It’s not at all surprising that a definitive vision for the future internet has not yet been shared, because there is no agreement on what the next iteration of the internet will look like. It does not yet exist, even in a single sandbox model. There is general agreement about some of the basics—decentralized with a blockchain backbone, immersive and hosting one or more metaverses. Even the name is uncertain—is it Web3 or Web 3.0 (there are nuanced differences between the two visions)?
Yet it is hugely important for the future of higher education to prepare for, and lead, in creating the new platform. Many will agree that by 2024 or 2025 the construction of experimental models of the “new” internet will be well underway. It is likely to be in a robust, stable state by the end of the decade. By that time, most websites will have faded into history. The log-ins and authentications for most every site will be long gone. Websites, as we know them now, will also be gone. Artificial intelligence (AI), virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), mixed reality (XR), nonfungible tokens (NFTs) and decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs) will run on a blockchain backbone that will enable privacy, security, smart contracts and a host of relationships that are not possible today. Users will be immersed in the internet through their avatars that will interact with avatars of other people and AI personae in a wide variety of ways.
Mason Nystrom, research analyst at Messari, shares a glimpse of the next generation of the internet:
It will involve all of the existing protocols and services we see on today’s internet, but they’ll be built on permissionless blockchains with open protocols and open standards. This will allow for a much greater level of freedom, decentralization, and democracy for individual users, content creators, and projects.
That’s a lot of change to come in the decade of the 2020s! So, we need to prepare for the wide variety of elements that will come together as we progress through this decade.
First steps may be to create a working group that includes stakeholders, both internal and external, to track technological developments and identify areas of opportunity for the university. We need to consider where we may lead in developing Web 3.0. Perhaps there are civic implications for using immersive technologies to link the university with the public at large to facilitate policy formulation and implementation. Can the institution develop smart contracts that will be executed through blockchain to strengthen the connections to segments of business and industry that match institutional strengths for just-in-time professional development offerings? Are there collaborative opportunities to utilize the secure structure for joint research projects for real-time sharing of personnel and facilities around the world?
Now is the time to begin integrating VR, AR and XR into classes both on campus and through the web. With the advent of 5G wireless, Starlink and 10G cable, a rapidly increasing percentage of users have low-latency, high-bandwidth connections that will support immersive environments at a distance. It may take years to develop these virtual services across the curriculum, so we need to begin now. Smart virtual science labs will provide cost-effective, upgradable enhancements to the physical labs on campus. The technologies will enable linking students virtually to the inner workings of business and industry for internships and career development.
We must create institutional policies and practices for generating NFTs that will become the coin of the realm in innovation through Web 3.0. It’s not too early for the university to create NFTs to stake out concepts, practices, innovations and more that may even be monetized over time. Creating a DAO with a professional association, affinity university partner or a business/enterprise could set the stage for expanding the agreements to power smart contracts of similar sorts in coming years.
Is all of this effort worthwhile? International tech expert Werner Vermaak writes,
The new internet will provide a more personal and customized browsing experience, a smarter and more human-like search assistant, and other decentralized benefits that are hoped will help to establish a more equitable web. This will be achieved by empowering each individual user to become a sovereign over their data, and creating a richer overall experience thanks to the myriad of innovations that is to come once it is in place.
The only way we will achieve these advantages is if we begin to prepare today. Who is leading the initiative on your campus to prepare and coordinate the array of innovations that will comprise Web 3.0? Are you creating DAOs and NFTs? Which departments are leveraging VR, AR and XR technologies into immersive environments? And who has reached out to partners by creating smart contracts on blockchain? Most importantly, who is coordinating these developments so the university will be prepared to take competitive advantage by leading in Web 3.0?