What will the Internet of the future look like? – DW – 18.09.2022

Are we on the verge of another internet revolution? We, according to technology experts, gathered in Berlin for a conference organized by the digital learning platform.

New technology could rethink the web as we know it in the next decade, they say, in how it’s built and what it looks like.

On a technical level, tech idealists hope that blockchain technology will help build a new decentralized architecture that underpins the Internet. In this new “web3” eraThe idea is that users, not a few tech giants, will be in control of their data, privacy and what they create online.

“This reveals again how the Internet has been put on the back burner,” said Portuguese author Shermin Vosmgir. “It is a complete paradigm shift.”

Meanwhile, companies around the world are working on technologies to revolutionize the way we navigate the web.

In October 2021, CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced the rebranding of his technology division as Meta.Image: Eric Risberg/AP/picture alliance

Their vision. instead of scrolling through websites or apps, people will soon be scrolling virtually a three-dimensional version of the Internet called the “metaverse” — a digital landscape where users can work, buy things, or meet their friends, and where physical and digital realities converge.

“It will be an incoming Internet, so to speak,” said Konstanze Osei, who heads the society and innovation policy efforts in Germany, Austria and Switzerland at US tech giant Meta, formerly known as Facebook.

But because companies like his are spending billions to develop the next generation of the InternetDigital rights activists warn that companies will eventually want to cash in on their investments, and that this could derail efforts to give users more power over their digital selves.

“Metaverse could become the most invasive surveillance system ever created,” says Argentine lawyer and digital rights researcher Micaela Manteña.

The evolution of the Internet

To understand where the next generation of the Internet might go wrong, it helps to look at how we got here.

Back in 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 web accessible to anyone who could afford an Internet connection.

Since then, the Internet has revolutionized every aspect of society, from the way people do business to the way they find information or interact with each other.

“Everything has changed because of the Internet,” says Miriam Meckel, executive director of ada and professor of corporate communication at the University of St. Gallen in Switzerland. “And the Internet itself has changed, too.”

During the first phase of the Internet, people browsed the Web from their desktop computers and navigated it primarily through search engines. That changed in the 2000s with the emergence of social media and the mobile internet, giving rise to the online world as we know it today.

Why is Big Tech under fire around the world?

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At the heart of this “web2” are online platforms such as Meta’s Facebook and Instagram or, more recently, messaging services such as Telegram.

These platforms have helped dissidents of authoritarian regimes organize protests or give voice to marginalized groups. But revelations like the 2018 Cambridge Analytica scandal have shown that they are also used to spread hatred, amplify 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.

More power for users

People like author Shermin Oshmgir have proposed rebuilding the web with decentralized public blockchains—repositories that are searchable and shared by everyone—to give back to individuals and communities.

Such a “web3” would be controlled collectively by users, rather than by a few powerful gatekeepers, the idea goes.

Revolution through the metaverse.

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Now the multi-billion dollar question is, will this plan succeed?

Not everyone is convinced. Berlin-based Internet theorist Jürgen Gaither, who goes by the online pseudonym “tante,” doubts that decentralized architecture alone is enough to return power to users. He pointed to cryptocurrencies, a field where several companies are already making millions today by developing the software needed to access the underlying decentralized network.

“Technology is never neutral,” Gaither said.

Web3 vs. Metaverse.

To prevent the metaverse from being controlled by just a few influential players, experts say users must be able to communicate with each other, regardless of where they are in the metaverse and how they use it. It would also be a change from today’s web, where apps are mostly “walled gardens” that don’t allow users to send messages or money between different apps, for example.

“There is an understanding that everything has to change from web2,” admitted Meta’s Constance Osei. He pointed to a new initiative announced in June with which his company, along with other tech giants and standards-setting bodies, wants to discuss interoperability standards. But some big players, such as US tech giant Apple, have been largely absent from the effort.

According to estimates by investment bank Goldman Sachs, the metaverse could grow to an $8 trillion market by 2025. Image: PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP

At the same time, there is some irony in the fact that the world’s biggest tech giants say they want to invest in building a new Internet architecture that could eventually curb their market power.

And some observers warn that as companies try to capitalize on those investments, some of the ideals of a decentralized web3 architecture could end up being collateral damage.

“The corporate version of the Metaverse will be the evolution of capitalism,” said Argentinian lawyer Michaela Mantegna.

What’s more, he added, the immersive nature of the metaverse could exacerbate some of the problems plaguing today’s web2, from misinformation to online harassment. Some users have already reported being sexually harassed in early versions of metaverse.

And Mantegna warned that as technology develops, the devices used to access Metaversion may at some point begin to monitor sensitive information, such as users’ brain activity.

Metaverse could become “the biggest surveillance system ever”, warns lawyer Michaela Mantegna.Photo: Janos Delker/DW

To protect such data and prevent surveillance on an unprecedented scale, governments and regulators need to develop rules for the age of the metaverse, he said.

The first efforts are underway. earlier this week the European Union announced a global settlement initiative for next year.

But Mantegna said governments must act quickly to avoid the mistakes of today’s Internet. a network that, he said, was “designed with good intentions but poor execution.”

“We don’t want metaversion to become a bad sequel to the web,” he said.

While you are here. every Tuesday DW editors summarize what is happening in German politics and society. You can register here For the Berlin Briefing weekly e-newsletter.

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