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Who Dealt This Mess? 😊 Backstory for Web 3.0 aka web3

Photo by Amirhossein Hasani on Unsplash

When I used to play cards with my in-laws at the time, someone would invariably look at their hand, make a face and say “Who dealt this mess?”

Navigating technology’s effects on society can feel like looking at a bunch of cards that randomly came to you, leaving you to figure out a strategy so you don’t fold in the first round.

An invisible revolution is heating up behind the screens of your smartphone, tablet, and app-enabled devices popping up in your home and on your bod. These changes will affect every aspect of society in ways not seen since electricity had its day transforming human civilization.

What we are seeing is like a massive poker game for the most critical sectors of society — business, finance, and government.

If you are crypto-curious, tired of tech companies peddling your private info, catch yourself yelling at Alexa across the room while you noodle around with your smartwatch, you are dipping your toe in this new ocean.

It’s called Web 3.0, and it’s upping the ante worldwide. Like all the great leaps forward we humans dream up, it will either deliver utopia, chaos on a grand scale or most likely something in between.

For now, humans are still the boss of our gadgets. In free societies, we have a say in how these technologies alter our communities and lives. Lawmakers will figure out regulations in the next few years that impact topics from personal identity to new forms of currency and companies, even governments and institutions’ relevance (or irrelevance).

For this post, my goal is to help you understand the background that got us to this point. Read on for an overview of how we got to this Brave New World in the first place. And check out this page to join our “Web3 for the rest of us” email list.

Four Industrial Revolutions

I remember logging onto AOL for the first time, hearing the cute little robot beeps and whirrs coming out of my Macintosh in the spare bedroom of our lil’ rental house in the early ’90s. I picture telling my grandchildren about it one day and them asking if I had also moved to Austin in a covered wagon. There won’t be any way for them to really grasp life before the internet.

I had an odd sensation at the exact moment I connected online. If I’m frank, I felt exposed. It was probably like the first people to use a telephone felt, the eerie presence of other humans on the other end of the line, too far away to see.

Those were the days. I also had a new baby and a brick phone that took up most of the diaper bag space. Three years later, that brick phone was a toy in the toy box, and I was carrying a super cool and rugged Casio G’Zone flip phone. I still miss that phone. It bounced when I dropped it.

It was the early 1990s, right at the beginning of what people who write about such things call the Fourth Industrial Revolution or 4IR. What follows is to paint a broad picture of how we got here. It is not a complete review of history. If it was would you read it?

I did a lot of research to pin down dates. Closer to the present time, there is less agreement on precise dates and definitions for each phase. Below are the innovations that marked the beginning of each revolution.

First Industrial Revolution (1IR) — 1765 — Steam engine

Second Industrial Revolution (2IR) — 1870 — Electricity, science, and mass production (think Edison and Ford).

Third Industrial Revolution (3IR) — 1969 — Computing, digital tech, and nuclear energy. Web 1.0 emerges in the 1990s. Society begins to move into a time when people cannot see or touch major infrastructure pieces that run their lives.

Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) — 2000s — Like its predecessors, 4IR roots are in technological advances. The distinguishing characteristics are smart technology integration into the physical and biological environment via cloud-based computing, blockchain, and artificial intelligence.

The Evolution of the World Wide Web 1.0–3.0, the 1990s — present

The main innovation of 3IR was the Internet and mass adoption of the World Wide Web. Today many experts break the development of the Web into three phases.

Web 1.0 — 1990s

Web 1.0 was mostly a static collection of text and images with limited interactivity. Search engines were in their infancy. Users in this environment were consumers of information and some nascent e-commerce. Web 1.0 was revolutionary because anyone could put up a webpage for very little money. And millions of people and businesses began to do so. Mahself included.

HTML 1.0 anyone? I had that book. To anyone under 30 reading this, I am not 100 years old. Pinkie swear.

Web 2.0–2000s

With Web 2.0 we saw the rise of interactivity, automation, social media, and many privacy concerns. Industry consolidation led to the Big Tech companies Apple, Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Microsoft.

Social media companies posted incredible growth rates. Censorship controversies flared as many questioned the sanity of some of our fellow citizens posting incendiary views to cultivate crazy-town communities online.

On the back end, internet companies began collecting data about user behavior, giving rise to online ad business models and ethical questions. Some people like to say that in Web 2.0, the user is the product.

The Cloud Innovation

Companies hosted their intranet and data storage on their own servers in the early days. Over time, companies moved hosting to the “cloud” — off-site data centers run by service providers.

Of course, the word “cloud” doesn’t refer to anything in the sky. The term was good marketing (hat tip Compaq marketing exec George Favaloro in 1996) to distinguish an off-site hosting model from the clunky servers in the closet or under the desk.

The “cloud” is an earthbound collection of millions of servers warehoused in data centers worldwide. You may tour one of Google’s data centers here. The cloud stores not only enterprise data but the reams of Big Data that companies collect about web surfers and customers and, increasingly, blockchain’s peer-to-peer networks. And that leads us to Web 3.0.

Web 3.0–2016

Web 3.0’s is also known as web3, with some slight semantic differences but for our purposes, let's just say Web 3.0. Significant changes include increasing decentralization of centralized institutions and databases, rise of artificial intelligence and machine learning, and continued integration of smart technology into the physical and biological environment.

Decentralization: Right now, most internet users access the web through large, powerful tech companies. Proponents of privacy and data transparency see Web 3.0 as a way to break those emerging monopolies.

Blockchain technology is a key ingredient. The blockchain acts as a distributed ledger that transparently distributes “blocks” of information about transactions among various nodes on the chain.

This creates a few advantages:

Redundancy: Loss due to accident or hacking of one database does not wipe out the whole record.

Reduce the chance of tampering: An attempt to hack or alter one database alerts the chain, with unaltered copies available to cross-reference and identify incorrect information. Cryptocurrency is one of the best-known applications of blockchain, and it’s important to note that blockchain has many other applications and potentials as well.

Blockchain validators are people who control a “node” or server on the distributed database. They validate and record data sequentially in blocks that cannot be altered after adding them to the chain. In this way, the blockchain establishes a transparent sequencing for events. In cryptocurrency, validators are also called miners.

Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning:

You may be wondering, what is AI, anyway? Broadly speaking, artificial intelligence is the process of machines simulating human intelligence.

If you don’t remember life before AOL, it might surprise you to learn that AI has been around since the 1950s. They found floppy disks fossils next to dinosaur tracks. Just kidding.

In 1953, a computer scientist for IBM, Arthur Samuels, landed on a new insight. He suggested that instead of teaching computers how to do every little thing, we should teach them how to learn for themselves.

Machine learning (ML) says machines should offer solutions, gather feedback, adapt to the input, and make adjustments. Learn by doing. Does that sound familiar? It should because that’s how humans learn. Machine learning uses algorithms to mimic human learning.

And what, you may be secretly wondering, is an algorithm? An algorithm is a set of instructions to do something — accomplish a task or solve a problem. A pre-internet example is a recipe. Yep, your grandma could have worked for Facebook.

The idea was to teach machines how to think and learn like people. This sparked many sci-fi movies and ongoing R&D in the pre-internet tech and scientific community.

We are now seeing AI enter our lives in multiple ways. Just a few examples include devices like smart speakers (Alexa, Google Nest), translation apps, apps that write blog posts for you, sensors in cars, homes, and bodies, and a slew of “tip of the iceberg” early robotic offerings, including toys, for the mass consumer market. Not sure what grandma would think of bots as best friends for the kiddos.

Connectivity and integration:

With the explosion of smart devices collecting data and sending it to the cloud, it doesn’t take an imagination like Ray Bradbury’s to see that the more “things” that are sending data to the cloud, the bigger Big Data will get. To infinity and beyond.

Enter the Internet of Things and the growth of smart device technology.

In 2021, IoT Analytics expected the global number of connected IoT devices to grow 9%, to 12.3 billion active endpoints. By 2025, there will likely be more than 27 billion IoT connections.

Data is like oil, to borrow an analogy making the rounds on the interwebs. If it just sits there on a server, it’s like unrefined crude oil. It’s not fuel until it’s processed.

That’s where AI and Machine Learning come in. They provide the technology that refines data from the IoT so we can do stuff with it.

The amount of IoT data coming is like Spindletop for the AI-enabled future.

Now that you know how the IoT and AI interact, what does that mean for the future? The short answer is, the IoT and related digital technologies will affect, well, everything. Check out this post for more info.

Nuclear Energy

In other news, some folks believe nuclear energy from the 3IR should have a significant role in supporting the voracious energy appetite of Web3 tech. This piece, which looks lifted straight out of web 1.0, addresses that idea and is also proof that the nuke folks still need marketing. Maybe they should call George Favarolo from the old Compaq days? Too late, he’s working on climate change, thank goodness.

The Invisible Life

The basic stuff of life administration, from money to communication to connection, is now invisible, run from your phone, and controlled by other companies and organizations. This trend started with electricity, accelerated with computer programming and cloud computing.

It’s a world of complex (at least to most people) computer coding, and the current advantage lies with companies and organizations that can hire people to prop up and develop that complexity. We see this in spades in financial services, both traditional and emerging cryptocurrency space.

The very rich are (so far) enjoying a cascading windfall of wealth. A few billion other people on the planet are not. And about a third of the world’s population — the poorest, skewing toward women and older adults — is not even online yet.

(Are you enjoying this post? check out this page to join our Web3 for the rest of us email list.)

The good news is that there is no cap on innovation and wealth creation. In fact, Web 3.0 company founders are dotting lists of billionaire and unicorn lists.

So here we sit, legs dangling over the edge of the tangible universe, looking out at the sunrise horizon with black storm clouds over to one side and crystal blue sky on the other, heading straight for the swirling clouds in between. How will you ride out the coming weather?

To me, one of the big questions is this: Will we steward Web 3.0 to preserve, if not maximize, opportunities for billions of people with economic status currently stalled or retreating?

We are in an era of widening disparities of wealth in the West. The United States is now modeling an astonishingly hypocritical example of how to hollow out the middle class in plain sight (looking at you Fed and the US Congress re: health care insurance mess) and flatline low-income people for reasons I’ll cover in another post. As a preview, you can start with this visual tour of why people are hurting.

If you are curious about an example of a rapidly evolving Web 3.0 space, check out this post What Is an NFT Anyway, and Should You Care?

Thanks for reading! Want to join “the rest of us” email list? ? Head on over to this page.

If you have questions let me know, it helps me improve my content. If you see something missing or incorrect, I appreciate constructive feedback. 🤔🙂 Gracias!



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