What will the internet of the future look like?  |  DW |  18.09.2022

What will the internet of the future look like? | DW | 18.09.2022

Are we at the dawn of a new Internet revolution? We are, according to technology experts gathered in Berlin for a conference organized by the digital learning platform ada.

The new technology could reshape the web as we know it over the next decade, they said, both in how it’s built and how it looks.

On a technical level, tech idealists hope blockchain technology will help build a new decentralized architecture underlying the internet. In this new “web3” era, the idea is that users rather than a handful of tech giants would have control over their data, their privacy and what they create online.

“It reinvents the configuration of the Internet in the backend,” said Portuguese author Shermin Voshmgir. “It’s a complete paradigm shift.”

At the same time, companies around the world are working on technology to revolutionize the way we browse the web.

In October 2021, CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced the renaming of his tech giant to “Meta”.

Their vision: Rather than browsing websites or apps, people will soon walk virtually through a three-dimensional version of the Internet dubbed the “metaverse” – a kind of digital landscape where users can work, buy things or meet their friends, and where physical and digital realities converge.

“It will be a walk-in internet, so to speak,” said Constanze Osei, who leads society policy and innovation efforts for Germany, Austria and Switzerland at the US tech giant. Meta, formerly known as Facebook.

But as companies like his invest billions in developing this next generation of the internet, digital rights activists warn that companies will eventually want to cash in on their investment – ​​and that 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 Argentinian lawyer and digital rights researcher.

The evolution of the internet

To understand where the next generation of the Internet could 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 accessible to anyone who could afford an Internet connection.

Since then, the web has disrupted every aspect of society, from how people do business to how they find information or interact with each other.

“Everything has changed because of the internet,” said Miriam Meckel, CEO of ada and professor of corporate communication at the University of St. Gallen in Switzerland. “And the internet itself has also changed.”

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

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

These platforms have helped dissidents of authoritarian regimes organize protests or give voice to marginalized groups. But revelations such as the Cambridge Analytica scandal in 2018 have shown that they are also used to spread hate, amplify disinformation and influence democratic elections.

Meanwhile, a small number of Big Tech companies like Meta or Alphabet, Google’s parent company, have come to dominate their respective segments of the internet economy.

More power for users

To return power to individuals and communities, people like author Shermin Voshmgir have proposed rebuilding the web with decentralized public blockchains – databases that anyone can search and share on computers around the world.

Such a “web3” would be collectively controlled by users rather than a few powerful gatekeepers, the idea says, making it easier for creatives to earn money from the work they post online, for example.

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

Not everyone is convinced: Jürgen Geuter, a Berlin-based internet theorist known online as “aunt”, doubts that a decentralized architecture alone is enough to empower users. He pointed to cryptocurrencies, an area where already today a few companies are making millions by developing the software needed to access the underlying decentralized network.

“Technology is never neutral,” Geuter said.

Web3 versus the Metaverse?

To prevent the metaverse from being controlled by a few influential players, experts say users should be able to interact with each other no matter where they are in the metaverse or 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.

“It is understood that things have to change compared to web2”, acknowledged Constanze Osei of Meta. She pointed to a new initiative announced in June, with which her company, along with other tech giants and standards bodies, want to discuss interoperability standards. But some big players such as US tech giant Apple are notably absent from the effort.

CES Messe Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas

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

And some observers warn that once companies try to capitalize on this investment, some of the ideals of a decentralized Web3 architecture could turn into collateral damage.

“The corporate version of the metaverse will be an evolution of capitalism,” said Argentine lawyer Micaela Mantegna.

Plus, she added, the immersive nature of the metaverse could exacerbate some of the issues plaguing Web2 today, from misinformation to online harassment. Some users have already reported being sexually harassed in early versions of the Metaverse.

And Mantegna warned that as technology evolves, devices used to access the metaverse may at some point start monitoring sensitive information like users’ brain activity.

Activist I Micaela Mantegna

The Metaverse Could Become “The Greatest Surveillance System Ever”, Lawyer Micaela Mantegna Warns

To protect this data and prevent surveillance on an unprecedented scale, governments and regulators must come up with rules for the era of the metaverse, she said.

Early efforts are underway: earlier this week the European Union announced a global regulatory initiative for next year.

But Mantegna said governments needed to hurry to avoid the mistakes of today’s internet – a web that, as she said, “was designed with good intentions but poor implementation”. .

“We don’t want the metaverse to become the bad sequel to the internet,” she said.

While You’re Here: Every Tuesday, DW editors round up what’s happening in German politics and society. You can sign up for the weekly Berlin Briefing email newsletter here.

#internet #future #18.09.2022

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