Web 3.0: Cure cancer, or make even-rounder-corners?

SUMMARY: Web 3.0 should have more laudable aims than cloud computing and semantic tags. Why not explicitly try to achieve world peace?

World Peace
(Image taken from CapitalStyle.ca.)

On Call to Power II, an oldish strategy game, the same technologies could give different results depending on how one applied them. There were alternate victories, too, but my favourite was developing the ‘Gaia Controller’ which gave unlimited resources and therefore ended war and unhappiness.

So for all its world-changing-ness, what has the web achieved that is good for the sake of all humanity?

Things the web has changed

I can think of three major ways that the internet has changed things. All are cliched, so I’m not going into great detail.

Firstly, it gives much greater coverage of things that would otherwise be hidden from the world. Developments like those recently in Myanmar and Tibet used to be written about on p20 of The Economist; now they are being watched by 16 year olds on YouTube. The same logic applies to corruption in any organisation or company.

Secondly, it has made knowledge more accessible. No more going to the library and borrowing Aristotle’s Ethics for 2 weeks – now I just type it in on the internet and it’s mine to keep.

Thirdly, it has connected people with the wider world. I can speak with old schoolfriends, someone living in Iraq, or the UK Prime Minister.

But for each of the above advantages, very little seems to have changed.

Things the web HASN’T changed

How many of those Tibet-watching 16 year olds studied the origins of the conflict, and made an informed decision about what should happen there? How many of those ‘renewed relationships’ will fade for the same reason they did the first time (i.e. I didn’t like the person)? And I still haven’t read Aristotle’s Ethics, no matter how accessible it is.

But beyond changing people’s perceptions, what tangible difference has the internet made? The Chinese government hasn’t change its policy in Tibet, and the Myanmar junta is still in power. They just wait for our micro-attention spans to move on to the next topic and then carry on as before.

Now that web2.0 is just a meaningless cliche, the great and the good are talking about Web3.0. Current priorities include:

  • Scalable vector graphics (Tim Berners Lee, Lord Tim of the Internet)
  • Cloud computing (Eric Schmidt, Google)
  • 10Mbps broadband (Reed Hastings, Netflix)

But where is the aim of curing cancer, AIDS or malaria? Giving starving people food? Helping repressed people be free?

Maybe it’s not for CEOs of profit-making companies to concern themselves with such high-minded goals. Perhaps it’s not even for geeky whippersnappers like myself. But somebody should be thinking about it.

So the next time you read an article about creating rounded corners, or adding microformats, please try to think how that is really going to help us build the ‘Gaia Controller’.

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