Replace traditional IT with a World Computer
The Internet Computer aims to realize the World Computer vision first mooted within the Ethereum community in 2014. It is an open and decentralized platform that provides an alternative to the traditional IT stack, which is comprised of things such as cloud computing services, server computers, database servers, web servers, middleware, backup systems, and security infrastructure such as firewalls. The Internet Computer network provides an alternative platform that can be used to build and run almost any online system or service.
How, you might ask, can a public network provide an alternative to the $5-trillion-dollar-a-year IT industry (according to Gartner). The answer is that the Internet Computer is a radical new form of blockchain made possible by novel cryptography and math. Unlike traditional blockchains, it does not need to indefinitely store old blocks of transactions, does not need local nodes in its network, and can scale its capacity to host compute, with orders of magnitude more efficiency.
On the Internet Computer, developers can build almost any online system or service desired, just by writing canister smart contract code. Canisters are smart contracts with breakthrough levels of efficiency, have the speed to process HTTP requests and serve interactive web experiences directly to end users, and can be composed to build almost any system or service. Furthermore, their data is weakly private, with stronger privacy options in the works. Yet, while they work differently, for example running in parallel, they also have the key magical properties of traditional smart contracts.
For example, canisters are unstoppable, and also tamperproof, which means that when their code is invoked, the Internet Computer is guaranteed to run the correct logic against the correct data. Furthermore, they can be made to run autonomously if required, and can process tokens.
No firewalls or security infrastructure necessary
One obvious advantage that the Internet Computer provides over traditional IT is security.
Systems and services running from the Internet Computer, which have been built using canister smart contracts, don't need to be protected by firewalls. This is similar to how DeFi smart contracts on Ethereum don't need to be protected by firewalls. Instead, they are secure by default, which is the exact opposite of systems built using traditional software that run on traditional IT, which have no security by default, and must be protected by teams of security administrators, special configurations, and special security tech such as firewalls and SIEM logging.
When systems and services are built using traditional IT, just one simple mistake can allow a hacker can steal data, or encrypt systems using ransomware, with catastrophic results, and it happens all the time. In 2022, worldwide expenditure on IT security will be $172 billion dollars (according to Gartner), but the intangible costs of constant hacks and potential business disruption is much higher.
Traditional IT is in the midst of a security meltdown, and the Internet Computer provides a way out. Because systems built on the Internet Computer using canisters are secure by default, the costs involved with security tech and its operation can be avoided, as can the vast majority of the intangible costs of hacks, and the damage they cause.
Where Web3 services and applications are concerned, which involve token assets that can be stolen, security is even more critical. Here it's possible to go one step further, by placing the canisters behind the service or application under the full control of a DAO, so that if a developer goes rogue and wishes to hack the system, they are unable to do so because they cannot change its code in an unmoderated manner.
Build on a public network, not on a Big Tech fly trap
The game-changing advantages of the Internet Computer go far beyond security. In the 1990s, there was an ongoing debate regarding whether the public internet, or walled-garden networks, such as AOL, Compuserve and the "Information Superhighway" Microsoft imagined, would prevail. Eventually the internet easily won out because it was permissionless, and provided a free market, and nobody wanted to be fed content that was carefully curated for them by mega corporations.
It was a free market because, if Alice and Bob created profitable but competing websites, say, then Alice could not call up the owner of the internet and say "if you slow down the public's access to Bob's website, I will give you stock in my company." The permissionless free market provided the foundations for social impact and freedoms, innovation and massive economic growth.
The internet provided decentralized, permissionless and global network connectivity that now connects almost everyone and everything. We now need to go one step further and do the same for computation using a World Computer.
The lives of the nearly 8 billion people on this planet could not be supported without the massive computing power that automates our global society's infrastructure. For example, it automates markets and supply chains that facilitate farming through the manufacture of fertilizer and tractors, and then the efficient transport of farm produce to supermarkets. Meanwhile, online interactions have created a social and business fabric that is an indispensable part of our personal and work lives.
Given how pivotal society's information infrastructure has become to human existence, it makes no sense to build it out on the back of a few anointed Big Tech services, such as Amazon Web Services, who will then make us all captive. Moreover, when compared to what the Internet Computer can provide as a blockchain, these platforms have serious disadvantages.
To use traditional IT, we must combine and integrate a veritable menagerie of components — such as servers or cloud instances, cloud orchestration layers, databases, web servers, memcached, backup systems, content distribution networks, middleware, security tools and much more — creating systems and services that resemble Rube Goldberg machines that are fragile and unnecessarily complex.
Managing this complexity is the source of the biggest cost of all. Of the $5 trillion dollar global IT spend, 80% of that is spent on IT operations, which is comprised from human beings spending much of their time managing complexity. Organizations operating an important but simple website, say, will often hire systems administrators, database administrators and security administrators just to keep it running. This costs crazy amounts of money. These complex systems also cannot be updated quickly, creating opportunity costs.
Meanwhile, when building on traditional IT, the reward is typically to become a captive customer of a cloud computing service provider and other vendors. Those building using the proprietary and complex stack provided by Amazon Web Services, for example, often eventually find themselves in a similar predicament to those building using the Microsoft software stack twenty years ago, and get stuck there because the re-engineering costs involved with moving are too great. Cloud computing services keep releasing new platform features, and a large part of the reason, is to better trap those lured into building there.
The Internet Computer now provides a clear alternative in the form of a public network. On this open platform, you build using canister smart contract code that is unstoppable and secure without firewalls, and which greatly simplifies the construction and maintenance of systems and services.
Build on the internet to emit less CO2
Traditional IT evolved in a time when computers were vastly less powerful, and the internet vastly slower, embedding architectural decisions that are no longer relevant at the root of an evolutionary branch of technology that is increasingly wrong-headed in the modern world.
Even though the Internet Computer is an advanced blockchain, it may come as a surprise that when used as an alternative to traditional IT, it can reduce CO2 emissions. That is because its architecture, cryptography and network governance, is able to configure the replication of computation and data within its network (a key source of inefficiency within traditional blockchain networks), in a ways that constrain the order of replication to the minimum needed to provide the strong liveness (unstoppability) and security guarantees expected of a blockchain.
Very deliberately, the Internet Computer's architecture and math embraces the replication of computation and data, using it to provide a platform for unstoppable and secure tamperproof code, while also scaling certain kinds of computation, such as data queries and web serving.
By contrast, traditional IT is replete with accidental, tacked-on replication. When you create a system or service, very often data is replicated across several database nodes, backup systems, middleware, and more copies are kept handy by the code producing web pages, for example using memcached. Then the web pages and other content served are further replicated by CDNs (content distribution networks).
When systems and services built using traditional IT components are considered as a whole, this accidental hidden replication is often very substantial. However, despite all the hidden replication involved, when systems and services are built using traditional IT, they are not unstoppable or secure and tamperproof.
The Internet Computer challenges deeply held misconceptions about blockchain science. In the popular imagination, it is defined by computationally expensive proof-of-work networks, which Satoshi introduced in his 2008 paper. These sometimes use as much power as a small country, yet can only process a handful of transactions a second.
The Internet Computer flips this narrative. It is a blockchain that can play the role of an end-to-end platform, which provides an alternative to traditional IT that will arguably be more efficient with respect to electricity consumption.
Web3 and cloud are incompatible
Today, if you ask much of the public and journalists what Web3 is, they will mostly propose that it is something to do with NFTs. But those working at the forefront of the field understand it as something much more profound and impactful. Web3 is about replacing today's Web 2.0 services, which are mostly run by big corporations, with an infrastructure that engages users through the tokenization of assets and participation rights, and by assigning full control over these services to DAOs (decentralized autonomous organizations), so they can be run by their communities.
In the future, Web3 online services will run rather like open economies. They will be controlled by DAOs, which in turn will be controlled by voting using governance tokens. These tokens will be held by founders, core developers, investors and, most importantly, the end users of the services themselves. Algorithms will be give them out to users who contribute, perhaps because they are prolific creators of popular content, refer other users to the service, or help with content moderation. Users will be the owners of services, and also part of the team that runs them — which will enable them to scale fast, and make them more viral and sticky.
Entire metaverse world's will run entirely from the blockchain. For example, one metaverse project being built on the Internet Computer today enables users to create their own 3D island, in the style of Minecraft, which they can share via a URL on their social media profiles. That world is itself an NFT, but they can also import ready-crafted objects into their metaverse islands, such as a castle or art gallery, by acquiring NFTs, then use the space to sell art NFTs. Island owners can create gateways to other islands, as a means to share traffic, and then sell the gateways as NFTs. This only scratches the surface of what is being done: The metaverse is an economy.
Meanwhile, in Web3, everything blends with DeFi. For example, social media can blend with DeFi to become SocialFi. Open Chat (oc.app) is a messaging service that runs entirely from the Internet Computer blockchain, where smart contracts process and store text messages and media messages such as video. But this is no normal messaging service. A user account can also play the role of a crypto wallet, which maintains bitcoin, ICP and other tokens that can be sent along with chat messages. On top, it is being integrated by other Web3 developers, and special group chats now provide users with easy ways to vote on DAO governance proposals, among other things.
The question of how security and regulation are handled by these new services is critical. Users do not want to lose their NFTs in a hack, especially if they confer ownership of a valuable and highly trafficked metaverse they created, say, and they also do not want to have their cryptocurrency and other tokens stolen. Furthermore, the developers of such services, do not want to find themselves classified as money transmitters, say, because they were constructed using centralized traditional IT.
Any reasonable analysis shows that the only practical way to solve these problems is to run Web3 services in the mode of protocols, just like blockchains themselves. This can be done by building them exclusively using smart contracts that are then placed under the full and exclusive control of community DAOs. Once control has been transferred to a community DAO, and the service runs 100% from the blockchain without the use of traditional IT, the developers cannot arbitrarily change the code in an unmoderated way to steal crypto balances. Nor can anyone else steal the crypto balances unless their code is flawed.
Moreover, when a Web3 service truly runs autonomously in cyberspace, under the exclusive control of a community DAO, then its management and ownership is no longer rooted in a jurisdiction and it runs in the manner of a decentralized protocol. There is no centralized entity such as a person, group of developers, or corporation that is responsible for its ongoing operations. This is very different to a Web3 service built using a cloud computing service, or other traditional IT, which roots it in a jurisdiction and directly transfers legal responsibility to those who control and own the cloud account. This responsibility is also transitively transferred to any shadow controllers.
The Internet Computer provides for any Web3 service or application to be built entirely on chain using smart contracts, without need for cloud computing, server computers, or any other traditional IT. Furthermore, services and applications can be placed under the full control of DAOs, either using the built-in Service Nervous System DAO framework, or third party DAO frameworks.
However you plan to build a Web3 service or application, you need to ditch the cloud and traditional IT. You can either build exclusively on the Internet Computer, or combine smart contract code on the Internet Computer with smart contract code on other chains such as Ethereum.
Today, finally, thanks to years of work by engineers, computers science researchers and cryptographers, blockchain is the stack.
- The Internet Computer project website (hosted on the IC): internetcomputer.org