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The next wave of computing
August 14, 2017
Entrepreneurs, tech investors, and policy makers spend considerable time thinking about the future of computing. In this post, I'll present my prediction for what the next major wave of computing will be.

To predict the future, we must first understand the past.

Early computers were bulky and filled entire rooms. The mainframes of the 1960s and 1970s had a "centralized" computing model where a single mainframe would serve an entire office building, and "dumb" terminals would send compute-jobs to the mainframe.

The desktop revolution of the 1980s and 1990s was a massive shift away from mainframes. For the first time, people had computers in their homes; they owned the physical machine, the software, and all their data.

And then cloud computing happened.

The data centers owned by companies like Google and Facebook are the new mainframes. Our laptops are just screens; all our compute-jobs go to the cloud, and all our data is stored there.

We've been reduced back to "dumb" terminals.

The next wave of computing is going to be a massive shift away from cloud computing. There are two major problems with cloud computing: (a) users don't own their own data, and (b) remote servers are security holes. With a move away from cloud computing, decentralized systems like Bitcoin give explicit control of digital assets to end-users and remove the need to trust any third-party servers and infrastructure.
"The arc of the internet is now bending towards decentralization."

— Naval Ravikant (at the Blockstack Summit July 2017).
How will the tech industry change with decentralized computing?

Decentralized computing is a mega trend that is not getting nearly as much attention as it deserves; it will likely have an economic, social, and political impact larger than the desktop and cloud revolutions.

  1. We'll see unbundling of data silos like Facebook and LinkedIn. The ownership of data and the associated power to monetize that data will flip over from large companies to users.
  2. Cloud storage providers will get reduced to "dumb drives", used to store encrypted data for users. It'd become hard for cloud storage providers to differentiate themselves from each other. In the new model, they all provide just a basic storage utility.
  3. Users will start owning (personal) cloud servers again; servers that can be online 24/7 and take actions on behalf of users when the users go offline. Running a secure, personal cloud server will become as easy as using current cloud services like Google Docs and Dropbox.
  4. Publishing the source code for software will become almost a requirement for security reasons. Running closed-source "blackbox magic" software will be perceived as a security hazard.
  5. Crypto tokens for protocols will become as ubiquitous as software licenses and terms-of-service agreements for cloud services: to use the software in decentralized computing you'll need the respective token.
  6. Crypto economy will reshape the entire lifecycle of tech companies. Currently, they get their start on Sand Hill Road and end up on Wall St. Soon, they'd start anywhere and end up on token exchanges.
  7. Computer security engineer, applied cryptographer, and distributed systems engineer will become some of the most sought-after professions in the tech industry and, by proxy, popular subjects to study in colleges.

I, for one, am extremely excited about this next wave of computing.

Part of this post was presented in this talk at the Blockstack Summit, July 2017.
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Muneeb Ali
Co-founder Stacks, a Bitcoin layer for smart contracts. CEO Trust Machines, building Bitcoin apps. → Learn more