Somnium Space was born out of a personal tragedy. The company’s founder and CEO Artur Sychov lost his father to cancer a few years ago. While grieving his loss, Sychov wondered if there were ways in which families like his could ‘communicate’ with someone who had died.
Sychov wasn’t thinking about paranormal activities or ghosts but a virtual universe where people can come in and have conversations with virtual avatars who speak, act, and behave in a manner similar to the person they embody.
But it’s not just about talking to dead people. Somnium Space has caught the attention of investors and technology-watchers because it gives a glimpse into a virtual world that someday might become as important as the real world we inhabit.
Avatars of the future could become an extension of our personality and we may use them to express ourselves in many creative ways.
Somnium Space is not the only company building this new virtual universe, but it is providing the means and tools to thousands of co-creators to have a say in the architecture and rules governing the space.
The metaverse, explained
The word ‘metaverse’ comes from the combination of ‘meta’ and ‘universe’ and it may be described as the next iteration of the internet, sometimes referred to as Web 3.0. The driving force of the metaverse is the increasingly sophisticated online 3-D or virtually integrated spaces where users can have VR and AR experiences.
You can also think of it as an integrated network of 3D virtual worlds.
While not everybody is convinced that the metaverse is the future, Mark Zuckerberg’s endorsement of it—he even renamed Facebook Meta—has made the term enter the popular imagination.
And it may only be a matter of time before the rest of us catch up.
What exactly is Somnium Space?
Somnium Space is an open-source platform built on the Ethereum Blockchain that allows users to purchase virtual properties, build homes, play hyper-realistic video games, start businesses, trade in digital assets, and invite other users to live concerts and events.
The space seeks to offer a next-level VR experience to users.
Sychov launched the platform in 2017 and it was opened to the public in September 2018.
Key features of Somnium Space
There are many metaverse platforms out there, but Somnium Space has pushed the envelope by making barriers to entry very low.
Here are some of the defining features of Somnium Space, which is a work in progress:
Users can join metaverse through a downloadable VR client or a browser-based version that functions like a regular web app.
Somnium Space wants to provide users with a democratized space to trade and create monetizable assets. Its underlying architecture is based on the Ethereum blockchain network through which users can tokenize land, avatars, and other in-game assets.
The Somnium ecosystem can be accessed through all leading VR headsets. So users have the advantage of using a wearable of their choice.
Users can time their space or environment to their desired outlook. The idea behind this is to promote creativity and attract a diversity of users to the platform, not just tech geeks. Creators can use SDKs (Software Development Kits) to build different objects and experiences.
With the help of a VR ad plugin, users can make money in Somnium Space. Think of it as the virtual equivalent of billboards. If this concept catches on, it could change the meaning of marketing.
The most talked-about feature of Somnium Space is its ‘Live Forever’ mode. Let’s look at this in greater detail because the implications are potentially huge.
VR and the promise of immortality
According to a study published in 2020 in Nature, VR technology can identify someone from a group of 500 people with 95% accuracy by tracking the person’s body motions.
Somnium Space is using this power of virtual reality to create its ‘Live Forever’ mode, an initial version of which will be available to users in 2022.
The VR tech will store your movements and conversations—with your permission, of course—in the form of data, which will then be used to create an avatar that talks and moves like you. And it will continue to do so even after you’ve died. In other words, your digital avatar will live on forever.
This is not very dissimilar from the concepts of mind uploading and cryosleep. In the former, a person’s brain is scanned and recreated in a computer simulation. In effect, a new version of the biological person now exists in an immortal and digital form.
Cryosleep, on the other hand, is often linked to space travel. Researchers are carrying out experiments by using torpor, or short-term hibernation, so that space shuttle crew can ‘hibernate’ for long journeys.
To be sure, both these concepts are still in the realm of science fiction, but it is significant that the idea that data obtained from our minds and bodies can be recorded, stored and retrieved later to make us immortal is being given serious thought by scientists.
For Sychov, innovations like the ‘Live Forever’ mode go much deeper than just buying land in the virtual world or selling NFTs.
“Literally, if I die—and I have this data collected—people can come or my kids, they can come in, and they can have a conversation with my avatar, with my movements, with my voice,” he told Vice.
The metaverse collects the movements and sounds of users while they are in their own plots of land called parcels, people are able to come and speak to you on your land parcel, and when someone dies, their avatar will continue to evolve through AI by using the data already collected.
Somnium Space has tied up with Teslasuit, a company that is developing a full-body VR suit that allows wearers to receive human-touch-like electrical signals and includes a biometric scanner that collects data like cardio and stress levels.
The ‘Live Forever’ mode, however, raises important questions about privacy and how much data a company should store. But even more significantly, as avatars become more and more like us, and start behaving independently of us, it will be hard to discern who the ‘real’ person is. The avatar might eventually win this perception battle as it will have time on its side, infinite time.
But there’s another fascinating possibility as well, if the biological person is retrieved through cryosleep or other futuristic methods, the digital avatar could then be used to return a part of the personality to the flesh and blood human.
Avatars will force us to rethink the meaning of consciousness, and experiments like Somnium Space could be one of the first tentative steps towards digital immortality.