Beyond a Semantic Web

Early definitions of Web 3.0 have predominantly defined it as the Semantic Web. The Semantic Web put forth the idea that the text we read on the web would become contextual—the intended meaning of words or sentences could be made explicit and therefore “semantic.” Encoding the contextual meaning of a word into the text on a web page would enable both the text and eventually the Web itself to become “smart.” The smart web would know, for example, that on a site dominated by discussions of how best to grow healthy plants and vegetables indoors, a particular reference to the term “greenhouse” would be a reference to a glass building filled with plants rather than a house painted a shade of green. A great idea to be sure, but sadly, it was simply too difficult to reverse engineer a powerful layer of intelligence to the world wide web.

Beyond this technicality, what if the shortcoming for the vision of a Semantic Web isn’t in the scale of its ambition, but rather in its limited focus? In Web 3.0, the domain of what can become smart, contextual, and consequently “semantic” will not be limited to text but extended into the physical world itself, where spatial objects, environments, and interactions dominate. Web 3.0 will be a semantic web, but not because we have embedded intelligence into text. It will be semantic because we will embed 3D spatial intelligence into everything.

Suffering from a case of industry-centric myopia, many contemporary definitions of Web 3.0 also lack holistic thinking. For example, Web 3.0 will not be limited to being a cryptocurrency-driven, peer-to-peer “Internet of Value” as many of the Blockchain faithful claim, or an “Internet of Intelligence” driven by a network of (hopefully) benevolent AI’s as the Artificial Intelligentsia suggest. It will not merely be the trillion device “Internet of Things” as Industry 4.0 advocates espouse or the “Internet of Me” where various wearables and ingestibles will be able to track every pulse, personalize every meal, and optimize every step, emotional state, and eventually even thought. It will not even be the long-prophesied 3D Internet of interconnected worlds, a Virtual Reality “Metaverse” or VR Cloud or its more recent counterpart, the AR Cloud and its “Internet of Places” as the Spatial Computing initiates may believe. No. Web 3.0 will not be limited to any one of these definitions because, in this next era of the web, it includes all of them. In Web 3.0, all of these get “connected” into the Internet of Everything.

The Web 3.0 Stack Overview

The Web 3.0 era will not be defined by any single, individual technology, but rather by an integrated “stack” of computing technologies known in classic computer science as a three-tier architecture, comprised of Interface, Logic, and Data Tiers.

 

Web 3.0 will utilize Spatial (AR, VR, MR), Physical (IoT, Wearables), Cognitive (ML, AI,) and Distributed (Blockchain, Edge) computing technologies, simultaneously as part of an integrated stack. These four computing trends make up the three tiers of Web 3.0.

Interface Tier: Spatial – Computing that takes place in a spatial environment, typically with special peripherals like AR or VR headsets, smart glasses, and haptic devices used to see, say, gesture, and touch digital content and objects. Spatial Computing allows us to interface with computers naturally, in the most intuitive ways best aligned with our biology and physiology.

Interface Tier: Physical – Computing embedded into objects, including sensors, wearables, robotics, and other IoT devices. This enables computers to see, hear, feel, smell and touch and move things in the world. Physical Computing will allow us to interface with computers everywhere in the world and receive information and even send “actions” into environments.

Logic Tier: Cognitive – Computing that models and mimics human thought processes, including smart contracts, machine, and deep learning, neural networks, AI and even Quantum computing. It enables the automation, simulation and optimization of activities, operations and processes, from production in factories to self-driving cars, while also augmenting and assisting in human decision making.

Data Tier: Distributed – Computing that is shared across and between many devices that each participate in a portion of the computer storage like blockchains and distributed ledgers or computer processing like edge and mesh computing. in general, this provides greater quality, speed, security and trust for the massive amounts of data storage and processing that are required for the Spatial Web.

The Web 3.0 Stack in Detail

The Interface Tier: Spatial Computing 

Virtual, Augmented, and Mixed Reality

Spatial Computing is a way of seeing and interacting with digital information, content, and objects in 3D space in the most physically natural and intuitive ways.

Every 15 years or so, a new computing interface emerges and dominates our interactions with computers: the desktop PC in the ’80s, the web browser in the mid-’90s, touchscreen smartphones in the 2010s. Spatial computing technologies bring a fundamental change to the computer interface. 

Three significant “Ages” define human interaction with information at scale: the First Age was the shift from spoken language to the invention of writing. The Second Age was triggered by the invention of the printed word (from written to printed). And the Third Age was the screen (from physical to digital). Each of these Ages radically shifted our economics, politics, and society. You may recognize these eras under the more familiar terms of the Agricultural, Industrial, and Information Ages, respectively.  But viewing these Ages as evolutionary shifts brought about by advancements in our relationship with information highlights the importance of this next Age. Spatial technologies are the next evolution of the interface, progressively moving our attention away from the screen and into the world around us. This will have a far greater impact at a greater scale than any of the previous Ages.

Our most direct experience of Web 3.0 will be via its interface. With Spatial Computing, the interface is literally the entire world, with data displayed everywhere, all around us, allowing us to interact with it via speech, thought, touch, and gesture, adding a new dimension to our information, ideas, and imaginations, enabling them to be immersive, collaborative. 

First, let’s look at the nuances of the main types of Spatial Computing. 

Virtual Reality (VR) is a form of technology that allows a person to experience being somewhere else. It produces images, sounds, and even sensations to create an immersive sensory experience so that a user feels like they are really present in another place. That other place can be a virtual tour in another country, for instance, or a VR world like No Man’s Sky or any combination of the real and virtual—sometimes called Mixed Reality (MR). Immersion in virtual reality gives a sense of being physically present in a non-physical world. VR is enabling us to enter fully immersive simulations for education, training, prototyping, and entertainment. 

In VR anything you dream of can be experienced. Put on a headset and experience being transported to anywhere in the physical world, the universe, or any fictional universe, at any point in history—past, present, or future. Experience the widest scope of possible situations and scenarios. Be yourself, or be any character you wish—big or small, young or old, human or…other. Enter an artery to watch white blood cells fight off an invading virus, or travel through space and time at light speed to watch the universe being born. VR is programmable imagination. It is unlimited in its experiential applications.

On the more practical side, VR can enable us to collaboratively iterate on a city plan, a home design, or construction worksite to alter design and layout. Designers can simulate the ideal user experience long before the first shovel hits the ground and the build-out begins. While legacy technologies also allow us to prototype with immersive tech, VR provides a more direct experience by being able to walk, fly, and interact with simulations and prototypes. As a result, we’re going to get better creations of our homes, offices, cities, and products.

Immersive media may also allow us to feel closer to each other and connect personally to global issues such as humanitarian crises. VR can enable a form of telepresence that evokes the kind of empathetic and emotional responses usually reserved for when we are physically present. It offers an experience that is simply impossible in other mediums, granting us the magical power to step into a 3D replica of a 1,500-year-old cave full of Buddhist art, to be transported into the shoes of a Syrian child living in a Jordan refugee camp, or to watch the Notre Dame tower burn down from across the bridge. We feel connected not because we are any more Buddhist or Syrian or Parisian, but because the medium reminds us that we all share the experience of being human.

Augmented Reality (AR) differs from VR in that it shows the physical location that a person is in, but allows digital imagery, information, and 3D objects to be overlayed and displayed in the physical world. Digital content or objects can be linked spatially to physical objects. You can, for example, attach a maintenance document to a piece of equipment or hide a character in the living room to be discovered. Objects in AR can react dynamically to an environment in all of the ways that we expect physical objects to do (e.g., texture, lighting, etc.). 

With AR, you can simply hold up your smartphone or (soon) don a pair of smart glasses while on vacation at the Colosseum in Rome and see it as it looked in 200 CE or watch a historical gladiator battle from the stands. You can visit Times Square and see all the Instagram photos, Facebook posts, and Yelp reviews from your friends from the actual location they were posted, or view virtual art in a real gallery, or see the actual food pop up on your menu in place of mere words. AR lets you try on a new pair of glasses, shoes, or a watch simply by selecting your preference and pointing at the relevant part of your body. You can travel to a foreign country and see all of the signs in your native language or add a layer over the world that allows you to see every building and person as if they came from Westeros, Star Wars, or the Victorian era. 

AR allows maintenance workers, whether biological, algorithmic, or robotic, to view the maintenance history of equipment at a factory, mining site, farm, or power grid by querying the equipment itself to request that any related documents, plans, diagrams, reports, or analytics about a thing appear in 2D or 3D on the device itself. A home appliance or new car could offer an interactive tutorial. Industrial equipment could display diagnostic or maintenance history. A grocery store or an entire mall could offer a 3D map and navigation, not just appearing as a map on the screen of your phone, but displaying in the air in front of you, routing you, a delivery service person, or a robot picker through the ideal route to complete tasks. And the products themselves display all of their relevant information and even supply chain history to verify their organic origin, fair use or sustainable practices.

For the Enterprise, AR can significantly increase productivity. As it evolves, AR will be able to provide immersive step-by-step instructions for technicians, leading to time-saving and cost reduction through improved performance. AR makes work more accurate and work environments safer through effective, engaging simulation and training. The precise visualization of internal components of machines and their parts facilitates a greater depth of knowledge and comprehension by providing rich simulation of different scenarios.

Interface Tier: Physical Computing

The Internet of Things or IoT

Physical Computing is a way of sensing and controlling the physical world with computers. It enables us to understand our relationship to the digital world via our computers’ relationship with the physical world. Physical Computing is the sensory and muscular hardware layer of the Spatial Web.  

We’ve entered the fourth wave of the Industrial Era. The first was powered by steam, the second by electricity, the third by computing, and the fourth by integrated networks of sensors, beacons, actuators, robotics, and machine learning. These “cyber-physical” systems—a central feature of “Industry 4.0—will power the smart grids, virtual power plants, smart homes, intelligent transportation, and smart cities of tomorrow. The IoT allows objects to be sensed or controlled remotely using the existing Internet network infrastructure which creates new opportunities for more direct integration between the physical world and computer-based systems. This will result in improved efficiency, accuracy, and economic benefit.

 

Just as we interface with the computer, in Web 3.0 the computer will interface with the world via the Internet of Things. “Things,” in the IoT sense, can refer to a wide variety of devices including heart-monitoring implants, biochip transponders on farm animals, cameras streaming live feeds of wild animals in coastal waters, automobiles with built-in sensors, DNA analysis devices for environmental/food/pathogen monitoring, and field operation devices that assist firefighters in search and rescue operations. A more formal definition by Noto La Diego and Walden in their paper titled “Contracting for the ‘Internet of Things’: Looking into the Nest” describes the IoT as an “inextricable mixture of hardware, software, data and services.” Generally speaking, it is a network of physical devices that are connected to the Internet and able to share data. These connected devices include sensors, smart materials, wearables, ingestibles, beacons, actuators, and robotics that will enable smart appliances, real-time health monitoring, autonomous vehicles, smart clothing, smart cities, and more to be interconnected, to exchange data, and perform activities in the world.

The Internet of Things will enable the digitization of  every object in the world and capture data from every person, place, and thing. Think of this as the “read/write” Interface Tier to the planet. A trillion sensors will be laid over the world, like planetary-scale skin and senses with the ability to detect temperature, pressure, moisture, light, sound, motion, speed, position, chemicals, smoke, and more. This gives the IoT superhuman capabilities for good that allow these networked devices to see through walls to detect smoke in a highrise in New York, or sense the rising of a tide far in advance of a Tsunami in Indonesia, or the blood flow and pressure of an aging centenarian in Dubai, preventing the burning of a building, saving the citizens of an island paradise, and the life of a grandmother.

More Connected

Experts estimate that the IoT will consist of about 30 billion objects by 2020, growing to trillions of devices in the decades after. The evolutionary trend here is fundamentally more connected devices and more types of connected things. Effective application of this expanding capability can help us to use energy more efficiently, reduce carbon emissions, minimize waste, design better cities, predict diseases, track epidemics, and more.

The IoT as the Physical Computing hardware of the Spatial Web will capture and distribute physical data to the Cognitive Tier and store that Data at the Decentralized Data Tier via Blockchain, Edge, and Mesh networks for data storage and compute.

Logic Tier:  Cognitive Computing

Artificial Intelligence, Smart Contracts, and Quantum Computing

Cognitive Computing is the digital application of the adaptive, contextual learning and logic systems modeled from our understanding of human cognition. These bring “smartness” into the physical world to analyze, optimize and prescribe activities in the Spatial Web.

The Web 3.0 Logic Tier will be driven by the trend of Cognitive Computing in the form of several core technologies like Artificial Intelligence, Smart Contracts, and Quantum Computing. Populated by billions of self-executing smart contracts and programs, every building, room, object, and phenomenon will exhibit smart behaviors, and the environments around us will appear to have sentience. AI, Machine Learning, Smart Contracts, and related “cognitive” computing technologies shift us from the punch-card programs of early computers to autonomous, self-initiating, and self-learning agents that are adaptive. These will soon exceed the intelligence capabilities of humans but at the speed, scale, and scope of exponential technology. 

Wikipedia defines the term “artificial intelligence” or AI as a machine that mimics human cognition. Many of the things we associate with human minds, such as learning and problem solving, can be done by computers. This is why everything in the future is frequently called “smart.” It is a way of suggesting that it includes some programmable set of rules.

An ideal (perfect) AI is an autonomous dynamic agent that can perceive and act. It can see, hear, smell, touch, and even program its environment, modifying its behavior to maximize its chance of success at some defined goal. As a result, as AI becomes increasingly capable of mental, sensory, and physical abilities once thought to be exclusively human, our definition of “person” may need to be adapted.

Smart Contracts are “contracts as code”—they are programmable, automated, and self-executing software that removes legal contracts from the realm of documents that require constant human involvement and instead self-execute and self-enforce agreements between parties, provided the terms are met. If the program executing the contract is trustworthy, it’s unnecessary to trust that the other party will fulfill the terms.

 

Due to the immutable nature of a Smart Contract’s existence on Distributed Ledgers like blockchains, Smart Contracts provide security that is superior to traditional contract law and can reduce other transaction costs associated with contracting. Artificial Intelligence or AI will be capable of doing many things with Distributed Ledger Technologies, but for our purposes here, we will emphasize the role of AI as “smarter” contract agents that can enable data-driven, hyper-customized smart contract creation, analysis, execution, and enforcement.

Together, AI and Smart Contracts can simplify the negotiation and execution processes, while simultaneously facilitating more complex and dynamic agreements that can ultimately lead to greater efficiencies. This integral partnership launches the fields of law and software into an entirely new dimension. In the context of digital assets, smart contracts and AI can provide for the terms of use, payment, ownership transfer, and location-based terms or conditions automating entire supply chains including their transactions and segmentation of analytics for the data marketplaces of tomorrow. 

Furthermore, Cognitive Computing will be applied to the vast amounts of data being pumped through the trillions of sensors of Web 3.0’s IoT infrastructure. This will further augment and accelerate the human cognitive and creative processes across every domain and will increasingly allow AI to explore an unlimited number of possible futures. 

Next, let’s take a look at the role Quantum computing plays in the Logic Tier. Today’s computers, called “classical” computers store information in binary, as either a “1” or a “0;” each “bit” is either on or off. Quantum computation uses quantum bits or qubits, which in addition to being possibly on or off, can be both on and off. Qubits can store a tremendous amount of information and utilize far less energy than a classical computer. By entering into this quantum area of computing where the traditional laws of physics no longer apply, we can compute significantly faster (a million or more times) than the classical computers that we use today.

 

 

This gives Quantum Computers the ability to decipher the chaos patterns of traffic and the pulse of global markets, the nuances of the reflectivity of light as well as the neuronal activity of infants, the velocity of rain droplets, and the brush strokes of painters like a fortune teller reads tea leaves. It will seem so magical and impossible and yet it will likely uncover quantifiable patterns where we were sure none existed. Quantum Computing can act as a microscope for reality, revealing untold secrets of the universe capable of providing AI with the information necessary to make an infinite number of micro-adjustments to improve how our city traffic flows, or our children learn. It will help make VR even more realistic, route our resources where they are most needed, and might even inspire a level of appreciation for art in the most disinterested of Luddites.

The Cognitive Computing trend at the Logic Tier of the Spatial Web will make use of Distributed Ledger-secured Smart Contract logic and autonomous and adaptive AI as well as Quantum Computing, just as computer programs, web and mobile applications, and cloud computing drove the Logic Tier of the earlier iterations of the web. Collectively, the power of Cognitive Computing technologies will intelligently automate every aspect of our personal and collective daily lives as well as operate our civil, social, political, and economic systems. In time, these algorithmic controls and micro-edits to our reality will appear to happen by themselves, occurring almost “automagically.” 

Greater Intelligence

In the beginning, we programmed computers in their language. Now they are speaking to us in our languages. They are seeing the world with their own eyes, and will soon apply Cognitive Computing to every aspect of our lives. Web 3.0 brings autonomous intelligence or “smartness” to everything.

Data Tier: Distributed Computing: 

Distributed Ledgers and Edge Computing

Distributed Computing is the trend of pushing data storage and compute power closer and across multiple devices for speed and performance or farther away and more decentralized for greater trust.

At the bottom of the Web 3.0 Stack, at its Data Layer, are Distributed Ledger Technologies (DLT) like Blockchains and Directed Acyclic Graphs (DAGs)—decentralized and immutable ledgers—with the capacity to verify the provenance of information. DLTs like Blockchain offer a cryptographically secure, globally redundant method for storing records. These records are shared and updated across multiple computers (or nodes), distributed across the planet, and secured by cryptography. This creates a nearly unhackable, globally shared ledger of our records of events, activities, and transactions. Nodes can be financially incentivized to compete to validate each new record and punished if the data doesn’t match against others across the network. With Blockchains, the most recent records and transactions are bundled into “blocks” of data and then added to the “chain” of previous blocks once their accuracy is validated by all the nodes in the network.

 

The Directed Acyclic Graph or DAG is another form of Distributed Ledger. A DAG is a network of individual transactions that are linked to multiple other transactions. DAGs trade the chain-of-blocks of transactions for a tree-like structure that uses branches to link one transaction to another, and to another, and so on. Some see DAGs as replacements for Blockchains, others as an enhancement. In either case, the combination of cryptography, social consensus, and innovative algorithms allow Distributed Ledger technologies to ensure “data provenance.” A new generation of Blockchain startups has arisen to offer solutions to address the age-old problem of trust between humans.  Today we see DLT-based solutions emerging for everything from global financial transactions to medical record storage, supply chain authentication to digital asset sales, and even shared custody of both physical and digital collectibles.

Distributed Ledger Technologies enable a world where every identity, contract, transaction, and currency can be trusted and verified. Trust emerges from the inherent architecture of Distributed Ledgers and does not need to rely on a corporation, government, or similar body to act as a trusted central authority. It promises a new economy and information marketplaces that could be genuinely open and decentralized. Like many new technologies, it is not immune from issues of standardization, scalability, and performance issues, but if history has proven anything, it is that if the need is great enough, then these problems are eventually addressed and overcome. And the need is great. 

The Data Tier in Web 3.0 must be secured and trustworthy for the Spatial Web to work in the long run. Because the hyper-realistic, hyper-personalized, highly immersive and experiential “realities” that spatial technologies create (projecting our information and imaginations into the world itself, and displaying right before our eyes) also means that it will become increasingly difficult to accept the old adage that “seeing is believing.”

Given recent advances in the computer vision and rendering power of Artificial Intelligence and its ability to recognize and re-create everything from our faces, expressions, and voices to the objects and environments in the world around us, how we determine the real from the unreal, the true from the false, highlights the seriousness of Trust across the Spatial Web. Consider the fact that these technologies will not only have the ability to fake what we see or feel, the information and interactions of reality, but also will have the power to mine our information, influence us, advertise to us, and facilitate our transactions.

This poses a serious problem for our future, with individuals, societies, governments, and economies at risk. Critical data security foundations must be laid out in advance, followed by universal standards and policies that enable their adoption and support their enforcement. We must be able to reliably trust the who, what and “where” of our reality. 

But how do we establish trust in a world where we can’t trust our senses? Built on top of the current insecure web architecture, the potential for these technologies to be hijacked and abused by malevolent actors both human and algorithmic presents us with an unacceptable risk and a threat.

Since the dawn of civilization, humans have been trying to create reliable records about the things or assets they value. Our civilizations, economies, laws, and codes rely on records that we can trust. These records must provide reliable answers to the following critical questions about a valuable item such as:

What is it? Who owns it? What can be done with it? And…where is it?

Provenance is what makes a record “trustable.” It is the historical record of the description, ownership, custody, and location of something. Many of our technological and societal inventions like letters, numbers, bookkeeping, contracts, maps, laws, banks, and governments have emerged to address and manage the provenance of our records in the physical world. 

However, empires fall, banks crash, and companies dissolve. Like them, our data records are all vulnerable to the passing of time, and like these institutions, many of our historical records have turned to dust. In the Information Age, we’ve progressed from paper records in cabinets to digital files stored in databases spread across the globe. In Web 2.0, more and more of the personal information collected online and via mobile applications has been stored on “cloud” databases by an ever-growing list of third-party companies that we have unwittingly given our trust to, and who are tracking and selling our data while leaving it vulnerable to hacks. 

Now, with the arrival of Distributed Ledger Technologies as the Data Tier of Web 3.0, humans finally have a cryptographically secure, globally redundant method for storing and authenticating records. These records are shared and updated across multiple computers (or nodes), decentralized across the planet, and secured by cryptography. 

This provides Data Provenance which enables unprecedented Data Integrity.

Edge Computing is another distributed computing paradigm. With Edge Computing, computation is largely or completely performed on distributed device nodes known as smart devices or edge devices as opposed to primarily taking place in a centralized cloud environment. The term “edge” refers to the geographic distribution of computing nodes in the network as Internet of Things devices, which are at the “edge” of an enterprise, a city, or other location. The idea is to provide server resources, data analysis, and compute resources closer to data collection sources and IoT systems such as smart sensors and actuators. Edge computing is seen as critical to the realization of physical computing, smart cities, ubiquitous computing, augmented reality and cloud gaming, and digital transactions.

More Trust and Access

From the siloed office database of the pre-web era to the globally accessible web servers of Web 1.0, to the mobile accessibility facilitated by the cloud infrastructure of Web 2.0, and on to the Distributed Ledger and Edge Computing that will secure AR information and power the IoT in Web 3.0, the evolutionary trend of the Data Tier is one of increased decentralization and democratization of data. At each stage, we have increased access and a “circle of trust” to include more and more participants at greater scales. This is the inherent value created by decentralized and distributed systems.

The Integrated Web 3.0 Stack

Looking at the convergence of these various technologies through the lens of the Web 3.0 Stack makes it easier to see the benefits that can result from the integration of Spatial, Physical, Cognitive, and Distributed technologies.

For example, in the Interface Tier, as the IoT provides us with sensor-enabled networks, Physical Computing will allow us to capture, measure, and communicate data regarding the performance of all physical activities. Robotics will perform any movement or transportation necessary in the physical world, from growing and picking our food to the manufacture and transportation of people and products globally.

Also in the Interface Tier, Spatial Computing as AR will provide the interface to a new world painted with a digital layer of information and contextual content that is constantly updated from the sensors of IoT, the intelligence of AI, and the new conditions set by smart contracts, secured by blockchains and incentivized by cryptocurrencies.

And Spatial Computing as VR will serve as a superior “pre-vis” experiential environment for the creation and exploration of our information, ideas, and imaginations. It will enable the most ideal virtual simulation or digital twin of any given object, environment, human or system.

In the Logic Tier, Cognitive Computing as Artificial Intelligence will provide analysis, prediction, and decision-making using Quantum Computing. Running simulations on our virtual digital twins will help determine ideal adaptations.

Also in the Logic Tier, Cognitive Computing as Smart Contracts can contextually govern, enforce, and execute all interactions and transactions via blockchain and distributed ledger networks informed the insights captured by the IoT and optimized by AI.

In the Data Tier, Distributed Computing as Distributed Ledgers and decentralized cryptocurrency platforms will maintain the trusted records for various people, places, things, and activities, and manage the storage and transfer of value across and between all parties. Distributed Computing as Edge and Mesh Networks will enable fast and powerful compute on location utilizing federated AI systems that can process information on device, sharing insights with the community while ensuring personal privacy.

The benefits of these various exponential technologies working together in an open and interoperable way is truly astounding. And it’s because of this extraordinary potential that we, the authors, propose that Web 3.0 should be defined and described as a connected stack of technologies all working together as a part of a unified network—a network leading us across the various trends to The Spatial Web.

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In this article:
In Web 3.0, the domain of what can become smart, contextual, and consequently “semantic” will not be limited to text but extended into the physical world itself.