Blockchain Bites: Last Day of Consensus, Will Crypto Save the Internet?

Consensus: Distributed ended on a high note with a keynote address from Juan Benet, founder of Protocol Labs, who granted a rare interview as he closed out the week-long virtual conference.

Speaking widely on the topics of decentralization and Web 3.0, Benet said, “the internet has become dramatically more important to us.” Over a 50-year time span, computing has gone from an idea to a “species altering technology.”

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But the internet’s present configuration is a huge problem. The underlying principles of an open and permissionless web, as originally intended, have become distorted by monolithic, centralized service providers, and given way to surveillance capitalism, data encroachment, hacking and content siloing.

Many of these problems were examined in an earlier session dedicated to current and coming models for media distribution – from newsmaking to music. “We are all creating and consuming content at a frantic pace, and using tech all the time to do so,” Lance Koonce, the workshop’s moderator said, by way of framing the conversation.

Different media have different revenue streams, said Chris Tse, founding director of Cardstack.
And all of them are broken. The issue at hand is technology has claimed not only the media type, but also the audience and distribution.

Crypto and blockchain could contribute to a solution, though most of the featured guests were skeptical.

Speaking on the topic of misinformation, Kathryn Harrison, founder of the DeepTrust Alliance, cited a recent survey that found three-quarters of adults aren’t sure they can accurately recognize fake news. And a plurality said misinformation impacts their trust in governments.

There’s no cryptographic solution, or new law, that could fix what is essentially a human problem, said Nadine Strossen, professor at New York Law School.  But media literacy, fact checking and common sense are critical parts of any solution.

Tech works best if it can solve a small issue first, and then scale, said GiantSteps Media’s Bill Rosenblatt. Quoting Jeffrey Moore, a tech market strategist, he said “you need to solve a niche pain point problem for someone before you can go on and boil the ocean.”

“This ownership thing is a solution in search of a problem,” Rosenblatt said, speaking about wide-ranging identity solutions intended to revamp the web. Like Juan Benet’s.

“Web 3 is about creating a platform that is decentralized, that puts human rights foremost, and can build a much freer and open internet and lock it in place,” Benet said.

The core principles of Web 3.0 are about ensuring freedom of speech and assembly, data ownership and self-sovereignty. If you sacrifice on these at the outset, give way just a bit on the vision, it cascades down into what will be built.

Blockchain and cryptocurrency have already “changed the underlying guts and rails of major industries,” Benet said. For instance, fleek is allowing people to spin up decentralized websites, while Audius is reshaping music streaming while maintaining a “Web 2.0 quality user experience.”

The idea that started with Bitcoin, of establishing financial freedoms, has extended to all kinds of other industries, reshaping the possibilities of a shared computing platform.

But there’s a lot of work left to do.

And with that, we bid you adieu. Thanks for attending and reading.

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