Life After Google: The Fall of Big Data and the Rise of the Blockchain Economy by George Gilder
The Age of Google, built on big data and machine intelligence, has been an awesome era. But it’s coming to an end. In Life after Google, George Gilder—the peerless visionary of technology and culture—explains why Silicon Valley is suffering a nervous breakdown and what to expect as the post-Google age dawns.
Google’s astonishing ability to “search and sort” attracts the entire world to its search engine and countless other goodies—videos, maps, email, calendars….And everything it offers is free, or so it seems. Instead of paying directly, users submit to advertising. The system of “aggregate and advertise” works—for a while—if you control an empire of data centers, but a market without prices strangles entrepreneurship and turns the Internet into a wasteland of ads.
The crisis is not just economic. Even as advances in artificial intelligence induce delusions of omnipotence and transcendence, Silicon Valley has pretty much given up on security. The Internet firewalls supposedly protecting all those passwords and personal information have proved hopelessly permeable.
The crisis cannot be solved within the current computer and network architecture. The future lies with the “cryptocosm”—the new architecture of the blockchain and its derivatives. Enabling cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin and ether, NEO and Hashgraph, it will provide the Internet a secure global payments system, ending the aggregate-and-advertise Age of Google.
Silicon Valley, long dominated by a few giants, faces a “great unbundling,” which will disperse computer power and commerce and transform the economy and the Internet.
Life after Google is almost here
Big Data, Advertising Revenues, and Massive Servers
Of all the information titans on the market, it’s Google that’s established our current system of the world: the assortment of ideas that inform a society’s technology and institutions as well as shapes the lives of its citizens. Let’s begin with Google’s vision of knowledge, which is formed around big data. Google doesn’t employ conventional techniques for enhancing knowledge, where step-by-step progress is made by working off of preceding ideas.
Instead, it aims to first gather all of the data in the world in one place – the cloud– before analyzing it with advanced algorithms to extract new information. To enable this, Google has created a huge database of information. It is essentially a digital rendition of the world, starting with the internet before evolving to incorporate everything from books and languages to maps and even faces by way of facial recognition software, which you comb through when using Google.
And since Google wants access to all data, privacy runs contrary to its model. Next is Google’s vision of value. The company earns 95 percent of its revenue from advertising; instead of spending money to use Google, you pay with time and attention. Naturally, most people don’t want to look at adverts – which explains why the usage of ad blockers rose 102 percent between 2015 and 2016. However, Google is crafty, putting sponsored links at the top of the page of searches where they blend in and don’t look as obtrusive.
To maintain and facilitate the online architecture that all of the data and advertising requires, Google has produced its own immense data center near the town of The Dalles, Oregon. Currently, it houses 75,000 computer servers and wields 3.5 billion searches per day – that’s 1.5 trillion every year!
Those servers have helped Google to expand with web services such as Gmail and Google Docs, while concurrently forming a new yardstick for tech companies: the more storage and processing offered, the better you are. But is this the case? Jaron Lanier, broadly considered to be the inventor of virtual reality, refers to those massive centers as “Siren Servers,”
Invoking the Greek myth where sailors are lured to their death from the tempting song of the Siren bird-women. Is he correct in calling them that? Could those same centers, that have provided Google and others clear market dominance, be pushing them to an early grave?
Is AI Dangerous?
In January 2017, a “secret” meeting occurred in Monterey Bay, California, attended by some of the pioneers of the information age, like Google co-founder Larry Page. They intended to address and prepare to notify the world of the growing hazards in the budding field of Artificial Intelligence, or AI. But most of the attendees were actually helping to develop AI in Silicon Valley – why would they want to alert people of its risks?
These Silicon Valley pioneers think that an AI-dominated future is certain. If they don’t produce it, someone else will. So the most good they can do is to be included and attempt to keep the public informed of its dangers. But are the hazards real? To find out, we must first look into the history of mathematics. In 1930, at a conference in his hometown of Königsberg, Germany (present-day Kaliningrad, Russia) mathematician David Hilbert introduced the notion that all science could ultimately be reduced to mathematics in a complete system.
This is a system with a sole unifying theory that incorporates everything, everywhere, with no uncertainty. But, the previous day at that very conference, the much younger mathematician Kurt Gödel had shown that there can be no complete logical system. Any logical system, including a mathematical one, relies on premises that can’t be proved within it – you will always require an outside authority.
That’s why humans can’t just simply discover systems, they can create them as well, and this is how computer programming operates: you design a system by establishing rules for it from the outside. For AI to be dangerous in the way that Silicon Valley thinks, it would have to be a complete system.
If that were the case, then once it had obtained all of the world’s data – a main goal of Google, as we have seen – it could simply teach itself from the data gathered, without the need for human input, promptly outpacing human intelligence and attaining dominance.
But we shouldn’t worry about this because, as Gödel exhibited, all logical systems are incomplete. This indicates that if AI is a threat, it has to be programmed that way first. It couldn’t do it wholly on its own because it would require an outside authority – specifically the humans who program it. All the concerns of a tyrannical AI are only the paranoid thoughts of scientists and engineers regarding the consequences of their own supposedly superior intelligence.
Embracing Progress: The Thiel Foundation’s Example
In 2013, the Guatemalan Universidad Francisco Marroquín was the first university in the Americas to permit payments with the cryptocurrency bitcoin. This forward-facing move illustrates how some academic institutions are welcoming advancement more than others. Many American universities, however, would rather concentrate on reactionary measures that result in halting progress rather than enabling it.
Harvard University, for instance, has made many commitments in recent years to fight climate change by moving away from fossil fuels. But that’s centered on educating students on how to stop matters instead of how to be innovative, look forward and develop solutions of the future. Other universities focus on sustaining their reputation over education.
In the 20 years that Stephen Trachtenberg was the president of George Washington State University, the cost of tuition more than doubled from $27,000 to almost $60,000, with seemingly no improvement of education standards and Trachtenberg alleging that a degree from the university serves instead as a “trophy.” Luckily, some institutions are fighting against those trends.
Named after founder and entrepreneur Peter Thiel, the Thiel Foundation grants the Thiel Fellowship, a $100,000 grant to support promising students in their early 20s or younger to leave college and pursue their projects, to create businesses and entrepreneurs rather than academics. For its first five years, it was led by Danielle Strachman and Mike Gibson, who in 2015 went on to found the 1517 Fund together, a similar project that invests in Thiel Fellows and other young company founders.
It’s titled after the year that Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on a church door in Wittenberg, Germany, igniting the Reformation. In October 2017, the 1517 Fund posted its own “New 95” which put the message forward that the education system wasn’t facilitating scientific breakthroughs and progress, and should, therefore, be rebelled against. In 2013, the Thiel Fellowship was awarded to Austin Russell for his company Luminar, which makes laser-radar chips vital for self-driving cars.
In 2017, Toyota announced they would be acquiring chips from Luminar for its cars. And in 2014, the fellowship was granted to Vitalik Buterin, a college dropout who went to that clandestine meeting in Monterey Bay, to help establish the blockchain platform Ethereum. This technology – blockchain – is set to transform the world. But what is it?
Bitcoin and Blockchain Technology
In October 2008, an obscure character known as Satoshi Nakamoto unveiled the first cryptocurrency: the bitcoin, which has since come to change the world. To understand bitcoin, we have to dive into an emerging online world that the author refers to as the cryptocosm. In the cryptocosm, personal data is decentralized from any comprehensive and easily targetable central hub and is alternately held by each individual. Each user has two keys distinct to their online account, one public and one private.
When you send a message to a user, it’s encrypted with the public key, but in a way that can only be deciphered with the user’s private key, so only they can read it. When they encrypt a reply, they apply their private key again, leaving a unique digital signature that verifies their identity securely without disclosing any personal data. These signatures are essential to bitcoin and its blockchain technology.
Approximately every ten minutes, a block is generated, which logs all the information concerning the most recent activity of bitcoins. This includes digital signatures associated with each bitcoin transaction. It also incorporates a time-stamp, revealing precisely when the block was made. The time-stamp is formulated through mining.
A new block can only be made once a complicated and time-consuming algorithmic problem has been solved by utilizing the processing power of multiple computers from across the network. This is mining. When it’s finished and the problem is solved, a proof of wor kis formed, which time-stamps the block that’s been built. And, as payment for the mining, new bitcoins are created. Being that the time-stamp can only be generated once the mining has truly been completed, it cannot be forged.
And since producing it requires several computers, it is verified by multiple users. This establishes the data in the block as reliable and unhackable. Bitcoins get around. Each transfer and creation of one is recorded in the next block generated. All of the blocks are connected in a chronological public chain called a blockchain. Each block has a different fingerprint and leaves traces in all succeeding blocks, meaning that anyone can trace a bitcoin’s trajectory back to when it was first made.
The fingerprints also make it next to impossible to edit the information inside any one block, considering you’d have to edit all of the previous blocks too. This suggests that the bitcoin ledger – the record of all of its transactions – is nearly unhackable, and every transaction is therefore quite secure. It’s no wonder that so many businesses are jumping onto this technology!
Ethereum and Blockstack
In 2016, Australian computer scientist and businessman Craig Steven Wright claimed he was the real Satoshi Nakamoto. Some people believed him, but many were doubtful. One of those skeptics held that it would have been much simpler for Wright to reveal his true identity by posting “Craig Wright is Satoshi Nakamoto” with Satoshi’s private key than attempting to persuade people in person instead.
For that reason, it was thought to be unlikely that Wright was Satoshi Nakamoto. Who was the young skeptic calling out the supposed creator of bitcoin? It was none other than the college dropout, 24-year-old Vitalik Buterin, founder of another major blockchain company: Ethereum. Ethereum launched in 2015 and is a blockchain app platform devised to securely manage and validate objects other than only cryptocurrencies, most notably smart contracts.
With smart contracts, the parties involved in a transaction can send assets – shares, currency or anything else of value – through the blockchain. As long as all parties comply, the assets are released and transferred accordingly; otherwise, they’re refunded. Two years following Ethereum’s launch, it facilitated a surge of entrepreneurial creativity via these secure investment capacities, sidestepping the cumbersome regulations from the Securities and Exchange Commission that had decreased investment in recent years.
It also has its coin on the platform, ether, which in May 2018 had a market cap near $60 billion – already almost half that of bitcoin. It’s too soon to know if Ethereum will exceed bitcoin, but the Greek-British blockchain scholar Andreas Antonopoulos says it may end like a rivalry between the lion and a shark, each dominating its domain. But Ethereum isn’t the only blockchain enterprise prospering in the cryptocosm.
The company Blockstack, led by computer scientist Muneeb Ali, is developing a whole new network for decentralized blockchain apps. Blockstack is both a browsable network and an open-source platform for app development using blockchain technology, allowing both developers and users an easy way into the secure world of blockchains.
It’s built on two key software structures – a monolith, a blockchain software underpinning everything, and a metaverse, a visible platform where users can create, surf and share. That’s just one way that the blockchain is giving security and power to users. It’s not the only software that’s standing up to Google’s dominance; there’s change brewing in the hardware sector too.
Hardware Manufacture Making a Comeback
In computer science, Moore’s Law states that the cost-effectiveness of circuits doubles every two years. Its corollary, Bell’s Law, asserts that every ten years, a major reduction in the cost of processing power prompts the development of new computer architecture. It occurred when the PC ousted the large mainframes of IBM in the 70s and 80s, then more recently with Google’s cloud.
Are we due for another change? In Silicon Valley, this shift appears to be coming as a revival of hardware manufacturing. Though numerous Valley companies are not producing the silicon chips that gave the area its name anymore, some like Nvidia and their chief scientist Bill Dally still do make them. However, they’re moving in another direction, away from quick but energy-demanding “hot” chips to cooler and higher efficiency ones, enabled by the cheaper circuitry that’s now available.
Dally has long championed the abilities of graphics processors and their parallel processing systems, where multiple functions gently yet efficiently run simultaneously, rather than having all the data moving rapidly up and down a single information highway. He thinks that these sorts of processors could be essential in rising fields such as sensors for self-driving cars, where life and death depend on examining and interpreting various objects and events concurrently.
Meanwhile, Google and other information giants, are still stuck on the task of producing cheaper and more powerful processing power to maintain their massive centralized servers. It seems that they’re requiring more additional power than is feasible in the current technological landscape. But for technologies that don’t use centralized clouds, exciting developments are happening. One is the development of the company Golem, created on the Ethereum blockchain platform.
Defining itself as an “Airbnb for computers,” Golem rents your computer processing power when you’re not utilizing it and pools it all into one enormous virtual-supercomputer. This produces huge processing power, enabling users to perform usually expensive processes like computer-graphics rendering for far cheaper, and without requiring the extensive and expensive hubs of Siren Servers like Google’s.
Plus, individual storage and software are kept secure with the use of blockchain technology. These transformations in technology are advancing security and capability. Is there anything that could slow the rise of the blockchain?
Stable Currency and Bitcoin as an Alternative
In the eighteenth century, the British physicist Isaac Newton set the gold standard. For approximately 200 years, global governments guaranteed their currencies against the value of gold, to ensure economic stability. Why gold? For starters, it’s the most unyielding to corrosion of precious metals, so you can be reasonably sure it won’t disappear.
Its value is predictable as well, being that its stock, through mining and excavation worldwide, rises gradually enough to have hardly any effect on its worth. And while mining technology may improve, it’s practically canceled out by the reality that new gold deposits are getting harder to access. So it made for a beneficial standard – an unchanging touchstone against which to stabilize the unpredictable international economic factors of exchange and interest rates.
But governments have since discarded it, instead favoring letting the markets determine the value of currencies. In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, Nakamoto pledged to change this, hoping that bitcoin could grow into a new and improved gold standard. Along with the first bitcoin block, Nakamoto designed a mining algorithm, which makes it more difficult to solve the algorithmic problem required to generate blocks and their corollary bitcoins.
In this way, he hoped to neutralize the advancement of computer processing power, much like the growing inaccessibility of gold deposits offsets technological advances. He also capped the complete supply of bitcoins at 21 million, with the mineable amount getting halved each year. With these caveats, Satoshi expected to produce a steady supply of bitcoins over time, therefore allowing it to become a new gold standard.
But, according to economics blogger Mike Kendall, bitcoin can’t grow into a standard because it’s already a token of exchange, and a volatile one too. Because its accumulation is established, the only way it can react to fluctuations in demand is by wild variations in its worth. And that’s already happened: between 2017 and 2018, bitcoin’s value ranged from $1,183 to a peak of $19,401. With that in mind, how could bitcoin work as a predictable, secure model?
Satoshi may have executed some of the most amazing technological advances in blockchain and cryptocurrencies, but his knowledge of real-world economics might be flawed. It’s up to the other cryptocurrencies to fix the errors and continue building the cryptocosm, paving a way out of the cluttered, extensive systems of Google.
In Review: Life After Google Book Summary
The key message in this book summary: Google has constructed a world where personal security comes second to the data storage of a centralized hub. But its dominance appears to be reaching its tipping point.
By operating outside of the prevailing and traditional systems, the cryptocosm and the blockchain have laid the framework for an entirely new method of preserving individual data and conducting online business. It could potentially pull apart the exhaustive systems of Google while facilitating progress and technological development in numerous fields.