With 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 of a future where users have more control over their data.
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More control over your data. No blockchain. And your own artificial intelligence personal assistant, like ChatGPT.
These are all part of the vision of the future of the internet, according to internet inventor Sir Tim Berners-Lee and CEO of Inrupt John Bruce, who spoke on CNBC’s Beyond The Valley podcast released Friday.
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Inrupt is a company they co-founded that aims to implement the weaver inventors’ original vision of how the Internet worked.
Berners-Lee said that when he invented the Internet in 1989, “you could get a computer if you were geeky enough. 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 individuals,” he said.
But since then, he believes, something has gone wrong as power is now in the hands of big internet companies.
“Well, everyone’s turn 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 actually control what they see … Mark Zuckerberg’s algorithms control what messages are fed to them as they look at your stuff,” he told CNBC.
“It’s very disempowering. It is very useful for Facebook. They have a lot of data on people that they use to target them with ads… but what we’ve lost is individuals’ ability to hold power.”
Data under control
His solution? A product that allows users to control their data and how it is used. Currently, internet companies collect data about users in order to use their services by default.
But Berners-Lee and Bruce’s start-up Inrupt is working on a different path. The aim is for users to have a single sign-on for various products and services on the Internet.
Data is stored in what are known as “pods”, which are basically online storage containers for an individual’s personal information. Individuals can grant a website or service access to their pod or data silo instead of websites inheriting data by default.
The system is based on an open protocol on the Internet called Solid.
“And that’s the ‘yin’ and ‘yang’ of Inrupt, that’s personal empowerment. And the opportunity for individuals to take more control of their role online,” Bruce told CNBC’s Beyond The Valley.
Such an idea would require the approval of major Internet players. But Bruce said there’s an “endless urge” from companies to get more data about users so they can target them with products and services. But the venture shows declining returns for companies, he said.
“The other way to do it, instead of blindly finding out, is, ‘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, referring to the idea that users could share the data they want with companies from their pod.
Users must also change their behavior and there must be a desire to control their data in this way. Berners-Lee admitted that this change would not come overnight, but “gradually”.
Your very own personal AI assistant
In the wide-ranging Beyond The Valley episode, Bruce and Berners-Lee also addressed the new artificial intelligence product ChatGPT being developed by OpenAI.
Powered by Microsoft, ChatGPT is an AI-powered chatbot that responds to 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 pods.
Because in the future, according to Berners-Lee, users will have all kinds of data stored in their pods – from fitness information to online shopping habits. The AI could use all of this data to learn and be able to help a user.
“Sometimes you have the whole spectrum of data — all the data related to your collaboration and your coffee and your projects and your dreams. And the books you read and… your whole life, that’s in your pod. They run AI on it. That could be cute,” Berners-Lee said.
Web3 or Web3.0?
What Berners-Lee and Bruce are working on at Inrupt is all part of the future of the internet.
Some have dubbed it Web3, which proponents say will be a decentralized version of the internet — one not dominated by a handful of powerful players like Amazon, Microsoft, and Google.
Many Web3 proponents suggest that it will be built on top of some kind of blockchain technology. Blockchain is the technology that first came to light with Bitcoin but has evolved since then.
But Berners-Lee wants to call the next generation of the Internet Web 3.0 and makes the point.
“It’s not blockchain,” he said.
Web3 proponents suggest that blockchain could be used to underpin the future of the internet. But Berners-Lee said the technology isn’t fast enough, nor does it offer enough privacy.
He also said cryptocurrencies like bitcoin are “only speculative.”
Gavin Wood, founder of blockchain infrastructure company Parity Technologies, coined the term “Web 3.0”.
Wood spoke to CNBC about his vision for the future of the internet on a previous episode of Beyond the Valley last year. He advocated blockchain technology as part of future web make-up.