the future is making a comeback
A common sentiment is brewing online; a shared longing for the Internet that might have been. After decades of corporate encroachment, you don’t need to be a power user to realize that something has gone very wrong.
In the early days of the Internet, the future was bright. In that future, when you sent an instant message, it traveled directly to the recipient. When you needed to pay a friend, you announced a transfer of value to their public key. When you took a picture, it was immediately encrypted and backed up to storage that you controlled. In that future, people would laugh at the idea of having to authenticate themselves to some corporation before doing these things.
But the future isn’t what it used to be. Rather than a network of human-sized communities, we have a handful of soulless commons, each controlled by a faceless corporate entity.
Want to send a message?
You can — but we’ll store a copy of it indefinitely, unencrypted, for our preference-learning algorithms to pore over; how else could we slap targeted ads on every piece of content you see?
Want to pay a friend?
You can — in our Monopoly money.
Want to backup a photo?
You can — inside our walled garden, which only we (and the NSA, of course) can access. Just be careful what you share, because merely locking you out of your account and deleting all your data is far from the worst thing we could do.
You rationalize this: “MEGACORP would never do such a thing; it would be bad for business.” But we all know, at some level, that this state of affairs, this inversion of power, is not merely “unfortunate” or “suboptimal” — No. It is degrading. Even if MEGACORP were purely benevolent, it is degrading that we must ask its permission to talk to our friends; that we must rely on it to safeguard our treasured memories; that our digital lives are completely beholden to those who seek only to extract value from us.
At the root of this issue is the centralization of data. MEGACORP can surveil you — because your emails and video chats flow through their servers. And MEGACORP can control you—because they hold your data hostage. But centralization is a solution to a technical problem: How can we make the user’s data accessible from anywhere in the world, on any device? For a long time, no alternative solution to this problem was forthcoming.
Today, thanks to a confluence of established techniques and recent innovations, we can solve the accessibility problem without resorting to centralization. Hashing, encryption, and erasure encoding got us most of the way, but one barrier remained: incentives. How do you incentivize an anonymous stranger to store your data? Earlier protocols like BitTorrent worked around this limitation by relying on altruism, tit-for-tat requirements, or “points” — in other words, nothing you could buy groceries with. Finally, in 2009, a solution appeared: Bitcoin. Not long after, Sia was born.
Cryptography has unleashed the latent power of the Internet by enabling interactions between mutually-distrusting parties. Sia harnesses this power to create a trustless cloud storage marketplace, allowing buyers and sellers to transact directly. No intermediaries, no borders, no vendor lock-in, no spying, no throttling, no walled gardens; it’s a return to the Internet we once knew. The future is making a comeback.
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