Co-CEO at Fluree, the scalable semantic graph database backed by blockchain technology.
Sharing content on Twitter and LinkedIn is easy. Maybe too easy, some argue, given the popularity of bad information.
This very ease of sharing, however, underlines an important technical fact about the internet. Twitter and LinkedIn are interoperable. When these applications pull data (e.g., a link to a cat meme) they agree on the language of the data and display it in the same format.
Not all applications can infer a common format the way LinkedIn and Twitter do. Your cat memes may seamlessly pop up, but your urgent care clinic cannot automatically share information with your primary care physician, nor can your mechanic share information with your auto insurance company.
If we are to enter an era of robot assistants, autonomous vehicles, smart cities and other AI-driven applications, then machines need to be able to talk to each other as seamlessly as they do when Smudge the Cat makes his latest rounds. They must interoperate in a trustworthy, secure way so that entire data ecosystems can come online and support advanced applications.
Today’s internet cannot handle massive data ecosystems. Semantic standards and blockchain are filling the gap — and not a moment too soon.
The Rocky Path To Web3
If you are reading this article, you are one of the billions of humans on the current human-to-machine web. This web, as mentioned in my previous article, has a few limitations. It is not secure, sharing data is expensive and you never know who or what to trust.
These are a few signs that our seemingly advanced internet is actually primitive compared to its potential.
Amazon’s suggested products, Tesla’s car repair status tracking and electric smart grids are a few early signs of the machine-to-machine (M2M) web that is to come. Otherwise known as Web3, the M2M internet will enable a new rash of innovation in AI. It will help facilitate the industrial internet, advance scientific research and exploration and make health care streamlined and effective.
Yet our current internet cannot scale to accommodate the needs of the Web3 future. Until the internet becomes interoperable, trustworthy and safe, progress remains stuck.
Interoperability problems can be as basic as last names. If one machine asks for someone’s last name, another machine might draw a blank because its last names are organized as “family name.” Each machine’s data ontology, in other words, is different. The machines won’t work together at all.
The current, human-to-machine web fix involves building APIs to unite those ontologies. Because this costs tens of thousands of dollars per API, only the biggest of big tech (Amazon, Facebook, etc.) can afford to connect data ontologies on a massive scale. The resultant data ecosystems enable tech giants to innovate on Web3 while the average business can’t afford the expense.
This isn’t the first time interoperability problems have threatened to stymie widespread web innovation. Without interoperability, we’d need different browsers to see different information, different short-range wireless chips for our phones, laptops and cars versus one universally compatible Bluetooth.
The W3C Consortium, the internet’s standards body, has a solution for the data ecosystems required by the next internet. Comprised of metatags that go into a database to infer a common language, the W3C’s semantics create the linkages between different kinds of data so that machines can speak a common language without the need for APIs.
This enables the easy sharing of not only cat memes via Twitter and LinkedIn but car data with auto repair shops, urgent care clinic data with your primary care physician and any range of futuristic applications: delivery drones, helper robots, smart buildings. Importantly, it also enables organizations of all sizes to participate in data ecosystems.
Semantic standards are the foundation of interoperability. They enable all kinds of databases to speak to one another, building the data ecosystems needed for Web3. But there are still two more criteria to meet.
One of the bigger breaches of trust in recent cyber-memory involved hackers spoofing high-profile Twitter accounts to siphon up at least $120,000 worth of Bitcoin. This was purportedly for Covid-19 assistance, but it turned out it was really to generate illicit revenue.
This is the dark side of interoperability. How could anyone know that these high-profile accounts had been spoofed and that users were donating bitcoin to thieves? There was no way to know, which made the heist diabolically effective.
Breaches, trolls and fake news have turned the online world into an informational obstacle course. Blockchain can help solve the problem. Because it provides mathematical proof of the history and legitimacy of all data, all information on the blockchain can be traced back to its origin. The nefarious origin of those spoofed tweets would have become obvious before much of the damage was done.
Transparency is a big step toward security. Yet we live in an era when everything from Social Security numbers to health records to government security protocols has been hacked.
Security experts have tried their best to protect data at the server level, the network level, the perimeter and elsewhere. The containers data exists in — data lakes and APIs, the front end and the middle of the stack — are individually secured. Each security system may or may not interoperate with the next, leading to governance and management confusion and multiple attack surfaces for hackers to exploit.
The Web3 fix for this morass involves security at the data layer. On the blockchain, all data comes with metadata that codifies it. Data has its own armor against misuse and exploitation. Combined with the cryptographic keys that enable access to certain pre-approved parties, data, codified with its own rules and access keys, becomes much harder to hijack.
The net result? A safe, trustworthy, interoperable data ecosystem that provides an innovation platform for everyone, not just the tech titans. A new standard of what’s possible in technology. I, for one, can’t wait to see what happens when interoperability breaks beyond the constraints of cat memes and benefits us all.