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Here we serve our key insights from this year's delicious buffet of talks and debates with agenda-setting main characters on the web. - Bon appetit!
TNW is one of Europe's largest digital conferences. Despite its broad thematization and global angle, it has managed to create an intimate-ish venue with soul and aura borrowed from the tech start-ups also represented at the conference.
This year, the event took place outside a disused former industrial area, just outside the city centre of Amsterdam, which is now a well-kept but well-established conference centre. This hip upcycling "old industry" architecture could not have been more spot-on compared to the theme, "Next Generation Web". One could imagine a battalion of young tech revolutionaries occupying the old buildings in the shelter of the night and establishing an outpost in the very colonial heart of the old, carbon black industry, from which one could drive the Next Web's soft(ware) revolution with creativity and code as a weapon.
Was crypto-currency just a FAD ?!
Among the 2022 themes, "Web 3.0" was a fascinating theme. Where "2.0" covers established technologies, technocultures, artefacts and effects, "3.0" is a still non-woven patchwork of existing, publicly available technologies, visions and early research and innovation projects. Web 3.0 acted as the headline for the transition to the next generation of the internet, which has already been going on for quite some time. In recent years, artificial intelligence and blockchain have filled much of the 3.0 plan, and it is also in those areas that the first mature applications have come out. The most successful application area, crypto-currency, has come into the spotlight due to the substantial built-in problems that technology has brought with it. First, crypto mining stands in dazzling contrast to the sustainability agenda. Bitcoin alone currently requires 150 terawatt-hours a year to mine, an electricity consumption equivalent to the whole of Argentina with its 45 million citizens. And at the moment, the trend is that consumption will increase significantly in the coming years. Other significant issues with the encrypted digital currency were discussed by Thursday's headliner, Edward Snowden, in his usual charismatic/sympathetic manner. He highlighted cryptocurrencies as one of the solutions to set the individual free from the oppressive financial system. Still, he had to admit that the project of establishing a decentralized, managed global and secure currency for the benefit of both individuals and companies has so far failed. Instead of being a platform for safe, independent trading, cryptocurrencies have become primarily an object of economic speculation, which, according to Snowden, was never the purpose.
In the light of hindsight, I, as a welfare Dane, can see the irony in the fact that the project has failed precisely because of the total absence of central regulation. One could have created security for the users if, from the start, e.g. had had a fixed exchange rate policy vis-à-vis the conventional physical currencies. But that was probably, to a large extent, what the project was a showdown with.
Snowden never came up with visions for a redefined crypto-currency (he had much else on his mind!). In that absence, I would venture to put on the hat of desire and fantasize about a European-funded crypto project, where real value creation for ordinary people and economic and climate sustainability are supporting pillars. Zoom me if you want to talk, Edward - I am free any day.
The real personal data
Actual stardust was sprinkled across the big Vision scene when Sir Timothy John Berners-Lee, in his distinguished person, visited TNW to talk about his Solid project (https://solidproject.org/). Solid is a concept that enables individuals to store their data in a personal, secure virtual "capsule", which can be made available to service providers via an integration interface. The concept is a showdown with particularly American online market conditions, where users have to live with the fact that their data is not just stored but owned by private companies and trust that their data are not used against their personal interests. But that relationship of trust, revealed by the mentioned Edward Snowden back in 2013, has been systematically abused for decades, and no one can know where the limit for using their implicit consent for personal data management goes.
As Europeans, one can be comforted that, if not on the commercial, then at least on the techno-ideological and political level, we are one step ahead with a matured GDPR legislation. And in Denmark, with projects such as MitID and Sundhed.dk, we have moved closer to concrete applications that secure citizens' personal data. Scalability in the data model and broader integration with non-public service providers are lacking. However, I still think we can be proud that we in Denmark have a public system that, to that extent, wears the digital driver's jersey. For those who are particularly interested, I can mention that we in Denmark also have an exciting, independent personal data project, Polypoly. Polypoly is a German cooperative movement that wants to give users more control over their personal data. In the first phase, this service allows users to download their Facebook data, which is then migrated to a secure "Pod". Users can then share data from this private data source for a fee from the companies with which they choose to do business.
In contrast to the last TNW, where quite a few questions were asked about whether there was now also infinite money and opportunities available in the future, the 2022 program was marked by seriousness, reflection and a future with threats that we can not ignore. Thursday's program thus culminated in a large-scale live hologram performance by Ukrainian President Zelensky, who called on everyone to take part in a vision for a digitally facilitated reconstruction program for his war-torn country. In addition, in many of the conference presentations, one could trace expensive experiences from the recent/perhaps recent corona pandemic, concerns about the financing of the next generation of web services and nervous glances at China, which shone in its total absence at the conference. This absence only contributed to an "Us" and "Them" as an inevitable constant in the future definition of the Internet.
Several of the country's newsrooms have expressed concern that our focus and priorities will move away from the climate agenda when everyday life is filled with illness, war and economic crisis. Perhaps it was precisely this effect that caused only 4 of the conference's 179 program items to have a direct and explicit focus on the role of the Internet in relation to the climate crisis. Weak!
For next year, we expect to see digital sustainability patched across the entire program; thank you. Otherwise, we will be telling the Extinction Rebellion! Thank you for your attention.
Rune, Partner & CSO