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After A Pivotal Year For Revolutionary Technologies, What’s Next?

By Tiana Laurence, partner at Laurence Innovation, a pre-seed investment fund focused on early-stage tech companies in the 4IR verticals.

Although cryptocurrencies and blockchain have been in the headlines for a long time, 2022 may prove to be a hinge year for the emerging industries that have built up around them. As the market for non-fungible tokens (NFTs) continues to explode, it’s clear that crypto has found its killer app: NFTs have the potential to empower artists and other creators to produce a massive profusion of original work, and they’ve created a huge market for digital content.

Just as NFTs have caused us to rethink some of our most fundamental assumptions about assets and transactions, other rapidly emerging technologies like the metaverse and augmented reality (AR) are blending the physical and digital worlds like never before. The contours of future digital innovation have become much more vivid over the past year, and the economic and cultural implications are already enormous.

There’s no telling exactly what the next few years could look like for crypto, blockchain, the metaverse and AR — there could be corrections, renewed periods of extreme growth and so on. But these technologies will permanently reshape the way we create, collect and interact. Entrepreneurs and big brands are adding an NFT spin to create additional sizzle on traditional goods and services like the ICO craze of 2017. The difference, however, is that NFTs create more value.

What Makes NFTs So Valuable?

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Take a moment to consider the almost incomprehensibly vast library of digital content that’s produced and consumed every day. Now consider how much of that content is copied, shared, stored and manipulated. While the internet gives artists and content creators access to a global audience, the democratization of content has led to a radical reconception of ownership, which has serious economic consequences for content creators (i.e., it makes copyrights difficult to enforce and cuts into their profits).

By introducing scarcity with a ledger that confirms the unique ownership of each piece of content, NFTs have made it possible to collect digital art and other forms of content. This idea isn’t new — almost a decade ago, the concept of “colored coins” was introduced. These are tokens issued on the Bitcoin blockchain that represent ownership of real assets, from cars to real estate to equities and bonds. NFTs build upon this basic concept to provide content creators with unlimited ways to produce digital work that has real-world value.

Sales of NFTs jumped to $10.7 billion in the third quarter of 2021 — a dramatic increase from $1.3 billion in Q2. Meanwhile, global VC investment in crypto and blockchain companies surged from just over $5 billion in 2020 to $27 billion by November 2021. NFT markets have been critical drivers of this growth, and the momentum will likely last into 2022 and beyond.

Other Digital Trends You Should Be Watching In 2022

Over the past year and a half, more of our personal and professional lives have migrated online. Without video conferencing services and digital collaboration tools, it’s difficult to imagine how millions of workers could have done their jobs during the pandemic. At a time when we were all isolated from loved ones and spending more time cloistered in our homes, the internet was a vital source of human connection. But rather than viewing the digitization of our everyday lives as a temporary emergency measure, we should recognize that it’s a new reality that will long outlive the crises of the day.

For example, the metaverse — which refers to persistent 3D digital environments, often built for virtual and augmented reality — is poised to be widely adopted in the coming years. Facebook is now Meta, a project designed to bring all the company’s “apps and technologies under one new company brand,” a brand focused around immersive experiences that blend digital and physical reality. The metaverse already exists in various forms, from games like Second Life to special experiences that offer alternatives to in-person events like Burning Man, which went virtual during the pandemic on platforms like AltspaceVR.

The technologies, services and experiences designed around the metaverse will only continue to multiply in the coming years, and 2022 will likely be a period of particularly rapid growth.

How New Technologies Are Changing The Way We Use The Internet

While the development of new technology is driven by consumer demand, this process can also work in reverse: Innovative products meet demand while simultaneously shifting markets and changing consumer expectations. Some especially significant innovations can catalyze sweeping changes in the entire approach to product development and change the way we think about our digital lives altogether.

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For example, the blockchain has led to a new conception of how the internet should be used: Web3, which emphasizes the importance of circumventing major gatekeepers like Google with decentralized, democratized online platforms. Web3 systems run on the blockchain, so the data they host are accessible to anyone — a level of transparency that tech corporations can never provide. At a time when many Americans don’t trust social media platforms to protect their data, Web3 presents an alternative that empowers users to take control of their digital lives.

There are many other ways new technologies are changing our perceptions and behavior, both online and offline. AR, VR and the metaverse are creating digital living rooms and meeting spaces where people will have a continuous presence online. New products like Ray-Ban Stories sunglasses and other wearable tech allow users to seamlessly blend the physical and digital worlds. NFTs have opened up boundless possibilities for inventive creative marketing — companies like SmartMedia, for instance, offer 3D and mixed reality (MR) objects that give consumers a uniquely immersive brand experience.

The main story in the headlines since early 2020 has been Covid-19 and the economic fallout it has caused. But the past year and a half have also been an unprecedented period of creativity and growth for blockchain-based technologies like NFTs, revolutionary concepts like the metaverse and many other digital innovations that will forever change the way we think about technology.


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