We’re seeing a lot of self-proclaimed metaverse platforms launching. Many such platforms are “just” virtual spaces, which many argue isn’t enough to constitute the future of collaborative computing that we call the metaverse. This future, according to most futurists, will also involve things like AI and blockchain, and is built on the real world. MeetKai checks a lot of those boxes.
To learn more about the first consumer-facing project from MeetKai, ARPost talked with chairwoman Weili Dai and CEO James Kaplan. Their take on the metaverse was publicly announced earlier this month and is awaiting the beta launch.
An Introduction to MeetKai
MeetKai has been around since 2018 and actually specializes in business-to-business AI assistant solutions. In this capacity, a number of readers have already used AI services from MeetKai, though behind the label of hardware companies and app developers.
“Our core technology has always been in AI and that’s where we’ve been for the last four years,” said Kaplan. “We want to take the technology that we’ve been building and reframe it as our own offering.”
If that sounds familiar, earlier this month ARPost spoke to the team from Inworld AI – largely a team of Google AI veterans building virtually embodied conversational AI. MeetKai has an entirely different background and an entirely different approach to AI and to its role in the metaverse.
“A lot of these partners that we’ve made, they’re coming to us because they’re looking for the technology and the only option for deep technology is Google and they didn’t really want to work with Google for a number of different reasons,” said Kaplan. “Chit-chat is a novelty… what we want to do is have AI that is actually transactional.”
MeetKai’s AI is built into the platform as a way to navigate the world, rather than being a character that users interact with. If you’re a Star Trek fan, think about the way that characters interacted with the ship’s computer rather than the ways that they interacted with a character like Data or The Doctor. MeetKai does have an NPC generator, but it’s not the whole project.
What Do You Actually Do in the Metaverse?
MeetKai is “reality first” – that is, built on the physical world rather than purpose-built virtual spaces. The problem with purpose-built virtual spaces is that they are usually only good for a relatively limited variety of uses, while the physical world is good for just about everything. MeetKai says that this “finally solves the question: ‘what do you actually do?’ in the metaverse.”
“Our vision is that you bring back whatever knowledge you like to use in the real world and apply it to the virtual world,” said Weili. “That’s why we believe that our vision of the metaverse is the real deal.”
The company also has the scale problem solved. Working with international clients and running in the browser instead of apps has prepared the company for a worldwide hardware agnostic release.
“We started out saying that the world is global so all of this technology that we’re building has to be global,” said Kaplan. “The objective that we’ve always had is scale. The metaverse isn’t really interesting unless it can have a billion plus users.”
Another (Largely) Off-Chain Project
The browser-based nature of the platform also influences its approach to another big metaverse/Web3 idea – virtual ownership. It’s a feature touted on the company’s website, but built on more conventional and established technologies than the blockchain solutions we’ve been seeing so much of lately.
“For us, ‘virtual ownership’ – all that it means is ‘in-game ownership.’ How long has that been available? Since RuneScape?” said Kaplan. “When we say ‘virtual ownership,’ to me it’s no different than the ownership that you can have through something like a domain name.”
This is a very similar approach to virtual ownership that we heard from Moviebill CEO James Andrew Felts. And, like Moviebill, MeetKai isn’t against blockchain – it’s just not necessary at this stage of their building.
“I’m not anti-NFT or anything like that, but I see them as a tool,” said Kaplan. “If the NFT is itself the value, that’s not very interesting.”
We also hear about blockchain a lot in another frame – that of interoperability. Like the stance on NFTs, this isn’t necessarily something that will never come to MeetKai, it’s just not something that they’re doing now.
“The easiest way for us to be able to interop with other things is through a secondary chain,” said Kaplan. “That’s why we’re not working with Ethereum or Solana or anything like that.”
Is It XR?
There’s still one big metaverse-typical tech that we haven’t looked at, and it’s a big one – particularly for us. Is it XR? The answer is, once again, sort of.
MeetKai lives in the browser. That means that, to some degree, it is XR in the way that all online spatial virtual environments are – it can be navigated by phone and, at least to some degree, through VR browsers. A more robust XR version is coming but isn’t an immediate feature for two main reasons: the team is working on their key tech, and they’re waiting for the market.
“We’re very hopeful that, in perhaps three years, AR/VR will have a quantum jump because, on the hardware side, we’re driving innovations as well,” Weili said, referring to the company’s more behind-the-scenes work in semiconductors, chips, virtualized memory, and other hardware and computing projects. “We believe we’re leading the world of metaverse technology.”
Kaplan said that a more robust version of mobile AR is likely coming to the project in the next year or two, while a VR-optimized version might come out around 2025. This approach also ties into their scale priority. Zuckerberg shares the 1B-user metaverse, but his take on the idea just recently passed 300,000 users, largely because it requires a headset.
The browser-based reality-first concept also promotes scale. The other big “real-world metaverse” out there right now, Niantic’s recently-announced Campfire platform, has some similar potential, but is largely limited to Niantic’s apps and associated IP. Those are limitations MeetKai doesn’t have.
How to Enter the MeetKai Universe
You can try out the MeetKai beta now by scanning a QR code from this page. If you happen to be in New York, you can also enter via a special activation in Times Square.
Users who enter through the Time Square activation, open through August 11, will also be granted special perks including gift cards, potentially having a virtual street named after them, access to exclusive virtual environments, and other boons.
Gold and Garbage in the Metaverse
The metaverse is the shiny thing everyone is chasing right now. Some metaverse projects are fields of foil and broken glass – expansive, eye-catching, and largely worthless, if not dangerous.
MeetKai’s take on the metaverse is a gold glint in the river – it’s still in development; it may even be a few years before it looks the way we expect the metaverse to look. But, it has the potential to deliver real value to those who are serious about what they want from the future.