Is Decentralized Internet a Possible Reality?
On HBO’s T.V. series Silicon Valley, startups promise to “change the world” by tackling silly, often nonexistent problems, which does provide a sarcastic view of the startup industry. But this season, the show’s characters are tackling a project that really could make a difference. In their latest pivot (a second pivot for the company), Richard Hendricks and the Pied Piper gang are trying to create a new internet that cuts out intermediaries like Facebook, Google, and the fictional Hooli. Their idea: Use a peer-to-peer network built atop every smartphone on the planet by using a part of unused processing power present in the device, effectively rendering huge data centers full of servers unnecessary.
Richard Hendricks wanted to build a completely decentralized version of our current internet without any firewalls, tolls, government regulation, spying. The information would be totally free in every sense of the word.
This fictional idea is quite idealistic and far from realization, but what if I say the decentralized internet part of the story is something that is worked upon right now and is quite possibly be realized. Thanks to blockchain technology this is possible.
We’re closer than we’ve ever been. The technology is finally catching up to the dreams painstakingly sketched in whitepapers from the 60s to the 90s. We have computers like Diffie-Hellman key exchange that are very fast, where you get a secret key transmitted over an open, vulnerable network, is dirt cheap. RSA is no longer as costly as it used to be. At the same time, I’m quite terrified of what’s to come.
With politicians like Elizabeth Warren threatening to break up tech monopolies, just as Standard Oil and Ma Bell were broken up in previous generations (Which certainly seems very hard and purely fictional these days, to be honest). To break up these centralized giants there’s going to be a need for an alternative, which is more likely now than ever to be decentralized.
But the regulators are not our friends. Regulators, while in a trusted position, but are finally a group of humans, and are susceptible to all the corruption, viciousness, and evil that any human is capable of. I’m not saying the government is evil, just that with great powers comes great responsibilities, but the regulators aren’t some kind of Avengers there’s always going to be some kind of misuse of these powers.
So what do I mean by decentralised internet is closer than you think?
I think things are going to come to a head. The internet is going to hold so much information, or software is going to kill so many people by human mistake in the code, that regulators will have to step in out of their very responsibility. What will we do in that scenario?
But we do have a few options. We can accept whatever regulation the legislators pass, and hope they understand the technology well enough to make the law correctly. We can create our own self-regulation, such that legislators will borrow concepts and legal language from the existing frameworks. Or, people will go underground.
It’s ultimately better, to have a decentralized network. It’s much closer to what we actually do in real life. At least, as per my view, trust and reputation systems in a decentralized network would ideally derive from the way people actually interact. If I know Poojan, and Poojan knows Sanket, and Sanket knows Vignesh, I might be able to talk to Vignesh, but I wouldn’t trust him as much as Sanket, and I wouldn’t trust Sanket as much as Poojan, and so on. Through continuous interaction, we gain trust, but as they say, “trust is earned in drops and lost in buckets”.
I don’t want to turn it into a rant, but my point is this: decentralized networks are closer than you think. They’re growing under the surface, waiting for the right time, the right place. The possibilities are laid out before us.
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