An Ayr tech firm building a ‘new internet’ is preparing to launch its network after 18 years of development.

Maidsafe is about to release its Safe Network in beta after being started in 2006 by software engineer David Irvine.

Once dubbed the ‘world’s oldest startup‘ by its own senior executives, the company founded by Irvine – a former lifeboat helmsman – has been sustained over the years by a committed group of ‘thinkers, inventors, tinkerers’, and a largely online community of devotees who crowdfunded its development.

Now, the firm, which is arguably Scotland’s best kept tech secret, is finally about to unleash the fruits of its almost two decades-long research and development programme into the wild.

Announcing the news on Discord, Irvine said: “We are now 18. The world’s a different place from when we were conceived. We’ve iPhones, big data, social networks and much more. Cryptocurrencies and web 3.0 have all happened, but our solution to a real problem has not changed.

“It has become much more critical. We set out to secure the world’s data. We designed this logically, connecting all the world’s computers and using encryption to share the world’s devices. We did this so that we would not have to rely on the large corporations and data-centres. That has changed. The big change that is happening and happening very quickly, is that data is just boring and can mean anything, or nothing. Knowledge is what we actually need to protect. Not the paper, stone tablets or parchment, but the words and wisdom that are communicated by them.”

Maidsafe’s central vision is to create a new network – or internet – based on using the spare bandwidth and unused disk space on home computers and phones. Instead of relying on big corporate servers, the network would be fully decentralised and autonomous, creating user spaces for users’ data, privately and securely with zero human intervention or control. People’s data would be encrypted and spread randomly across the network, making it impossible for hackers to target. The vision would be to upend the way the current internet works, with big corporations no longer able to monetise the data of its users.

The company has appointed a new CEO, Sarah Buxton, known as ‘Bux’, to drive forward the project, with Irvine remaining as the Chair.

She said on Twitter/X: “I refuse to believe if something is in one way or another hosted on a centralised server, you should call it decentralised. I believe that decentralisation means that if Amazon went down the protocol that you are using would not. And I don’t think there’s many companies in this space, no matter how loud or big, or maybe rich they are, that are truly looking at this space in a holistic way and I’m really excited that these crew have a very, very established vision and a very inspirational mission. They are about the millions and millions, billions, five odd billion people using the internet having a different internet experience.”

She added: “I am very much looking forward to launching the Safe Network this year, because that is going to happen and for the beta network to go live in only a few weeks’ time.”

Of Buxton’s appointment, the former CEO of Gala Music, Irvine added: “This is the single biggest decision we have made, and we had to make it a great one. This CEO will launch this network well beyond what anyone thought. The plan’s already in motion and I can tell you, she gets stuff done. I hope the world is ready for what’s coming.”

In an official post on MaidSafe’s Twitter/X channel, the company said: “After many technical distractions, the team has been able to build SAFE as it was meant to be. The results have been amazing and we have moved to running regular test networks to prove out and interrogate key protocol features. It’s still wildly ambitious to bootstrap such a network, even with perfect code, but it’s one we will tackle and get right. With the tech stack stable, we’re now finally able to move from what has essentially been a huge R&D project, into a viable decentralised alternative to the internet as we know it.”

Maidsafe’s Jim Collinson will be speaking at Futurescot’s Cloud, Data & AI: Transforming Public Services conference on March 21 in Glasgow.