by Ralph Tkatchuk

Virtual reality and blockchain — the future of STEM?

Oct 23, 2017
Technology IndustryVirtual Reality

While blockchain helps retail and financial industries to evolve, its “killer app” might end up being completely unrelated to profits of any kind. We can only hope.

FinTech - financial technology - blockchain network - distributed ledger wireframe
Credit: Thinkstock

An acronym used to describe the four most progressive fields in human thinking, STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and math. History has woven these subjects together in a tapestry that displays how the boundaries of our modern civilization have been tested, and yet, this important aggregate field is not without problems. Take two of these, mathematics and technology, for example.

Mathematics is an ancient system for bringing order to the world, and among other things, it provides the human brain with a way to comprehend quantities that none of the five senses experience.

Technology allows us to hasten the processing of math – visualize it and manipulate it, yet developments in these fields were not made in a single, logical order. While Pascal is considered the original inventor of the mechanical arithmetic calculator, a simple tool he gave to his father to ease the task of calculating taxes, others around the globe were making similar progress in combining the fields of math and technology on their own – at virtually the same time.

In fact, Wilhelm Schickard had already invented a similar device, yet history credits Pascal due to the untimely recovery of Schickard’s personal correspondence with other great minds of the time. Misattribution of fame is the least of any true progressive’s fears, however. The idea of redundancy, and decreased efficiency due to a lack of collaboration, is an ever-present flea on the back of STEM. Imagine how much faster the two fields mentioned above would have moved forward, had Pascal and Schickard worked together. Though the internet has helped academics, scientists, programmers and engineers to collaborate, there are still gaps in the net where information falls through.

Blockchain brings us together

When a breakthrough is made in any field, no matter how minuscule, it must be shared with the community at large. Scientists across the world are working simultaneously on the same problems, and if one unintentionally neglects to update the community, others waste time, energy, and funding trying to solve a piece of the puzzle that may already be answered elsewhere.

Blockchain is a perfect solution to this problem, as its ledger-like network capabilities require all participants to remain on the same page, at the same time.

Companies like Matryx are already building strong, unified platforms for cooperation on the blockchain to help ensure that the evolution of STEM maintains or exceeds its upwards trajectory. With the internet revolution, it has become commonplace to digitize assets, ideas, and services, and Matryx gives those in STEM a place to store their projects, exchange knowledge, sell (or buy) designs for application in other innovations, and even create bounties that incentivize like-minded individuals to collaborate. Transactions of data and more are denominated in MTX, a token developed by the company over ethereum’s ERC20 protocol.

“When the Nanome team first set out to create Matryx, we saw an opportunity to advance STEM and academia by incentivizing the exchange of ideas between experts and their institutions. Then Matryx evolved to encompass an iterative bounty system; native attribution; and a new filetype for 3D objects. The potential use cases for Matryx can include everything from artificial intelligence and molecular biology to video gaming. But we had to focus our R&D somewhere. So we sought answers from a small, dedicated community at the intersection of crypto and STEM,” wrote Adam Simon from Matryx.

Besides a friendly ecosystem, this kind of blockchain framework also establishes an irrefutable timeline of invention, so that everyone responsible for progress in the field receives their share of the credit. Those with new ideas can quickly ascertain the advances of their predecessors and peers and join the collective think tank where their skill set is appropriate. This will significantly hasten the speed of development, and by encouraging participation, will naturally expand the size of the network (and the STEM field) accordingly.

How does virtual reality fit in?

Whereas STEM was once run on pencils and paper, it has moved to tablets, laptops and smartphones. Virtual reality (VR) exists with the assistance of this technology, namely to help us sense the world that is being projected upon us. Instead of tapping out letters on a keyboard, it stands to reason that study in STEM fields will follow in technology’s footsteps. There already exist interactive platforms for real-world research inside virtual environments, and though the output may appear entirely different from what is visible with a laptop, the input is all still data. Naturally, this makes blockchain a suitable home for storing and disseminating VR research files as well as traditional data formats.

It may seem esoteric at first glance, but will prove more useful than most expect. The blockchain’s capacity to instantly disseminate information, combined with VR, will make it easy to study subjects that benefit from an ‘experiential’ component. A recent astronomical event provides a relevant example: the implosion of two dead, orbiting neuron stars. LIGO, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Observatory, detected the gravitational waves generated by the collision (known as a kilonova), and quickly triangulated the area of space where the yet-unwitnessed explosion was likely to have originated from. They then emailed relevant observatories, one of which was fast enough to find the explosion and witness it before its light died.

Had these institutions been connected via blockchain, relevant participants would have been notified immediately, and collaborative triangulation efforts would have likely given more observatories additional time to study the spectacle. There was a tremendous amount of luck involved in this principal viewing, and had a single factor been different, it was likely that humanity would have missed this important phenomenon.

From STEM to flower

The most influential minds in STEM are already close with one another and solving the problems posed during their generation is foremost. Blockchain has the unique ability to help these individuals communicate, share, hasten progress, and encourage new participation as well. While blockchain helps retail and financial industries to evolve, its “killer app” might end up being completely unrelated to profits of any kind, other than the dividends to humankind inherent in scientific advancement. We can only hope.