Chen Baoquan, Director of the Computer Center of Peking University: Metaverse is the inevitable trend of future development

“The Metaverse is like society. It’s in a state of constant evolution. You can say it has entered the primitive social development stage of the Metaverse, but you can’t say there is anything that represents the Metaverse.”

The Metaverse has been a hot topic of late. This emerging social form that integrates cutting-edge research in countless technological fields has attracted the attention of scholars and experts in different fields such as artificial intelligence, blockchain, and machine vision. Many Internet companies have also announced the layout of the Metaverse. However, to create a highly parallel virtual space originating from the real world, which can provide users with an immersive experience, it is inseparable from the development and breakthrough of computer graphics. Three-dimensional digital content can be created.

Professor Chen Baoquan, Executive Director of Frontier Computing Research Center of Peking University, expert in computer graphics, 3D vision and visualization, IEEE Fellow, Fellow of IEEE Institute of Visualization, Fellow of China Computer Federation.

Chen Baoquan, Director of the Computer Center of Peking University: Metaverse is the inevitable trend of future development

Chen Baoquan (Photo by Li Yingwu)

On December 5, 2021, as the chairman of the forum, he will host a panel discussion on “Metaverse” in the field of computer graphics, focusing on cutting-edge research such as 3D modeling, augmented reality, physical simulation, character animation, robot control, etc. . The discussion section was held behind closed doors, with the participation of scholars and practitioners from related fields.

In an exclusive interview with this magazine, Chen Baoquan shared with us some of his and other participating experts’ consensus and views on the formation of the Metaverse, and emphasized: “Although there is a lot of noise in the Metaverse, it is an inevitable development in the future. Trend, we There needs to be enough attention and early discussions .”

What is the Metaverse?

Sanlian Life Weekly: The Metaverse has caused a lot of heated discussions, but few people can clearly tell us what the Metaverse is. How to understand this new concept?

Chen Baoquan : There has been a lot of discussion about the Metaverse recently, and there has been a lot of noise. If you jump out of the category of market hype, the first thing to be clear is that there is no official explanation for the so-called “Metaverse”. Because this was originally a concept in the science fiction novel “Avalanche”, each company may interpret it differently based on its own product line or future development.

If I were to say, the future Metaverse should be a fusion of the real world and the virtual world. You may have heard of “augmented reality” (AR), but that may not be enough to express the world of the Metaverse. “Augmented reality” refers to the superimposition of digital text, images, scenes and other information in real space in the real world through mobile devices. Its landing point is still reality, an enhancement of reality, with strong continuity. But the Metaverse, which contains the real world and contains a functionally very equivalent digital space.

How to understand functional equivalence? We can imagine what happens in real space. The so-called real space is not just a space, it has various aspects such as community, property rights, law, and finance. Then I personally think that the Metaverse is the embodiment of a developmental stage that materializes digital space to a stage that is almost equal to or even beyond real space.

Sanlian Life Weekly: Why do you say it can even go beyond the real space?

Chen Baoquan: The Metaverse has certain functions corresponding to the real world, but there will be a higher degree of realization. For example, it might enable greater efficiency, or enable greater functionality.

For example, in contrast to the real world, the Metaverse can exist digitally and instantly. Build houses faster in virtual worlds. If the community needs to operate, many people around the world can come in an instant, but in reality, everyone has to fly. Such traditional methods are different from the security and efficiency of transactions.

I think that’s exactly what needs to be emphasized. Once we get to the Metaverse era we imagine, it can really expand the living space of the real world, so we must pay enough attention now.

How far are we from the Metaverse?

Sanlian Life Weekly: I think your attitude towards the Metaverse is relatively optimistic. Now many people are also saying that the Metaverse is a development direction of the future mobile Internet.

Chen Baoquan: Not optimistic, I think this is an inevitable trend. But the Metaverse is not a one-way technological development like the mobile internet, it is a combination of multiple technologies.

Sanlian Life Weekly: Yes, this is also a feeling of mine. In the past two years, we have heard a lot of new technology concepts, such as virtual reality, augmented reality, social networking, encryption technology, wearable technology, artificial intelligence, 5G, etc., all seem to be summarized in the Metaverse. In fact, each one-way technology has many difficulties now, but the future Metaverse must integrate them all. So how far are we from the Metaverse?

Chen Baoquan: This is not surprising. How is modern society built? China has also developed slowly from the farming era for thousands of years. It didn’t happen overnight, but it’s an indisputable fact that it continues to move in that direction.Like the community building, financial system, and governance of property rights I just mentioned, early societies may exist, but evolve as they develop.

Then in the primitive period of the Metaverse, the communication may not be so fast, the security is not so high, the governance is not so good, and there are many problems. Just like the virtual assets in the game now, if the player dies, whether the assets have inheritance rights is not well stipulated in law, and needs to be further improved. But the future is bound to move towards a more and more perfect direction, which is not decided by one person.

Sanlian Life Weekly: In fact, Bitcoin is also a digital asset. On the one hand, many countries are trying to find ways to coexist with it to some extent, but on the other hand, there are also some countries that do not recognize this new monetary system.

Chen Baoquan: There are many similar games for the US dollar in the real world. But as long as the general trend remains the same, the world needs a currency system to function, and which currency will play a big role in the virtual world is another matter. Bitcoin cannot represent the Metaverse, there can be other types of digital currencies.

However, the trend and direction of this development is inevitable, that is, in addition to entertainment and socializing, engaging in similar professional activities in the digital world is an increasing proportion of our real life. When this ratio rises to a certain level, qualitative change will occur and physicochemical transformation will begin. By reification I mean when people start to acknowledge it and stop seeing it as a momentary, isolated thing. For example, if you are playing a game now, if you don’t play, your account will be gone as soon as you are eliminated. But after materialization, it means that it will continue to evolve and generate its own history, and concepts and issues such as ownership and space governance in the real society begin to appear.

Sanlian Life Weekly: Recently, I did see that some games have begun to show that after players perform so-called labor activities in them, the virtual assets generated can be realized.

Chen Baoquan: Yes, this is a similar situation, but its function is relatively simple, just a game. Many products with the concept of Metaverse are actually very single existences, such as a certain game or a certain software. But in the future, there may be a kind of public, more comprehensive, more diverse and more functional virtual space.

Chen Baoquan, Director of the Computer Center of Peking University: Metaverse is the inevitable trend of future development

In the sandbox world, land is the foundation of the world, and people can freely plan their own content on the land, such as games, amusement parks, and even art galleries.

Sanlian Life Weekly: Talking about community governance. There is also a very popular Metaverse-related concept recently: “DAO” (Decentralized Autonomous Organization). Decentralization used to be an important life force of the early Internet, but this original idea seems to have gradually deviated, and now people feel that the Metaverse seems to provide new possibilities for decentralization. How to understand this problem?

Chen Baoquan: Decentralization is indeed something people have been emphasizing, because the early Internet did have a concept that the structure of the Internet should be very flat, and anyone can connect to it from at least one node, and then continue to interconnect. In theory it has no so-called “hierarchy”.

However, with the development of the Internet, some giants began to appear, such as Facebook and Tencent. Despite all the regulations, being such a giant, they do have some rules like the privacy policy that users have to accept when using the software they provide.

Decentralization was the life force of the early days of the Internet, especially in the West, and many people want to continue to strengthen this concept. But can the Metaverse finally be decentralized? I do not think so. Governance of the digital world, like governance in real life, is ultimately governed by people. So in this Metaverse space, some people want to decentralize, some people want to decentralize, there will always be these two kinds of wrestling. Now some people build their underlying technologies or services through blockchain and other methods to strengthen the decentralization characteristics and make transactions more concealed. This is what they are striving for.

3D digital content

What is the difficulty of not being able to produce energy?

Sanlian Life Weekly: If your field of study is computer graphics, 3D vision and visualization, where might we be in the development of the Metaverse from a technical point of view?

Chen Baoquan: Some time ago, we actually held a Metaverse theme forum in the professional field. It was a small closed-door meeting with a very narrow scope. Forum participants are mainly from academia, but also some scholars and experts from academia to enterprises. It should be said that the angle of discussion is more comprehensive.

First of all, the Metaverse needs to represent a tangible and visible digital world, and the requirements for 3D digitization should be higher and higher, which is the basis of the Metaverse. Like building a society, you need to find a piece of land to build a house before you can plan this is a museum and that is a library. Those of us who make 3D digital content are like the people who are cultivating land in the Metaverse.

If it really involves a digital world where everyone lives and can experience, then everyone has the need for digital content creation, and all content creation needs to be completed in an instant. This is very demanding and far from being realized.at this point.

There are many virtual idols, virtual anchors, etc. on the market now, but each virtual character has a team behind it to participate in the production, so that it can be done well. It’s a bit like watch production in the past. At first, it was handmade. It’s very refined and very good, but also very expensive. Later, after industrialized mass production, everyone could afford a watch. In fact, the creation of 3D digital content is a bit like making a watch. It also required a streamlined production process, from initial manual workshop-style production to mass production.

Sanlian Life Weekly: What is the main difficulty that 3D digital content cannot be mass-produced now?

Chen Baoquan: Watches enter mass production, relying on the entire industrialized assembly line, which requires electronic equipment, automation and other foundations. To create digital content, it may take an artist’s foresight to build this very similar three-dimensional digital content. But technically it involves a lot of human experience.

What we need to do next is to continuously transform these experiences into computer algorithms, so that computers can automatically realize such creations, improve the mass production efficiency of 3D content, and make production faster, bigger and bigger. High-end workshop-style content creation has become a consumer-grade product, giving everyone the freedom to create digital content at will.

When the efficiency is achieved, people can easily create their own avatars, quickly change makeup, change clothes, and even set their own different personalities and occupations every day… Although the shape of the product is unknown, the core idea is, do what you think, soon There will be a way to help you do it.

Sanlian Life Weekly: In addition to efficiency, what are the important needs or problems of 3D digital content in the Metaverse that we are more concerned about now but have not been able to solve?

Chen Baoquan: I don’t want to say that there is something unresolved now, because the Metaverse is not static, let alone what it should have been like, and then judge whether we are a Metaverse now based on that.

Future demand is on a spiral upward trend. When the ability improves, everyone can enjoy a certain service. On top of existing services, they will move forward and imagine more needs. Human imagination is unlimited, and so are our needs. It turned out that people only need to have a house to live in. Later, they needed lighting and greenery. The structure of digital content is a similarly dynamic process that will continue to be driven.

You could even say that there is a Metaverse now, but when I say that, it may sound a bit like people in society are hyping and marketing, like they’re going to say that now we’ve entered the age of the Metaverse, we’re going to start in Coins for sale in the Metaverse. It’s easy to confuse people. This question needs to be taken seriously because the Metaverse, like society, is in a state of constant evolution. You can say that you have now entered the primitive social development stage of the Metaverse, but you cannot say that there is anything that represents the Metaverse.

One issue that may really be of concern is the asset management of 3D digital content. In fact, I just mentioned a concept of “materialization”. When the Metaverse appears to be functionally equivalent to the real world, how to manage the concept of assets within it that corresponds to real life becomes very important. In the past, we may only care about production, but management involves legal, technical and other issues, and not only content creators are required to participate. We do not have many technical guarantees on how to record the digital content created and ensure that it cannot be arbitrarily tampered with, copied or misused.

Chen Baoquan, Director of the Computer Center of Peking University: Metaverse is the inevitable trend of future development

Singer JJ Lin claims on Twitter that he bought three plots of land in the ‘Metaverse’ game Decentraland

But for now, the biggest issue is efficiency. At this stage, the conceivable demand of the public is limited, because this is not a civilian-level consumer product, and the construction of digital content is still in the hands of a few people. How to quickly and flatly apply these services to the consumer level is the main contradiction now. Only when this is done will people make more demands, and the demands at that time will be very different from the applications on high-end devices today.

For example, how to digitize the world is a problem that will not necessarily be solved in the next 10 to 20 years. It needs to be optimized constantly with new methods. Now we still need some cumbersome robots or other equipment to do raw data acquisition first, and then do 3D content production, which requires some manual adjustments. This requires professional equipment and professional personnel, and cannot achieve instantaneous 3D digital updates to changes in reality. It is meaningless to imagine the needs of the future now, because how to tap the needs of consumers is a process of continuous induction and innovation.

Have we overcome the “uncanny valley effect”?

Sanlian Life Weekly: High-end equipment scans the real world, how long does it take to complete the modeling in the virtual world?

Chen Baoquan: This is not only related to manpower, because someone needs to do some modeling and other operations behind it, but also depends on the accuracy of modeling. Sometimes a model might just have a large face, which is then textured to make it look like an object.

For example there is a book on the table, the table is three-dimensional, and the book may only be drawn by texture, then in this scene, the book can never be picked up, just as a background.

For example, if the leg of this table is broken, what will the inside look like after it is broken? Some people don’t seem to need such tricks, but in reality, tables have the potential to be broken, so to achieve a virtual world equivalent to reality, you have to consider these issues to feel real. So it’s an ongoing process of refinement, depending on how far this scenario is going to be achieved.

Sanlian Life Weekly: If the world is so real, will we have the “uncanny valley effect”? Or is this problem solved after all these years?

Chen Baoquan: The so-called “uncanny valley” refers to virtual digital characters that are very similar to real people.There may be 90% similarity, but still 10% similarity, which creates a visual “uncanny valley”.

In 2004, Tom Hanks had the movie Polar Express, which was an animation using motion capture and computer graphics.Unlike Disney’s cartoon characters, the characters in this film are very close to real people, but they may just be caught in “weird” situations. Valley” area, people feel uncomfortable, and the final box office is not very smooth.

But now we can actually make very realistic characters, let alone static ones. For the expression of dynamic expressions, technologies such as deepfake can basically reach the level of fraud. Therefore, from the perspective of technological development trends, I think the “uncanny valley” has actually been crossed.

But how to call it a 90% like? Different applications have different scales. 90% visual similarity, or 90% functional similarity?There is something wrong with the product design, and it doesn’t have to look real on the surface. Just as some people prefer realism and some people prefer abstraction, there may be different presentations and expressions in the digital world. That’s another story.

Can virtual worlds help us live better?

Sanlian Life Weekly: If you look at Facebook’s introduction to the Metaverse, it’s really easy to think of virtual reality and augmented reality that have been hotly debated in recent years. Why are these two technologies developed so far, it seems that it is still difficult for good products to actually land?

Chen Baoquan: Actually, there are good products, but they are not so popular. I’ve also seen some good VR movies, and they’ve created stories that take advantage of the format and the technical aspects of it.

Ang Lee’s “Billy Lynn’s Halftime Battle” uses the new technology standard of 120 frames per second. Although it is not particularly successful, it does not mean that the technology is not good. It’s just that the director may not have mastered the key to how to make good use of this technology for artistic expression, but Ang Lee has bravely explored. All new technologies face similar problems at the application level, which requires a process.

Sanlian Life Weekly: So compared to when we first came into contact with these concepts, what progress has been made in technologies such as virtual reality and augmented reality?

Chen Baoquan: To put it simply, the early virtual reality was to create an immersive experience for people and isolate people from reality. For example, the earliest so-called cave virtual reality system uses the English word “cave” because it actually creates a room-like cave structure and shows six sides of four walls, ceiling and floor in front of you, You can’t see reality.

Once there is such an experience, interaction will naturally be involved. The perspective changes when the eyes turn or the person moves, so it further involves how to track the person’s position. But Cave can only serve one viewpoint, and does not really create a 3D world, but just projects a 3D world, and cannot change a viewpoint to generate a new viewpoint relationship. So there is an effective method, which is to put on glasses, blindfold, and show the virtual world in front of our eyes, which is a very convenient method. After that, it comes to the question of how to interact.

Hardware matters, and the production of digital content is relatively straightforward. How to achieve interaction in virtual space, and even generate visual and sensory experiences such as touch, may require various devices such as more advanced sensors, and these studies are still lagging behind. However, because the current content is on a first-come, first-served basis, it will come back to drive such a desire for interaction, and this demand itself is relatively delayed in its initiation.

Of course, the so-called lag is a relative concept, which depends entirely on how the service is designed and in what scenarios this technology is used. A good product designer can design great products with existing technology of any era and take technology to the extreme.

Sanlian Life Weekly: For a while, the virtual tour of the museum was actually very popular, but then I chose to go back to the real scene to experience it. I often wonder, can the advent of virtual worlds really help us live better?

Baoquan Chen: First of all, this can complement the experience you don’t get in real life. For example, viewing a sculpture of David live, you might only be able to see it from a certain angle, but the digital experience might give you a 360-degree view of it.

Secondly, in more and more cases, this is really starting to become just a need. Not everyone can buy a ticket to the Louvre, and sometimes it’s not about money, but time and the capacity of the museum. But demand for experiences could explode. If you have the ability in the future, you may want to travel thousands of miles a day, see 10 museums a day, and be a VIP all the way. In this case, digital means can help us meet this need from scratch.

Sanlian Life Weekly: So the Metaverse may be more of a supplement to reality and unlikely to replace real life.

Chen Baoquan: The Metaverse does not say that it will replace the real world. It’s a good blend of reality and virtuality. For example, “post-00s” watching videos must open a barrage. When this phenomenon first appeared, I communicated with video platforms, and none of their technicians were young people like the “post-00s”. It’s also incredible, but when the demand came, they developed it quickly. Although they do not understand the phenomenon, they are driven by demand.

In a real museum, the viewing experience is certainly good, but many times people need to socialize. If in a Metaverse, friends from all over the world could watch and communicate together in an instant, it might propel this to become a popular way to watch. Socialization will be a very important part of the Metaverse.

Sanlian Life Weekly: It sounds like the Metaverse is just a very conceptual existence. In the end, is it still a return to your research in different fields?

Chen Baoquan: Yes, just like the Web1.0, Web2.0, etc. that everyone proposed, these are all concepts. When no one is researching a certain technology or developing a certain product, they will say that I have to make a certain technology or product according to Web2.0. The concept is only a development trend to guide the industry, so that everyone can inspire each other in the research and development process, discuss important issues such as asset security and community autonomy, and then return to their own products to reflect. For example, how do you protect your privacy when you are socializing, and how do you manage your assets when I am making games?

While this is just a very illusory concept, the nation and the public need to pay attention to it. why? Because it involves a game rule. Once the community of the Metaverse is established and attracts people, such as 1 million, 10 million, or even 100 million people, the community has authority and can make rules. So who made this rule? How to formulate? From that point of view, we have to get in very early.

There is competition among foreign companies, but cooperation is also particularly strong. Therefore, although Facebook proposed the concept of the Metaverse, Google, Microsoft and other institutions followed closely, and may spontaneously set up non-governmental organizations to discuss the matter, and some technical specifications for the development of the Metaverse have gradually surfaced. For example, how to express the world, and then slowly form the so-called standard through long-term mutual cooperation.

In fact, many technical standards of the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers), such as the HVE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers standards) involved by Huawei, are proposed, discussed and implemented by NGOs of.Government organizations that eventually formed the aforementioned business guidelines.

The demands and challenges posed by the complexities of a new world like the Metaverse cannot be met by the final decision of policy and regulations alone. Civil society organizations must go one step ahead and explore the rules of the game in practice. Only then can more authoritative norms be introduced. Based on reality.

So I think it is more important that domestic enterprises also need to participate in a timely manner, and to make their own voices when the pre-Metaverse rules have not been established. At the beginning, this matter may not have any commercial interests, and it does not seem so authoritative, but the Western cultural tradition is that everyone organizes first and does it according to this. isolated. Therefore, we should actually start paying attention and discussing early and have an influence in the rule-making process, instead of ignoring it because of the too loud voice in the business world right now.

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