Autonomous Worlds: Misusing The Money Machine | 2339

Exploring blockchain’s shift from finance to creating games in digital universes. A look at this tech’s new role in gaming and virtual worlds.

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Autonomous Worlds: Misusing The Money Machine

Last week was the Autonomous Worlds Assembly at DevConnect in Istanbul. I was there to give a talk on myth-making mechanisms, and moderate a panel about decentralised narratives. It was well attended, and as I understand was about 3 times oversubscribed.

Being there felt like Autonomous Worlds are an idea that have arrived.

I wrote my Wind-Up Worlds essay in May of last year. Attended the first AW symposium in November and the follow up hackathon in December. The Autonomous Worlds Summit was in May this year, and 6 months later over 500 people came together to discuss these new unstoppable, infinitely moddable worlds on the Blockchain. We have moved from a tiny scene to a nascent industry, fast.

I can’t help but think that on chain games and Autonomous Worlds are going to play a large part in the next crypto bull run.

For better or worse. But like Playmint CEO David Amor said, the whole time I was there I didn’t hear anyone say words like token, Nft, arbitrage, stake yield etc.

Autonomous worlds are software that’s seemingly exploring some of the other affordances provided by Blockchain technology. Beyond the creation and organisation of value, they also allow for; composability, persistence, and encryption.

If you think nothing has happened in crypto since the dramatic fall of Sam Bankman-Fried then you have not been paying attention.

The market might have crashed but development hasn’t stopped. Certain technical challenges have necessitated the development of new forms of applied cryptography. The main one being Zero Knowledge Proofs. If you haven’t heard the combination of those three words yet, you will again soon. In short ZKP’s allow one party to prove the validity of a claim to another without disclosing any details about the claim itself. They have applications everywhere. ZKs are going streamline the sharing of private data: identity, address and financial etc across the internet. 

Anyways blockchains aren’t just for coins, NFTs and monkey JPG’s anymore. You can now boot whole games directly from the world computer. You can go to a URL, enter your details or not at all depending on the uses of new tools like account abstraction. And then an entire game will unpack off the blockchain into your browser. It’s all rather remarkable. 

A use case for a global shared permissionless database thats well beyond the limited imaginations of the finance bros. 

Which is where the the title of this episode comes from. I spoke to lots of other attendees out on the terrace at DevConnect. Whilst appreciative of the technical innovations made by the Autonomous World’s scene. Things like novel ZK implementations, Merkle tree indexers etc . I got the impression that the wider crypto industry is totally baffled and confused as to why anyone would want to play games on their money machine. 

Which is surprising given that it’s a hard rule of computing that if a computer exists, someone will want to play games on it. The first documented computer game was Christopher Strachey’s Chequers. Programmed for the Pilot ACE at the National Physical Laboratory in Teddington, in July of 1951. Sure it ran out of memory and crashed the machine, but he didn’t need to wait long to play it. The game was up and running by October on the Manchester Mark 1. Just 3 years after they’d first turned the thing on.

Hilmar PΓ©tursson CEO of Eve online – the first multiplayer database game by the way – said something similar at the conference. Autonomous Worlds have the same sort of energy as the late 80’s and early 90’s Swedish Demoscene. Technically impressive programmes running under all sorts of constraints. Imposed either ideologically, or by the limited nature of the hardware available. But still, the Demoscene gave us hardware acceleration and drivers.

CCP (the creators of Eve Online) are interested in blockchains not because of their constraints – but because of their affordances. Now in its 3rd decade CCP are turning their minds towards the persistence of the world’s database. How can the world of Eve Online – To quote Ian Cheng – “live beyond the life of its original creators?” A challenge that as Hilmar said in a recent interview might β€œtake a few decades to get right… I mean, the sooner you start, the sooner you’re done.”

Justin Glibert from 0xPARC gave the conference’s opening keynote. Laying out the long term vision for Autonomous Worlds. His talk had some real Y2K vibes. Cellular automata, and artificial life in virtual worlds. It’s clear that we have a torment nexus of our very own. Permutation City, the 1994 novel by Greg Egan.

I imagine that by the end of next year, there will be at least one Autonomous World that’s a hit outside of the cryptosphere. Being played by people who don’t care about the database it’s running on, only that it’s fun. Its only a matter of time.

But its clear that there’s two competing visions for the types of world that might be a hit. On the one hand there’s infinite and persistent virtual worlds. And the other, death match cockfighting rings for AI with hard digital physics. So pick your position. 

The 72 hours that I spent in Turkey really opened my eyes to the size of the industry. Grown from a handful of weirdos last year to 100’s of people worlding autonomous worlds. Big thanks to 0xParc, Lattice, the Playmint and the Moving Castles teams.

It makes me excited to see what’s coming, and to be involved in whats coming next.


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2 responses to “Autonomous Worlds: Misusing The Money Machine | 2339”

  1. […] Autonomous Worlds: Misusing The Money Machine […]

  2. […] In November 2023 I spoke at the Autonomous Worlds Assembly in Istanbul. A two-day event, organised by Autonomous Worlds Network and 0xPARC at Devconnect. […]

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