The Spatial Web and Web 3.0What business leaders should know about the next era of computing
As futuristic as it sounds, early-stage applications of the Spatial Web or web 3.0 are already here. Now is the time for leaders to understand what this next era of computing entails, how it could transform businesses, and how it can create new value as it unfolds.
THE once-crisp line between our digital and physical worlds has already begun to blur. Today, we hear of surgeons experimenting with holographic anatomic models during surgical procedures. Manufacturing, maintenance, and warehouse workers are measuring significant efficiency gains through the use of the Internet of Things (IoT) and augmented reality. Cities are creating entire 3D digital twins of themselves, helping to improve decision-making and scenario-planning.3 Still, there’s a sense that we’re not “there” yet.
Today’s technology applications are just glimmers of the emerging world of the Spatial Web, sometimes called Web 3.0, or the 3D Web (see sidebar, “Emerging definitions: Web 3.0 and the Spatial Web”). It is the next evolution in computing and information technology (IT), on the same trajectory that began with Web 1.0 and our current Web 2.0. We are now seeing the Spatial Web (Web 3.0) unfold, which will eventually eliminate the boundary between digital content and physical objects that we know today. We call it “spatial” because digital information will exist in space, integrated and inseparable from the physical world. (To read an example of how it might work in reality, see the sidebar, “A vision of the Spatial Web in health care.”)
This vision will be realized through the growth and convergence of enabling technologies, including augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR), advanced networking (e.g., 5G), geolocation, IoT devices and sensors, distributed ledger technology (e.g., blockchain), and artificial intelligence/machine learning (AI/ML). While estimates predict the full realization of the Spatial Web may be 5–10 years away, many early-stage applications are already driving significant competitive advantage.
By vastly improving intuitive interactions and increasing our ability to deliver highly contextualized experiences—for businesses and consumers alike—the Spatial Web era will spark new opportunities to improve efficiency, communication, and entertainment in ways we are only beginning to imagine today. For forward-thinking leaders, it will create new potential for business advantage—and, of course, new risks to monitor.
In this article, we will define the vision for the Spatial Web, discuss the technologies it is built upon, and describe the path to maturity. The goal for most companies is not to build a Spatial Web; however, understanding its capabilities can help leaders better prepare for the long term, get more out of their current investments in the short term, and participate in critical conversations happening today that could decide how this coming era affects both business and society.
EMERGING DEFINITIONS: WEB 3.0 AND THE SPATIAL WEB
There is no single definition for Web 3.0, the computing era that follows our current, mobile-powered Web 2.0. Many people identify Web 3.0 with the Semantic Web, which centers on the capability of machines to read and interact with content in a manner more akin to humans. Recently, definitions of Web 3.0 have begun to include distributed ledger technologies, such as blockchain, focusing on their ability to authenticate and decentralize information. Theoretically, this could remove the power of platform owners over individual users.
Each of these perspectives begins to describe a similar end state; they just start from different technology vantage points. We use the term “Spatial Web” because it emphasizes the shift in experience for the end user by transferring interaction with information away from screens and into physical space (figure 1).
A VISION OF THE SPATIAL WEB IN HEALTH CARE
Step a few years into the future, where connectivity, processing power, digital devices, and our ability to analyze and contextualize data have advanced considerably. In this world, much of our interaction with digital information happens away from traditional screens, tablets, and phones. Here, we meet a leading heart surgeon and researcher of cardiovascular health. She is starting her day, not by checking her phone, but by turning on her hands-free, intelligent interface. This advanced device curates multiple media channels that filter contextual information into her field of view, from social media and the news to her work schedule and secure patient information. This morning, she uses it to call a self-driving car to take her to the hospital; on the way, she attends a brief, holographic video conference with her child’s teacher. As the car reaches the hospital, the device shifts settings to enable a secure and rich mixed-reality medical environment, lowering the priority of notifications from her personal life.
She begins work by digitally “scrubbing in” for robotic surgery on a patient thousands of miles away. In this procedure, she will virtually guide her onsite human and robotic colleagues, who are present with the patient in the physical operating room. She’ll administer the procedure using combinations of “see-what-I-see” features, haptic-enabled and custom 3D-printed surgical instruments, and hands-free digital models. But before they begin, the team virtually convenes around a 3D digital twin of the patient’s heart. This exact digital replica has been a valuable tool in helping establish a surgical plan; thus far, it has been used to collaboratively monitor the patient’s condition, customize the surgical implants, and help the patient visualize the procedure. As the team moves into surgery, this digital twin provides real-time, AI-supported insights on the patient’s condition, poised to alert the surgical staff to potential alternate interventions. Fortunately, this surgery goes as planned; our surgeon successfully completes the procedure, and onsite colleagues close the patient for recovery.
As the team finishes, data from the procedure is collected, analyzed, and collated for a variety of purposes, based on the need and security permissions of whoever is accessing it. It will be used to support the individual patient’s postoperative care team; other parts of the health system may simultaneously draw off the same database using the billions of data points to help monitor public health and system capacity, run simulations, and improve outcomes.