More control over your data. No blockchain. And your own personal artificial intelligence assistant, like ChatGPT.
These are all part of the vision of the future of the web, according to internet inventor Sir Tim Berners-Lee and CEO of Inrupt John Bruce, who spoke on CNBC’s Beyond The Valley podcast published Friday.
Inrupt is a company they co-founded which aims to deliver the web inventors’ original vision of the way the internet should work.
Berners-Lee said that when he invented the web in 1989, “if you were sufficiently switched on geeky, you could get yourself a computer. And you could put a web server on it, you could plug it into the internet. And you could have a website.”
“The spirit of the web was incredibly empowering to individuals,” he said.
But in his view, something has gone wrong since, with the concentration of power now in the hands of large internet companies.
Through their company Inrupt, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, and John Bruce, are trying to change the future of the internet. Their vision is a future where users have more control over their data.
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“Well, everybody’s on Facebook, so they don’t have the website. They all use Mark Zuckerberg’s website,” Berners-Lee said.
“When people look you up on Facebook, you don’t control actually what they see … Mark Zuckerberg’s algorithms control what news gets fed to them as they’re looking at your stuff,” he told CNBC.
“That’s very disempowering. It is very useful to Facebook. They have a lot of data about people that they they use for targeting them with advertisements … but what we’ve lost is the ability for individuals to have power.”
In control of data
His solution? A product that allows users to control their data and how it’s used. Currently, internet companies collect data on users by default, as a way of using their services.
But Berners-Lee and Bruce’s start-up Inrupt is working on a different way forward. The aim is for users to have a single sign-on across different products and services on the internet.
Data will be stored in so-called “pods,” which are basically a person’s personal data online storage container. Individuals can grant a website or service access to their pod, or silo of data, rather than websites taking data by default.
The system is built on an open protocol on the internet called Solid.
“And that’s the ‘yin’ and the ‘yang’ of Inrupt, which is the personal empowerment. And the opportunity for individuals to take more command over their role on the web,” Bruce told CNBC’s Beyond The Valley.
Such an idea would require buy-in from large internet players. But Bruce said there is an “endless trudge” from companies to get more data on users, so they can target them with products and services. But the endeavour is showing diminishing returns for companies, he said.
“The other way of doing it is instead of, you know, figuring out blindly ‘Are you the likely candidate for my product or service?’ How about I just ask you in a legitimate way? And you tell me,” Bruce said, referencing the idea that users would be able to share the data that they want with companies from their pod.
Users will also need to change their behavior, and there needs to be a desire to control their data in this way. Berners-Lee admitted this change wouldn’t come overnight but instead “bit by bit.”
In the wide-ranging Beyond The Valley episode, Bruce and Berners-Lee also addressed new artificial intelligence product ChatGPT which was developed by OpenAI.
Berners-Lee said that users can run their own AI, much like their own personal version of Amazon’s Alexa or Apple’s Siri, when they have their own data pods.
That’s because in the future that Berners-Lee sees, users will have all sorts of data stored in their pods — from fitness information to online shopping habits. The AI could use all that data to learn and be able to assist a user.
“Sometimes you have the whole data spectrum — all of the data to do with your collaborations and your coffees and your projects and your dreams. And the books you’re reading and … all of your life, then that is in your pod. You run AI on that. That could be sweet,” Berners-Lee said.
Web3 or Web 3.0?
What Berners-Lee and Bruce are working on at Inrupt is all part of the future of the internet.
Many Web3 advocates suggest it will be built on some sort of blockchain technology. Blockchain is the technology that first came to light with bitcoin but has since evolved.
But Berners-Lee is keen to call the next generation of the internet Web 3.0, emphasizing the dot.
“It’s not blockchain,” he said.
Web3 proponents suggest blockchain could be used to underpin the future of the internet. But Berners-Lee said the technology is not fast enough nor does it afford enough privacy.
He also said cryptocurrencies like bitcoin are “only speculative.”
Gavin Wood, founder of blockchain infrastructure company Parity Technologies, coined the term “Web3.”
Wood spoke to CNBC last year about his vision for the future of the web in a previous episode of Beyond the Valley. He advocated blockchain technology as part of the future web make-up.