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The Era of Decentralized Computing

Steve Schlafman
Steve Schlafman
3 min read

Over the last three months, my partner Adam Ludwin and I have been spending a good chunk of our time researching and thinking about decentralized technologies and networks.  I’ve just started my quest to understand exactly what’s going on but believe ‘decentralization’ will emerge as a mega trend in the next two to three years.  We’re not only seeing decentralized innovation around the block chain and mesh networks like OpenGarden (global) and NYCmeshnet (local) but also around storage and content delivery. My Spidey Senses tell me implications of this trend will fundamentally transform the way in which we all connect to the internet and exchange value.  It’s pretty hard not to get excited about this shift.

RRE is actively making bets in these types of emerging technologies so I’m trying to learn as much as I can by devouring blogs, talking to founders and listening to podcasts every night.  In my quest to learn the basics, I recently stumbled upon a great podcast titled Let’s Talk Bitcoin and was pleasantly surprised when I discovered the latest installment features David Irvine, Founder / CEO of MaidSafe, one of the leading proponents for decentralized computing. In his talk David explains why decentralized architectures are good for the internet, the story behind MadeSafe and his philosophy on building a platform that creates rather than extracts value.

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For those of you who don’t have thirty minutes to listen to David’s talk here are some of my favorite nuggets:

“I then realized that if all the computers are connected together and we’re suppling all of that computing resource, then the people should have full rights to use that. And the deal of joining that (system) shouldn’t be between you and a third party company. It should be between you and the internet. So we came to figure what we have to do is get all the computers to join together in some kind of global cyber brain. Kinda like what the block chain does for trade.  It’s really to get all the computers to join together in a manner that they could pervade all of the world’s (computing) resources to every individual person. And that’s really where the MaidSafe story started.”

“With MaidSafe there were three really hard things that I needed to solve. The first was how do you make data so secure that no one can read it except for you and how would you store that data on multiple computers that switch on and off the whole time. The second part was really what does a cyber brain do, what’s it look like. How can all the computers recognize each other to be able to tell is a computer good or bad, is it doing a good or bad job? That autonomous network was a very difficult part of it. And the last problem which was probably the toughest one when we have highly encrypted data on a network that’s autonomous and looks after itself: how do you login to it when there are no servers and location to send a message to?”

“This system when you join, nobody knows you’ve joined. The network is aware that you’re there and it can communicate information to your friends that only you know. And that’s really the way the internet should have been at the very start. It set out to go that way but it fell by the wayside when companies came in and started to try monetize this sort of system and advertise to you and take your information and steal your data and spy on you. That’s not a very natural way to run an internet. It’s a terrible way to run a network. The network should be run for the people by the people.  That’s what MaidSafe has been able to achieve.”

“If we make this free to the whole world then the other five billion that don’t have internet connectivity are people who are off the internet can all come back on it. If someone down in Africa or some other third world country can get access to this data and access to this communications system and start curing diseases then that’s a phenomenal return for us.  And that’s as important to us as a solid business model.”

As you can see, David’s vision for the internet is guided by strong values such as freedom, accessibility, affordability, privacy, community and fairness. Based on his talk and my preliminary research, I believe we’re still in the very early stages of this shift given the infrastructure is just being deployed. To steal an analogy from the nineteenth century, the steam rail locomotive has been designed but not yet optimized and the rails haven’t been laid down. All that said, the advancements in decentralized technologies like the block chain are evolving so rapidly that it’s hard to keep up. That’s what I love about it.  Everything feels so fluid and new. In the coming months and year, I plan to spend a fair amount of my time diving deeper into decentralized technologies, the numerous whitespace opportunities and the existing industries that will likely fall victim to their diffusion. If you’re also passionate about the impact that this trend will have on our world, I’d love to hear your thoughts and explore where we are heading with all of this.

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Exec coach. Writer. Student of Change.