The metaverse will need true “multi-chaining” to reach its full potential, said Matthew Niemerg, Ph.D., of the Aleph Zero Foundation.
Much has been said about Web 3 and the Metaverse lately. Mark Zuckerberg’s centralized Metaverse plans notwithstanding, even Goldman Sachs has declared that the virtual world must be blockchain-based. At the moment, however, Ethereum – the 3rd largest single web service hosting network – is too slow and too expensive to support a larger audience. At least until the “merge” is complete. Although there are many other networks to choose from, there is currently no clear infrastructure capable of interconnecting the various promising services being developed. Existing blockchains are often islands in themselves or require heavy and centralized means of value transfer.
In order to realize the vision of the future Internet, these islands must be connected efficiently and with each other. By using new technologies like sidechains, parachains and bridges, developers have the opportunity to build a “multichain” ecosystem. Namely, one in which all networks benefit from significantly greater speed and the ability to interact seamlessly. Fortunately, this process is already underway, as it is essential to creating the metaverse that tomorrow’s users can benefit from.
Ethereum and its competitors are designed to act as global computers supporting decentralized applications (dApps) and providing reliable, uncensored services to anyone with an internet connection. This approach is a key element of Web 3 and will form the basis of the metaverse, which unifies evolving and interconnected ecosystems of virtual worlds and platforms. In the new Metaverse, value and information can be shared across all services, and blockchains like Ethereum will make this possible.
However, there are still some issues at the moment. For one thing, most existing networks are unable to deliver the speed, throughput, and cost-effectiveness needed for global adoption. The reason for this is the so-called “scalability trilemma”. It is essentially about the balance that blockchains must have between security, decentralization and scalability. When a network is secure and decentralized, like Bitcoin and Ethereum, it is difficult to scale; When a network is scalable and secure, it usually suffers the consequences of centralization.
And then there is the issue of interoperability. Blockchains are self-contained, they are generally not designed to communicate with other layers. Therefore, many of the dApps developed are quasi-isolated. Most, at least in early versions, are not equipped with a multi-chain design. This limits the liquidity and functionality of most Web 3 offerings, so many users choose only one or two ecosystems, or none at all.
How does multi-channel technology work?
Multichains can continue what established blockchains started. Essentially, a multi-chain is a set of services that connect multiple decentralized networks. This enables smooth interaction between services while enabling better throughput and scaling. Each chain has its own security structure. Additionally, the underlying consensus protocol may differ from channel to channel.
Many projects like Solana and Polygon have already set up sovereign chains with their own independent security structure. It’s not about competing with other channels, it’s about integrating their services. To make this possible, a multi-chain design connects disparate and sovereign chains using an inter-chain communication protocol.
Another component of multi-chain technology is made up of separate execution layers, which are considered a type of scalable layer 2 solutions. These execution layers work with their own smart contract language and are connected to a settlement layer. . These execution layers can be thought of as “on top” of the underlying network, from which they inherit or share their security functions (hence the term “shared security”). They form an interface with the network. Additionally, these can remove most of the traffic from the main chain to perform the state changes separately. To further increase their benefit, these layers can be used in parallel. This creates opportunities for wider scaling of any decentralized network.
No proof of knowledge
The shared security model does not sacrifice the security of the runtime environment. Cryptographic methods known as “Zero-Knowledge-Proofs” (ZKPs) are used. ZKPs are used to verify transactions on an off-chain blockchain, with proof of the validity of the transaction being sent back to the mainchain. Combined with data availability and “proof of fraud” procedures, which provide cryptographic proof of the validity of these transactions, ZKPs eliminate the need to send additional transaction data back to the main chain. This frees up disk space and increases the throughput of the underlying channel.
Bridges, on the other hand, are mechanisms that allow two separate blockchains to communicate with each other. However, this is a feature that most systems do not yet offer by default. Bridges also allow chains to maintain their individual protocol and consensus mechanisms. At the same time, these assets and information can be transferred accurately and securely. Separate runtimes can themselves act as bridges if designed to connect to multiple networks, or they can be specific dApp services or a set of services.
Metaverse and Multi-Channel Environments
The combination of execution layers and bridges creates a “multi-chain” environment. A project that already uses this model extensively is Polkadot. Polkadot is a “blockchain of blockchains”. The development team built an ecosystem using Polkadot as the main relay chain, allowing the deployment of many execution layers, or parachains (in the language of the Substrate ecosystem). These in turn are designed for specific tasks or applications.
Rather than forcing one or two blockchains to process everything, these parachains manage their own throughput while being able to transparently transmit data to the Polkadot relay chain, other parachains, or even other independent chains via direct bridges. Developers have much more flexibility in deploying their smart contracts, being able to choose a parachain or execution environment at their discretion. At the same time, parachains also support Polkadot base layer security.
As mentioned earlier, Polkadot parachains can also serve as a bridge to existing networks like Bitcoin and Ethereum. A whole new world of liquidity and communication is now possible. Users will be able to interact with virtually any Web 3 service through a single access point. And it does so with excellent latency while maintaining the security you expect from a blockchain solution.
Metaverse: Infinite Potential
The potential that multi-channels can offer for the Internet of tomorrow is incredibly great. Take gambling as an example. Users and developers of new virtual worlds could take advantage of the many blockchain services. It wouldn’t require developers to build directly on multiple networks, which would be quite complicated. They just need the appropriate APIs and bridges to access the networks they need or want to use. The promise that in-game NFTs could be ported to any platform or sold in any marketplace could be easily delivered. Internet users would then have more control than ever before.
Financial services on the Web 3 could also be simpler and more efficient. Based on what the cryptocurrency and DeFi markets have already built, a wide range of assets could become accessible and tradeable through any platform. The security and immutability of the respective blockchains would be maintained. These could even be integrated with the virtual worlds and social networks already mentioned to allow users to leverage their finances. And everywhere in the metaverse.
The possibilities are endless and it will be up to future developers to find new ways to use this technology and continue to evolve the Web 3 experience. While great work is already underway, it will still take some time to that most networks are effectively integrated into the new systems. Anything less could result in a fragmented and isolated Web 3 that fails to realize the visions so many people have of the Internet of tomorrow. Of course, new technologies could still be developed. For now, however, it looks like the future of digital communications and finance lies in a multi-channel world.
About the Author
Matthew Niemerg, Ph.D., is co-founder and president of the Aleph Zero Foundation – a Swiss non-profit organization that offers a new layer of infrastructure with a scalable plug-and-play data protection solution that provides zero-knowledge proofs (zk-SNARKs) and Secure Multiparty Computation (sMPC). Mathew also holds a Ph.D. in Mathematics in Computational Algebraic Geometry and is a Simons-Berkeley Fellow and IBM Center of Excellence Fellow in High-Performance Computing.
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