Spatial Computing, Privacy and Blockchain

Spatial Computing, Privacy and Blockchain

From mobile to spatial
While the metaverse banner captured a lot of the public’s imagination, the majority of capital deployed under that banner went towards a term that is only now starting to get the recognition it deserves: spatial computing. Spatial computing is the art of teaching digital devices about their physical surroundings, enabling AR/VR, advanced robotics and self-driving. When Meta spends billions of dollars on “metaverse”, they aren’t spending that money on NFTs, blockchain infrastructure or whatever else has crypto Twitter’s attention, but rather on getting an edge in the spatial computing arms race.

To get a sense of the scale of this opportunity, it might be worth reminding ourselves that there are fewer engineers in all of blockchain combined than there are engineers working at Meta, Google, Microsoft or Apple.

These giant companies have seen the inevitable future of the internet, but it isn’t digital ownership and trustlessness that is the great attractor, but the anchoring of the internet in physical space.

When Apple announced the Vision Pro, Tim Cook went on stage saying that “just as the Mac introduced us to personal computing, and iPhone introduced us to mobile computing, Apple Vision Pro introduces us to spatial computing." 

But the transition from mobile to spatial is not the transition from handhelds to wearables, but rather a much more impactful transition of an internet indexed by pages to an internet indexed by location.

The historic opportunity

Many tens of billions of dollars are being poured into spatial computing by all of the major tech players, outpacing the development spend on blockchain by at least one or two orders of magnitude, because it represents a historically unique opportunity. There are trillions of dollars on the line because spatial computing represents an even larger opportunity than the transition to mobile computers.

A source close to Steve Jobs, who is now a venture capitalist, says that Apple has been building towards this vision since the late 80s, but under different banners. In the early 90s, the in-the-know crowd spoke of the rise of ubiquitous computing. That term has now helpfully fractured into “ smaller” terms like IoT and augmented reality, but spatial computing is the sine qua non of these future visions.

As impressive as AI systems like ChatGPT and GROK are today, it will take spatial computing for AI to leave the domain of the internet and instead come to operate in the physical world we live in.

Some analysts make the claim that viewing Tesla as a car company is missing the fact that they’re in fact an AI company - but even that hot take misses the even greater nuance that Tesla is ultimately a spatial computing shop. Self-driving cars, Optimus and the other future visions of Elon Musk all require a more precise positioning service than the GPS, and Tesla’s greatest competitive advantage today are the millions of cameras they have travelling the world gathering data for their positioning service.

Building this positioning service of the future, and owning its infrastructure, would be comparable to owning the web2 internet infrastructure.

The Challenge to Privacy

All of the major tech companies have turned to the same underlying approach to positioning, although they all use slightly different terminology. Camera-based positioning, where the camera feed of the digital device is compared to a pre-existing 3D model of the world, is the most developed and promising approach at the moment. Some call it visual positioning (VPS), others call it spatial anchors or digital twins, but the philosophy behind it is identical: If you show us what you are looking at, we will tell you where you are. The future envisioned by the likes of Google, Tesla and others is a world where these centralised companies almost literally look through the eyes of their customers. As we transition to AR glasses as the predominant way of interacting with the internet, the owner of the positioning infrastructure will need to be trusted not to use the opportunity to monitor your attention.

It’s a Black Mirror episode that is already being built right in front of our eyes, and careful reading of the terms of service of solutions like Niantic’s VPS shows us that there is real cause for concern.

For the sake of humanity, we must hope that an alternative to centralised visual positioning is viable.

Introducing the posemesh

Auki Labs has been spearheading the development of the posemesh: a universal spatial computing protocol based on decentralised infrastructure and voluntary participation.

The posemesh already has hundreds of decentralised providers of its real-time communication service fine-tuned for collaborative computing, and is rolling out its decentralised mapping solution for indoor spaces as we speak.

The protocol is far from theoretical, with significant traction already demonstrating the superiority of the decentralised and privacy-preserving approach to positioning.

Auki Labs’ own spatial computing platform for retail, built on the posemesh protocol, is piloting with international retailers across several continents, and have set a goal of enrolling 100 000 locations in the next three years.

The blockchain-enabled rewards and reputation management of the posemesh will play a key role in the reliability and performance of the protocol, and its underlying utility token is slated for public release in January.

If successful, the future of spatial computing belongs to the people rather than the surveillance capitalist machine of Silicon Valley. They already failed us with social media - let us not entrust them with the next, and most important, iteration of the internet.

Nils Pihl

Nils Pihl

Nils Pihl is the CEO and cyberdelic shaman @ Auki Labs and Matterless. He is a behavioural engineer and social transhumanist specialising in the intersection of modern technology and human behaviour.