If you, like me, are a fan of American TV show Silicon Valley (a comedy TV series about a start-up, set in – you guessed it – Silicon Valley) you’ll probably know that it’s back on air for its fourth season, with the first episode airing this week.
Oh, side note, if you haven’t seen the episode and you’re very keen not to have any details of it spoiled then probably don’t read this post.
Richard, a bumbling, introverted genius programmer, is the show’s lead character and for the first three seasons of the show we follow him in the ups and downs of his company Pied Piper. At the start of the fourth season, however, Richard decides to leave the company to work on his dream project: “A new internet”.
“We put a man on the moon using the computing power of a handheld calculator,” he says. “There’s literally millions of times more computing power in my phone, and that’s just sitting in my pocket doing nothing. So then I thought there’s, what, billions of phones all over the world with the same computing power just sitting in peoples’ pockets.”
“And then I thought, what if we use all those phones to build a massive network? We use my compression algorithm to make everything small, efficient, move things around. And if we could do it, we could build a completely decentralized version of our current internet with no firewalls, no tolls, no government regulation, no spying. Information would be totally free in every sense of the word.”
Well, it kind of sounds exactly like Troon-based company Maidsafe and their SAFE network.
And it’s not just me thinking it. The similarities have already been flagged up on the SAFE network forum and even on Mashable. Maidsafe themselves even acknowledged on Twitter that they’d noticed it too.
— MaidSafe (@maidsafe) April 25, 2017
Maidsafe have been featured extensively on FutureScot in the past, partly because they’re claiming to reinvent the internet (how cool is that?) and partly because they’re doing it all from Troon. Troon!
For reasons of laziness, I’ll let these quotes from our 2016 feature on Maidsafe explain the idea behind this “new internet”. Or check out the video below if reading three paragraphs of text is a bit too much to ask of your attention span.
We trade much of our information – sometimes reticently, sometimes willingly – for access to many of the ‘free’ web services we enjoy: Facebook and Google to name perhaps the two most powerful. There is a tacit understanding – tied up in many, many pages of ‘privacy’ agreements that we accede to – that our information may be sold on to advertisers, hence why we don’t actually pay for any of these services.
It is that trade-off, a necessary one for the current free models to work, that has partly inspired MaidSafe – through the idea of its founder David Irvine – to establish an alternative internet, where the network is returned back to its original decentralised state, and where we can all exercise our fundamental human rights.
Although the concept is difficult to grasp – for me at least – the basic theory behind it is that the network is the users themselves. So rather than uploading our files to data centres and servers that are prone to theft (and surveillance, as the Edward Snowden revelations demonstrated), when we join SAFE we become part of a direct peer-to-peer data storage and communications network. There is no need for a middle man. This is revolutionary stuff, if it works. There is also no fee for joining but a payment in kind: users donate their computing power and spare resources (the unused part of our hard drives) and in return they earn a cryptocurrency called Safecoin, which can be exchanged for access to services; those app developers are in turn rewarded in Safecoins which are earned according to the number of people using their applications; they can also be traded in for hard cash. – Kevin O’Sullivan
When asked to comment, Maidsafe COO Nick Lambert said: “The need to move to more decentralised network designs is becoming increasingly instinctive amongst some engineers and it’ll be a lot of fun to watch this through the satirical eyes of Richard Hendricks. We’re also looking forward to seeing how the writers and cast portray the creation of such a technology, and to observe if there are many similarities with our own journey.”