With the introduction of the metaverse, the technological space has seen a complete overhaul and it has changed our way to perceive technology altogether. Since open source has always been one major pillar in the industry for development, let us today find out the position it holds in the world of metaverse.
The metaverse is a magnanimity of a whole bunch of technologies. There are four pillars of metaverse, namely, virtual spaces, virtual assets, virtual interactions, and digital payments. “Open source will play a huge role in the metaverse,” states Dr Lokesh Boregowda, Samsung. “Open source is going to facilitate huge entities like metaverse to evolve faster,” he adds.
Look at co-workers or students gathering for a coffee chat, irrespective of what part of the world they belong to. Even musicians or artists who can now interact with fans from around the world in a large digital venue, which probably would be impossible in the physical world. Today, conferences can reach new audiences, unlike before.
All this can now be achieved due to 5G, augmented reality (AR), and virtual reality (VR). The biggest driving force here is the technological advancements in the field of AR, VR, or even edge computing. It is turning into what we call the ultra-reliable, low latency service. It ensures the rendering of the 3D graphics and content, and makes the virtual experiences faster while not impacting the human brain.
“It becomes very interesting for us to witness this seamlessly connected virtual world as part of the metaverse. It opens the door to a wide number of possibilities and we have yet to see how far we can truly go with it. It is important to adopt at scale, otherwise it all falls flat. We have seen some of the standards that ensure the interoperability, be it Razer’s open source virtual reality (OSVR). We have seen that it encourages experimentation of headsets development as well. Now, if you look at the other side of the coin, on the device layer you will see OpenXR standard being badly adopted by the manufacturers which allows applications and engines to target with a single application programming interface (API),” says Vinay G. Rajagopal, Red Hat.
He continues, “We have already started seeing a proliferation of 3D environments that have been created by the users themselves. That is where the whole blockchain has become an imperative to ensure the details surrounding a transaction and the digital assets or the avatars. It has become important for us to put these assets on multiple ledgers while making sure that you understand who has built, sold, or purchased a particular digital asset. It becomes more important from a legal aspect too.”
“Encouraging the development of a decentralised, distributed, interoperable virtual world built on the foundation of open standards also creates multiple opportunities for us as well,” adds Vinay.
“Open source is the ground zero for the development of technologies like the metaverse. All of the biggest projects in the last five to ten years that have been able to garner the most attraction are the ones that are open sourced. Artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain, and containerisation are to name a few. Open source comes with a great number of benefits. It allows you to collaborate with the smartest minds from every corner of the world, your work gets constantly reviewed and used while having a constant feedback loop,” says Gandhali Samant, GitHub, India.
“A good aspect of working with open source is that there will always be components ready to be used, which saves a lot of time to start from scratch. As the metaverse itself continues to gain attraction, more tools and platforms will appear to assist the developers,” adds Gandhali.
“Even though open source comes with a lot of benefits, such as quick development and huge communities, it is important to note these communities own the software itself. In 2014, a bug was detected in Unison. Its source code had been open for so long that it made it hard to estimate the time hackers had been exploiting it,” says Dr Sumit Kalra, IIT Jodhpur. “Today, whatever we do with the metaverse is going to have a tremendous impact on the future of the metaverse development. If we are going to continue the development with open source, then it is crucial for us to also adopt open standards.”
Syed Mohammed Khasim from Texas Instruments notes, “In the last couple of decades I have seen the evolution of open source starting from Linux. It all essentially started for shared software development.”
“The cost of developing a software turns out to be a big challenge as it requires a unique skill set. You need to have a proper architecture to build a software, a design and the necessary components which will allow you to get started with the coding aspect of it. You will then have to validate and commercialise everything before it goes into the hands of developers and ultimately the consumers themselves. It all boils down to a sufficient investment. But there is a limit to which everyone can invest in a software, and often it is only for a particular period of time,” he adds.
“Open source is no free lunch as somebody is indeed paying for it. When we use the term open source, we mean that we are enabling a shared software development model where we want to collaborate with similar entities that want to invest in the development of software,” says Syed.
He adds, “Hardware is also one of the fundamental aspects of building software as without proper hardware and place software cannot be developed. We need lowcost hardware that can be afforded by everybody. This is why the Intel ecosystem picked up because everyone uses a personal computer (PC) and these systems do not require a huge investment. Over time, embedded systems have also evolved and reduced a lot of the burden of software development. With the induction of Android all the necessary components of open source development have been stitched together.”
“Today, things are different as they have evolved tremendously. We are seeing a multi-core architecture and multi-core programming even in a simple smartwatch today. It requires a great amount of skill to do it all. You are not only going to work for free while working on open source software but your contribution to open source will also provide you with the relevant validation and introduce you to new features. Hence, companies always try to build an ecosystem for open source development as it tends to be more robust and reliable,” states Syed.
He further adds, “Now is the time to define the hardware ecosystem that we are going to enter into the kind of software skill-sets that are required so it can be assessed as to where we need to build the community around. We also need to find whether it can scale and sustain on its own without a huge sum of money being pumped from any big organisations.”
Biju K. Nair, LegaliTech, mentions, “Open source as a whole has various aspects to it. There is also a very important legal aspect to it from an intellectual property (IP) perspective. Considering IP is different in metaverse than how it is considered in the traditional ecosystem, it also creates opportunities to maintain and safeguard the IP within the metaverse. In the last two years, the whole globe has woken up to the vulnerability issues. Everyone today, including the US government, is trying to spend more money in the detection of vulnerabilities and secure them. Working together as a community can allow us to solve these issues together.“
Dr Lokesh puts up a question to Gandhali Samant, “What is the main foundation and strength of open source which will play a key role in the metaverse?”
Gandhali responds, “Open source is both flexible and agile. Better talent keeps showing up and the maintenance cost is shared among people. It is important to note that the advantages of using open source far outweigh the disadvantages. GitHub is simply the largest open source community in the world, or you can say it is the home of open source itself. At GitHub our focus is to continuously improve the platform and add features so that the collaboration and open source projects can thrive.”
“Today, every new security feature that we build is available for free for public repositories. It is the main source of developing open source software. If you look up the top 10 metaverse projects on Google, you will find that they all are available on GitHub,” she adds.
“The role of GitHub in the metaverse will be very similar to the role that GitHub has played in the large-scale success and adoption of technologies like TensorFlow for AI or Docker or Kubernetes for containerisation, orchestration, Hyperledger, etc. GitHub will continue to provide the best platform for software development,” says Gandhali
Dr Lokesh further asks, “What would be the limitations and concerns for the collaborators?”
Gandhali states, “On one side we have multiple open source projects while on the other we have tech giants like Google and Microsoft that are already investing big dollars. No one company holds the monopoly for any component today. They are bound to come together and work as each of them brings a different value to the table. We would see more standardisation across some of the underlying fundamental blocks to ensure compatibility. For instance, Linux started as an open source project while Microsoft Windows was totally closed source, yet they still have too many partnerships.”
Dr Lokesh puts up a question to Dr Sumit, “What are your views on data privacy with respect to the information protection aspects?”
Dr Sumit responds, “We are already hearing a lot of copyright and patent infringement cases around this as many open source projects are being used without the consent of the original creator. Although we have a better control over such scenarios in the real world, it is not the case in the metaverse as the person is not physically present there. We are not yet sure if the virtual property in the metaverse will have any analogy in the physical world.”
Dr Lokesh asks Sayed Mohammad Khasim, “Can you elaborate on the hardware aspect of it, the challenges that you face, and the elements that are already in place?”
“Technology today has evolved exponentially in terms of security, power, and features. Every smart device today is connected to a network,which is also exposing them to various security threats. This has made semiconductor companies put a lot of their focus on resolving these security threats,” responds Sayed Mohammed Khasim.
He adds, “We have an initiative in Texas Instruments where our software is completely giving you the accelerated AI with the DSPs, which is opened to the public.”
Dr Lokesh goes on to ask Biju Nair, “How do you see the landscape changing from the physical to virtual world since nothing is free?”
Biju Nair responds with, “Let us say you have a trademark in the physical world but you have no presence in the virtual world, then the chances of you getting an injunction trademark misuse is very low. Such a case has already been brought before a US court by the name E.S.S. Entertainment versus Rock Star Videos. It stated that the depiction of the trademark of any video game does not influence the trademark of the owner as the video game is an artistic expression protected by the first amendment. The consumers would not be confused between the trademark produced by these sophisticated video games. So you may not be protected in the metaverse, unless you have some sort of presence over there.”
Dr Lokesh asks another question to Biju, “What are some of the best practices for the businesses from the legal perspective while they are collaborating in the context of open source?”
Biju Nair states in his response, “First, companies need to revisit their existing agreements and see what rights have been provided to them in those agreements and plan accordingly. Second, we will check if they have filed for the trademark for virtual goods or not, because if you won’t do that then you will be at a risk of losing the rights for those goods in the metaverse workspace.”
Dr Lokesh mentions at the end, “There are a lot of legalities that we need to look at and address them separately. Nonetheless, it is going to be pretty interesting. There is still a lot to be explored and developed in the world of metaverse.”
This article has been put together from a panel discussion at Open Source Conference 2022: Proliferation of Open Source for Emerging Technologies, organised by Samsung R&D Institute India – Bangalore and IEEE ComSoc Bangalore Chapter. The panelists were Dr Lokesh Boregowda (Samsung), Gandhall Samant (GitHub India), Syed Mohammed Khasim (Texas Instruments), Biju K. Nair (LegaliTech), Dr Sumit Kalra (IIT Jodhpur), and Vinay G. Rajagopal (Red Hat). It has been transcribed and curated by Laveesh Kocher, a tech enthusiast at EFY with a knack for open source exploration and research.