Indicio hosts Meetups once a month where we bring together leaders in the decentralized identity community to discuss current topics and trends. Join our community here to stay up to date on our next one!  https://www.meetup.com/indicio-identity-community/

Recently had the chance to sit down with Gabriel Rene, executive director of VERSES and author of “The Spatial Web: How Web 3.0 Will Connect Humans, Machines, and AI to Transform the World.”  A video of this interview is currently live on our YouTube channel, you can watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S2DntbiRmrE&t=342s

Transcribed and edited for clarity by Tim Spring

Maya

Hi everyone and welcome to this SEO identity community meetup for January 2022. We are very excited to have Gabriel Rene with us today and our topic is how web 3.0 will connect humans, machines, and AI to transform the world. Before we get started we would like to have a few words from heather dahl, CEO of Indicio.

Heather

Hi Maya, thank you, welcome to everyone, I’m excited to kick off the first of our monthly meetups for 2022. We are moving into our just second year of providing this type of content to the community, and I think the topics that we tackle and the experts that we bring on bring really intriguing conversations. I want to give a special welcome to anyone who’s here and new to our community, it’s so cool to see in the chat where everyone’s coming from. Hamburg, I heard a shout out from Brussels, Dublin, go Fairfax, Virginia, we have Seattle, Canada, by all means if you’re new to the meetup or you’re returning, add your location to the conversation because I think it’s really interesting that we bring together this global community. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Indicio, we are a public benefit company, and our mission is to advance decentralized identity. A part of our mission is running educational events like this, and because we’re out there building ecosystems for trusted data, today’s topic we find really exciting, absolutely provocative, excited to see Gabe here, and to talk about the internet of everything, and what it means for people and digital objects and non-digital objects to provide identity and to communicate with each other in ways that are secure and trustworthy. Ken was supposed to be here today to lead the conversation but he couldn’t make it, so senior architect Sam Curren is here to lead the conversation and interview with our absolutely terrific guest, Gabrielle Rene, thank you all for being here and I’m gonna turn it over to you Sam.

Sam

Thanks Heather, and and thanks Gabriel for being here, I guess we should start with an introduction, that’s appropriate, Gabriel is the architect of the spatial web, it’s a vision he’s described with his co-author Dan Mapes, in the international best-selling book titled the spatial web, how web 3.0 will connect hans machines and ai to transform the world. He’s the executive director at VERSUS lab and the spatial web foundation, and he and his team are bringing this vision to life. The groundbreaking hyperspatial markup language is currently being discussed at a new working group with the IEEE, both web 3 and the metaverse have been recent hot topics in the last couple of months but the spatial web is where the real becomes virtual and the virtual real. So welcome to Gabriel Rene.

Gabriel

Thank you so much for having me Sam, thank you Heather, and Ken when you watch this hopefully we’re doing you proud, good work. on your behalf so Sam thank you, thanks for hosting me today, and it’s an honor to be here and have a chance to speak to everyone. 

Sam

Excellent, I’ve been stunt doubling for Ken in a few areas and I’m not as good looking as Ken is but I’ll do my best. So excellent all right, let’s dive into some questions here, and please answer with whatever you think is relevant, and we can take this discussion wherever we need to go. So you’ve described the spatial web as the internet of everything and you’ve thought a lot about what the internet of everything will look like, what do you see? 

Gabriel

Well the first thing I see is a more holistic approach to the concept of the application of network computing technologies, like the internet, and a lot of times what tends to occur is that perspectives on emerging technology are industry specific or technology specific. We talk about AI or we talk about XR, we talk about IOT or we talk about blockchain, and we talk about quant, or it’s by industry, this applies to the government or this applies to supply chain which applies to retail and this applies to healthcare. So these narratives are constantly emerging where we even have these themes: human 2.0, we have dialogues around web 3.0, industry 4.0, and the Japanese are talking about society 5.0.

In all of those cases almost the exact same set of technologies are being discussed, and it’s the usual suspects I just rattled off. Some people started talking about the internet of things a handful of years ago, this idea that it wasn’t just the internet where we had sort of interconnected communications, but rather these physical connected smart devices would form this new network. That was very exciting, it remains exciting, we’ve yet to see a whole lot of it work. I can tell you that the smart home struggle is real, and interoperability is at the heart of every problem. So this idea that you can connect things is one level, then there’s another debate about things being smart. So at one level you’ve got the internet of things, and then there’s been spatial computing, which has really emerged around this idea and is now re being repackaged again into the metaverse narrative, which you might call the internet of non-things, or sort of virtual things, that are not things or “what are they” things. And then there’s been this idea that is the blockchain folks saying that the internet of money, or the internet of trust, it sort of starts to intersect with the work that your community is doing. And there’s the internet of intelligence thing, which is the AI folks attempt early on the semantic web again. Whether we use the internet, or the web, or some sort of talking variations of this kind of a network where the data is intelligent or smart in and of itself.

The term smart, which has taken over everything, so there’s a smartphone that was the first thing, it’s just a computer, but that’s fine it’s a smartphone. Why? Because it has some connected capability, and in the beginning smart meant connected. As machine learning and deep learning found its footing over the last decade. The idea of things becoming smart meant actually being intelligent to the feedback loops, adaptive smart home now means that your nest adjusts the temperature for you, and that the lights turn on and off based on some feedback loop or information. Then of course we’re talking about smart cities, and so we go from smartphones, smart things, smart cars, smart cities, the idea is that these cities become intelligent and adaptive. Your autonomous car is able to just drive. Because, traffic is this sort of amorphous thing, like a bunch of starlings moving through. Drones and automated functionality that the amazon go, vacation of everything, you walk into a store, you take what you want, you walk out. All these sort of smart functions that might be built into government services, and all this sort of future sci-fi smart city narratives, but when I spoke to a community of smart cities four years ago in Europe, cities that came together to explore this, their number one thing was well how do we connect with other smart cities? So how do we form a network of smart cities? Well smart cities with all these smart cars and smartphones and smart devices and smart things with these internet and web connections across these various sets of interests and industries forms what you might call a smart world. And that idea that you’ve got this global cyber physical network now that encompasses all of these things, and that the addressability of an object isn’t just that it’s connected, it might just be that it’s being viewed by a camera, it could be an object that has no internet connection in and of itself, but this network has its own, and it’s essentially showing up on the network, that network we call the spatial web. 

Sam

Really good explanation, so a natural follow-on to that, I realize that web 3.0 has become a loaded term. You used it first in the title of your book, obviously, so it’s recorded there, but it’s come to mean some different things in recent times. Using sort of your original meaning of web 3.0 why doesn’t web 2.0 already solve this? What is missing from what we’ve got today that we need to go where we need to go?

Gabriel 

Well there’s a handful of things, and I think that some of the architects of web 1.0 have lamented about some of the infrastructure decisions that were made at the time. Now there were technical limitations or practical limitations, hardly anyone actually cared, but there were debates around identity and privacy and security, there was a tendency, being academics and scientists, not to think too deeply into all of the societal implications of these technologies. So the anticipation that people would use this for good, and not for personal, selfish, or otherwise harmful ends was the default. “Oh it’s gonna be this awesome network and we’re gonna do information sharing” great, problem solved. Decades of work had gone into that, from the ARPAnet all the way up into the world wide web, where you have Tim Berners-lee pulling a bunch of threads together and stitching that into what became the backbone of this amazing communications network.

Identity was actually one of the real missing ingredients in my opinion, and that anonymity part, the thing that makes the web open is also the thing that makes the web dangerous. The hackers, trackers, and fakers that are permeating our lives from simple sort of issues around misrepresentation, all the way to identity theft, all the way to now ransomware, and we’re about one hop away from biotech, and people being able to hack devices that were what we’re wearing, or that are on our bodies, or that are in our bodies, and so the the openness of the web is a double-edged sword that seems to cut both ways.

That allowed the web 2.0 era organizations and companies to maximize the capital potential of that structure, and so they essentially monetized that openness, that anonymity was a function of the sort of the fact that you didn’t have an identity, so we’ll rent you one. We’re google here’s ours, we’re Facebook here’s ours, apple here’s one for you as well, how about one for linkedin and facebook? Alright so we all run around with these sort of two-dimensional avatars, locked in these digital fighters where we serve certain functions. We get certain services from that, so i don’t think that a pure polarized view on this looking at web 2.0 is inherently negative is fair or accurate, but these are major holes in the architecture that allowed for this type of capitalism to thrive in a new dimension, and that thriving has compromised some of the inherent freedoms, and some might say human rights.

Now It’s becoming part of the debate: what property do we own here with respect to our data? And I think that those holes have produced really horrific outcomes, like not just on the monetization side, but on how we are programmed into wanting or thinking certain things. One of those things are products and services, whether those things are our own ideas about ourselves and our identity and our self-image, or whether it’s our viewpoint on the effectiveness of vaccines and science, and what political representative we think is in our best interests. You can no longer separate the technical work that we’ve done here with the web and our societal implications, and that’s the real zeitgeist challenge that I think we face at this moment. It requires some new ways of thinking about it.

Sam

So you’ve talked about some architectural adjustments that would get that will help get us there, one of one of those pieces of architecture i think is the hyperspatial markup language, HSML, that is part of your work at the IEEE, can you describe what HSML will help us with?

 

Gabriel

Yeah, so just one quick parenthetical, and it’s a function of a little bit of us copying something. It is HSML, but it’s hyperspatial modeling language instead of markup language, although there was quite a bit of debate internally about whether that was an accurate description. The function of a market language and a modern language are different, but depending on your perspective, in this case it is about modeling at the heart of it. How do we model the world digitally in a way that is coherent with the way that humans cognize the world? And I provide that caveat because there are other ways of cognizing the world that we’re unable to be aware of, and that is not what our concern is with respect to what we need to teach machines or AIs. We need to ensure that they can cognize the world in a way that is similar, or compatible, or at least incorporates our understanding of reality.

What HSML does is it functions in a sort of semIOTic structure of forming the core elements, in which there are 12, that act like a language. So just like nouns, verbs, prepositions, and adjectives are sufficient components with which to construct descriptions and representation of reality that predominantly is all we’re using today. Like today I’m just using magic mouth sounds to paint pictures in everyone’s heads, and if I had it with squiggly lines it would do nearly as well. But if i could just do what we’ve been able to see some whales and some dolphins do which is actually just project an entire three-dimensional holographic representation of this particular bay, and the position of all the fish, kind of like a sonar snapshot, and just send that to you 20 miles away, “like hey the party’s over here, here’s where the fish are guys” that might be another way to communicate. So HSML enables multiple IOT devices to do what’s called sensor fusion, or data fusion, even policy fusion. So you can take information from sensors, we take information from databases, and you can take policy related information laws, or instructions, or whatever, and you can fuse those together into a multi-layered scene graph, which is a way of representing the information about any set of activities in any given space. All of the objects in the space, all the users in the space, all the activities in space, all the permissions in the space, and at the end of the day that it is intended to enable you to construct descriptions of states of things, and then describe workflows for what needs to happen, so you could conceivably program all the smart things in your house to work in a very certain particular way, one could inform another one, and this could then extend all the way out into the city, and so forth and so forth to the world at large. So the idea of making a standard here in the in many of the same ways that HTML allows us to structure content and information on pages, HSML lets us structure context and information in spaces. 

Sam

So I like that the modeling of context is a sign of something that sort of begun to happen, but without much organization. So when the web was new it was a new location, we would visit websites and we would go there and it was all about this new world and this new place, and honestly web 2.0 was a lot of that too. IOT starts to get a little interesting because now there’s this internet of things, but the things generally exist in real life and also on the internet, so it’s blending now between there.

Of course now we’ve got augmented reality, and virtual reality, and a lot of things that pull that together, so when we think about all this stuff that in the real life that’s sort of blending together with a digital life that means like a proliferation of cameras and sensors and objects that we can interact with etc. So this means identity for everything, which is great. But there’s some implications here that the tinfoil hat wears among us, and I occasionally wear one of a particular shape. What are the implications of all of this interconnectedness upon the privacy we have and maybe governance that can help us with that?

 

Gabriel

Yes, so that was the question we started to ask ourselves back in 2016, which was all of that connectedness, all of that capability, all of that monitoring was going to happen anyway. Like that was the clear thing that was happening, so then the question became okay can you ensure certain levels of interoperability? And you need that in order to enable governance, if things are not interoperable you can make as many rules as you like, and it doesn’t it doesn’t matter. So what there’s a bit of a logical cake here, coherence is the first requirement, if you have coherence then interoperability is a function of your description of coherence. What is or isn’t coherent, like if you can describe the physics of the environment, and you want to say how you navigate through it, you can’t do it until you’ve done the first part. And then governance is a function of saying well what you can or cannot do are the ways that you must then navigate that environment, or who can when and what time and all sorts of all the parameters of activity management or activity governance. Because governance at the end of the day is really about changing states in the world. It’s not a theoretical function, it’s a practical function, and so that was what we saw as being really the scariest thing I’ve ever noticed.

All this cyber stuff is going to get all interconnected, you’re going to end up with this internet of everything. Which there was no term spatial web in that sense, the GIS community had been using it for many years, but not in the sense that we saw this multi-dimensional, multimodal sort of thing, it was like okay this internet of everything is going to happen, there are a handful of real challenges with that, including the possibility for abuse and looking at how wonderfully we did the web 2.0. this was just going to cascade into essentially black mirror, that’s what we’re all concerned about. So it was at that time that identity became clear to me that it was a fundamental infrastructural architectural requirement. Having been in telecom before that, and looking at telemedicine services, that was when I started looking at blockchain and the idea that you might need to own these assets related to your medical history. 

I wasn’t interested in crypto in the beginning, Bitcoin seemed interesting, but not enough for me to buy any or care, blockchain looked really interesting, and this idea that you would own your sort of property. At that point I started looking for what kind of new identity structure, or what would become like a spatial web url, some sort of key identifier, and that’s when I came across the work that many of you on this call were pioneering. You were working on it before that of course, but also like right around that time, and that was a real eye opener, and it frankly made it possible for us to focus on the other bits. Because it was like this community is completely dedicated to the identity, in our version of this the human is one of those entities, or one of those actors, but every single object, including conceptual objects, can have a DID in the spatial web, and all of these are sort of structured using HSML, and some of these other ontology and taxonomy structures you’re looking at to maintain that coherence. That then grants you this ability to do governance, which gives you the second portion of this of the standard, which is called HSTP, which is hyperspace transaction protocol. What that does is it basically says “okay cool world give me all the information of the states of all these objects, users, actors,” and again they could be holographic objects in that space that that you otherwise wouldn’t be aware of, the IOT device isn’t going to pick that up, but the space knows that it’s there. You sent me something to this room so I could present it on this call as an example. I wanted to get this exact “xyz” position and I knew it was coming.

Today one challenge is that you can send anything you want to my email address, I can’t stop you, you can come to my website, I can’t stop you, in fact you can send money to my eth wallet, and I cannot prevent that. But in the spatial web those everything is sort of permission based, and so that ability to then transport objects users activities and the governance around those is described in HSML, and essentially activated using HSTP, which says what are those states, i would like this state to change this way, or if the state changes what is or isn’t allowed in this case in this space, and HSTP says that transaction has passed or failed. So if only Heather is allowed to enter this room, if the temperature is x, and the time of day is y, and her facial expression or other biometric information says she’s in a certain state, all of which are just inputs that would be happening with any modern technology, but now could coherently say okay Heather’s at the right state the door can open and if she’s not then then the door remains closed. So this becomes you are able to program cyber physical activities, and define the governance for those if you were an authority of that space, and so that is the key sort of requirement.

Sam

I think that it’s important that this doesn’t invent some brand new type of authority, but rather gives existing authorities the ability to express the rules about what they have authority over. So our house still remains our house, and I posit that we’ll have even more control over what’s actually going on in it from a digital perspective than we do today. 

Gabriel

Yes and so you could ensure that nothing is installed in your house, if it doesn’t make a certain threshold of some privacy standard, or that requires some certificate, if it doesn’t have it, it can’t it can’t be there, or it can’t turn on. The city could say drones are only allowed to fly in the city in these specific flight lanes, and if they have cameras on them those cameras are allowed to be on, but the drone cannot fly within five miles of the airport. it can’t have its cameras on when it’s flying over schools, or certain private properties, or certain zones, and all this can be spatially defined as if it were a video game. But now you can do it in the physical world in any digitally mediated set of functions.

Sam

And that’s an incredibly powerful piece of this, so to switch gears just a little bit, we’ve talked about the blending of the digital and the real life thing, but with it with better technology that we’ve got for for things like virtual reality, you can now sort of have a spatially aware virtual thing, instead of a website that we’re looking at as a docent on a screen. So how do these same concepts apply in a pure virtual space? Where I might be in a fictitious world rather than in real life, and what’s the blend between the real and the virtual?

Gabriel

I love that question, so if you’ll allow me to nerd out for a moment, if you’ve seen the original avengers series of movies that marvel put out, there’s a moment where you get the arc of bruce banner and the hulk. It’s like when he can or cannot become the hulk, and everyone’s afraid he’s going to do it, in the final scene of the first avengers movie they’re like “Bruce get angry”, and he goes “that’s my trick I’m always angry”. So the the parallel here is that it’s actually always virtual, in one instance it must map to the physical world, in all other instances it doesn’t need to.

So a Harry Potter world or the death star rendered in a 3d engine somewhere can have all the exact same authorities, and policies, and functions that apply. Vader is allowed to apparently strangle people at the helm of the thing, and Dumbledore, if he does something wrong the ministry fires him for a couple weeks, he’s got to go into hiding. So there are actually policies and things that exist in these virtual spaces, as we look at things like decentraland, and ownership, and NFTs, and assets and rights around this we’re going to need certain guarantees around what we can trust in these environments. How these authority structures are set up what is transparent, and and what we can investigate, what we can audit and so building property in a virtual world that you don’t ultimately have ownership of, or you can’t take those assets somewhere else, for example you don’t have any rights in roblox or fortnite they can do whatever they want, it’s a corporation they own it they can just change it, and change all your assets, change your skins, they can just flip the whole thing they can sell it, they can take the company public, there’s all kinds of other functions and interests at play.

So if we expect and of course it seems natural that we’re going to want digital assets, they are becoming increasingly valuable, they’re also becoming increasingly more realistic, and to that degree at some point even experiences themselves will be indistinguishable from reality. Our senses are not that sophisticated, and you have people like Elon and others working on neural link, and others working on neural dust, that at some point are not going to require any sort of ocular interface. There’s not just a singularity of AI, there’s a singularity of reality that is a whole consideration that’s coming, so having certain guarantees around these environments will become increasingly important. This whole move with cryptocurrency, which is native internet money, and now NFTs, which are really smart assets, well not yet, they’re smart receipts to a virtual asset. I think DID’s really get you all the way across the line there, and HSML by the way would allow you to describe the asset in such a way that it would match up. So with the IDs in HSML I would know all these attributes down to color, texture, size or whatever is that version of that thing, and not just a receipt that says that I own something which could be copied a thousand times. A bit wondering of an answer but hopefully that hit a couple of notes.

Sam

No, that’s fantastic, so I want to draw something out a little bit. You sort of talked about how the same applies when I brought up this virtual versus real thing. You said real is the only instance where it actually needs to line up with reality and all these other things can exist virtually as well, that sounds like the metaverse has been talked about by a lot of folks and facebook audaciously renamed themselves to sort of try and own the space. What’s the difference here between the hyperspatial web that you see and the vision of the metaverse that facebook or other companies might be interested in offering?

Gabriel

Okay great question, so i think that i’ll try and provide a nuanced answer. I actually think everyone is making their best attempt to describe the same thing, which is an open and interoperable network. I think the battle right now is not for Facebook to become AOL, everyone’s seen this we’ve all seen this game before, like you don’t you don’t ultimately win with a closed version of this thing. In fact facebook thrives on an open web so that’s not a requirement that they sort of close their borders and they’re going to defend those borders, i think the battle right now is who’s the wordpress of the metaverse. Where are you going to go to build your sites, your stuff, who’s going to provide all the services, all the plugins, all that. So it’s not about Facebook changing their name to Meta and then saying we’re all about the metaverse, even though they’ve been the least arguably the least trustworthy brand in the modern era since I don’t know, Exxon.

We go towards well they want to keep doing the same thing and making money the same way and that’s what Meta is for. I don’t actually think that, I think this is a massive pivot for the company, and that they’re doomed. I talk about this in the book. I don’t think that surveillance capitalism will be a profitable business in 10 years. I think it completely comes apart, look at GDPR right now saying google analytics is not going to work here anymore. That’s his web 2.0 getting smashed, these pillars are already coming down, and I think Mark Zuckerberg has seen this coming since the day he walked in to lucky palmers and put on something that was a space and realized that he had a company about a book. He must have said “oh it’s no longer about pages it’s about spaces” and we’re just seeing the arc of that.

Mark wants an economy, he wants to build the largest economy with the largest amount of services to capture the most. Now people will willingly give over their data in order to optimize and maximize all kinds of inputs and data services around that. He doesn’t have to stay in that same game, and if he doesn’t get out of that game, while building hardware that’s capturing biometric information, the regulators are just going to keep squeezing and squeezing, and the laws and the walls are going to close in. So I don’t see a way out of this for surveillance capitalism-centered businesses, and I think actually that they’re smart enough to know that.

This is why they already just announced last week, “hey we’re Twitter, everyone NFTs we have NFTs now” you can take them and move things around. You can build assets as well, say the asset I would like to move around is everything that you have about me, so let me NFT my data, and then I want to move it around, okay that’s what i would like.

So I think that everyone’s still pointing in the same direction, and if you’re not, and you think that you’re gonna be the prodigy in aol, it didn’t work last time, but we’re gonna really give it a shot this time. So I just I think everyone’s smart enough not to repeat that play, but just like the oil companies and the automobile companies drag their feet as long as possible squeezing every dollar out of something that was causing arguable harm to the world, they still need to maximize the lens that they operate on, which is a fundamentally, their corporations with capital based goals.

So now everyone ever wants an electric car, but it took someone like Elon and Tesla to just come in and change the whole game. So think that that’s what’s happening here, is that the battles for the wordpress of the spatial web or the wordpress of the metaverse, no one’s going to win being the siloed version of the metaverse where you don’t own any of your stuff. It’s going to be a wasteland.

Sam

That’s a fantastic answer, so we’ve talked about this vision and i think we all have a vision in our minds of what this looks like, we see even films depict this like Ready Player One for example does a really great job like laying out this universe of what it could possibly be like in the future. What’s less clear is how we get from today to there. What does this roll out actually look like? Is there a cut over? Is there a gradual way we get there? What’s this like?

Gabriel

Well I mean I can only guess like the rest, but the hardware is the problem. So that’s why you’re seeing billions and billions of dollars being poured into that space, and more or less everyone is going there, so everyone wanted a smartphone. Does everyone remember the facebook smartphone that came out? That lasted like an hour. So Mark was very smart in jumping in on the VR thing when everyone thought that was just whatever, and Google said we’re going to play around in the AR space and their commitment has been soft. Two steps forward, one step back, and a lot of people in that community have not been happy about it, then Magic Leap emerged and said we’re gonna we’re gonna be the new Apple of this space. They said we only need a few billion dollars, and then “oh we spent it all” because it’s hardware and it’s absolutely the worst possible thing to work on, and it’s super hard. So you’re talking about innovation in battery life, innovation in optics, innovation in computing, and it’s just there’s so many pieces.

It’s like that smartphone moment again, which is why Apple just takes their time, and does the exact same thing they always do, waiting in the background so a lot of the froth is squeezed out and some of the core problems are solved, then they find their own path in. They’re like we don’t care about the metaverse, we’re not talking about the metaverse and they’re gonna come out with something different. But you’re gonna see four or five of these all start to really hit the market in a meaningful way, variations on AR and VR or hybrid sort of mixed reality devices or glasses. Then you’ve got Qualcomm, and others that are building chips now that have so much capability in them, AI powered chips with powerful spatial computing capabilities on it. So you’re gonna get 25 chinese companies that are making essentially the android versions of these things. I think by next year we’re going to see sort of that “iPhone 1” moment, and then that’s going to kick off the party. By the end of the decade, for some that can afford it, because the prices will go down you will have those early “Ready Player One” moments. Halfway into the next decade it seems like that’s the dominant thing so that’s the arc.

Of course one of the places we’re looking at, because we always tend to look at this through the consumer market lens, really where a lot of this is needed is in industrial spaces. In warehouses and ports, mining and agriculture, and that’s where the holographic part of this is only one layer, like you could think of the metaverse as sort of being the internet of experience. It’s a human-like interface layer of the spatial web while the internet of things is a machine interface. You having an experience where you go into a store, you grab some stuff, a bunch of cameras identify you and the object, and your account, and your wallet, and you walk out and it just charges you, that’s not a metaverse experience. That’s that you’re embedded in a mesh network of the internet of things, but from our lens that’s still the spatial web, and if then something popped up in front of you that gave you a holographic receipt and that was maybe that’s part of the metaverse. But if as you’re walking into the environment you’re seeing information displayed on top of all of the items saying “hey you’re gluten-free this week how about 10 off that”, that’s a metaversal layer on top of an IOT mediated experience. So you have to consider that component, that sort of digitization of the physical, and physicalization of the digital. These things are intersecting, and one sort of abstract point here is that, that’s what language is.

The experience that a deer has of the physics of a space is almost identical. The deer is in my living room. It can navigate that room better than I can, it understands the objects, but it doesn’t know what they are. But I’ve embedded the meaning, “oh that’s my couch, that’s my tv, that this is a picture of my family” it can see all those things, but it doesn’t know what they are. So I’ve embedded this virtual layer of meaning into the world, all these objects have terms, functions, and ideas. I know what they’re supposed to do.

A monkey can still tell that it can sit on a couch, it understands the basic physics, it understands gravity, it can even understand the function of a couch, in that manner, but it doesn’t know whether that it might be meaningful socially to me whether it’s from Ikea or it’s from some fancy italian store. That’s a social virtual layer that humans, the human monkey has embedded into the world around us. We both configured it physically, like we shaped all this stuff, all these objects, but we’ve also added this whole virtual layer.

Now we’re just doing it in a completely multi-dimensional way, so that the sort of digital twinification is putting those data sets onto the objects, and into the environment, and then we’re going into those sort of imaginary spaces that we put in our brains that we put into books we put in pictures we put into paintings we put into films. Now we’re just making them fully experiential. I think that’s that big shift, is moving from the information based web, to this experiential based web, whether that’s in the physical world or the digital world. Those blurred lines really create some new kind of digital environment and digital era. I don’t have a good word for it, that’s not a good word, forget it.

Sam

That’s a good start though. So you’ve implied that the roll out of the spatial web is not tied to the success in the hardware of augmented reality or virtual virtual reality hardware, meaning it can start sooner. So what does the rollout of the spatial web technologies look like as opposed to things that are tied to a VR or AR experience?

Gabriel

Yeah what a good question. So well one of the things we just spoke about was it’s really the IOT first perspective. So in a warehouse you’ve got workers that essentially spend eight hours a day walking around 100,000 square feet trying to locate an item in a box. So what you do is you you build a three-dimensional map in your head, because some things are high, and something’s low, and some things are on the second floor, and then you get an order on your android phone it says go to row 17, isle 12 section l and grab item xj4-92. Okay where am I? You do all this three-dimensional triangulation, and then you route yourself.

What we found is if you build a digital twin of that entire environment, and you map the inventory into every single location, so you now embedded the information into the space, you can take that same android phone and route that person to that location, and the cognitive load drops in half, and they basically speed up by 30 percent. The productivity, and performance, and actually the mental cost, the tax, we think about “oh people working hard for eight hours and now you’re making them more productive” there are some societal concerns about optimizing human activity in these environments, and there’s been some real concerns about how amazon is doing it, at the same time if you can reduce the cognitive load that’s actually the most expensive part for them, and so that’s one of the functions.

So you’re building a three-dimensional twin you’re embedding the information into the environment, and you’re routing the human worker through that, now ultimately that human worker is hands and feet, because you’re no longer relying on the brain to do that much so the ability to then have humans and robots working in that same space or having humans in the day and robots at night or any combination thereof is a function of creating that shared model.

If there’s a shared model, whether it’s in the city and how how drones then decide are the certain flight lanes that they have, or or government policy that says in europe maybe the eu wants to say that the total flight height for all drones of a certain class is 120 meters, but in the netherlands they might want to say that it’s 100, and brussels maybe they say it’s 80, and as a drone passes through, it cannot ever go higher than 120, but as it goes through the netherlands and over the brussels it has to go down and then down.

This is the machine’s view of the spatial web, and all of those capabilities and things are necessary right now, look at the supply chain, we had 500,000 cargo containers sitting off the coast here over christmas, and that’s because the ability for these systems to be able to communicate to each other is really poor, and our understanding of supply and demand globally is really bad. You have something like the pandemic hit and the butterfly fly effect is just happening all over the place and we’re not resilient enough to be able to adapt at this scale. So that’s really what the ultimate value of something like the spatial web means, adaptation. So it’s about the internet of experience over here on the metaverse side, the internet of things, this industry 4.0 narrative is about automation.

That’s really the goal. Can we use machines and algorithms to automate physical functions in the system, and if you did that the impact on climate and the amount of carbon we’d be using would be hyper optimized, and we could set thresholds and regulations and the machines could adapt and adjust this. Instead something like the pandemic hits, we all go to Amazon and buy everything we ever wanted to buy because we can’t go anywhere, and then we just log jam every port in the world.

This allows us to start to get a more holistic view, and the way that we start to look at the function of monitoring is not so much monitoring and surveillance, because those capabilities will be there, but if you use things like verifiable credentials, you use things like the IDs, and these get built into law and regulation, then we have we can have the ability to share this kind of information with each other. So you can set up a relay race of an adaptive supply chain, don’t send the automated truck until the thing arrives at the port, minimizing the total amount of carbon output.

This adaptive thing is very much what organic systems do, this is how the body manages, you’ve got the autonomic nervous system, we need autonomous supply chains. These are the kind of functions that you can have in the spatial web which are absolutely critical, that are not about having an awesome virtual experience or or trying to sell a jpeg for a million bucks. 

Sam

So you’re claiming then that the world yesterday needs the spatial web, and that the visualization can currently be done, maybe in a 2d factor, or something like on a smartphone, or other flat screens that we have, and then as soon as the AR and VR get ready it’ll slide right into to that function for visualization.

Gabriel

That’s a really important point in this, in the warehouse we have an application that is multi-modal, and some people prefer just the audio, like with turn-by-turn instructions. Some people want to look at the map, some people prefer to hear it, some people want both, in our cases a lot of the workers are spanish so they want spanish audio. Generally they don’t want 3d, we started with 3d holograms, people were like “this is awesome, but i just need this” this is what’s most useful for me.

So even this idea that “oh yeah 3d information is better and holograms are better”, we started doing that four years ago, and everyone was impressed and it was faster and easier, but it hurt to wear the headset for eight hours and the battery would only last three hours. So the hardware isn’t ready on that front, but cameras, AI, algorithms, and computer vision are ready to go, and so that’s a place where this is able to start. It’s really quite useful in some of these really critical environments that are far more relevant to our day-to-day lives and not so much in the entertainment or gaming or space.

There’ll be education, we won’t be doing zooms like this, we’ll all be awkwardly sitting around a very large table, but there are functions today that are super meaningful for deploying the capabilities and use of the spatial web, and this is without even getting into any of the the broader needs around how DIDs can permeate, and self-sovereign identity is relevant in and of itself. Just like land title ownership by the dimensions this is going to end up being the domains of the spatial web, we will essentially be bound like boundaries. Your home is a domain, your property is a domain, the city’s a domain, today we think of domains as urls but domains in the spatial web are spaces.

Sam

Absolutely, so you’ve hinted at this a little already, which is really powerful. What do governments and companies do now to prepare for the coming spatial web?

Gabriel

I mean I think that there are a few groups that governments and researchers and regulators need to start becoming aware of. Predominantly that’s the work that’s being done around DIDs and DIDcomm, verifiable credentials, and the spatial web foundations working group at the IEEE. I think those are the critical components that you need to understand. I think that there is a more provocative branch off of this question, which is what role do governments play in virtual worlds? So it’s outside your jurisdiction, so what is legal or not not legal, and who says and how? So thinking about your geopolitical domain is one thing, thinking about people physically in your dimension that are experiencing something in another dimension that you have no jurisdictional power or authority over is a question.

This ties into larger questions of governance, i mean Minecraft i think is eight times the size of earth. That’s big, that’s a big space, okay that’s one little world, you’re talking there’ll be thousands and then hundreds of thousands. There’s 300 million websites today, there’ll be billions and billions of these environments and spaces, at some point AIs will just auto generate whatever experience you want. Just start choosing adventure in real time based on biometric feedback, so the possibilities here are going to get really weird, really interesting.

The Chinese quote may you live in interesting times is sort of a double-edged sword. These are interesting times and so these are the kinds of questions. The last question I want to leave you with on this point is if Disney land or H&M or whoever builds a store in decentraland, can I build a Disney store right next to the Disney store in decentraland? Who’s preventing it? Are they respecting the trademark and IP agreements of the United States?

We will need treaties between organizations, countries on earth, and in these virtual worlds as if they were other planets. In the same way that we had to look at these challenges when we formed the league of nations or the united nations, we’re going to have other dimensions that we need to interact with that have entire economies that we trade in where the jurisdictions don’t apply.

Then again who do you trust in those environments relative to what authorities? And so what prevents me from doing that in decentraland? Why can’t I sell Disney merch? or modify it with marvel or warner brothers stuff or whatever i like? So i think this is where trusts and guarantees around verifiability and credentialing of authorities becomes really critical, and if we’re going to digitize all of this, all of our reality in this next age, and all this money is flowing into the space, these are the kinds of big questions that we’re constantly thinking about and working on with respect to the standards. 

Sam

Fantastic, we are unfortunately out of time, but this has been great to hear your vision and thoughts around these things. Is there anything you’d like to leave us with?

Gabriel

Yes, I think that the the role of identity is a fundamental pillar, and i think that in the the arc of history when we look at the role of property, and property rights, physical property rights, i just talked about intellectual property rights, data property rights, and digital asset property rights are are the next challenge. This is not a purely philosophical question, this is going to come down to law. So we need to start thinking of what does digital law mean in the 21st century? And making sure that the work we’re doing is addressing some of those questions, or hosting some of those conversations, I’d like to see more constitutional lawyers involved in these conversations. I’d like to see people that are really working through this sort of lens of data rights and ethics having these dialogues. That’s why I think that the next battleground is property rights, with respect to the function of data and the things that data form, which become these new hyperspatial objects in this next era.

Sam

Fantastic, Gabriel, thank you for spending this time with us we’re we’re grateful for your willingness to be here. I hope everyone enjoyed this conversation and we’ll look forward to seeing you all in the future.

Gabriel

Thank you so much for having me, take care everybody 

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