Technology and Society: May you live in interesting times | opinion

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EDITOR’S NOTE: Due to email problems, this month’s Technology and Society could not be published in its usual location on page C4. It will be printed here this month instead. “Technology and Society” can usually be found on page C4 on the second weekend of the month.

The title of this column is meant to be an old adage, meant not as a blessing but as a curse that seems applicable to today’s turbulent world.

We certainly live in interesting times, but not “interesting” in the good sense. We are not only politically controversial, but also between countries.

In this article, I want to discuss how technology, more specifically the internet, has made the situation worse or better.

The advantages offered by the web were initially obvious: it was supposed to be a mechanism to improve the flow of information, be it scientific or social, leading to sites like Google, Amazon and Facebook.

Almost no one can argue that she hasn’t advanced science in most of her endeavors.

The social side…not so much, mainly because it encourages not only the communication of information, but also misinformation.

As Mark Twain rightly observed, “A lie can travel halfway across the world while the truth puts on its shoes.” We’re still struggling to strike the right balance between freedom of expression and curbing caustic or hate speech.

An early example of improving the flow of information would be Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press in the mid-15th century. Before that time, knowledge could only be recorded and stored by scribes with pens on parchment or paper, and only the wealthy had access to it.

The printing press allowed the dissemination of this information to reach almost all citizens, and it could be argued that this effect increased the need for literacy among the general population.

Had there been a writers’ union back then I’m sure they would have gone on strike fearing for their existence but if you spoke to the ‘man in the street’/the general public they would be tickled red.

A huge amount of information was just about ready to be published and disseminated. Any new invention is bound to be feared by some and embraced by the rest of the population, and the Internet is no exception.

In the mid-20th century, the internet began as a tool for scientists to share their research remotely and more quickly, and has since evolved into more social purposes, allowing the average person to take care of their everyday needs remotely and easily and desires ranging from food and health to entertainment and news (which seems to have become a different form of entertainment, akin to horror movies).

In last month’s column, I mentioned that we should keep many of the benefits of the coming Web 3.0 in mind, but none of its pitfalls. Not everyone agrees that it will be the boon that is currently being touted, especially by those who will benefit monetarily.

When I searched the phrase “How to profit from web3” it came back with “About 2,380,000 results”.

However, many with computer skills believe it is a scam to avoid and, if implemented, will go the SONY Betamax route (although if you do a search you will find existing base models for sale for $50-$500 on offer.)

The most damning argument against Web 3.0 (aka Web3) I’ve found is set out in Stephen Diehl’s article, “Web 3 is Bull—t”.

“Web3 is a deeply polarizing topic for technologists because it is designed that way. It’s a rhetorical ploy to construct a false dichotomy between the internet’s legacy world of pop-up ads and Zuckerbergs – which rightly sucks – and a fantasy world built on technologically incoherent pipe dreams and bogus crypto-populism…” Diehl writes.

“Web3 is the technical manifestation of this empty grasping for a messianic solution that will solve all our problems. It is perfectly rational to want to build a more decentralized technology stack and strive for a more egalitarian internet, a fairer society and a better world. However, web3 is not the golden path that leads us to this world.

“At its core, web3 is a vague marketing campaign that seeks to convert the public’s negative associations with crypto assets into a false narrative of disrupting the hegemony of tech companies. It’s a distraction in the quest to sell more coins and continue the gravy train of bypassing securities regulation.”

“We see this in the circularity in which the crypto and Web3 movement speaks about itself. It’s not about solving real consumer problems. The only problem web3 has to solve is how to rationalize its own existence post-hoc.”

Diehl claims that the blockchain data structure that forms the basis of Web3 has inherent weaknesses. (For those who want to find out what blockchain is, I find Wikipedia a good resource).

Blockchain databases (e.g. those with money transfer transactions) distributed across the entire web, rather than being centralized on a specific machine or company, are still a long way off because they consume a lot more power, don’t scale if they are updated with new hardware and software, and run slower than current centralized databases such as those offered by Google, Amazon, and many, many companies.

To be fair, there are many companies that dispute the claim that the blockchain strategy to build Web3 is an energy guzzler,

If you visit this website ((https://blog.web3labs.com/blockchain-myths-energy-consumption) you will find a nice diagram of how PoW works.

“Because bitcoin is the most well-known blockchain, many believe that the problems that bitcoin faces are the same for every blockchain application across the board,” writes the article by Conor Svensson.

“It is true that bitcoin is very computationally intensive – its annual energy consumption is estimated at more than 75 TWh, which is comparable to the electricity consumption of Chile – but bitcoin is just a blockchain-based project. Its power consumption stems from the fact that it uses a consensus algorithm called Proof of Work (abbreviated to: PoW), which requires miners to provide proof that they have done the work required, as the name suggests, to mine theirs get a reward before anyone else can do it.”

Fortunately or unfortunately, we cannot vote on the design of Web3 as it is being developed by private companies, not the government.

It’s a godsend because it’s being built by experts competing with each other, not politicians.

Unfortunately, it will still be some time before it is clear what government regulations, if any, are needed to protect consumers in a brave new Web3 world.

dr Stewart A. Denenberg is Professor Emeritus of Computer Science at Plattsburgh State University, who recently retired after 30 years there. Prior to that, he worked as a technical writer, programmer, and consultant for the US Navy and private industry. Send comments and suggestions to his blog at www.tec-soc.blogspot.com where there is additional text and links. He can also be reached at [email protected]

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