Skip to content

Building the New Internet — Guest Post by Jefferson White

It is now clear that the Big Tech oligarchies have become the primary enemies of the American future.

In less than two decades, the original, radically decentralized Internet has been transformed into a handful of corporate silos that contain within themselves hundreds of millions, and even billions, of people for whom these silos are now the Internet. The price for “free” software and services turns out to be very high: continuous surveillance, increasingly coercive censorship, and social control.

It is also clear that we are at the beginning of a radical decentralization of this system.

The current wave of technical innovation consists of the rapid creation of decentralized software, decentralized web services, and even serious attempts to decentralize the Internet itself.

The blockchain revolution is the most obvious step in this direction. A blockchain guarantees that any information that is embedded on the chain can never be altered, at least not without prohibitive cost. The blockchain revolution revolves around the use of “smart contracts,” written in computer code, that interpret and enforce themselves. No third parties, like lawyers and judges, need apply. Well, you will need coders who are lawyers to write the contracts.

Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are the first real blockchains. Bitcoin cannot be altered, counterfeited, or inflated because the cryptographic code that is each Bitcoin is embedded on the Bitcoin blockchain and therefore cannot be altered. Nor can its ownership be transferred except according to the unalterable rules embedded on the blockchain. The stealing of Bitcoins, although generating headlines, takes place only when the Bitcoin code is stored “off-chain.”

But the real key to the overthrow of Big Tech is not the creation of blockchains. The real key lies in the question of who controls the Internet user’s online identity.

The power of Big Tech is their ability to continuously track, to permanently record, and to continually analyze everything that every individual does online, and not just on their websites, but across the Internet. Because of the reach of the major search engines, almost everything that we do online can be tracked, recorded, and analyzed. Everyone is continually spied upon, except for those few who have taken the steps to at least reduce that spying.

But what if Big Tech suddenly could no longer track you online? What if Facebook could only provide you with software that could not track any of your interactions using that software? What if all your interactions online were encrypted so that you could not be identified unless you wanted to be?

Big Tech would disappear from the face of the earth.

But how close are we to this kind of revolution?

Recently, Tim Berners-Lee, the creator of the world-wide web, announced a new company called Inrupt, which will promote the use of a computer language named Solid. Solid allows software developers to create a “Solid Pod,” which will contain user identities that will be completely under the user’s control.

Another project, called Blockstack, already exists as a decentralized web browser. When you use the Blockstack browser, your personal identity and information, as well as other features, are fully under your control. A blockchain is being used as a depository. There are a number of working applications. A large website called OpenBazaar is a decentralized online marketplace that uses the Blockstack identity system. OpenBazaar is not owned by anyone. You download the software and either set up a store or shop in an existing store. Escrow systems are available to guarantee deliveries and payments. And all payments are made in cryptocurrencies.

Blockstack has its own domain name registry. To go to a Blockstack website means to use a name that you cannot find on the regular Internet. And the BNS (the Blockstack Name System), unlike the Internet’s domain registry, is a decentralized system.

However, the startup called Urbit is undoubtedly the most ambitious attempt to create a new Internet. For the moment, Urbit is keeping a low profile. Although Urbit provides detailed information about itself, this information tends toward the technical. And since Urbit is being constructed using a radically new kind of software, even that technical information tends to confuse those with conventional software expertise. Urbit is a different kind of animal.

The key difference between Blockstack and Urbit is that the Blockstack browser replaces the top layer of the current Internet protocol in its control of your identity. But Urbit is creating a complete replacement for the Internet, although it will continue to run “on top” of the basic protocol. More radically, Urbit plans to completely erase the difference between the software that runs its Internet and the software that will run your personal computer. The Urbit computer operating system and the Urbit Internet form a single software program. Every other Internet protocol (for example, the email protocol) as well as every software program is to be merged in this single system. It is the user of the personal computer who will control this system.

To say that this is ambitious would be to understate the matter. Using today’s software, it is would be an impossible task. Today, our computer operating systems alone consist of millions of lines of code. The interoperability of a computer operating system with other software and with Internet protocols would create an unending maze of code that would be impossible to complete or implement.

However, Urbit’s core is a completely new system of code. It is also a vast simplification of code. And merging today’s separate software systems into a single program is also a radical simplification. Nor is Urbit merely a theoretical idea. Urbit exists and is in prolonged testing. Amazingly, Urbit is only thirty thousand lines of code.

According to Galen Wolfe-Pauly, the CEO of Tlon, Urbit’s parent company:

Urbit is a complete, clean-slate system software stack: a non-lambda interpreter (Nock), a functional language (Hoon), and an event-driven OS (Arvo), with its own encrypted protocol (Ames), typed revision control (Clay), reactive web server (Eyre) and functional build system (Ford). The full system, including basic apps, is only 30,000 lines of Hoon.

Urbit is a network. And the network is divided into three basic levels. The first two control the underlying code. At this level, the users are divided into Galaxies and Stars. The third level, called Planets, is everyone else. At its fullest implementation, Urbit can accommodate 256 Galaxies, 65,536 stars (or 256 stars per galaxy), and a little over four billion Planets (or 65,536 planets per star).

Thus the single point of centralization in the Urbit system lies in the necessity to be able to repair and to update the underlying kernel. And this is the job of Galaxies and Stars. However, adopting code changes is a matter of choice. If a Planet, for example, does not like the governance of its Star, it can change Stars. And Stars can change Galaxies. Urbit is a floating, digital republic.

Urbit is a fascinating project, but at this point a very private project. It is not known when it will be officially opened to the public.

Jefferson White has a website at jeffersonwhite.com. He is most recently the author of Destroying Progressivism: A Strategy, an overview of the radical decentralization being created by the current technological revolution.

20 thoughts on “Building the New Internet — Guest Post by Jefferson White Leave a comment

  1. This Titurbit republic, will it be like the barbarian republics of the imagination of some where women have to comply to certain rules laid down by the dictator?
    Only, I don’t thnk the public will join in.
    My own system, or dictator of it, enjoys displaying his power at intervals with screen switches, desktop changes and the like. At least Apple admitted it was all possible, even though one bad logistician and Philosopher denies everything in special psychic mode.


    This post was very interesting. Some good news, for a change. I said some angels move in particularly individual ways…

    Whatever happens, information is the key to the next revolution.

  2. Joy, this may come as something of a surprise, but this is not about you.

    William: this is a really hard domain. Browser/user fingerprinting is very highly developed, and no one to my knowledge is seriously addressing it, see for example the site clickclickclik.clik for just some of what your browser reveals. The bigger companies with good Machine Learning (ML) technology can fingerprint the combination of your machine including your mouse and you just based on the patterns of how you move that mouse.

    So OPSEC, “Operations Security” for the average user, who’s still going to be using the old Internet for what’s becoming nearly essential, at least for now, is well neigh impossible. Sure, we to the right of Mao may be entirely forced off that Internet, I’m in fact expecting that’ll happen sooner or later, and it looks like sooner for those of us who contribute to Free and Open Source Software (FOSS), but that will be deadly to our political future, being removed from the modern public square.

  3. Excellent post. I should meet this guy Jefferson. He
    is tracking all the themes and companies of my book
    Life After Google, which actually quotes from Uncertainty
    and pursues the theological and epistemological themes
    that I found there.

    Could you send me your physical address. I should send
    you Life After Google.

  4. Dear Mr. Gilder,

    I have read your book and studied the various entities mentioned in the above post. But what I don’t understand is this:

    Gold (or bitcoins) may be mediums for exchange but they are not real wealth. Real wealth is land — otherwise known as real estate. Real estate is limited in supply, is permanent, and is the source for all real wealth creation. Real estate is what wars are fought over, not gold or food or other temporary, transitory wealth.

    War is, by definition and in actuality, the takeover of territory (usually land but also sea and air) by force or threat of force (not by market exchange) usually by an organized militia and typically accompanied by violence.

    None of the systems mentioned deal with real estate, or war for that matter. They deal with information, anonymity, market exchange of transitory goods, and mediums of exchange. Therefore they do not deal with real wealth, real property rights, and systems which protect property (ownership) rights.

    What good are bitcoins if the Central Authority controls ownership and property rights, if government land is aflame and the holocaust is blowing your way, if the Central Planners have absconded with your property rights, if the dogs of war are at your door?

    Take, for example, whole cities burned to the ground by government incompetence and intransigence, if not deliberate violence. In my state (Oregon) the Feds own 55% of the land and have carpet bombed (helicopter-launched aerial ignition devices) my watershed. Will blockchains do anything about that?

  5. ADVOCATED: “The Urbit computer operating system and the Urbit Internet form a single software program. Every other Internet protocol (for example, the email protocol) as well as every software program is to be merged in this single system. It is the user of the personal computer who will control this system.”

    ANALYSIS: Communist centralization, that. Consolidating everything cyber into a single system — to gain independence — seems like just the sort of thing a totalitarian would assert. Consider for example how many of us know people, if not ourselves or in addition to ourselves, that have home phone, cell phone, internet, and television, maybe more, via different service providers to help ensure if one goes down they’re not completely isolated? Putting “all one’s eggs in one basket” is a surefire way to the collective.

    Hints of where Urbit is actually leading can be gleaned from the font of collective wisdom, Wikipedia … so you [ought to] know just how substantive the following is:

    The creator of Urbit is none other than Curtis Guy Yarvi, self-described as Mencius Moldbug. He is not only a computer scientist but also political theorist and neoreactionary. This suggests that, for the near term, Urbit being used by a totalitarian is probably unlikely … but longer term the centralized ability to control everything connected, and, to connect everything, will, undoubtedly, be too tempting a lure for totalitarians out there to resist and corrupt, then exploit Urbit to exploit the masses therein so centralized. Undoubtedly the most vile among the potential totalitarians will arise thru the ensuing Darwinian struggle to the position of ominipotent control.

    If you wonder if that evil day will ever come, Wiki notes that Yarvin/Moldbug inspired a philosopher to brand the wider neoreactionary movement the “Dark Enlightenment” (abbreviated as “NRx” by its proponents). This has been described by some of its critics as “neo-fascist” (considering that NRx is, in part, a reaction against “Whig historiography” this should be self-evident if not intuitively obvious). Urbit is clearly a work-in-progress of potentially ominous potentialities. I could not check out the Urbit site because Urbit’s website’s connection is not secure enough, so maybe that day when neoreactionary facism morphs into totalitarianism is further off than it appears.

    As Wiki notes, NRx futurists envision the use of technology to defeat the state — thru transhumanist accelerationism (that being a merging between humans and computers). With this headed our way how backwards & out of fashion is Briggs, who can hardly refrain from lamenting about humans who merely want to redefine their gender and change their clothes & makeup in kind!

    NRx transhumanist accelerationism is endorsed by some of the same people that also endorse eugenics, which is [obviously] just as vile a situation as some politician being endorsed by the Grand Dragon of the KKK thereby rendering the politician an equal racist … this is a bit of a digression, but Wiki notes some accusations of racism among the Urbit creators (“Urbitians”?) so, under contemporary social rules we therefore can disengage our brains and simply conclude NRx, and by extension Urbit, is racist given that an accused racist has something to do with it. One “can” do that, but ought not.

    Getting back on point, it would seem that Urbit may be THE tool that will effect social transformation via transhumanist accelertionism, which, all things considered, might not be such a bad thing after all: Imaging some annoying roommate, noisy or nosey neighbor, etc. who might be rendered irrelevant by, literally, pulling their plug — thereby giving a whole new literal meaning to the time-worn cliche’ of pulling one’s plug.

    Setting aside the above ponderables, Urbit’s presumably robust cryptography (assuming that’s where Urbit’s creators put the robustness…because they sure didn’t put it in their website as my anti-virus software wouldn’t allow the connection for this reason) is itself both a selling point (to some) AND bane of its prospective existence (to others). As Captain Muon noted on Reddit in 2016:

    “…I don’t like is this model of immutable networking Urbit has. Maybe I am in a minority position, but I fear the future where everything is cryptographically signed, verifiable and irrefutable. I want to be able to go on a website and post bullshit that I’ll regret 15 years later. And if after 15 years someone unearths that post, I want to be able to say “that proves nothing, anybody with a text editor could have forged that”. You might say a prospective employer wouldn’t buy that argument even now, but I want to live in a world where people do buy that argument.” (ref: news.ycombinator.com/item?id=11817721 )

    Thus, Urbit promises to be a potential “double-edged sword” directly obstructing or enabling, depending on one’s objectives, the crafting of society’s future utopian architecture and underlying value system.

    Thus, all things considered [and there’s some “heavy” sh__ to consider], Urbit’s desirability is clearly a ‘maybe, maybe-not,’ proposition. And for most of you, you learned that first here.

  6. Let us examine some assumptions, from which everything else follows.

    “It is now clear that the Big Tech oligarchies have become the primary enemies of the American future.”

    The future has no enemies; partly because it never arrives and partly because it does not care.

    “the original, radically decentralized Internet has been transformed into a handful of corporate silos”

    I have a doubt that “radical” goes with “decentralized” internet as if the internet was ever centralized in the first place. It started out as DarpaNET, a government silo. Now it has been “decentralized” into a handful of corporate silos. However, the key ingredient is the root DNS which still remains ultimately in one organization’s control. Alternative roots exist.

    “The price for free software and services turns out to be very high: continuous surveillance, increasingly coercive censorship, and social control.”

    Your mileage seems to vary. Many people SEEK to be socially controlled so they know which way to turn and how high to jump. Blogs and news websites use thumbs-up and thumbs-down voting to help you discover your path in life.

    “The blockchain revolution is the most obvious step in this direction.”

    Perhaps your idea of obvious is unlike mine. Unless you write your own programs (which sometimes I do), you are still using someone else’s product.

    “A blockchain guarantees that any information that is embedded on the chain can never be altered, at least not without prohibitive cost.”

    This difficulty depends on how many copies of the database exist. Bad data is separated from good data by a quorum or voting scheme; suggesting that even with blockchain, truth is discovered by consensus.

    Recent media attention on Facebook and Twitter suggest that “bots” stuff the ballot box, figuratively speaking, making bad information more truthful than good information. The server farms currently churning out Bitcoin can just as easily churn out misinformation.

    “But the real key to the overthrow of Big Tech is not the creation of blockchains.”

    Agreed; the real key is stop using Big Tech including the act of using a computer for anything. Be a Luddite!

    “The power of Big Tech is their ability to continuously track, to permanently record, and to continually analyze everything that every individual does online”

    Disagree. Their power is making stuff you want.

    “almost everything that we do online can be tracked, recorded, and analyzed.”

    No doubt; but what they see of me is what I wish or allow them to see.

    “But what if Big Tech suddenly could no longer track you online?”

    Well then sometimes I get a popup asking me to remove my ad-blocker, assuming of course that I am allowing pop-ups, which for me is browser specific.

    I don’t actually use an “ad blocker” since it can also be tracking me 🙂

    “What if Facebook could only provide you with software that could not track any of your interactions using that software?”

    Then there would be no Facebook.

    “What if all your interactions online were encrypted so that you could not be identified unless you wanted to be?”

    That is already the case on several levels. Most websites (including this one) use “https” which is encrypted for transmission. I can further encrypt anything in my computer; but there’s not much point in sending encrypted tweets. The whole point of tweeting is so other people can READ IT.

    “Big Tech would disappear from the face of the earth.”

    That seems unlikely. Big Tech has always existed since the days of the ancient Egyptians.

    [skip a bunch of vaporware description]

    “Today, our computer operating systems alone consist of millions of lines of code.”

    There is no “our”. How many lines did YOU write?

    “Amazingly, Urbit is only thirty thousand lines of code.”

    Backed by a multi-million line LIBRARY. It’s an interpreter.

    A typical program in PERL or PHP is small, typically a few hundred lines. But each line of PERL can invoke tens of thousands of lines of actual machine code.

    “At its fullest implementation, Urbit can accommodate 256 Galaxies, 65,536 stars (or 256 stars per galaxy), and a little over four billion Planets (or 65,536 planets per star).”

    So it has the deficiency of IPV4 right out of the starting gate: Not enough planets! (Or stars, or Galaxies).

    And it STILL requires IPV4 to actually talk to any other computer over “the internet”.

  7. For what its worth, I see that “Urbit” exists and apparently is functional.

    https://urbit.org/

    But it renames everything with a rather odd naming scheme. Its utility or purpose in life is not yet obvious to me. YAPL (Yet Another Programming Language) to add to the mix. Right after I master “R”.

  8. One more for the list of @Michael 2:
    if only ever the first correct computer program was written (OS, network, store, access, display, etc), this implies that all other computer programs are false or wrong or untrustworthy and no longer need to be used.

  9. I’m getting tired of seeing “Big XXX” being used (Bit Pharma, Big Tech, Big Tobacco, etc.). It’s little more than US vs. THEM. It’s the ultimate expression of anarchy. What’s being forgotten is that Big XXX arose because of capitalistic drive. Big XXX provides what people want at a price people are willing to pay. Hard to do that when you are Little XXX.

    Blockchain only provides verification. It also has its own problems. Back when the e-coin bubble burst, it was difficult to get transactions through in a timely fashion. All because of the way blockchain works. The system was overwhelmed.

    Open Source software is another example of what happens when one fights Big XXX. Yes, you can modify it to your purpose but, in reality, few do. Most end up reliant on someone else doing it for them for free. That means they tend to get what they paid for — and don’t have much control.

    The USA series Mr. Robot illustrated what happens when the big Evil Corp is brought to its knees. Things went south in a hurry.

    The Next Revolution, whatever that may be, is yet another Big XXX in the making if it really works at an affordable price.

  10. Yes, ‘revolution’ as in ‘industrial’, ‘computer’ etc. Not some political uprising style high tech coup… but the next big thing.

    The future’s bright, not doomed.

    Google ‘tracks’ people? No people track people and blame google for “letting them do it.”
    Rather them than a pretend, “we wont’ track you” search engine.

    The problem is on the other end. The tracker, not the trackeeee.
    If shops want to keep information about what I buy or look at, it’s nothing more than annoying, sometimes.
    When websites use google analytics for personal reasons, different matter. The question why ‘hangs’. Is never answered.

    Don’t use facebook even though I’m on there but if you leave a vacuum people make up information for japes, or some other purpose.

    Why does the THEM care who I meet for coffee?
    THEM are quite welcome to come along and join in the fun, for goodness sake. Why the worried look?

  11. Hey, bitcoin is not magic. It is just a new technology with some serious flaws in fulfilling its goal of digital gold.

    I do not agree that space (real estate) is a more fundamental scarcity than time as a foundation for the necessary scarcity of money. Space is infinite in all directions. Time is the rigorous scarcity for humans.

    Money is a measuring stick that ultimately reflects the irreversible scarcity of time.

    Gold became the epitome of money because it cancelled capital and technology. More sophisticated and voluminous mining efforts are neutralized by more attenuated and remote gold. Remaining is the residual scarcity of time to mine a gram, which has not changed much in several centuries. Digital monies will exploit the scarcity of time and combine it with the convenience of digital electronics.

  12. Money can’t buy time. Just someone else’s time, or buy tools to speed up a process.
    Bitcoin is unnecessary! The salesman therefore makes it seem necessary. The best salesmen are honest ones.

    Money buys land.

    I sold a black hole on ebay years ago for a penny. That buyer had a sense of humour and gave me five stars, bless them.

  13. the urbit logo you used is from another project, some worthless altcoin project that tried to hijack the name.

  14. also: urbit is already public more or less. the source code is all on github, and anyone with a planet. i’m not sure if you can still get one the old way, but for years they’ve given a free planet to anyone who wanted one or asked. i have an urbit planet running in a vps right now. they also distributed keys to ships as ethereum tokens in the last week, meaning the ownership of the network address space is officially in the process of decentralizing and no longer under the control of the developers. they’re still keeping a low profile, but i think the next network continuity breach early next month may begin a more public phase (just a guess, they’ve been talking about rolling out a lot of features in their updates).

  15. Joy writes “Why does the THEM care who I meet for coffee? THEM are quite welcome to come along and join in the fun, for goodness sake. Why the worried look?”

    There’s no telling what will be illegal 15 years from now; not just illegal, but retroactively illegal. Consider the attempts to remove the statute of limitations from sexual assault; seems almost reasonable until you combine it with the ever-changing definition of exactly what that IS.

    Your Miranda rights ought to be considered every time you sit down to write something; for anything you say or write can and will be held against you somewhere, somewhen.

    Whether that hampers you sorta depends on the circumstances. The number of things held against Donald Trump would probably fill an Oxford Unabridged Dictionary but actually seems to help him in a manner similar to Bill Clinton’s sexual escapades seems to have helped that ex-president. Whether it would do so NOW is an interesting question.

  16. Michael 2,
    Did I “stray too far from the farm”?
    You’re making an assault on *my free speech! Isn’t that the kind of thing you’re supposed to say when someone tells you to watch what you write?

    All you or anyone can do, is bear true witness and give your own opinion based on what you know. If there’s something that intimidates you from writing because you think some future law will cause you to have transgressed, there’s nothing I can do to alter that view. I don’t think the same way. It is a trap.

    The remark you made seems a bit hopeless, cynical, even slightly worried on my behalf? I’m not worried so why would you be? Curiouser and curiouser.
    It’s the slippery slope argument and although not a sign of the point specifically being proved wrong, it does mean we are still none the wiser as to whether to write or not to write.
    In short, the truth is the way. Yet many innocent people have been accused and convicted despite telling the truth. That’s life. We don’t all expect to be future criminals. I recommend you adopt the same approach. Unless, of course, you have specific reason to think otherwise.
    I’m still wondering why THEY care who I have coffee, or tea, with. Maybe those words mean something different in sophistry-land.

  17. Property is property. You can’t live in outer space. Food, clothing, and shelter are necessary for survival, and they require property on the Earth’s surface, mainly dry land, for their provision. You can eat fish but you can’t live under water.

    Joy is right (again). Money will not buy you time when your jig is up.

  18. Interesting post, still a pipe dream, though I have just begun reading Glider’s “Life After Google”.

    Why the pipe dream crack? It is possible TODAY to communicate, socialize and use the internet encrypted, unobserved and untracked, but
    1) it isn’t free
    2) it takes minimal attention to some technical details
    3) other people have to participate in spending money and paying attention to technical details or it won’t work… network effect.

    Apple supposedly exists for making tech simple… and well built hardware . Most folks think fingerprint and face recognition technology are great for security and you think they will sign up for Urbit, or deal with blockchain anything where once you take it out of the chain it is as secure as your Facebook posts?

    I hate to sound like a curmudgeon, but I lived in and fought in the internet security world for a decade trying to get companies and user groups of all types to adopt a simple piece of software that would enable encryption of all their communications and transactions on the existing internet. No one could be bothered with having their user community be asked to download and install a tiny bit of code. They had real world data showing the simple inconvenience of 0.4 seconds of page load time meant a huge number of people leaving the site. A 10 second download / install was out of the question.

    So, asking them to go to a new OS, new internet and fun-e-money and leave all their friends behind on whatever free social networks they use from their existing phone? Ain’t happenin’ except for those that really care about privacy, security, anonymity, etc. and guess what, they already have these things if they want to forgo the “networked” path and only interact with the like-minded.

    I’d like to be wrong…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *