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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More control over your data. No blockchain. And your personal AI assistant like ChatGPT.
It’s all part of a vision for the future of the Internet, according to Internet inventor Sir Tim Berners-Lee and Inrupt CEO John Bruce, who appeared on Friday’s CNBC Beyond The Valley podcast.
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Inrupt is a company they co-founded that aims to deliver the web inventors’ original vision of how the internet should work.
Berners-Lee said that when he invented the Web in 1989, “if you were determined enough, you could get yourself a computer. And you could put a web server on it, you could connect it to the Internet. And you could have a website.’
“The spirit of the Internet has been incredibly empowering for people,” he said.
But, in his opinion, after power was concentrated in the hands of large Internet companies, something went wrong.
“Well, everyone’s gone Facebook, so they don’t have a website. They all use Mark Zuckerberg’s website,” Berners-Lee said.
“When people search for you on Facebook, you don’t really control what they see … Mark Zuckerberg’s algorithms control what news they get when they look at your stuff,” he told CNBC.
“It’s a huge waste of opportunity. This is very useful for Facebook. They have a lot of data about people that they use to target them with ads…but what we’ve lost is people’s ability to have power.”
His solution? A product that allows users to control their data and how it is used. Currently, Internet companies collect user data by default as a way of using their services.
But Berners-Lee and Bruce’s startup Inrupt is working on a different path. The goal is for users to have a single sign-on to various products and services online.
The data will be stored in so-called “capsules,” which are basically an online container for storing a person’s personal data. Individuals can give websites or services access to their block of data, rather than websites accepting data by default.
The system is built on an open protocol on the Internet called Solid.
“And that’s the yin and yang of Inrupt, which is personal empowerment. And an opportunity for people to take more control of their role online,” Bruce told CNBC’s Beyond The Valley.
Such an idea would require buy-in from major Internet players. But Bruce said companies are “stretching endlessly” to get more data about users so they can target them with products and services. But, he said, those efforts are yielding diminishing returns for companies.
“Another way to do it is instead of, you know, blindly asking, ‘Are you a likely candidate for my product or service?’ How about I just ask you in a legitimate way? And you tell me,” Bruce said, referring to the idea that users will be able to share the data they need with companies from their block.
Users will also need to change their behavior and there must be a desire to control their data in this way. Berners-Lee admitted that these changes will not happen immediately, but “little by little”.
Your personal AI assistant
In an extensive episode of Beyond The Valley, Bruce and Berners-Lee also touched on the new AI product ChatGPT, which was developed by OpenAI.
Powered by Microsoft, ChatGPT is an AI-powered chatbot that answers user questions.
Berners-Lee said users can run their own AI, much like their own personal version of Amazon’s Alexa or Apple’s Siri, if they have their own data packets.
That’s because in the future Berners-Lee sees, users will have all kinds of data stored in their pods, from fitness information to online shopping habits. AI can use all this data to learn and help the user.
“Sometimes you have a whole range of data—all the data related to your collaborations, your coffee, your projects, and your dreams. And the books you read and… your whole life, then it’s in your capsule .. You run artificial intelligence. It can be nice,” Berners-Lee said.
Web3 or Web 3.0?
What Berners-Lee and Bruce are working on at Inrupt is part of the future of the Internet.
Some have called it Web3, which proponents say will be a decentralized version of the Internet — one that isn’t dominated by a few powerful players like Amazon, Microsoft, and Google.
Many proponents of Web3 believe that it will be built on some form of blockchain technology. Blockchain is a technology that first appeared in the world with Bitcoin, but has evolved since then.
But Berners-Lee is keen to call the next generation of the Internet Web 3.0, making a point.
“It’s not blockchain,” he said.
Proponents of Web3 believe that blockchain could be used to power the future Internet. But Berners-Lee said the technology isn’t fast enough and doesn’t provide enough privacy.
He also said that cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin are “only speculative”.
Gavin Wood, founder of blockchain infrastructure company Parity Technologies, coined the term Web 3.0.
Last year, Wood spoke to CNBC about his vision for the future of the Internet in an earlier episode of Beyond the Valley. He advocated blockchain technology as part of the future web modem.