Web3: This is the Internet of the future

This is one of the topics that ignited the 2022 edition of CES, the global high-tech cluster. Silicon Valley chiefs are devoted to heated debate about it, and crypto-enthusiasts swear by it: web 3, a decentralized internet in which users retain control of their personal data, a vision fueled by a growing mistrust of Web 2.0’s undisputed masters, Gafams (Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft), on everyone’s digital lips. With Facebook mired in scandals like Cambridge Analytica, recommendation algorithms acting as a black box, and Google and Apple controlling mobile app stores, web3 seems like an essential way out. But it is divided. For some, it is a real revolution in progress, for others, it is an elusive utopia, and some critics see it as a huge speculative bubble associated with cryptocurrency. why ? Let’s unpack.

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WEB3: Seen from the outside, same appearance, but different design

We must first understand that for the user, Web 3 will materialize as imagined in the same way as the Internet as we know it. It will consist of websites, payment solutions, mobile applications… In short, its appearance will be very popular. Its real peculiarity lies in its architecture. Because it’s getting itself out of Gafam, Web 3 will be based on blockchain, the technology at the origin of cryptocurrency.

Founded in 2009, Bitcoin remains to this day the first large-scale cash exchange system that is completely independent of banks. Instead of a single central validator, transactions there are verified by multiple network users. It works: “Bitcoin has worked without bugs or hitches for thirteen years, a great technical achievement.”, salutes mathematician Jean-Paul Delahaye, Professor Emeritus at University of Lille 1. Web 3 developers hope that, after revolutionizing finance, blockchain will attack the Internet. And to do so, they build on the achievements made in 2015 by a particular blockchain: Ethereum. When Bitcoin is only able to manage simple transactions, it runs small computer programs called “smart contracts”. “As with cash transactions, the fact that smart contracts operate simultaneously for all users makes their results indisputable.”says Sonia Benmokhtar, director of research in distributed systems at the National Center for Scientific Research. Therefore, in theory, it is impossible to violate the rules dictated by the program, and to decentralize all its data. Many decentralized applications, called “DApps”, are already dependent on these smart contracts, thus touching on the dream of web3 to completely free themselves from the control of multinational corporations. Available online, LBRY offers for example a video service similar to YouTube while imitating Leroy Twitter.

The history of computing is permeated with technologies that were decried and then ended up revolutionizing our daily lives – Sonia Benmokhtar, Research Director for Distributed Systems at the National Center for Scientific Research.

Problem: If this process is great on paper, in practice these apps are slow and not very convenient. The limitations that come from the blockchain principle: Validating each operation by multiple users is a lengthy and energy-intensive process. “Today, therefore, we are obligated to reduce the size and complexity of smart contracts.”Sonia Ben Mokhtar explains. This is at the expense of its attractiveness! A DApp can only provide a service equivalent to that of a central application at the cost of greater complexity., regrets Julian Jossa, lecturer at the University of Strasbourg. It will probably take patience for DApps to mature. Old versions of WhatsApp or Facebook used to be what it is todayrecalls Sarah Tucci-Piergovani, director of the Intelligent and Distributed Systems Laboratory at CEA. Ten years from now, the user experience will be much better for blockchain services. »

WEB3: Data is always stored on traditional servers

In line with this prophecy, a myriad of new blockchains such as Solana, Elrond, Tezos or Avalanche have appeared in recent years. With them, promises of smoother transactions and more efficient smart contracts. Even other so-called “level 0” block chains like Polkadot strive to create bridges between block chains, ensuring interoperability between different DApps. Little by little, web3 is getting organized.

But critics point to another problem: Data storage.

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“Because every validator must be able to store all validated blocks from the start, the blockchain cannot store heavy files like photos or videos.”Jean-Paul Delahaye explains. Its operations will become unmanageable. Therefore, in practice, the blockchain hosts the only proof of the authenticity of the exchange, since the files themselves are stored on traditional servers. However, these servers are managed either directly by the company that developed the DApp, or by cloud service operators, which are two central services! Back to our starting point: What is the point of decentralizing if large companies still have our data on their servers? game over for web 3? Not sure.

Because other innovations coming from the field of cryptography will be about to solve this friction point. One of them is called the “zero-knowledge proof”, or Zero Knowledge Guide. Behind this quirky name hides a high-altitude sporty sleight of hand, which was also awarded the Turing Award in 2012.

“This protocol makes it possible to exchange evidence about something without revealing anything about that object.Explains Daniel Augut, Professor of Cryptography at the Polytechnic. For example, it allows you to prove that you are over 18 without stating your age or your passport.

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What is the difference between the different types of web?

Web 1.0 (1991-2004) Dedicated to consulting from emails and websites. Then the network architecture is widely distributed among the computers.

Web 2.0 (2004-present) The development of interactive exchanges and the birth of social networks. The architecture is concentrated in the hands of a few players (Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple, etc.).

Web3 (today-…) Blockchain and crypto innovations promise new decentralized applications whose uses remain to be determined.

A new generation of secure processors

This advance may allow users, holders of encryption keys, to decide who can access their data and under what conditions. Concretely, this means that your photos, messages, etc., although stored on the server of a large company, cannot be referenced by the latter.

At the same time, a new generation of secure processors, such as the Intel SGX, allows a set of data or lines of code to be made secret via a physical encryption system. Again, these safe processors are limited, because they are very arithmetic intensive, while Zero Knowledge Guide Unable to store large amounts of data.

“But these technologies are advancing very quickly.”As Sonia Benmokhtar thinks. For his part, remembers Gil Vidak, former researcher at Inria and founder of iExec “Web 1.0 only explodes when encryption protocols like https allow secure online payments. It’s the same story with web3, which will evolve thanks to To add blockchain and secret computing”.

So the path seems well defined for Web 3. A major, if not important, question remains: will users be willing to leave centralized applications for DApps?

“Alternative services that aim to decentralize the web have already been developed…without encouraging adoption outside the geek community”, says Julian Jossa. The list of these unfairly forgotten apps is long: we can cite Diaspora, an alternative to Facebook or Mastodon, or a competitor to Twitter or PeerTube against YouTube…

This is why, according to many observers, the possibility that web3 will replace the current web is an illusion. This new version can only come as a supplement. “Web 3 could potentially bring up new uses without hiding old ones.expects Jill Vidak. Web and Web 1.0 email services and sites have not been replaced by Web 2.0 social networks. »

How do you limit the power needs of web 3?

Based on the newer blockchains, Web 3 can avoid the energy disaster of Bitcoin. Because since 2009, transaction verification systems have evolved: from Proof of Work, we have moved to Proof of Stake. In the first system, the auditor puts his computing power at the disposal of the network, while in the second system, he allocates an amount of money in cryptocurrency to it. A way to show your credentials, these amounts are forfeited in case of attempted fraud! According to a recent study by University College London, Proof of Stake consumes 1,000 times less energy than Proof of Work, which is roughly equivalent to a simple visa transaction.

Virtual worlds as first appearances on the web 3

The early beginnings of web3 still appear here and there. We can cite video games as “play to win” ( “play to win” ), which rewards a user’s progress in cryptocurrency, or the issuance and exchange of digital property certificates, popular NFTs. “Currently these uses mainly relate to virtual worlds with their life and economy, which can be grouped under the term metaverse”, summarized by Sarah Tucci-Piergiovanni. In the long run, other uses could emerge around the commodification of personal data from the Internet of Things. “If I had a watch connected, I could decide to control access to my heart data, open it up to my cardiologist, and cut it off from my insurance company”Jill Vidak explains. Similarly, we can imagine that thanks to Web 3, individuals can one day convert their autonomous car loan into Uber3 cash, or even energy produced by photovoltaic panels in the logic of one-to-one exchange.

What is certain is that web3 has many surprises in store: “The history of computing permeates technologies that were decried and then ended up revolutionizing our everyday livesSonia Ben Mokhtar concludes. I’m thinking about neural networks that no one believed in decades ago and that are behind major breakthroughs today From . Do you dare to predict the Internet of tomorrow?

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