Intel has released its first statement on the metaverse, and while the chipmaker is a believer in what some think will be the future of how the digital and physical worlds could one day coexist, the company warns of a major roadblock that could get in the way of this proposed platform.
That is: the metaverse will need a 1,000-fold increase in computational efficiency than what is available today, according to Raja Koduri, the senior vice president and general manager of Intel’s Accelerated Computing Systems and Graphics Group, who outlined his vision in a blog post.
Before I go any further, let’s talk about what the hell the metaverse even is. You might have heard the term recently, or at least caught the news about Facebook renaming itself “Meta.”
Defining the metaverse is tricky, and visualizing it is even more difficult, but if we pare it down, the metaverse removes our digital world from a fixed device like a phone or laptop, and creates virtual spaces enabled by VR, AR, and mixed reality. It is the blending of the real world with the digital one where digital objects exist in the real world and the digital world appears more like the physical one.
There is no limit to what you could do in the metaverse. You might attend a virtual concert from your home, own a mansion with its own helicopter pad, or play soccer with your friends in FC Barcelona’s Camp Nou. If you’re still struggling to envision the metaverse, Ready Player One is a good reference point, as is Free City in Fall Guy.
As for its origins, the term “metaverse” was first coined in Neal Stephenson’s 1992 sci-fi classic Snow Crash (if you haven’t read it, give it a try) but has been theorized in pop culture for many decades.
Getting back to what stands between us and the future of computing, in an ideal scenario, everything within the metaverse happens in real-time and is persistent across private platforms, allowing billions of people to work, play, or socialize in new ways. This is one of the key elements of the metaverse, and one Intel says we’re nowhere near unlocking.
“We need several orders of magnitude more powerful computing capability, accessible at much lower latencies across a multitude of device form factors,” Koduri wrote. “To enable these capabilities at scale, the entire plumbing of the internet will need major upgrades.”
Even with proposed advances like transistor stacking, those upgrades, though, will take some time. Koduri, in an interview with Quartz, said a standard Moore’s Law growth curve would get us between eight and 10x growth within the next five years, many magnitudes short of the 1,000x needed. Koduri believes Intel can bridge the gap by using algorithms, architectures, and clever software enhancements, the same ingredients he says will help limit energy consumption.
Intel is already paving the roads for the metaverse and claims some of the chips it will release in 2022 will get us a step closer. As encouraging as that may sound, creating the metaverse is not something that can be achieved by one company or even one set of technology. Your personal devices, the cloud, cellular networks, Wi-Fi networks, not to mention apps and software platforms, will all need to work in tandem.
Love it or hate it, the metaverse is coming in some form or another, and several elements of this vision already exist, in a rudimentary state, within today’s technology. Up until now, talk around the metaverse has focused primarily on the possibilities it could enable and the exciting products we’ll use to engage in this world, but what’s more concrete than these fanciful realities is that significant advances to our core technologies are needed before we can skydive over the Grand Canyon or party in a Roman colosseum.