The future of the internet
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Disclaimer: Any views expressed in this episode are strictly personal views only and do not in any way reflect the opinion of the Australian government, the eSafety Commissioner or the Be Connected program.
Guest: Tegan Jones
In the 50-odd years the internet has existed, it has utterly transformed human existence. In this episode, host Val Quinn and award-winning journalist and tech commentator Tegan Jones explore how the internet of the future could be even more amazing.
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[Val] Hello and welcome to the "Be Connected" podcast. I'm Val Quinn, and I'm a technology commentator, broadcaster, publisher, and just happened to be your host of the Be Connected podcast. In the 50 odd years the internet has existed, it has utterly transformed human existence. So from how we communicate, how we trade, learn, and work, it's incredible how much the internet and the worldwide web has shaped life in that short amount of time. And what comes next could be even more amazing. So here to help us understand the next step for the internet is Tegan Jones. Tegan is the host of the Block Climbing podcast, the global reviews editor at finder.com.au, an award-winning journalist and a regular commentator on TV and radio about all things tech. So welcome, Tegan. Really glad to have you on the show today.
[Tegan] Thank you so much for having me.
[Val] Well, listen, this is a really meaty topic and I'm excited to jump into it. So let's begin with the internet and the worldwide web. So the internet and the worldwide web, so these are both terms, they're often used interchangeably, but they are both quite distinct. So for example, you can think of the internet as sort of infrastructure, like a road, and the web as all the places that you'd visit along the road, like houses or shops or parks. So they're two completely different things, but they're intrinsically linked. And that's why the next generation of web technology, which is called Web 3.0 or version three, will be behind a lot of the change we'll see in the internet of the future. So Tegan, what is Web 3.0? And I know that's a big question.
[Tegan] It is, and to best understand it, Val, we should probably take a look at its predecessors. So going back to the '90s, we had Web 1.0, which was more of a read-only web. It was largely made up of websites you could read, but that was about it. It was very one way. Then, we moved on to Web 2.0 in the early 2000s, where there was a lot more participation and social interaction. There was user-generated content, which became huge, especially for social media sites that we still use today. There was MySpace and LiVEJOURNAL to begin with, then the likes of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and many more. The content is really dynamic and we make it, and information flows between the site owners and the users that can be updated from just about anywhere.
[Val] Okay, so the first web, or Web 1.0, is really just about reading things. So you could just see some text on your screen. And then Web 2.0 was about reading, but then interacting. So it was more of that sort of two-way channel of communication, so we could jump on Facebook and say what we think. So that's what Web 2.0 is and that's where we are now, right?
[Tegan] That's exactly right. And what's really important about Web 2.0 and even 1.0 is that they're very centralised. They tend to be run by a large company that profits from our information and the content that we make. And arguably, what we get in return is a really convenient service, something that can help us keep in contact with people easily. And some people have even created careers around it, look at influencers. But the idea of Web 3.0 is to go beyond that, though it's worth pointing out that's still very much a work in progress and still being defined.
[Val] Right, so a lot of the web that we use now is about us going to a company's service or, say for example, jumping on Facebook. Obviously that's a big company and they benefit by having us use their service and they learn about us and can advertise to us. So yeah, when you think about it that way, I guess the web really is a lot about these big services that are provided for us. So, that's why I'm really interested in Web 3.0 because that's all about kind of changing that dynamic and I guess the balance of power, right?
[Tegan] Absolutely. The aim is to be more decentralised so it won't just be controlled by a handful of large companies and governments and we'll hopefully, be able to do this through the use of Blockchain technology, which we'll get into in a little bit. But the top line idea is that applications and websites and even new ways of experiencing the internet will be possible and faster and smarter and hopefully, more private and secure with Web 3.0.
[Val] Yeah, well, I'd really love to talk about Blockchain in a bit more detail later on, so let's leave that for now. But yeah, like I've heard that the Web 3.0 is really about making it more real, like it almost seeps into our everyday lives. So even the concept of metaverse has come up when we think about Web 3.0. So can you give us some detail about how that's meant to work?
[Tegan] Absolutely, you're right. A lot of this will be through metaverses and there are different ones. And this is a term that was actually coined in the early '90s through the science fiction novel Snow Crash that was all about a virtual world. And that's exactly what's currently being developed by a few different organisations, including Meta, which was previously known as Facebook. And these are digital worlds that you can connect to via the internet, making it 3D. Most of what we experience online at the moment is 2D, but these technologies will allow people to feel like they're there through virtual reality and augmented reality and mixed reality, even. And as for the metaverses themselves, especially when it gets to a point where more people can jump in, you might not even appear as yourself, but as an avatar or a version of yourself that you create however you wanna look in this new world. But you'll also need things like VR glasses or a headset, at least at first, so I'm sure a few years in the future, there'll be other ways of doing it, but at the moment, there's a lot that you'll need to jump into a metaverse.
[Val] Wow, there is so much to unpack there. We have multiple realities, we've got the metaverse, we've got AR and VR, which is augmented reality and virtual reality. So let's just quickly jump back to Meta. So let me get this straight. So Facebook has changed to be called, it's a new company name called Meta, right? And that's because Facebook's founder, Mark Zuckerberg, is really interested in this Web 3.0 virtual world, right? So does that mean that Facebook is gonna become this virtual experience now?
[Tegan] That's certainly the plan. They've become pretty tightlipped on exactly what this is going to look like in the future. I think they're still working on it. Considering that Facebook rebranded its entire company name to align with metaverse, they called themselves Meta, you can certainly determine from that that it's going to be a big part of its strategy moving forward. And I think it had to. People have become a little bit disenchanted with Facebook and there's also a lot more competition out there now for people's social media content.
[Val] Right, so when we hear the term metaverse then, it means, I guess, this virtual world that we can become immersed in as we go about our travels on the internet. But it's also what Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook has titled their company too, but really it refers to a bigger concept, correct?
[Tegan] It does. And I think being one of the biggest tech companies in the world and rebranding at this time has put it in a position to seem like the metaverse is going to be them, whereas the term has been around for a long time. There's not just one metaverse, there's going to be several out there in the world, or the virtual world.
[Val] Yeah, in the virtual world. Here's the next step, I guess, is like you mentioned different realities. We have virtual reality, augmented reality. A way of understanding the difference between virtual reality glasses and augmented reality glasses is that virtual reality glasses are immersive. Once you put them on, they shut out the world around you and they create a new world inside the glasses. So you can look up or down, around you and you follow the scene. You see this completely different world. So you could be sitting at home but transformed to being in a museum where you can walk around and look at the art all around you in great detail. But augmented reality glasses are more like just putting on normal reading glasses, for example, and you go out into the world and you see what you see and maybe there's some earpieces in your ears as well. And then that information can be overlaid on top of what you see, for example, directions if you're walking down a street, about how to get to a destination or the weather report or reminders of things, but they don't interfere with the world that you're seeing, they just help you giving you more interesting information to enhance that.
[Tegan] Absolutely. The world of possibility is absolutely incredible. So there are small ways that you can access that sort of experience already, largely through gaming. So you'd wear a virtual reality headset or goggles, so it really feels like you're walking around in this virtual world. Whereas augmented reality is where you can bring something digital into the real world. So a really great example of this that's already happening is IKEA's apps can actually allow you to place virtual furniture in a room that you're looking at. And they actually developed an app that uses the sensors in your iPhone to capture an entire 3D room plan, so you can redesign it, incorporate products that they sell, and it will take in everything into account that you would have in your room, so wall colours and rugs, so you can see how their products would look in your space without having to bring them all in physically first. And it's even being used by other retailers. So for example, makeup companies or clothing companies. So you can use the augmented reality and the camera in your phone to be able to see what a certain, say, hair colour or lipstick colour would look like on you without having to go out and try it first or even buy it first. And same with clothes. See how that dress would look on you, those pants would look on you without even having to leave your home.
[Val] Right. Okay. So I can see augmented reality just by looking through the screen on my phone, for example, like you mentioned with the IKEA furniture. So I could use my phone and it will show me the room around me, like just through my camera view, but has extra things in there that aren't really there. So it has some furniture that I might be interested in buying placed in the corner. Well, what other types of uses can we see for virtual reality and augmented reality like in terms of education or just information on our day-to-day lives?
[Tegan] Education is a really big one, and it certainly will be for the future. Let's say that you have a university or a TAFE where practical training and testing is required. And that can be really expensive, especially if you need big equipment or machines and you can only buy enough for a certain amount of students. But imagine a world where that exact real world equipment can be generated and used virtually, which would bring down the costs, the wait time for students and the barriers of where a student would even need to be in Australia to train on these machines. It's incredible what it could do in the future in that respect.
[Val] So even, like as an older person, I could potentially wanna take a course and learn about a certain subject, so I wouldn't really have to necessarily attend the university, I could have a really rich experience using a pair of 3D glasses and be taken into that world for my lessons, right?
[Tegan] Yeah. So, for example, there is a metaverse called Decentraland that's quite popular online. And very recently a Frida Kahlo exhibit opened up there where it shows hundreds of her artworks, letters, family mementos that have never been on display before in any other museum. And that was largely a response to COVID-19, where less people could visit the physical museum that they already had set up in Mexico, so that was a solution for them. Only about 5% of any artwork or gallery holdings are actually on display at any given time. That means there's so many works of art that the public don't get access to when they're physically in that museum space and these virtual reality worlds enable people to possibly be able to see more if they can put them online.
[Val] Well, I love visiting museums, but what about travelling and tourism?
[Tegan] Actually, yeah, virtual tourism is already being developed with 360 degree videos. So you could visit a place with a virtual reality headset without ever leaving your home. And the other thing that I love about this is, imagine if you did go to a place in the physical world, you went overseas and you have some glasses on that was able to give you live language translations, in real time without having to, say, buy a translation book or download an app that you have to type into.
[Val] Wow, that sounds so futuristic. You mean, so I can just have a real-time conversation with somebody who doesn't speak English at all and it can live translate my voice and say it to them? Is that what happens?
[Tegan] That's where the vision of the future is kind of going and I'm quite excited for that.
[Val] It really does sound incredible, and it makes even more excited about travelling the world. Imagine not having to worry about languages. So when we're using our virtual reality glasses or VR headsets, do we still have to have a keyboard and mouse in front of us to use them? Or can we just rely on our voice?
[Tegan] Well, we're already seeing that now with the use of our virtual assistants like Siri or in Google Home, that kind of thing, where a lot of people don't have to type questions for things that they might be looking to do online. You can just say, "Hey, Siri," or, "Hey, Google," so the future's already here on that one, but I certainly see that becoming more robust and having more of that hybrid relationship with the internet, talking to it, asking questions, receiving information, rather than having to sit down with your phone or your keyboard and typing that in instead.
[Val] I see. So, I can kind of interact with the world with my glasses or my headset on, and I don't really have to worry about sitting in front of a computer the whole time. I can just talk and basically get the information I need and tell the computer what I want. So now we talk about virtual reality, maybe let's expand that out to virtual reality in the metaverse and like what kinds of ways will our daily lives be enhanced by that?
[Tegan] Imagine that you're making yourself your daily coffee in the morning and you have your regular glasses on, or maybe some special glasses on and you wanna access your train time table or see what the weather is or see your calendar. You'll be able to have them pop up, so it kind of overlays on what you're doing. That's a really simple way about being able to be integrated into our lives that I see happening a little bit sooner than full blown metaverses. But metaverses themselves, I think we're still a fair way away, but the way they're going to be made possible is through what we're talking about before, which is the blockchain.
[Val] Right, yeah. Well, it's probably a great opportunity for us to circle back to the blockchain and see what that really brings to the Web 3.0 experience. So how does that all fit in?
[Tegan] Yeah, so blockchain is a system of recording information in a way that makes it really hard or sometimes impossible, hopefully, to change or hack or cheat the system. And what it basically is, is just a digital ledger of transactions or things that happen. It, in theory offers more privacy, security, ownership.
[Val] Right, okay. So does it put us back in control of our privacy?
[Tegan] That's certainly the idea of it. Think about it this way. At the moment, to sign up for just about any service that you use, you have to hand over your data, right? Think about how many government departments, banks, medical services, retailers, utilities companies have your personal information and we have to trust them all to keep it safe. Kind of scary, right?
[Val] Yes, it is scary because if they don't keep it safe, then our data can be released to anyone.
[Tegan] Exactly and we've seen that happen over and over again with data breaches. Whereas the idea is that we flip that power around. All of that data and identity is given back to the consumers, maybe through like a wallet or something that you would hold that would have that information that then government departments, retailers, whoever it is, has to then ask you for permission if they need to access that information for any reason. So for example, imagine if you had to need a proof of identity and you needed to prove that you were over 18. Imagine if whichever company needed that information, had to come to you saying, "We need this information, please." And on the blockchain, through that technology, it can verify that yes, you are over 18, but you don't actually have to give them your birth date. But yeah, that's the idea that it would be more private and more secure because you're not blasting all of that personal information all over the internet, you're just giving access to certain parts of it.
[Val] For listeners who are interested in learning more about blockchain, Tegan and I talked a lot about this in the last episode we did together, and that's called "What is cryptocurrency and is it the future of money?" And you can find that episode if you scroll back a bit on the Be Connected podcast feed. Wow, okay. So we've got this new internet where our experiences are richer and we can be transported using virtual reality glasses, augmented reality glasses, sort of beyond the confines of our computer screens out into the real world. We'll have access to information through, say, a pair of glasses that we can put on, and it can tell us the weather or our directions or when the buses are coming. And if we wanna learn or enrich ourselves, we can put on virtual reality glasses and it can take us to a museum or an art gallery. And then we can also have full control over our personal data instead of leaving it with the companies. So if this is the internet of the future, like how much of a reality is it all? I mean, how progressed are we in terms of this actually happening?
[Tegan] I mean, as we've chatted about, some of it is already here. A lot of it actually, and we already have some 2D and even 3D metaverses, especially in the gaming sphere. But in terms of this becoming the norm, we're probably still a ways off. It's going to require a lot of architecture, a lot of apps, sites, and of course, most importantly, legislation and regulation to not only make this possible, but also safe for users.
[Val] So what are some of the obstacles for Web 3.0? Like would we need a faster internet connection, for example?
[Tegan] Absolutely, especially in Australia. We're already quite behind on that front and in its current state, any kind of metaverse, even the very fledgling versions of it are really expensive to access. Look at all the hardware we've already talked about today via headsets, glasses, headphones, all of that is really pricey. And for that reason, I see accessibility of Web 3.0 from that financial perspective being a potential problem, especially when we already have a significant digital divide in Australia, which is just where not everyone has access to the same technology and connectivity as other people.
[Val] Hmm, I see. Yeah, those are some pretty big hurdles still. But you also mentioned that it needs to be fair, it needs to be regulated. I mean, who's gonna make the rules and make sure that they're followed? Where's the regulation gonna come from?
[Tegan] That's a great question because the law is always behind technology, always. And we already see complications with Web 2.0, where there's different laws in different countries when it comes to regulation and even just down to what is criminal and what isn't. So if you make that virtual, that is the question, whose jurisdiction is the metaverse or metaverses? Which country or regulatory body would be in charge? Should be in charge? There are a lot of questions that need to be answered as we go forward with this.
[Val] Yeah, so a lot of work to be done there, for sure. But, when we're talking about timeframes, what can we expect? Are we thinking this might all happen by 2030 or 2050?
[Tegan] Oh, it's so hard to tell. I mean, as we've seen in our own lifetimes, technology is moving really quickly, but sometimes it doesn't go the way that we expect. Just a few weeks ago, it was actually George Jetson's birthday, the cartoon from the Jetsons. And I think we're still quite a long way off from flying cars and going to Mars for vacation being the norm there.
[Val] I know. Where is our cloud cities and where is our robot, that home that does everything for us and makes our coffee and gives us our briefcase? We're a long ways away, I think.
[Tegan] Exactly. But I do think that by, say, 2030, we will have a more immersive web. Even if we aren't practically living in a metaverse, I do think that mixed reality that we talked about will be quite normal in our lives through our phones, maybe some glasses. And by 2050, I wouldn't be surprised if we're living even more of our lives online and more immersively.
[Val] I'm not sure whether I'm afraid of that prospect or whether I'm excited by it because it's important to get out into the world and experience things in real life. But I guess what virtual reality can bring to you and give you access to that you wouldn't normally be able to do, it's really exciting to consider the accessibility benefits that this technology will bring too.
[Tegan] Absolutely, and that's something that I really, really love about technology, that it is able to transform people's lives and make it easier, especially if they have accessibility issues, whether you might have hearing issues or sight issues, mobility issues, even just seemingly simple things like being able to have an appointment with your doctor and you don't have to leave the house, things like that. It's incredible.
[Val] Right, so it's really about kind of bringing the world into us and in real time, too, so it's not just about looking at the world through a small window, like we do with our screens right now. It's about having that really immersive three dimensional, 360 degree experience and a two-way experience too. So you could be, for example, if you wanted to join the family at a cricket game, you could potentially put on the goggles and you'd be taken there and you could look around, you could see them around you, they could see you, interact with you sort of thing. So, it's really about that sort of bringing the world to you through an amazingly high definition, three dimensional world.
[Tegan] Even when it comes to employment. Imagine if you have any kind of accessibility issues or mobility issues that prevents you from going physically into an office or another workplace, but that you can do it from home. You can upskill, to re-educate yourself, all of this kind of stuff and I love that.
[Val] Yeah. And the potential of the metaverse is that I guess it takes all of those people's experiences and it connects them together, so you're having a very rich experience without actually being there, but it can connect you to other people having those experiences too. So you could potentially be at the office with people without actually having to be there, but they have a three dimensional world around them just like you do, so it's amazing how enhanced this will be.
[Val] Well, so on that note, I guess, it's a perfect place to stop. Otherwise we could just keep going about the metaverse and the virtual realities and mixed realities out there. But Tegan, I just wanna say thanks so much for sharing your expertise and helping us understand this really complicated but super exciting topic about where we're going with the internet in the future.
[Tegan] It's absolutely my pleasure. I love talking about this stuff and I always love coming on the show.
[Val] So if you like what you heard, well, please consider subscribing to receive all the latest episodes and also, how about leaving a review to help others find us if you're listening on a podcast platform? And remember to visit the show notes where we've got lots of great information on everything we've covered here today, including links and other useful material. And for more about today's subject and to discover other really great topics, go to www.beconnected.esafety.gov.au. So that's www.beconnected.esafety.gov.au. So I'm Val Quinn and I look forward to your company next time. "Be Connected" is an Australian Government initiative developed by the Department of Social Services, the eSafety Commissioner and Good Things Foundation Australia. "Be Connected" builds the digital skills, confidence, and online safety of all Australians with engaging online learning resources and a network of over 3,500 community organisations to support them to thrive in a digital world.