#533: High Fidelity is Architecting for VR Privacy with Self-Sovereign Identity

philip-rosedalePhilip Rosedale has been thinking deeply about how to architect large-scale, distributed virtual worlds after experiencing many bottlenecks in running Second Life. High Fidelity is taking a much more distributed approach with how it’s being developed openly in open source using Worklist.net contractors, how it plans on distributing hosting and compute resources to user’s computers, as well as using a decentralized identity based upon the blockchain. Rather than having a centralized authority for tracking and data mining an individual’s identity, they’re planning on using what’s called “Self-Sovereign Identity”, which Christopher Allen explains in great detail in his comprehensive essay titled A Path to Self-Sovereign Identity.

I had a chance to catch up with Rosedale at the 4th Silicon Valley Virtual Reality conference where we talked about distributed identity, privacy in VR, High Fidelity business model based upon sales tax, whether existing cryptocurrencies will work for them, yang and yin currencies, and their open source development process. High Fidelity is architecting a lot of the open standards for the future of the metaverse, and Rosedale is one of the most deep and profound thinkers in the virtual reality space. He’s ahead of his time in architecting virtual worlds that will be able to democratize space and disrupt travel.


May 5th, 2017 also marks the three-year anniversary for the Voices of VR podcast, and this is a fitting podcast as I started the bulk of my interviews at the very first Silicon Valley Virtual Reality Conference in 2014 and I’ve been able to talk to Rosedale at each of the last four SVVR gatherings. You can check out my previous interviews with Rosedale in episodes #25, #173, and #376.

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Rough Transcript

[00:00:05.452] Kent Bye: The Voices of VR Podcast. My name is Kent Bye, and welcome to The Voices of VR Podcast. So today marks the third year anniversary of The Voices of VR Podcast. I published my very first episode back on May 5th, 2014, and that was in preparation to going to the Silicon Valley Virtual Reality Conference and Expo in 2014. That was kind of like the first consumer gathering of virtual reality, and I wanted to go there and just document the people that were there. It kind of felt like the early days of a homebrew computer club, and I just wanted to capture some of that oral history. And one of the people that I talked to at that very first SVVR was Philip Rosedale. And I've talked to him every year since at SVVR. So you can go back through the archives of the Voices of VR and listen to episodes 25, 173, 376, and now episode 533, tracking the evolution of high fidelity. So iFidelity to me is one of the most interesting social VR applications that are out there. Because I think that Philip Rosedale is taking all the lessons that he learned from creating Second Life and trying to do it in a way that is architecting for the future. So he's trying to build the vision of the metaverse that is going to exist in 2020. So using a lot of the cutting edge technologies with trying to integrate things like the blockchain and distributed identity and cryptocurrencies. So I think he's playing the long game here. And also there's a big part of the code that's being written for High Fidelity that's open sourced. So talk to Philip a little bit about some of the business model ideas that he have in order to make his venture sustainable over the long run. And the other thing that Philip is doing with this distributed identity system is trying to create something that is referred to as a self-sovereign system. Christopher Allen wrote an essay called The Path Towards Self-Sovereign Identity, and he traces the evolution of identity through these four different phases, starting with a centralized identity, then a federated identity than a user-centric identity. And now we're moving into this idea of a self-sovereign identity, which essentially means that you have the key from a blockchain that is able to control your own identity, and you don't need to rely on these centralized sources like, say, a Facebook login or a Twitter login in order to enter into a website. So the bottom line is that this is a system that's really being architected for privacy in VR. And I think to me, it's like one of the most revolutionary ideas that I've heard from anybody else in the VR industry, starting to really fuse some of these distributed identity and blockchain based identity systems into the fabric of their system at high fidelity. So we talk about that and a lot more on today's episode of the Voices of VR podcast. But first, a quick word from our sponsor. Today's episode is brought to you by the Voices of VR Patreon campaign. The Voices of VR podcast started as a passion project, but now it's my livelihood. And so if you're enjoying the content on the Voices of VR podcast, then consider it a service to you in the wider community and send me a tip. Just a couple of dollars a month makes a huge difference, especially if everybody contributes. So donate today at patreon.com slash Voices of VR. So this interview with Philip happened on March 30, 2017, during the Silicon Valley Virtual Reality Conference at the San Jose Convention Center in San Jose, California. So with that, let's go ahead and dive right in.

[00:03:40.197] Philip Rosedale: I'm Philip Rosedale, and I'm the CEO and the co-founder of High Fidelity, and before that, the founder of Second Life. And so I've been doing this VR stuff all my life, and we've spoken before. In terms of an update, well, I think VR is in this very interesting period where a lot of stuff's working, but there's not as much growth as everybody would like. We're not, I was saying earlier today, we're not the iPhone yet, because the rates of use and adoption and reuse of applications are not there yet. But if you look at the potential for the technology, it's as much as ever. There's more competitors than ever. You know, everybody's in the hardware business now. All kinds of stuff going on. If you look at the applications that are working, I think there's two very rich non-gaming areas where everybody's kind of looking at it, and I remember you writing about this, or talking about this. One is big screen, that is the idea of desktop replacement, the idea that you could Stop using a desktop screen as your computing metaphor to browse, to do your email, to do whatever. That's a very powerful idea. The hardware is not quite here to do that yet because the current generation of headsets are a little too low of resolution to not cause eye strain and a difficulty reading text. But the next generation headsets, which we can definitely see, there's some here at SVVR today that we can play with, will provide, in my opinion, enough resolution to replace the desktop. And that is a revolution that VR will almost be a sort of a subset of, and AR. The bigger issue is screen replacement. The second thing that is working, that's causing the light and repeated use is, of course, social. And that's because when you put the headset on, you're blinding yourself to the world and the people around you. We are social animals. And so what that means is that for us to be willing to do VR, there need to be people on the other side when we put the headset on. That's a big idea. So the social applications that correctly manage to deliver that experience are very compelling and are likely things for us to be reusing. But when you look at the social VR experience today, you have this problem, which is your friends and your family and your co-workers do not yet have the equipment. So when you go into social VR, whatever the group of people it is you're going to connect with in there, you're not going to know them. They're going to be people from across the world, which is wonderful, but they're going to be people, they're not your friends and co-workers. So that means a couple of things. We have to build the technology for VR, which is what High Fidelity works on, to try and accommodate the sort of social experiences, especially the early ones we're going to want to have. It means that the design decisions around things like your avatar are going to need to be somewhat different maybe than some of the demos that we've seen thus far. So for example, if you don't know people, this has been well studied, you want to present a very detailed and accurate representation of who you are or who you want to be. because it needs to be very memorable because you're saying hello to somebody that you've never met, not your friend. If you're doing it with your friend, you could just have, you know, if it's Kent, you know, you can just have glasses and a brief kind of approximation of a haircut and everybody be like, sure, that's Kent. But if you're walking around in St. Marcos Square in VR and you've never met somebody, you're not going to want to present just that because it'll be you and a hundred different other people that look exactly like that. So, Choices like that are different right now in VR. And I think for the next couple of years, we're going to have to live with the first generation hardware and the first generation experience. And so the social experiences are going to be things that are things like political rallies or maybe dating in some form. Certainly an event like SVVR should absolutely happen in VR. It would be better. If we can make the software work, it would be super, super cool to run around here in VR and go to this event. But what do you need for that? You need to have a lot of people in one space. And so, for example, as an update from last time we've talked, what High Fidelity is working on right now is putting a lot of people in one space. So we had this big celebration, I think about a month ago now, where we got to 110 people in one space. I think you may have been there. I went to the one before that, yeah. Yeah, so we got up to 110, that's right, you were there, it was like, we got close, it was like 85 or something. But yeah, like I did the wave, you know, and doing the wave is, I mean, that may seem kind of trite, but that's the thing where you suddenly feel the emotional connection with the audience. And so, if you have low enough latency, and if you have the right feature set, and if people can move their hands and put them above their head, You suddenly have this feeling of connection with an audience and connection with a crowd. And so, because we believe that a lot of the early social VR experiences will be that kind of thing, there'll be a speaker giving a wonderful talk, or a teacher teaching to a large classroom, or a group of people meeting each other for the first time, cocktail party or you know something like that we need to enable those experiences to have capacity for you know hundreds and then ultimately thousands of people something like a political rally needs to be thousands of people and what a great use for VR right now would be to you know have a political rally.

[00:08:21.715] Kent Bye: Yeah, so the thing that I find really fascinating about High Fidelity, and I think we've talked almost at every SVR or the last four events, that you're taking this kind of decentralized approach. Not only are you doing a lot of things open source and putting things on GitHub, but you're not necessarily doing things with binaries, with, let's say, Unity or Unreal Engine. I mean, you actually are. downloading a binary, but it seems like you're having it compiled through Electron and it's like a web stack. And so you have this using the web technologies in order to do these experiences. So I wanted to focus on a couple of the logistics of that because I've heard a lot about WebVR, for example, A-Frame, these different frameworks. And I'm just really curious to hear how your technological roadmap is going to either intersect and support these existing WebVR technologies, A-Frame, other things like that, or if you're kind of on a separate thread because you have to have certain tech stack in order to do what you're doing.

[00:09:18.019] Philip Rosedale: Well, from a spiritual and a principled perspective, we're very close to, I would say, the wonderful things that WebVR is doing, that A-Frame is doing. Practically speaking, we're just kind of using the same techniques trying to get this show on the road. We believe that the long-term experience for shared VR will be one where, much like the web today, there's going to be hundreds of millions to even billions of servers, and then billions and billions of users. And what that means, I think, is that the architecture will be web-like, meaning that it will be open source. There will be many contributors. Millions of people will want to do work on this stuff. I mean, if we're building the architecture of reality in another decade, you know, almost another planet that we're going to work and play and live on. there's going to be millions of people who want to participate in that process. So an open source process, a web-like process, is the logical choice in that case. It's also true that content sharing and identity sharing that you're going to need to do, you know, when you walk into another place, you need to be Kent. I need to be Philip. And what that means is that that identity information needs to be portable between these multiple places, and that again suggests a SSL, web, client, server architecture, right, where you have one client that connects to multiple servers. So we think that, you know, that's why we've really kind of spiritually and mission-wise aligned ourselves with that strategy. I mean, the other thing we think is that if this really is our future world, no one company can own it. I mean, this has been talked about much more broadly than VR. There's no way we as a human culture would be making a wise choice if we enabled, you know, a single company to be the provider of, say, the hosting services for our future like that. So that's what we're doing. With respect to specific initiatives like WebVR, for example, We definitely want to richly support, for example, all the content formats that we possibly can. We're looking at things like GLTF right now, for example. And we use JavaScript for all our content development. Our plan is to make stuff as easy and flat and open as we can. There are other things, like our 3D audio, where there are no open standards as yet. So we couldn't just adopt existing standards. So web VR right now doesn't have live interaction. It is more at the scene description or the static stage. So, there we're actually just trying to build ahead of the curve and build things that hopefully can get adopted as standards later on. So, for example, the way that you connect from one of our clients to our server. We've documented that, but we anticipate, you know, bringing that into a whole standards process at some point. And once people care and there's enough people using social VR stuff, we'll push all these things forward, hopefully as standards ourselves. But it's very much our belief Kind of spiritually that we can't own this nobody can own it It's you know, if you really are looking at the beginning of the web here, and I think we are we know how that story went

[00:12:02.072] Kent Bye: Yeah, and you know, I've been doing a lot of coverage about privacy on the podcast recently and looking at issues about whether or not you are going into a VR experience, whether or not you're able to actually be fully anonymous or have some sort of pseudonym so that you're able to maybe step into characters that you don't want to link your online identity with your real life identity. You know, and digging into the Oculus privacy policy, it seems like they essentially have enough to kind of crack your identity with the unique identifier, your location, you have all these things you're basically tracked and all this information that you may do or say in virtual reality could eventually be tied back to your personal identity. So I'm curious to hear more about your approach and ideas around distributed identity, if there's going to be some sort of blockchain approach that you're going to be able to authorize identity, but if you're able to then use something that you're developing in-house or someone else is developing so that you could also go in between different services as well.

[00:12:58.998] Philip Rosedale: Well, let's talk about the kind of requirements first, and then back up and talk about the architecture. The requirements, and I, well, I'm not sure who agrees with me or not, but let me say what they are. You definitely will need to have the opportunity to be anonymous in the same way that when you browse a website today, you are nominally anonymous. You know, at the start, you're anonymous. If you want to buy something from that website, you might need to create an account, you might need to enter payment information. In a manner more similar to real life, I think, than the web today, or certainly games, the way VR is going to work is that you're going to have an individual ability and control over disclosure of identity information. The more you disclose, maybe the more rights and capabilities you'll be given. So you might go to an event, for example, be anonymous, because you don't want anybody to know you're there, but maybe you can't speak because you're anonymous. That's fine. That's a trade-off. So what we believe is that you will absolutely need to have control over the individual pieces of your identity. Some people call this attestation, to touch briefly on the sort of blockchain ideas that I think are very reasonable around this. But you're going to need to have some ability to hold your own credentials, show those credentials. When you show the credentials to, say, get into a meeting in VR, you will want to do that as narrowly as possible. Ideally, you'll only show the credential to the doorman at the meeting. Maybe you'll need to give payment information to a server because you're paying for an event or something like that. But this information will need to be held by you, and it can be technologically held by you, protected by you, and shared only as necessary to have different experiences. On a social level, when two people walk up to each other in VR, they are not going to want to have their real-life name floating over their head. We don't do that in real life. There's a good reason for it. We don't wear name tags. It's not just because of our privacy, it's also because of social convention. The exchange of shaking hands and giving your human name to someone is an important social ritual. And we're not going to give up that ritual in VR, it's going to be as meaningful and compelling as it is in the real world. So, the social ritual needs to be one where privacy is respected and kind of you start with privacy. You're not going to want to trust servers other than those you want to go to and you're certainly not going to want some one company able to, as you touched on before, string together identifying information or use data to create a picture of you. You are not going to want that in VR because it's going to be very dangerous and serious. You would, as a citizen of a VR space, then be at risk from the state or whatever. It's definitely not where things are going to start. So I think we're going to see that. Technically, I think the architecture for that may well be some kind of distributed ledger approach. There are a bunch of companies right now working on this idea of self-sovereignity, where you take statements made about you by, say, a trusted third party or something, like I have California driver's license XXX, and you store those statements in something like the blockchain, or a blockchain, or something else. I think there's some other proposals that are equally reasonable. And then you are the only person who controls disclosure of those attestations. What we are looking at tactically with High Fidelity is how to use those types of systems, maybe even more than one of them. But basically, if you come onto a High Fidelity server and the server says, hey, this is a building environment, I want to let you build, but I only want to let you build 100 building blocks a day or something, can you give me a globally unique ID, which is, say, a High Fidelity account or something? I believe that the way that you'll do that and what we're looking at is you'll disclose under your control a key, which is one of these things called an attestation, which is a little piece of information about you. The server will get that back. Maybe it can only look at it once, but then it says, OK, I know who you are. I've got a key relationship with you. And you go from there. But I think it needs to be high privacy. I think anonymity needs to be a choice and certainly a starting point for a relationship. And I think it's a very important issue.

[00:16:37.688] Kent Bye: Yeah. In covering privacy just in general, there's this third-party doctrine, which essentially says that any data that you give over to any third party essentially has no real reasonable expectation of it being remained private, which means that anything that you store and record, the government can come to you and say, we want all this information on this person. And the company is essentially required to hand that over, even if they have a search warrant or not. So I think the big thing that I see in VR is what information is being recorded and do you need to absolutely record that? So from High Fidelity's perspective, is there anything that you see, from your perspective, needs to be recorded in order to maintain these different social relationships with people within VR environments?

[00:17:19.228] Philip Rosedale: I mean, at a high level, clearly the answer is no. I mean, we don't need it. To build a great business where we make tons of money, we don't need to store personal information about what you do. We ask people in our client today if they'll send us session data so that we can debug crashes and stuff, but that data doesn't need to be tied to an individual. It could exist as an atomic data point that we literally, and we're doing this, we literally never store any information so that even an IT person at our company or whatever, under threat from somebody else, literally, would not be able to reconstruct that information. And I think that consumers or users of VR will probably, hopefully to our benefit, look for companies that provide that promise. So that, yeah, even if governments came to us or something and said, well, you know, we need this information, there's no real business reason for us to know very much. You know, different governments have some degree of legal requirements around what you're supposed to keep. This, for example, was a factor in Second Life with respect to things like chat histories. But what we tried to do in Second Life, for example, was to absolutely minimize the amount of data that we kept in any case. And I think with High Fidelity, both because High Fidelity is a open source software and service provider, the servers themselves, which is kind of maybe the repositories of these histories of user activities, we don't even run those servers. So we don't want that data. We're never going to want it.

[00:18:34.122] Kent Bye: Yeah, and looking at this in terms of the economy and also the history of new media, I was at the IEEE VR and heard a media theorist basically go into this period of the early days of cinema, and they call it the cinema of attractions, which is like you're at an amusement park and you have these films that are showing. This was before filmmaking was standardized and systematized, and there's a lot of early experimentation as to what was even possible to do with film. But as soon as it came under the influence of the economics and being able to tell a story in a certain way, it sort of put a certain bounding box on that. And I feel like we're still in the early days of virtual reality where we're sort of in this experimental phase, but yet I see that there's these economic pressures that are going to start to come in. I kind of think of it, you know, there's a book by Daniel Pinchback where he cites someone talking about the difference between a yang currency and a yin currency. A yang currency promotes competition and individuation and kind of like the free market that we have with our existing debt-based currency. But then there's yin currencies that really promote cooperation and sharing. If you think of it as a negative interest rate, a piece of bread, for example. If you were to use bread as a currency, you wouldn't want to hold and hoard on to bread forever because it would go stale and you wouldn't get any use. And so, you get this phenomena where that's kind of like a negative interest rate where you actually have to give it away in order to actually get any benefit out of it. And the person who's the most rich ends up being the person who gives the most away. And I kind of think about open source as a form of yen currency. There's value in being able to update and release quickly. And the more quickly you get it out there, then it's more valuable. And the more that you hold onto it, the less valuable it becomes. But it also creates this cooperation and sharing. And it feels like Hot Fidelity is in this really interesting position where you're taking venture capital mundane in the traditional young currency systems, but you're doing it in such a way where you're trying to promote all these yen currency functions within your company. So you're trying to balance these two. And yet, I feel like in virtual reality as a whole, we have the whole culture is being driven by this young currency mindset where they want to track everything that you're doing and basically kind of erode your privacy in order to sell ads to you, which is sort of like the traditional young currency mindset. And I have a sense that there's going to be these new models where maybe people are paying up front, or there's going to be other ways of paying, whether it's through compute time or cryptocurrencies. So, I'm sure this is something that you've thought a lot about. I'm curious to hear your vision for how this is going to play out, of how to balance the yang and the yang, in terms of money and economy.

[00:21:05.340] Philip Rosedale: There's so much to be said there. I think you're right. Open source is obviously a, hopefully a net positive sum concept where, you know, some steward, you know, us in the case of High Fidelity, tries to kind of gather together what becomes a greater contribution for its own investment per unit time like bread. And I think there's also kind of a let it ride idea here. If you really believe that VR is going to be as big as I do, then your future values are appreciated so much that you can discount any profit taking today. And I think one of the things we're seeing in VR, and of course I'm an older man in this stuff, I've been working on this my whole life. One of the things we're seeing in VR right now is everybody kind of trying to take money off the table. Like, hey, if I can sell this game, or if I can sell my company to this other company, or if I could charge $12 on this or that on Steam or something, I better well do it. There's not that many VR users. I need to get some money from them. I think that's a fair perspective to take right now. And I think in some ways, as you say, it's the competitive economy. It's a good perspective. I mean, if people are willing to pay for things, for example, in VR, and we know that, we know we're doing something right. But if you let it ride and you think a little bit about the likely future being a much, much bigger one than where we are now, then it does, I think to a smart strategic thinker, it does cause you to invest in that type of a positive sum economy behavior. I think that sharing computers is another place, you touched on that, where that kind of collaborative approach is really interesting. As I've said a number of times, we're building High Fidelity to use everyone's computers to create the places that we go to in VR. And the reason for that is that there's a thousand times more computers at everybody's houses than there are in all the server complexes. And so, server complexes are a market economy. You pay rent for a server, but there is this economy of surplus almost in the hands of all of us. Taken together, we've got a billion machines. which is a thousand times more machines than all the servers. So I think another really interesting place where you can get into this idea of shared public access to a utility where if we all share it, there's a benefit to the commons. I think that's very evident in this idea of sharing compute time.

[00:23:15.915] Kent Bye: And talking to Ebi Altberg last year, he talks about Project Sansar and the metaphor of using taxes. There's either sales tax or property tax. You have property tax by actually buying land and actually having content in these virtual environments. And then the sales tax is that if you are controlling the economy, then you're able to perhaps take some money as a sort of exchange rate of providing that service overall. So what is High Fidelity's view on both the property tax and sales tax?

[00:23:46.110] Philip Rosedale: Well, property tax made a lot of sense with Second Life because we literally were running, you know, as many as, you know, at peak, you know, whatever it was, you know, 30,000 or whatever servers that were consuming electricity in our co-location facilities. And so there was a very explicit mapping between compute time and real estate in the virtual world. We hadn't built software to scale or reapportion that very dynamically. So you literally knew, you know, you were paying $300 a month for a Second Life island. You were like buying, you know, one CPU and in the old days, one whole pizza box was what you were paying us for. So it made a lot of sense. But again, with this compute surplus that potentially exists out there, I don't know whether seeking rent is likely to be the right long-term strategy because there's so much land available that you don't need to amass your own servers. You can just let everybody contribute their own. When we think about our business at High Fidelity, I think there are places where charging a tax is fine. Like, for example, a marketplace. Marketplaces have the property that they need some degree of incentives to keep everybody engaging in them. So for example, at a large scale, patents and copyright law Countries, over time, agree to different things. Like the whole idea of patents in the United States, as you probably know, was to promote the printing and dissemination of information that was of common utility to everyone. And the deal the government struck was to say, for three years, you can charge people for this thing, whatever your gadget is, your invention, but after three years, we, the U.S. government, get to print it and give it to all the farmers so that they can do it for free. I think that, for example, a marketplace in a virtual world needs to do something like say, hey, can we all agree that everybody participating in the marketplace is willing to give each other a patent period of a year or something or whatever? So that's an example of a utility that a marketplace can provide to its constituents that's outside of something completely decentralized like the blockchain. There's no concept of copyright in the blockchain. It's an interesting thought and a heady one, but So I think there's something that, for example, with high fidelity we can provide, which is we can provide tools, not just currency, but also things like copyright law for the people that are agreeing to participate in a marketplace. And that is something that maybe we can charge 5% for. I mean, that seems fine to me. But I think you have to be careful about charging taxes in places where you can deliver real utility versus charging in taxes. I think I've heard this expression made by the founder, Fred of Coinbase, who I had on in a fireside chat high-fidelity the other day and we were talking about this and he talks about the rent-seeking middleman that if you're in a situation where everyone has to go through you then you can seek a rent or seek a tax and That I think doesn't seem like the right thing to me and it seems like that'll be vigorously competed against

[00:26:30.537] Kent Bye: Well, I guess that's the other thing, is that is High Fidelity going to have a singular currency that you design and architect and control, or are there going to be other competing currencies that are able to have? So I'm just curious if you're in the process of trying to create and architect your own cryptocurrency, or if you're going to be using ones from outside and leveraging that, or kind of have a hybrid approach where you're able to kind of use whatever currency you want.

[00:26:53.993] Philip Rosedale: Well again, let's talk about the practical requirement. The practical requirement is the probability that any two individuals who run into each other in high fidelity, or second life for that matter, are from the same country is low. So the use of a single currency like the dollar to do exchange is impractical because in all likelihood your two individuals don't share the same currency. So there's a practical requirement, which is you need to use a currency of some kind that spans national borders. That's why we pioneered at Second Life, you know, kind of the first cryptocurrency in a way. Admittedly held by one company, but still had many of the properties of something like Bitcoin today. So, I think that's going to be true with High Fidelity. What we're looking at right now with High Fidelity is, can we just use the systems that are out there? I mean, can we use the cryptocurrencies? Can we use Ethereum or can we use Bitcoin? I mean, I'm sure that we will, but can we just use them as a means of exchange? I'm a practical person. When somebody comes to VR for the first time, they've already gone to all this trouble of buying their headset and getting it set up and putting it on their face. I don't want them, you know, just for the sake of it's so interesting to have to, you know, maybe make a Bitcoin wallet or something. So we're more at that kind of tactical stage of saying, how can we both use the right types of systems, use global systems, have to use global system, like I said, and then use something that's really, really easy for people to use. So whether we need to like facilitate that by building some products or services on top of that, or whether we can just use what's out there, I don't know. Hopefully we can just use what's out there.

[00:28:18.538] Kent Bye: So last year we were, I think, at some event at the baseball park and we talked very briefly. And one of the things that you had mentioned to me was this tension between having people go online and kind of cultivate this monoculture and the cost of having individual regional cultures at the same time. I don't know if you remember the point that you're making. I'm just curious if you could kind of expand on that as we move more and more into having these embodied experiences of culture online. What is the cost for the culture that's in geographic locations?

[00:28:50.822] Philip Rosedale: Well, it's interesting. I am from Generation X, so I am of that age. Meaning that I was born before the birth of the public internet really I mean I was born well before but my working life had part of it before and part of it after and that makes me different for example than the Millennials as they're often referred who have been awash with technology and communication technology from birth and And what's fascinating when you look at those two different groups is that we older people are quite individualistic. We're cowboys and cowgirls. We're pretty distinctive in our approach to things. And I think this is what I was talking to you about before. I think there is a risk that VR, and for that matter all the communication technologies, homogenizes and creates monocultures, and of course with the recent election everybody's now talking about this, where people are able to maybe seek out affinity and resonate with it and build a culture around it in ways that could sometimes be dangerous or stupefying. if we all kind of groupthink and take our social creature tendencies to the maximum, we may all just become identical. I don't think that VR is particularly more dangerous than any other communication technology in that risk, but I think that it is nevertheless a risk. And I think that, I hope, that people will take advantage of the counter opportunity in VR, which is to meet people that you wouldn't normally See eye to eye with or no, and and I think that VR does offer that if VR does become a physical space replacement What's great is that if you walk into a bar so to speak in VR? You will for certain be surrounded by a person from Asia a person from the UK a person from mainland Europe you know a person from South America someday soon hopefully a person from Africa and they're all going to be in that same bar. And that seems to me like a huge win for humanity to have that happen. So I'm concerned about the establishment of monocultures, but I think that by and large, not just with VR, but other communications technologies, we've stayed on the good side of that. But I do, like I say, the Generation X versus the Millennials, it is kind of interesting because I do think that the younger people, and maybe this is just me being a crotchety old guy now, the younger people do seem more homogenous than when I grew up.

[00:31:08.462] Kent Bye: And so what do you want to experience in VR?

[00:31:11.374] Philip Rosedale: Wow. I would like to see... There's a lot of places in the world that I'm... I love to fly. I mean, I actually like it. It's a good seat, sleep on the plane, you know, use my laptop. But there's a lot of places in the world that I'd like to see that if they could be captured and imported into VR and I could see them with other people, I wouldn't want to go see them alone, but if I could go see them with a crowd or with a guide or with a friend or whatever, Oh, I would like to do that. So that's one thing I'd like to see. I'd like to see a really big space that contains many of, if not someday all, of the important places on the real Earth. I don't think I need to actually get in an airplane and burn all that fossil fuel to go see all of them. So that's one thing I'd really love to see. I mean, I could go on for hours about that.

[00:31:58.429] Kent Bye: Awesome. And finally, what do you think is the ultimate potential of virtual reality, and what am I able to enable?

[00:32:05.897] Philip Rosedale: Well, I think the ultimate potential of virtual reality is something that we have not even begun to comprehend, which is, if we can replace the senses, if we can move the full experience of being face-to-face, like we are right now, over the wire, what follows from that I think nobody really has any grasp on. Which is, what follows from that is the end of space as we know it. VR potentially democratizes space and disrupts travel. And if that happens, We don't even that's kind of like a singularity of its own sort, you know Like beyond that what that means is that what we think of as home work place adventure all those places are now digital we are literally existing in a some new digital space or planets or whatever that we come to see as our primary waking experience. And we will return to the surface of Earth and to its cities as a kind of a curious museum or place where we park our bodies. A place where maybe we co-locate ourselves with the people who we most love or are romantically involved with or having kids with or whatever. But I think that quicker than we think we could come to a future where space and place as we know it is replaced by VR.

[00:33:20.029] Kent Bye: Awesome. Well, thank you so much. Thank you. Thanks for talking. So that was Philip Rosedale. He's the CEO and co-founder of High Fidelity. So I have a number of different takeaways about this interview is that, first of all, I think that Philip Rosedale and what he's doing at High Fidelity is pretty revolutionary. I think that he's one of the most profound thinkers and visionaries in the virtual reality community right now. Because essentially what he's talking about is creating this system that has these principles of self-sovereign identity, which I think is the antidote to a lot of this surveillance type of tracking that's happening with these big huge Silicon Valley technology companies. So this reminds me of the previous podcast where we were talking about this concept of adjacent possibilities. So whenever you take the concept of the blockchain from cryptocurrency and you start to see like this is a way to distribute trust amongst a system where when you used to have these centralized authorities to that mediate that trust now you're able to basically create this ledger that everybody has a copy of it and you're able to essentially distribute that trust amongst all these different people. So with this concept of the blockchain combined to virtual reality on the context of identity of trying to take your identity and distribute it across, you know, many different systems that you're able to kind of seamlessly go in between these different metaverse worlds. You can kind of think of it as a digital driver's license or a social security number, or it's some sort of identity system that used to come from a centralized organizations like the state, but now it's coming from these cryptography systems from the blockchain. So with that, what you're going to be able to do is basically create this antidote to these centralized systems of being able to have a singular identity where everything you do or say is tracked online. So the specific word for this card that describes your digital identity was called an attestation. So when I googled that, I was able to come up with all these other people who are thinking about distributed identity, and I came across this essay from Christopher Allen. It was called A Path Towards Self-Sovereign Identity. He traces the evolution of identity online through these four different phases, from centralized identity to federated identity to user-centric identity, and then now this next phase of self-sovereign identity. We've kind of evolved through these different phases and then kind of regressed back to this centralized identity model where you can log into any website through either Twitter or Facebook. It's kind of become the de facto identity system online. The problem is that you basically have this rogue state that is a private company that is also gathering all this data on you. So in Christopher Allen's essay, in this path towards this vision of a self-sovereign identity, he's describing all of the design requirements that you would need in order to build the system. And I really appreciated Philip's mind towards architecting these systems. He's trying to lay out the requirements that you would need and then describing the architecture of that system. And so because of that, he's just been thinking so deeply about these things for so long that I think he's just years ahead of anybody else that's really thinking about this. And the other thing is that, you know, because he's taking this approach by using open source software, he's decentralizing the process of, you know, not only the development of his code, but also the hosting of the websites. You know, when I talked to Ebi Alberg back in episode number 360, we talked about the different business models, and Ebi said that they have both a property tax as well as a sales tax. where you basically have to rent out the different land and then they're going to take out a certain percentage of all the transactions that are happening. And in talking to Philip here, it sounds like they're not necessarily going to have a property tax because it sounds like they're going to be relying on people's computing resources in order to have a distributed system to be able to host that. but they're likely going to have some form of sales tax. So as he's developing the systems, you can kind of think about, well, how are they going to end up making money? It's that any time that there's a marketplace, they're just going to be able to take out a certain percentage of all the transactions that are happening within these virtual worlds. And I think it sounds like they're basically in the process of trying to decide whether or not they can use these existing cryptocurrencies that are already out there, or if they're going to have to develop their own. So to me, that's kind of this interesting balance between the yin and the yang currency. The yang approach would be promoting competition, and you basically pay up front in order to get access to the real estate, and then you pay a monthly fee for that. The yin currency is that it's free, and you're sharing, and it's cooperative, but it's basically costing you, you know, maybe electricity that you're paying for, but you're providing that as a resource that you have, and it's more a distributed and cooperative way of approaching it. So in order to create the scale of the metaverse that Philip really envisions that we're going to have eventually, he sees that we have to move more towards this distributed model and it's not going to be viable to have the scale of the metaverse that we want to have with these more walled garden approaches. Now, that said, I will say that the walled garden approach is probably going to have a higher fidelity and quality of content at first, just because they're able to really centralize that and just put all their resources into creating these amazing worlds. So in terms of the visual fidelity and the quality of experience in high fidelity right now, I think it's going to be a while before you get onto the parity for the level of visual fidelity that you're going to be able to see in these other emerging virtual worlds that are out there. But if they're really bootstrapping their system by having these robust identities and interactions, it's going to kind of be the open web version of the metaverse. And that you're going to be able to essentially have these different pockets that are out there. Like for example, project Sansar, I expect the visual fidelity is going to be amazing. But the thing that Philip told me back in 2015, in episode number 173, he was making the point of comparing the early days of the internet where there was AOL and CompuServe. versus the open web. And at that point, the visual fidelity of the open web was pretty terrible. But the thing that Philip is arguing for is this idea of Metcalfe's Law, which is that the value of a network actually increases by the square of the nodes of the network that are connected to each other. So, in other words, that the value of the network doesn't come from the visual fidelity, it comes from the value that you can actually interlink between these different worlds, and then more worlds that you interconnect, it increases the value of it by the square of the nodes that are connected. That's the idea of Metcalfe's Law. So the idea is that you have this open architecture where you can create portals into all these different worlds and the value becomes into being able to discover these other worlds rather than having maybe an amusement park ride that has a very high fidelity, but you don't go anywhere. You just have that one singular experience. So the other thing I just want to point out here is that Neil Trevitt, when talking about open standards, made the point of saying that like any successful open standard has a proprietary competitor. So to me, this is kind of showing the balance between the yang and the yen. The yang is that competitive proprietary system that's completely vertically integrated from top to bottom. So take Apple, for example, you have the App Store ecosystem. all the way up to the hardware and the device is just completely vertically integrated that you can really focus on a user experience that is really super awesome. But you pay for that vertical integration and you pay for that user experience. On the other hand, you have the more yen currency approach, which is more distributed and open and non-linear, and you have the web and the open web. You kind of get the Android operating system, which is, you know, if you want to do something, you can kind of figure it out. But sometimes the user experience is not coherent in between all these different fragments. And you get the same thing on the open web as well. But with that open web, you get a lot of fast innovation and experimentation, but you're also trying to raise the tide for what everybody has equal access to. And then you build your specific application on top of that stack. And so as we move forward, we're trying to get more and more of the open standards and the architectures for people to build on top of. And I think that's where high fidelity is really sitting as are trying to think of things at such a systemic level that they're really building a lot of low level technologies and infrastructure that are going to really enable the future of the metaverse. So because of that, I just think that what high fidelity is doing is amazing and best on a different scale than anyone else is really even thinking about right now. So that's all that I have for today. I just wanted to thank you for listening to the Voices of VR podcast. And if you enjoy the podcast, then please do spread the word, tell your friends and become a donor to the podcast. This is my third year anniversary. It's the birthday of the podcast. If you want to help celebrate the podcast, then become a donor. Just a few dollars a month makes a huge difference. So you can donate today at patreon.com slash Voices of VR. Thanks for listening.

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