NEW YORK: Are we on the cusp of another internet revolution? According to technology experts, we came together in Berlin for a conference organized by the digital learning platform ada. New technologies could overtake the web as we know it in the next decade, they said—both in structure and in appearance. On a technical level, tech idealists hope that blockchain technology will help build a new decentralized architecture that underlies the internet. In this new “Web3” era, the idea was that users, not a handful of tech giants, would be in control of their data, their privacy, and what they create online.
“This reinvents how the internet is set up on the backend,” said Portuguese-based author Shermin Voshmgir. “It’s a complete paradigm shift.” At the same time, companies around the world are working on technologies to revolutionize the way we navigate the Internet. Their vision: Instead of scrolling through websites or apps, people will soon be virtually strolling through a three-dimensional version of the internet called the “metaverse” – a kind of digital landscape in which users can work, buy things or meet their friends and where physical and digital realities converge. “It will be a walkable Internet, so to speak,” says Constanze Osei, who heads the social and innovation policy efforts for Germany, Austria and Switzerland at the US tech giant Meta, formerly Facebook.
But with companies like yours pouring billions into the development of this next-generation internet, digital rights activists warn that companies may ultimately want to recoup their investment — and that it could thwart efforts to give users more power over their digital selves . “The Metaverse could become the most invasive surveillance system ever created,” said Micaela Mantegna, an Argentine lawyer and digital rights researcher. To understand where the next generation of the internet might go wrong, it helps to look at how we got here. As early as the 1960s, researchers began connecting computers around the world. But it wasn’t until the 1990s that the invention of the World Wide Web and web browsers made the network available to anyone who could afford an Internet connection. Since then, the Internet has turned every aspect of society upside down, from the way people do business, how they find information, or how they interact with each other. “The internet has changed everything,” says Miriam Meckel, CEO of ada and Professor of Corporate Communications at the University of St. Gallen in Switzerland. “And the Internet itself has changed, too.”
During the first phase of the web, people searched the web from their desktop computers, navigating primarily through search engines. That all changed in the 2000s with the advent of social media and mobile internet, creating the online world as we know it today.
At the center of this “web2” are online platforms such as Facebook and Instagram from Meta or, more recently, messaging services such as Telegram. These platforms have helped dissidents in authoritarian regimes organize protests or give a voice to marginalized groups. But revelations like the 2018 Cambridge Analytica scandal have shown that they are also being used to spread hate, fuel disinformation and influence democratic elections.
Meanwhile, a small number of big tech companies like Meta or Google’s parent company Alphabet dominate their respective segments of the internet economy. To shift power back to individuals and communities, people like author Shermin Voshmgir have proposed rebuilding the internet with decentralized public blockchains — databases searchable by anyone and shared on computers around the world. Such a “Web3” would be controlled collectively by users rather than a few powerful gatekeepers, so the idea – and, for example, would make it easier for creatives to monetize the work they publish online.
This article was provided by Deutsche Welle