Emerging Technologies

Spatial computing: Why the future of the internet is 3D

Person wearing smartphone virtual reality headset inside a room with other people some wearing the headset: Will we see mass adoption of spatial computing in the next two years?

Will we see mass adoption of spatial computing in the next two years? Image: Unsplash/stephan sorkin

Robin Pomeroy
Podcast Editor, World Economic Forum
Sophia Akram
Writer, Forum Agenda
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  • As a three-dimensional metaverse could replace the two-dimensional internet, why should we be both optimistic and cautious?
  • Two experts of the new 3D digital world bring their perspectives to this week’s Radio Davos.
  • Listen to the podcast here, on any podcast app via this link or YouTube.

“I give it about two years to get mass adoption but what Apple has done is laid the groundwork to get us all used to the fact that we will have digital content overlooking our visual field and our physical space.”

The release of Apple’s Vision Pro – a mixed-reality headset that combines augmented reality and virtual reality – has rekindled discussion around the metaverse. As Brittan Heller, lecturer on International Law, Technology and Human Rights at Stanford University notes above, it could renew interest in and spur more users of this type of “spatial computing.”

On this episode of Radio Davos, Heller speaks alongside fellow proponent of three-dimensional digital worlds Yonatan Raz-Fridman, chief executive officer of metaverse company Supersocial and host of the podcast “Into the Metaverse.”

Here are some highlights.

The metaverse’s moment

Yonatan Raz-Fridman: My moment, that I realised the metaverse is a thing, actually happened at the beginning of COVID, when I also started my company Supersocial.

And what happened was I have seen the evolution of platforms in environments like Minecraft, Roblox for about a decade, and I've seen how they've evolved from being something that kids play in their free time, into something that becomes more of a next-generation social platform in 3D on the internet, which means that for the first time, we now have a generation of 12, 15, 18-year-olds who essentially grew up interacting on the internet, mostly as 3D avatars.

Brittan Heller: I give it about two years to get mass adoption, but what Apple has done is laid the groundwork to get us all used to the fact that we will have digital content overlooking our visual field and our physical space.

The comment that I hear from everyone who's bought one is that after they take it off, they start grabbing at their environment and making the gesture to click even though the computer interface is gone.

It's kind of akin to the way that before you got a smartphone, life was just different. And now it's hard to imagine navigating the world without one.


The impact of 3D

Yonatan Raz-Fridman: I believe that the metaverse provides an opportunity to reimagine the way people connect, communicate, shop and ultimately express themselves online.

And the reason why it's an opportunity to reimagine these things is because the metaverse, in my belief and based on so many conversations I've had with people, the consensus I've reached today, at least, is that the metaverse is some sort of a real-time, 3D-enabled internet.

What does that mean? That means that we are looking at an internet where people experience the internet, experience content, connection, communication, expression, shopping, entertainment, learning, work.

Brittan Heller: The impact of spatial computing on your body and your mind is very different than the impact of the flat screen traditional internet on your body and mind. And that's really the rub.

When you have an experience in virtual reality, the inventor of the first headset, his name is Tom Furness, he explains that it's written on the brain as if in permanent ink. That's from an interview that I did with him for Harvard Kennedy School about three years ago. And he explained that these experiences are processed through your hippocampus in the same way that you create memories.

Without AI or without the explosion of AI capabilities, there's not going to be a metaverse.

—Yonatan Raz-Fridman
Yonatan Raz-Fridman

The future is AI

Yonatan Raz-Fridman: AI is not separate from the future of the internet. Of course, there's many, many, many uses for AI beyond talking about the metaverse ... anywhere, from drug discovery to making work more productive.

But in the context of the metaverse or the future of the internet, it is certainly my opinion that AI is a massive enabler of the metaverse. I would go to an extent of saying, without AI or without the explosion of AI capabilities, there's not going to be a metaverse. So they really go hand in hand, and AI is a massive enabler of what the internet could be when it shapes up to be a metaverse.

Brittan Heller: I think it's very reasonable to suggest that AI is going to be a huge part of how we compute in this new hardware. I've been calling the next iteration of the internet 'the embodied web'.

And when I say the embodied web, you pick up data from your body. It is used to calibrate the new hardware. And then information from that hardware comes back to you. So it's almost this reciprocal relationship.

And I can't see us doing that and still continuing to run AI on our laptops. It just makes no sense.

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