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Autonomous Worlds: The Ultimate Goal of Blockchain?

Lincoln Murr

Summary: Blockchains have been revolutionizing various industries, but there's one area that Bankless’ David Hoffman hails as “Ethereum’s main questline for what it’s bringing to the world” – autonomous worlds. With its immense potential, this concept is the focus of our analysis. We'll explore its definition, the pioneers shaping it, and the exciting possibilities it could ...

Blockchains have been revolutionizing various industries, but there's one area that Bankless’ David Hoffman hails as “Ethereum’s main questline for what it’s bringing to the world” – autonomous worlds. With its immense potential, this concept is the focus of our analysis. We'll explore its definition, the pioneers shaping it, and the exciting possibilities it could unlock.

A seminal blog post on this topic defines a World as “a container for entities and a coherent-enough internal ruleset about how they behave.” We inhabit and recognize the existence of a multitude of worlds: our physical reality, the world of narratives and films, and the immersive worlds of video games like Minecraft. Each of these worlds has its own unique existence, with distinct rules governing objects within the world and their creation. They exist in various forms, from fully conceptual to fully physical, or a hybrid with information stored on a computer. The creation of video game worlds, in particular, has been a defining characteristic, making them so immersive and thought-provoking. It's easy to get completely lost in a game like World of Warcraft, with imagination running wild and a player assuming the identity of their in-game character.

What makes computer-based worlds far from perfect is they lack a rule-bound creator. A legend from the early days of blockchain says that Vitalik Buterin, the creator of Ethereum, realized the need for blockchain after the creators of World of Warcraft changed one of his favorite in-game spells. With no accountability or systematic rulebook for changes, creators of computer-based worlds have full control over how they operate and what they can do. Though this may not be an issue for something seemingly insignificant like a video game, it prevents these worlds from reaching an end state where they become more than a game and flourish into a fully digital economy and autonomous world, where the lines between real and digital finance, work, and ownership become blurred. 

Blockchain allows for creating worlds with a strictly defined ruleset and logic thoroughly baked into code, with its conditions for change either removed or clearly specified and governed through a decentralized body. They also add composability to autonomous worlds that give other developers full access to build additional components on top of the existing world, including pieces like marketplaces, additional uses for items, and other interfaces into the world. Dark Forest, for example, was one of the first major games on Ethereum, which saw players explore a world covered in fog, moving troops to various planets and battling with others as they were found. Though the original code was barebones, developers innovated on top of the framework to create additional features and markets to add additional use and value to the game. Though it has since been abandoned by its original developers, the blockchain’s immutable nature means the game is still running. 

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Another bonus of these worlds is that they are inherently AI-friendly and can treat both human and AI players equally. Though this a design decision afforded to every world developer, it adds an additional layer of nuance and interest. Imagine a world where you could hire an AI to work for you and finance it to play the game according to a specific algorithm. Maybe your AI is a pilot, transporting people throughout a galaxy and taking a fee. Instead, imagine a more aggressive AI, who plunders and pillages but at the risk of losing everything when other players, or their AIs, band together against yours.  There are AI-based characters created by players that roam the universe of Dark Forest indefinitely, following the rules defined by their developers to win. The possitiblities for how to interact with an autonomous world are endless, as are the entities that interact with them. 

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Though autonomous worlds have previously been too difficult to program into Ethereum smart contracts, a development company called Lattice has recently released its MUD framework to simplify the engineering process. Numerous games are already being built on MUD, from small projects like Words3, a type of Scrabble word game with money, to massive projects like Project Awakening from the team behind the hugely successful EVE Online. 

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Autonomous worlds are a revolutionary idea that represents the endgame for both blockchains and society. Once we can create worlds in a trustless, decentralized manner with clearly defined rules and logic, we can create entirely new environments and universes that were once only possible in our imagination. Though the road to scalability, adoption, and development of these worlds is lengthy, the potential and promise of what they bring is enough to keep developers motivated and progress rapidly.

By Lincoln Murr

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