a solid idea

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Tim Berners-Lee's interview in Vanity Fair (h/t: TruthDig) with Katrina Brooker is tantalizing:

From the beginning, in fact, Berners-Lee understood how the epic power of the Web would radically transform governments, businesses, societies. He also envisioned that his invention could, in the wrong hands, become a destroyer of worlds, as Robert Oppenheimer once infamously observed of his own creation. His prophecy came to life, most recently, when revelations emerged that Russian hackers interfered with the 2016 presidential election, or when Facebook admitted it exposed data on more than 80 million users to a political research firm, Cambridge Analytica, which worked for Donald Trump's campaign.

Brooker notes that Berners-Lee "has, for some time, been working on a new software, Solid, to reclaim the Web from corporations and return it to its democratic roots:"

For Berners-Lee, this mission is critical to a fast-approaching future. Sometime this November, he estimates, half the world's population--close to 4 billion people--will be connected online, sharing everything from résumés to political views to DNA information. As billions more come online, they will feed trillions of additional bits of information into the Web, making it more powerful, more valuable, and potentially more dangerous than ever.

"We demonstrated that the Web had failed instead of served humanity, as it was supposed to have done, and failed in many places," he told me. The increasing centralization of the Web, he says, has "ended up producing--with no deliberate action of the people who designed the platform--a large-scale emergent phenomenon which is anti-human."

"The power of the Web wasn't taken or stolen," observes Brooker, and "We, collectively, by the billions, gave it away with every signed user agreement and intimate moment shared with technology:"

Facebook, Google, and Amazon now monopolize almost everything that happens online, from what we buy to the news we read to who we like. Along with a handful of powerful government agencies, they are able to monitor, manipulate, and spy in once unimaginable ways. Shortly after the 2016 election, Berners-Lee felt something had to change, and began methodically attempting to hack his creation. Last fall, the World Wide Web Foundation funded research to examine how Facebook's algorithms control the news and information users receive.

Berners-Lee proposes a solution to "re-decentralize the Web" with Solid:

Working with a small team of developers, he spends most of his time now on Solid, a platform designed to give individuals, rather than corporations, control of their own data. "There are people working in the lab trying to imagine how the Web could be different. How society on the Web could look different. What could happen if we give people privacy and we give people control of their data," Berners-Lee told me. "We are building a whole eco-system."

For now, the Solid technology is still new and not ready for the masses. But the vision, if it works, could radically change the existing power dynamics of the Web. The system aims to give users a platform by which they can control access to the data and content they generate on the Web. This way, users can choose how that data gets used rather than, say, Facebook and Google doing with it as they please. Solid's code and technology is open to all--anyone with access to the Internet can come into its chat room and start coding.

"The forces that Berners-Lee unleashed nearly three decades ago are accelerating, moving in ways no one can fully predict," concludes Brooker, "And now, as half the world joins the Web, we are at a societal inflection point:"

Are we headed toward an Orwellian future where a handful of corporations monitor and control our lives? Or are we on the verge of creating a better version of society online, one where the free flow of ideas and information helps cure disease, expose corruption, reverse injustices?

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This page contains a single entry by cognitivedissident published on July 4, 2018 9:24 AM.

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