In this week’s podcast, “Web3: The next generation of the internet” (August 4, 2022), Walter Bradley Center director Robert J. Marks interviews graduate students Adam Goad and Austin Egbert, both in computer engineering at Baylor University, on the coming decentralization of the internet. With developments like the ones they discuss looming, Big Tech may be seeing a waistline trim. This is the Part I of the first of the three discussions.
A partial transcript and Additional Resources follow.
Dr. Marks began by discussing all the services he gets from Google, confessing that he has not needed to go to a library in over two decades. But…
Robert J. Marks: Now, is Google just being nice in giving me all these services? Are they just a bunch of really rich, altruistic guys thinking of all the ways they can make my life better? No. Google is a business and the purpose of business is to make money, and a prime source of income is mining information from your web use. This info is then sold to help others sell you stuff…
A few decades ago, the top companies in the world included companies like Sears and Roebuck and General Motors and US Steel. They’re kind of gone. Today, the top companies include Google’s parent company, Alphabet, Amazon.com, and Facebook. So here’s the probing question, what will be the top companies in the world a few decades from now?
In his book Life after Google, futurist George Gilder forecasts that decentralization of the web is going to be the future of the internet. This includes blockchain and something called edge computing , where a lot of the computing is done on your local device as opposed to in some big company’s cloud. Data will become more personalized and companies like Google will have to figure out some way to adjust.
Robert J. Marks: To talk about this today is our guest Adam Goad. He’s a PhD candidate in electrical and computer engineering at Baylor University. We’re also happy to invite Dr. Austin Egbert, who you recognize as the editor and director of Mind Matters News podcasts. Dr. Egbert is also with Baylor University.
What makes Web3 different?
Adam Goad: Web1 is generally considered to have started sometime in the early 90s, when the internet was a place for people to consume information. The whole internet was basically a giant Wikipedia. You would go to a page, you would read it, it could link you to another page. But that is about all you would do.
Then, around 2004, Web2 began. We got things like Facebook, YouTube, all the companies we know today as Big Tech, providing you goods and services that you could interact with. In exchange though, like you mentioned in the introduction, you became the product.
Web3 is focused on decentralization and distributed systems … if you have a decentralized system, then it is pretty much impossible for any one entity to control it or regulate it.
Robert J. Marks: The critics of W3 include the former head of Twitter, Jack Dorsey. He dismissed Web3 as — let’s see, I have a quote here — a “Venture capitalist plaything,” whatever that means. And Elon Musk is not impressed. But it does seem to me that if you’d get this information away from central servers and onto your private cell phone or computer, and you have control over it, that’s going to be really disruptive to places like Google and Amazon. Do you think?
Adam Goad: Yes, certainly. One big thing that you can get out of Web3 is much more privacy. It is much easier to be anonymous using Web3 than it is with Web2 currently. So companies like Amazon, Twitter, Google, that are currently invested in getting as much personal information out of you as possible would, of course, be resistant to such technologies.
Robert J. Marks: Yes. One of the criticisms of decentralization is that it’s going to be more difficult to prevent online harassment, hate speech, and the dissemination of, I don’t know, say kiddie porn and things of that sort. Yet, on the other hand, the libertarian part of me says, this is something I do not like in today’s Twitter and YouTube, where offhand they discriminate and they censor certain content out of nowhere…
The question is, how do you regulate it? But then if you regulate it, you get away from this idea of privacy and people trying to impose their politics and their ideology on you. It’s frustrating.
One of the things about decentralization and distributed systems is blockchain… What’s going on there?
Adam Goad: Blockchain, at least as it applies to Web3, is a decentralized ledger. If you have, for instance, Bitcoin — the most famous blockchain — all Bitcoin is, is a very large ledger of every [Bitcoin] transaction that’s ever happened… You can go on to your computer right now and download a copy of the entire Bitcoin blockchain.
Robert J. Marks: I just looked, Adam, and it turns out the current Bitcoin blockchain is over 400 gigabytes and I don’t have 400 gigabytes on my computer. One of the criticisms is that… it’s going to limit the number of people that are able to do it.
Adam Goad: The Ethereum blockchain, I know, is about around 600 gigabytes right now…
Ethereum introduced a technology known as smart contracts, which allow people to place code onto the blockchain itself. And this revolutionized things. So with Bitcoin, all you can do on Bitcoin is send and receive Bitcoin.
With Ethereum, you can publish a smart contract and there’s many things you can do with this smart contract. You could start your own cryptocurrency. Most of the ones that you hear of now that are smaller, that is what they are. They are a layer two token onto the Ethereum blockchain. You could sell an NFT using a smart contract. You could make an escrow deal using a smart contract. The only limits are what you are able to code.
Robert J. Marks: Well, let’s get down to a specific example… smart contracts. I’m selling you my house and usually they have to do a title search and just make sure that everything is on the up and up. I think that you’re saying that there’s certain situations, like title searches and things, that could be placed on blockchain and we could have a contract and it would be a lot simpler than the way things are done now. Do you think I have an idea here?
Adam Goad: Yes. So there are many places now that have started selling land in what they call the metaverse.
Robert J. Marks: Let’s talk about the metaverse. This is a Mark Zuckerberg thing, right? So define the metaverse and tell me what land in the metaverse is about.
Adam Goad: Yes, Mark Zuckerberg has renamed the parent company of Facebook to Meta. He believes that the future of the internet is in the metaverse. The metaverse is a virtual place where you can go and buy land. You could build a house, you could decorate this house. You can have friends, you could virtually meet them at the local virtual cafe, you could buy virtual drinks at the virtual cafe, and you can go and buy virtual clothes to wear on your virtual avatar. It is this whole virtual universe that people can go and explore.
Robert J. Marks: That’s really spooky stuff. I can see that clothes and different styles could be made available in the metaverse, but I don’t get enough exercise now. I think if I sat in a easy chair and just lived in the metaverse and bought all my stuff and did everything in the metaverse, oh my gosh, I would balloon and probably not get a lot of exercise. What was that movie? WALL-E, I think it was, where he went to the future and all of these people were just driving around in little cars because robots were doing everything for them. The metaverse, it seems to me, would even be worse, because you wouldn’t even need these little cars.
Adam Goad: A more accurate comparison would be Ready Player One.
Next: Part 2: Is our future everyday life going to be virtual?
You may also wish to read: Take control of your tech before metaverse hits. Andrew McDiarmid: Soon you will be enticed on all sides by a host of virtual worlds. They will look and feel very real and very cool. SOS: If technology makes you forget everyone’s phone number, cut it. If it messes with your sleep, sell it. If it prevents contact with others, dump it.