had a hard time wrapping their heads around that. It took literally a hundred years before it was accepted as a scientific proof (except in parts of the United States where science is still not accepted until this day). That is called denial of reality, and back then a lot of people were in that state for an extended period of time.

So when I step up and suggest that everything is about to change, not just the small stuff, I imagine that a lot of people – smart people – will find that hard to accept. Nevertheless, I think our ice age is about to end, and, in the spirit of Alvin Toffler, I think the new paradigm will be upon us so quickly that we will not have a lot of time to react. So, with that proviso, here is my preview of the next paradigm. Please forgive me if not all of the changes are of the same magnitude and if I leave some out. I, too, am a child of our current paradigm, and like everyone else my vision to see ahead is both limited and subjective.

We have become accustomed to identifying ourselves in relation to other people, to our geographical location, our membership in some political group ( a nation) and to our occupation, and to what we believe, which the more extreme among us label 'the truth.' So, I say I am a father, a husband, a member of a certain family, a citizen of a community and a nation, and I work as a psychologist - and all of that is about to change.


let's start with the easy one – work. There is not enough of it to go around. In our current paradigm we regard unemployment as some sort of negative state, a disease that needs to be treated. We talk about work moving around the world and call it outsourcing. We act as if the lack of jobs in North America means those same jobs have somehow magically moved to Asia and it is the cause of a great deal of unrest. None of that is true.

What is true is that human work, as we have come to know it during the last three centuries, is disappearing. What was once done by human labor is now done by machines. In a report on Automation in 2020, the World Economic Forum predicted by the year 2025, 53% of work would be performed by humans and 47% by machines, a 14% increase from the year the report was issued. If you carry that ratio forward then all work will be done by machines before the year 2060. But forget the numbers game. The impact of automation is that work will cease to be the center of life as it has been during the last three centuries.

It's not only that people will not physically move to find work, like they moved from the country to the cities at the start of the industrial revolution. It means there will be no place to move to. The family will not have to sacrifice some part of their life so that the wage earner can do his job, there simply will be no wage earner. People's income from work will not have to be supplemented by government spending when it is not enough because there will be no income from work. That is the nature of a complete transformation.

Income will not be apportioned on the basis of achievement (higher salary for work that is valued more highly) but existentially– you will not get money because of what you do but rather because of who you are. Iran was the first country to install universal basic income in 2010, and the practice is now prevalent throughout northern Europe. In an economic sense it is inevitable. If people depend on work for income, when there is no work, people starve, and when people starve, they revolt and topple governments (Just ask Louis the XVI). Every government on earth will take steps to prevent that.

Once work is no longer a benchmark of identification, the status distributed on the basis of occupation or position will cease to exist. A manager will not be more important than a laborer; a doctor will not have higher status than a janitor because these jobs will cease to exist.  The subtle but unmistakable prejudice of assigning credibility based on occupation (doctors must be smarter than gardeners) will slowly fade away and people will be judged on who they really are rather than the work they perform.

Organizations will look completely different, and all the silly talk about organizational 'culture' will cease (thank God) because machines aren't in need of culture. The center of life will not be the place of work, there will be no traffic jams nor daily disruption of activities because of the physical need to move from one place to another, and identity will have to emanate from something other than where you work, because there will be no such thing.

Some things will remain. There will probably be teachers to some extent, though most instruction will be provided by machines, and there will be caretakers for more intimate human contact, though again, basic medical functions will be fully automated. Entertainment may remain a human occupation in some form, though it is important to point out that today most of the most popular entertainment is now animation (80% of top box office receipts in 2019 came from Disney studios and the most popular films tend to feature cartoon characters rather than human beings).

The clincher in all of this is time. We had eons to adjust from a nomadic life style to living in permanent communities. We will have just decades to adjust from a world with work to a world without work and it will leave literally billions of people gasping to find something to do. Some people like to compare what will happen to that old experiment of putting the frog in a pot of lukewarm water and heating it slowly so the frog doesn’t notice until he's cooked, but that isn't what will happen. The changes will be so fast that we will feel ourselves cooking, and it won't be pleasant.


Family has been the anchor of our identity for longer than work, probably for the last fifteen to twenty thousand years. It is without doubt the most emotionally-charged part of our identity, and most of our great works of literature deal with it from Oedipus to Anna Karenina. There is a natural inclination for a species to nurture its young; this is not exclusive to mammals. What is exclusive is the tendency of mammals to remain in units defined by a common blood line for an extended period of time, and among the mammals we humans are the champs. We extend our families for generations and we have made them the center of our lives, once again, for good and ill.

Part of the reason for this is survival. In the beginning if you were sick or injured you would not survive unless there were other people around you who cared enough to tend to you. More recently, the bond of survival has not been exclusively physical but also economic. Especially in the current generation, children in the west in particular are less well-off financially than their parents and without that support they would not make it. Like the man said, family is the place that when you go there they have to take you in.

There is an attendant pride that accompanies family identity, particularly when the family is adept either at maintaining a certain status (aristocracy, for example) or occupation (the military, for example). So, there are families of hostlers, shoemakers, haberdashers, iron-workers, doctors, and so on, and the connection between familial and occupational identity makes these families stronger over time. They exert pressure on their young to 'follow in their footsteps' and to adopt their ideals and beliefs, and believe this continuity has great value.

The industrial revolution weakened this bond for all but the wealthiest, causing as it did displacement of millions of people who found it necessary to move away from their place of origin to another community in order to secure employment, and the division of labor into employers and employees weakened the family ties of the latter and in millions of cases made it impossible for them to maintain the occupation or trade of the previous generations. The evolution of humanity from family-based to community-based dates from this time, about three hundred years ago.

But the real dismemberment of the family has been prosperity. As people become wealthier, on the top of their agenda is the desire to distance themselves from others. This has now arrived at a situation in which one out of every seven households in the United States is listed as a single person residence, and the situation in many major European cities is even more pronounced. In popular culture the familial bond has been replaced by the comradely bond, i.e. people you meet are closer to you than people of your same blood. In turn, this has led to a decrease in marriages and birthrates, and it becomes a self-propagating loop.

The coming identity paradigm holds a future in which the individual will replace the family as the basic social unit. Clearly, this is such a revolution that it is difficult for most people to imagine, but it is on the way, supported by the development of virtual relationships as a replacement for close physical relationships, meaning the sensation of being close to a person without ever being in the same room with him or her.

This is already well underway, egged on by social media, which encourages the individual to remain isolated from others in a physical sense in preference of a virtual connection. It is a common sight now to see a group of people 'together' in a public place not speaking to each other but rather managing a dialogue with a cell phone with somebody else who is not in the room.

Unlike the loss of work, which is a phenomenon not dictated or controlled by personal choice, this movement toward the individual in place of the family unit will take time, tempered by economic factors as well as strong cultural opposition, but it is coming nonetheless and will be the norm for most places on the planet by the end of the century.  There are already sections of big cities like Tokyo that are intended for the exclusive use of young people, as well as adult communities restricted to those over the age of 65.

Multi-generational living arrangements are already largely a thing of the past globally, particularly beyond the nuclear family. The cultural consequences of this change are immense and frankly frightening for me to contemplate. Practically, it means that we will need to find new ways to transfer property and assign responsibility (designated driver will replace parent). Emotionally, we will go through a hard time when we dismember old axioms like 'blood is thicker than water,' because quite clearly, with all of its attraction, collegial ties will never take on the commitment that blood ties have.  In the new identity paradigm, the family will disappear.


Belonging is such a central pillar of our current paradigm that it has been enshrined as a key component of mental health. People who shun contact with others are not just considered anti-social; they are labeled as mentally unwell (autistic). Mass movements were a central feature of the last two centuries, both political and social. Whether they were as benign as scouting organizations or as controversial as political protests, being part of some action which involved thousands of other people gathering together was a mainstay of life in every country on the planet. This is now coming to an end.

People will still voice their opinions, but they will do so online. Even dating has become a virtual activity rather than a night out; you check out a person's profile in the privacy of your own home long before you meet them.  The same is true of voting and all forms of political activity. Not only can it be done from the home, it is being done from the home. The key to watch here is sporting events, one of the more acceptable reasons to mix physically with thousands of other people. When people begin to prefer viewing the events on a screen rather than sitting in a stadium, public participation will be terminated because it will become unprofitable.

Again, there will still be instances where thousands if not millions of people will express their opinions on a common topic, but this will be done in real time, surveys conducted by pressing a button on your phone rather than driving to a common location.

The mental health community will be forced to redesign conclusions about what it means to be alone. Indeed, loneliness itself will need to be redefined. Are you really alone (not lonely) if you are physically removed from everyone else but your cell phone is by your side? There will be a whole new list of mental conditions when the common living situation is one person alone. Clearly, there will be fewer problems resulting from interpersonal conflict (like domestic violence) because there will be fewer people living together. On the other hand, a whole new list of ailments will pop up because there will not be that other person in the room that can tell you when you are wrong. It will be a new world.


Our present paradigm has been flavored with our conceit that we are masters of the world, that we could bend the natural laws to our will, that we had some sort of irresistible control over everything. I suppose that the climate crisis is enough evidence to demonstrate what a mistake that was, but there is something even closer to home that will shake us to our roots in the new paradigm – we are no longer calling the shots.

Artificial intelligence will be the driving force in the new paradigm, and algorithms will make decisions in a distinctly different way than human beings. The lead elements of this new force are already changing the buying and selling of stocks and bonds and the application of medical procedures in hospitals all over the world. In the space of a few decades, all transportation will be directed by artificial intelligence, and drones and driver-less vehicles will be the norm (There will be no more human drivers or pilots because they are too dangerous). Manufacturing is already there, but there will be complete automation by the middle of the century.

AI will take the lead in education and customer service and the last pathetic attempts to suggest that the room for human work is just moving to other occupations will fall mute. In the new paradigm we will cease to make decisions about anything other than what we want personally, and that too will be limited. This is the one that scares me the most, but unless I take advantage of the next big change I won't be around, so it won't matter.

Human beings are used to making decisions. For a long time our ability to do this well was intimately tied to our survival. The idea that this will be taken from us because AI will do it better is a conclusion that many of us will find hard to swallow, and we will be reaching for that phantom limb long after it has been removed. Old people who believe they can drive just as well at the age of eighty as they did when they were 20 is a hint of what it will feel like. When the reality sets in that this is not rue it will likely be accompanied by a depression that will be very difficult to deal with, maybe even tied to the meaning of life. It will be a global emotional crisis that more than likely will trigger new forms of belief.


Yuval Harari has been writing for some time about the conquest of death. At the present time, eight vital organs can be transplanted: the heart, kidneys, liver, lungs, pancreas, intestine, thymus and uterus. Artificial limbs are now commonplace, as well as eye transplants, artificial bladder implants, inner ear implants, and deep brain stimulation. The practicality of replacing the entire body, other than some higher functions of the brain, is now a distinct possibility before the middle of the century.

That means that your body no longer defines who you are, nor are you limited to a specific number of years before you 'die.' 'Life' will have to be redefined when it is not followed by the modifier 'time.' Immortality is a daunting moral and philosophical challenge, but it is no longer a physical one. It is very likely that the possibility of living longer will have a dramatic effect on birthrates, as the idea of passing the torch to a new generation, what Richard Dawkins called The Selfish Gene, will become a remnant of thinking from the previous paradigm, because that thinking is based on the assumption that the existing organism cannot sustain itself beyond a certain date.

No doubt the conquest of mortality will also lead to significant changes in relationships that were previous thought of (at least in theory) as life time commitments, like marriage and even parenthood. It will also be marked by the development of a whole new industry dedicated to the total replacement of the body, possibly with gender changes thrown in for a little spice – live eighty years as a man and another eighty years as a woman.

Immortality combined with artificial intelligence will demand an entire rethinking of the role of Homo sapiens on the planet, as well as how we define spirituality (if all of us are immortal how does this change the status of deities?).  It is a daunting prospect. Things that we regarded as one-time decisions will lose that distinction, and almost everything will become choice-determined. Death itself will become a decision, not inevitability, and this alone will completely reshape philosophy and morality.


For the past several centuries we have defined ourselves as members of one nationality or another to such an extent that human beings were willing to die to protect or extend that abstract concept, something that commanded our loyalty even more than family or religion.

Most of us tend to forget our previous participation in smaller political units like tribes and regions, and for the most part these remain as romantic abstractions, lacking the full force of what it means to be a system of a country. Those pictures of Uncle Sam pointing his finger at you and calling you to enlist are not just propaganda, they are the expression of the belief of the country that it has the right to demand that its citizens give their lives to protect it. In the country in which I live this is a reality, and the state is by law authorized to exert its domain over the private lives of its citizens.

Because of the maximum commitment it involves, most of us are highly emotional about what we call our national identity. Yet nations, too, may not be a part of the next paradigm, as difficult as it is to believe. There is a contractual need for people to align themselves with a large political entity that manages an infrastructure. We need water, electricity, transportation systems and supply chains, and these are arrangements beyond the power or resources of any individual. But they are definitely contractual, and by no mean the exclusive rights or ability of nations.

In practice – not theory, practice – power companies in the United States can supply energy to all the homes of North America and maybe South America as well. The practice of ending the power grid at a country's borders is a political decision, not a technological one.

There is also no practical reason why a person living in Caracas cannot contract with a company half way around the globe, say India, for the supply of needed services, if that supplier is capable of meeting the demand. When it becomes clear that the supply of services that were formally relegated only to nations – security, welfare, transportation, health, energy, waste disposal, and more – can be supplied to individuals by a more effective alternative, then the grip of nations on individuals will slip.

The people of Catalonia do not want to be part of Spain, and the people of California have their doubts about the United States, yet this dissatisfaction with the larger national unity is still just a little step, the dismantling of larger political bodies into smaller ones.

There is a real possibility that the next paradigm holds a much more dramatic change in store – the alliance of the individual with an organizing structure beyond nations. Instead of a process of unification that produces ever bigger political bodies, think of it in the other direction – the existence of thousands of service providers making direct contact with consumers directly on a non-geographical basis, and not using a government as an agent.

So, for example, the person living in London might receive his mail from a supplier in Delhi, his power from a supplier in Norway, his security from a company in Scotland, and his health from an organization in Switzerland. He may still consider himself English, but this will have more to do with his physical surroundings than with the political structure associated with it.

Quite clearly such a dramatic change has immeasurable implications for property ownership and civil legislation of every kind, and the number of lawyers required to work it out I don't even want to think about, but the point is that on a practical level it is indeed possible. It is only the abstract concept of nations for which so many people laid down their lives in the previous century that keeps it from happening. Nations have traditionally promoted themselves by their opposition to other nations, a practice which was expensive and bloody (we are better than they are; they want to kill us, so let's kill them first). If there is a business model that proves to be much more cost-efficient than the national one (and less bloody), it will come to pass, and within the next one hundred years, though I know how hard that is to believe. Yes, nations may be a thing of the past.

There will be a lot of gnashing of teeth when contemplating the alternatives, and there will remain a true need for the collection of public money in order to finance projects for the good of all (taxes), and there will always be disagreements over decisions made and the need to handle the losers so that they do not act to disrupt the system – all of that is true, but there is no natural law that says this must be the work of nations. The fact is that many nations are artificial in the extreme, the deformed children of colonialism, places like Pakistan and India and many states in Africa. The attempt to supplant such constructions with something else more effective is a positive idea, and it will be pursued.


The final pillar of identity that will be challenged in the new paradigm is belief. For the last millennium, many individuals have defined who they are as members of some religious movement, with Christianity and Islam being the most prominent recent examples. More blood has been spilled trying to sway different parts of the world to one religion or another over the last millennium than any other cause. This was challenged a half millennium ago when Christianity finally started to come apart into disparate elements of Protestantism and Catholicism and has been echoed more recently with the division of Islam into Sunni and Shiite. Still, many nations are defined by their religion. There are more than 80 nations today that officially give preference to one religion over another, including the one in which I reside.

Yet that, too, will be challenged by the impact of the new identity paradigm. In 2020, church membership in the United States dropped below 50% for the first time since the Gallup Poll began reporting. The American Mosque Survey reported a similar decline in the number of African Americans attending mosques in the United States. Similar situations are found in Europe. The Muslim population in Asia is still growing, but at a slower rate than was true half a century ago. Christianity in Latin America is becoming increasing more Pentecostal and less Catholic.

This does not mean that in the new paradigm religion will not play a role, but it does seem to indicate that the role will be much more individualized and much less public. In other words, the practice of mass movements of people professing the same belief who attempt to forcibly take over various parts of the world to install that belief seems to be coming at an end. It will take some time to realize that, but certainly most everyone can see that religious leaders today of whatever ilk are less influential in their ability to sway global events than they were even a hundred years ago.

Nations like Iran may still claim some sort of religious intent in their dealings with other nations, but this will become much less convincing during the next few decades, and most people will see it for what it really is – a political movement masquerading as a belief. A recent survey conducted in Iran suggested that about 40% of the country identified itself as actively Muslim in opposition to the official state claim of 99%.


Imagine for a moment a human being who is not defined by his nationality, place in a family, age, and membership in a religion, race, occupation, status or gender. How, then, is he to be defined? - Purely by his or her actions, emotions and thoughts, and what he or she makes from them? It would be true individuality, an identity that would make grouping impossible and therefore defy prejudice or assumptions. You would need to assess each person you meet in depth to really get to know them, because there would be no basis on which to make assumptions.

Patterns of course would eventually develop, they always do, but the base for these patterns would be different. We will no longer here things like "all women are…" or "Blacks are always…" or "Jews all are…" because there will be no meaning to these old distinctions. It would be like saying all Huguenots are the same or all Wares are the same, because these groups no longer exist. Some people will think alike, have the same taste, wear similar fashions, believe similar things, but those like-minded people will come from a wide variety of what used to be called mutually exclusive groups in the old paradigm, our paradigm.

I know that these observations may make some people uncomfortable; I know they make me uncomfortable. We are creatures of our times, and many of us have gotten ahead by following closely the rules that our paradigm gave us. So why is it that we need a new paradigm when so many of us are comfortable with the one we have even with all of its flaws?

Well, I don't think anyone did a survey of the woolly mammoths before the end of the ice age. It turned out that the paradigm shift was beyond their control, and their extinction was one of the unfortunate consequences of it. The truth is that many of the decisions we made over the last few centuries have consequences that we did not intend nor want, but they are consequences nonetheless. Who could have predicted that prosperity would lead to a desire to separate and not to join? Yet this is where the evolution of our species has led us – to a complete redefinition of who we are. We are subject to the consequences of our own actions, intentional or not.

I suppose in the middle of the feudal millennium many smart people would have found it hard to believe that there could be a world one day without masters or peasants, but it came to pass. Similarly, many of us may find it hard to believe today that there could be a world without marriage or the concept of children as the property of their parents until a certain age, or that people have a duty to sacrifice their lives for a nation's aspirations, but there is an equal likelihood that these things too will come to pass.

I guess the real question is if we will end up like the woolly mammoths, buried in the tundra to be excavated years hence by some other species that made the transformation to the new paradigm more successfully than us, or we will somehow transform ourselves to the new rules and realities... Time will tell.

But get ready. The first winds of the new paradigm are already whipping up the leaves around us. There will be rain after that and thunder and lightning. It will be a real storm, one like we have never experienced before. It won't work to close all the shutters and wait for the storm to pass, because this is a transformation, not a period of chaos after which everything will return to what it was before. This is the identity paradigm, and it is the invitation to define anew who we are.

Imagine there's no heaven

It's easy if you try

No hell below us

Above us, only sky

Imagine all the people

Livin' for today


Imagine there's no countries

It isn't hard to do

Nothing to kill or die for

And no religion, too

 -John Lennon



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Framework for the Metaverse

I first wrote about the Metaverse in 2018, and overhauled my thinking in a January 2020 update: The Metaverse: What It Is, Where to Find it, Who Will Build It, and Fortnite. Since then, a lot has happened. COVID-19 forced hundreds of millions into Zoomschool and remote work. Roblox became one of the most popular entertainment experiences in history. Google Trends’ index on the phrase ‘The Metaverse’ set a new ‘100’ in March 2021. Against this baseline, use of the term never exceeded seven from January 2005 through to December 2020. With that in mind, I thought it was time to do an update - one that reflects how my thinking has changed over the past 18 months and addresses the questions I’ve received during this time, such as “Is the Metaverse here?”, “When will it arrive?”, and “What does it need to grow?”. Welcome to the Foreword to ‘THE METAVERSE PRIMER’.

When did the mobile internet era begin? Some would start this history with the very first mobile phones. Others might wait until the commercial deployment of 2G, which was the first digital wireless network. Or the introduction of the Wireless Application Protocol standard, which gave us WAP browsers and thus the ability to access a (rather primitive) version of most websites from nearly any ‘dumbphone’. Or maybe it started with the BlackBerry 6000, or 7000 or 8000 series? At least one of them was the first mainstream mobile device designed for on-the-go data. Most would say it’s the iPhone, which came more than a decade after the first BlackBerry and eight years after WAP, nearly two decades after 2G, 34 years after the first mobile phone call, and has since defined many of the mobile internet era’s visual design principles, economics, and business practices.

In truth, there’s never a flip. We can identify when a specific technology was created, tested, or deployed, but not when an era precisely occurred. This is because technological change requires a lot of technological changes, plural, to all come together. The electricity revolution, for example, was not a single period of steady growth. Instead, it was two separate waves of technological, industrial, and process-related transformations. 

The first wave began around 1881, when Thomas Edison stood up electric power stations in Manhattan and London. Although this was a quick start to the era of electrical power — Edison had created the first working incandescent light bulb only two years earlier, and was only one year into its commercialization — industrial adoption was slow. Some 30 years after Edison’s first stations, less than 10% of mechanical drive power in the United States came from electricity (two thirds of which was generated locally, rather than from a grid). But then suddenly, the second wave began. Between 1910 and 1920, electricity’s share of mechanical drive power quintupled to over 50% (nearly two thirds of which came from independent electric utilities. By 1929 it stood at 78%). 

The difference between the first and second waves is not how much of American industry used electricity, but the extent to which it did — and designed around it.


When plants first adopted electrical power, it was typically used for lighting and/or to replace a plant’s on-premises source of power (usually steam). These plants did not, however, rethink or replace the legacy infrastructure which would carry this power throughout the factory and put it to work. Instead, they continued to use a lumbering network of cogs and gears that were messy and loud and dangerous, difficult to upgrade or change, were either ‘all on’ or ‘all off’ (and therefore required the same amount of power to support a single operating station or the entire plant, and suffered from countless ‘single points of failure’), and struggled to support specialized work.


But eventually, new technologies and understandings gave factories both the reason and ability to be redesigned end-to-end for electricity, from replacing cogs with electric wires, to installing individual stations with bespoke and dedicated electrically-powered motors for functions such as sewing, cutting, pressing, and welding. 

The benefits were wide-ranging. The same plant now had considerably more space, more light, better air, and less life-threatening equipment. What’s more, individual stations could be powered individually (which increased safety, while reducing costs and downtime), and use more specialized equipment (e.g. electric socket wrenches). 


In addition, factories could configure their production areas around the logic of the production process, rather than hulking equipment, and even reconfigure these areas on a regular basis. These two changes meant that far more industries could deploy assembly lines in their plants (which had actually first emerged in the late 1700s), while those that already had such lines could extend them further and more efficiently. In 1913, for example, Henry Ford created the first moving assembly line, which used electricity and conveyor belts to reduce the production time per car from 12.5 hours to 93 minutes, while also using less power. According to historian David Nye, Ford’s famous Highland Park plant was “built on the assumption that electrical light and power should be available everywhere.”

Once a few plants began this transformation, the entire market was forced to catch up, thereby spurring more investment and innovation in electricity-based infrastructure, equipment, and processes. Within a year of its first moving assembly line, Ford was producing more cars than the rest of the industry combined. By its 10 millionth car, it had built more than half of all cars on the road.

This ‘second wave’ of industrial electricity adoption didn’t depend on a single visionary making an evolutionary leap from Thomas Edison’s core work. Nor was it driven just by an increasing number of industrial power stations. Instead, it reflected a critical mass of interconnected innovations, spanning power management, manufacturing hardware, production theory, and more. Some of these innovations fit in the palm of a plant manager’s hand, others needed a room, a few required a city, and they all depended on people and processes. 

To return to Nye, “Henry Ford didn’t first conceive of the assembly line and then delegate its development to his managers. … [The] Highland Park facility brought together managers and engineers who collectively knew most of the manufacturing processes used in the United States … they pooled their ideas and drew on their varied work experiences to create a new method of production.” This process, which happened at national scale, led to the ‘roaring twenties’, which saw the greatest average annual increases in labor and capital productivity in a hundred years.

Powering the Mobile Internet

This is how to think about the mobile internet era. The iPhone feels like the start of the mobile internet because it united and/or distilled all of the things we now think of as ‘the mobile internet’ into a single minimum viable product that we could touch and hold and love. But the mobile internet was created — and driven — by so much more.

In fact, we probably don’t even mean the first iPhone but the second, the iPhone 3G (which saw the largest model-over-model growth of any iPhone, with over 4× the sales). This second iPhone was the first to include 3G, which made the mobile web usable, and operated the iOS App Store, which made wireless networks and smartphones useful. 

But neither 3G nor the App Store were Apple-only innovations or creations. The iPhone accessed 3G networks via chips made by Infineon that connected via standards set by the ITU and GSMA, and which were deployed by wireless providers such as AT&T on top of wireless towers built by tower companies such as Crown Castle and American Tower. The iPhone had “an app for that” because millions of developers built them, just as thousands of different companies built specialized electric motor devices for factories in the 1920s. In addition, these apps were built on a wide variety of standards — from KDE to Java, HTML and Unity — which were established and/or maintained by outside parties (some of whom competed with Apple in key areas). The App Store’s payments worked because of digital payments systems and rails established by the major banks. The iPhone also depended on countless other technologies, from a Samsung CPU (licensed in turn from ARM), to an accelerometer from STMicroelectronics, Gorilla Glass from Corning, and other components from companies like Broadcom, Wolfson, and National Semiconductor. 

All of the above creations and contributions, collectively, enabled the iPhone and started the mobile internet era. They also defined its improvement path. 

Consider the iPhone 12, which was released in 2020. There was no amount of money Apple could have spent to release the iPhone 12 as its second model in 2008. Even if Apple could have devised a 5G network chip back then, there would have been no 5G networks for it to use, nor 5G wireless standards through which to communicate to these networks, and no apps that took advantage of its low latency or bandwidth. And even if Apple had made its own ARM-like GPU back in 2008 (more than a decade before ARM itself), game developers (which generate more than two thirds of App Store revenues) would have lacked the game-engine technologies required to take advantage of its superpowered capabilities. 

Getting to the iPhone 12 required ecosystem-wide innovation and investments, most of which sat outside Apple’s purview (even though Apple’s lucrative iOS platform was the core driver of these advancements). The business case for Verizon’s 4G networks and American Tower Corporation’s wireless tower buildouts depended on the consumer and business demand for faster and better wireless for apps such as Spotify, Netflix and Snapchat. Without them, 4G’s ‘killer app’ would have been… slightly faster email. Better GPUs, meanwhile, were utilized by better games, and better cameras were made relevant by photo-sharing services such as Instagram. And this better hardware powered greater engagement, which drove greater growth and profits for these companies, thereby driving better products, apps, and services. Accordingly, we should think of the overall market as driving itself, just as the adoption of electrical grids led to innovation in small electric-powered industrial motors that in turn drove demand for the grid itself.

We must also consider the role of changing user capability. The first iPhone could have skipped the home button altogether, rather than waiting until the tenth. This would have opened up more room inside the device itself for higher-quality hardware or bigger batteries. But the home button was an important training exercise for what was a vastly more complex and capable mobile phone than consumers were used to. Like closing a clamshell phone, it was a safe, easy, and tactile way to ‘restart’ the iPhone if a user was confused or tapped the wrong app. It took a decade for consumers to be able to have no dedicated home button. This idea is critical. As time passes, consumers become increasingly familiar with advanced technology, and therefore better able to adopt further advances - some of which might have long been possible!

And just as consumers shift to new mindsets, so too does industry. Over the past 20 years, nearly every industry has hired, restructured, and re-oriented itself around mobile workflows, products, or business lines. This transformation is as significant as any hardware or software innovation — and, in turn, creates the business case for subsequent innovations.

Defining the Metaverse

This essay is the foreword to my nine-part and 33,000-word primer on the Metaverse, a term I’ve not yet mentioned, let alone described.

Before doing so, it was important for me to provide the context and evolutionary path of technologies such as ‘electricity’ and the ‘mobile internet’. Hopefully it provided a few lessons. First, the proliferation of these technologies fundamentally changed human culture, from where we lived to how we worked, what we made, what we bought, how, and from who. Second, these ‘revolutions’ or ‘transformations’ really depended on a bundle of many different, secondary innovations and inventions that built upon and drove one another. Third, even the most detailed understanding of these newly-emergent technologies didn’t make clear which specific, secondary innovations and inventions they required in order to achieve mass adoption and change the world. And how they would change the world was almost entirely unknowable.


In other words, we should not expect a single, all-illuminating definition of the ‘Metaverse’. Especially not at a time in which the Metaverse has only just begun to emerge. Technologically driven transformation is too organic and unpredictable of a process. Furthermore, it’s this very messiness that enables and results in such large-scale disruption. 

My goal therefore is to explain what makes the Metaverse so significant – i.e. deserving of the comparisons I offered above – and offer ways to understand how it might work and develop.

The Metaverse is best understood as ‘a quasi-successor state to the mobile internet’. This is because the Metaverse will not fundamentally replace the internet, but instead build upon and iteratively transform it. The best analogy here is the mobile internet, a ‘quasi-successor state’ to the internet established from the 1960s through the 1990s. Even though the mobile internet did not change the underlying architecture of the internet – and in fact, the vast majority of internet traffic today, including data sent to mobile devices, is still transmitted through and managed by fixed infrastructure – we still recognize it as iteratively different. This is because the mobile internet has led to changes in how we access the internet, where, when and why, as well as the devices we use, the companies we patron, the products and services we buy, the technologies we use, our culture, our business model, and our politics. 

The Metaverse will be similarly transformative as it too advances and alters the role of computers and the internet in our lives.

The fixed-line internet of the 1990s and early 2000s inspired many of us to purchase our own personal computer. However, this device was largely isolated to our office, living room or bedroom. As a result, we had only occasional access to and usage of computing resources and an internet connection. The mobile internet led most humans globally to purchase their own personal computer and internet service, which meant almost everyone had continuous access to both compute and connectivity.

Metaverse iterates further by placing everyone inside an ‘embodied’, or ‘virtual’ or ‘3D’ version of the internet and on a nearly unending basis. In other words, we will constantly be ‘within’ the internet, rather than have access to it, and within the billions of interconnected computers around us, rather than occasionally reach for them, and alongside all other users and real-time.

The progression listed above is a helpful way to understand what the Metaverse changes. But it doesn’t explain what it is or what it’s like to experience. To that end, I’ll offer my best swing at a definition:

“The Metaverse is a massively scaled and interoperable network of real-time rendered 3D virtual worlds which can be experienced synchronously and persistently by an effectively unlimited number of users with an individual sense of presence, and with continuity of data, such as identity, history, entitlements, objects, communications, and payments.”

Most commonly, the Metaverse is mis-described as virtual reality. In truth, virtual reality is merely a way to experience the Metaverse. To say VR is the Metaverse is like saying the mobile internet is an app. Note, too, that hundreds of millions are already participating in virtual worlds on a daily basis (and spending tens of billions of hours a month inside them) without VR/AR/MR/XR devices. As a corollary to the above, VR headsets aren’t the Metaverse any more than smartphones are the mobile internet.

Sometimes the Metaverse is described as a user-generated virtual world or virtual world platform. This is like saying the internet is Facebook or Geocities. Facebook is a UGC-focused social network on the internet, while Geocities made it easy to create webpages that lived on the internet. UGC experiences are just one of many experiences on the internet.

Furthermore, the Metaverse doesn’t mean a video game. Video games are purpose-specific (even when the purpose is broad, like ‘fun’), unintegrated (i.e. Call of Duty is isolated from fellow portfolio title Overwatch), temporary (i.e. each game world ‘resets’ after a match) and capped in participants (e.g. 1MM concurrent Fortnite users are in over 100,000 separated simulations. Yes, we will play games in the Metaverse, and those games may have user caps and resets, but those are games in the Metaverse, not the Metaverse itself. Overall, The Metaverse will significantly broaden the number of virtual experiences used in everyday life (i.e. well beyond video games, which have existed for decades) and in turn, expand the number of people who participate in them. 

Lastly, the Metaverse isn’t tools like Unreal or Unity or WebXR or WebGPU. This is like saying the internet is TCP/IP, HTTP, or web browser. These are protocols upon which the internet depends, and the software used to render it.

The Metaverse, like the internet, mobile internet, and process of electrification, is a network of interconnected experiences and applications, devices and products, tools and infrastructure. This is why we don’t even say that horizontally and vertically integrated giants such as Facebook, Google or Apple are an internet. Instead, they are destinations and ecosystems on or in the internet, or which provide access to and services for the internet. And of course, nearly all of the internet would exist without them.

The Metaverse Emerges

As I’ve written before, the full vision of the Metaverse is decades away. It requires extraordinary technical advancements (we are far from being able to produce shared, persistent simulations that millions of users synchronized in real-time), and perhaps regulatory involvement too. In addition, it will require overhauls in business policies, and changes to consumer behavior.

But the term has become so recently popular because we can feel it beginning. This is one of the reasons why Fortnite and Roblox are so commonly conflated with the Metaverse. Just as the iPhone feels like the mobile internet because the device embodied the many innovations which enabled the mobile internet to go mainstream, these ‘games’ bring together many different technologies and trends to produce an experience which is simultaneously tangible and feels different from everything that came before. But they do not constitute the Metaverse.


Personally, I’m tracking the emergence of the Metaverse around eight core categories, which can be thought of as a stack (click each header for a dedicated essay).

  1. Hardware: The sale and support of physical technologies and devices used to access, interact with, or develop the Metaverse. This includes, but is not limited to, consumer-facing hardware (such as VR headsets, mobile phones, and haptic gloves) as well as enterprise hardware (such as those used to operate or create virtual or AR-based environments, e.g. industrial cameras, projection and tracking systems, and scanning sensors). This category does not include compute-specific hardware, such as GPU chips and servers, as well as networking-specific hardware, such as fiber optic cabling or wireless chipsets.
  2. Networking: The provisioning of persistent, real-time connections, high bandwidth, and decentralized data transmission by backbone providers, the networks, exchange centers, and services that route amongst them, as well as those managing ‘last mile’ data to consumers. 
  3. Compute: The enablement and supply of computing power to support the Metaverse, supporting such diverse and demanding functions as physics calculation, rendering, data reconciliation and synchronization, artificial intelligence, projection, motion capture and translation.
  4. Virtual Platforms: The development and operation of immersive digital and often three-dimensional simulations, environments, and worlds wherein users and businesses can explore, create, socialize, and participate in a wide variety of experiences (e.g. race a car, paint a painting, attend a class, listen to music), and engage in economic activity. These businesses are differentiated from traditional online experiences and multiplayer video games by the existence of a large ecosystem of developers and content creators which generate the majority of content on and/or collect the majority of revenues built on top of the underlying platform.
  5. Interchange Tools and Standards: The tools, protocols, formats, services, and engines which serve as actual or de facto standards for interoperability, and enable the creation, operation and ongoing improvements to the Metaverse. These standards support activities such as rendering, physics, and AI, as well as asset formats and their import/export from experience to experience, forward compatibility management and updating, tooling, and authoring activities, and information management.
  6. Payments: The support of digital payment processes, platforms, and operations, which includes fiat on-ramps (a form of digital currency exchange) to pure-play digital currencies and financial services, including cryptocurrencies, such as bitcoin and ether, and other blockchain technologies.
  7. Metaverse Content, Services, and Assets: The design/creation, sale, re-sale, storage, secure protection and financial management of digital assets, such as virtual goods and currencies, as connected to user data and identity. This contains all business and services “built on top of” and/or which “service” the Metaverse, and which are not vertically integrated into a virtual platform by the platform owner, including content which is built specifically for the Metaverse, independent of virtual platforms.
  8. User Behaviors: Observable changes in consumer and business behaviors (including spend and investment, time and attention, decision-making and capability) which are either directly associated with the Metaverse, or otherwise enable it or reflect its principles and philosophy. These behaviors almost always seem like ‘trends’ (or, more pejoratively, ‘fads’) when they initially appear, but later show enduring global social significance. 

(You’ll note ‘crypto’ or ‘blockchain technologies’ are not a category. Rather, they span and/or drive several categories, most notably compute, interchange tools and standards, and payments — potentially others as well.)


Each of these buckets is critical to the development of the Metaverse. In many cases, we have a good sense of how each one needs to develop, or at least where there’s a critical threshold (say, VR resolution and frame rates, or network latency). 

But ultimately, how these many pieces come together and what they produce is the hard, important, and society-altering part of any Metaverse analysis. Just as the electricity revolution was about more than the kilowatt hours produced per square mile in 1900s New York, and the internet about more than HTTP and broadband cabling.

Based on precedent, however, we can guess that the Metaverse will revolutionize nearly every industry and function. From healthcare to payments, consumer products, entertainment, hourly labor, and even sex work. In addition, altogether new industries, marketplaces and resources will be created to enable this future, as will novel types of skills, professions, and certifications. The collective value of these changes will be in the trillions.

This is the Foreword to the nine-part ‘METAVERSE PRIMER’.

Matthew Ball (@ballmatthew)

The Metaverse Primer

Jun 29, 2021 Written By Matthew Ball