What is the Internet computer?
The Internet Computer is the long-awaited backbone for Web3.0, the decentralized Internet of the future.
11 min read
The DFINITY Foundation's Internet Computer is reimagining how we work, relax, and socialize online. Empowered by blockchain technologies, this decentralized network aims to free us from Big Tech's constrictive proprietary hold on global information infrastructure.
The Internet Computer is an inclusive, innovative, and genuinely democratic exchange of data, services, and ideas whose governance is of the people, by the people, and for the people.
The Internet Computer is a public blockchain that empowers online developers to eschew commercial cloud services, database servers, web servers, DNS services, firewalls, and all dependence on Big Tech's proprietary application programming services. Instead, developers are liberated to build and deploy secure, autonomous, and tamper-proof compute units called canisters, which can accomplish nearly anything imaginable. This includes, but is not limited to: tokenized Internet services, pan-industry platforms, DeFi and smart contracts, enterprise systems, and traditional websites.
So the goal of the Internet computer is to reach blockchain singularity.
The idea is to have a powerful, secure blockchain that's capable of running the entire base layer of the web.
So everything from hosting, storage, and services—basically everything in one secure protocol.
Now, back in 2019, when Vitalik Buterin, who's the founder of Ethereum, and the person who first thought of and implemented these smart contracts, was talking at 2019 Unchained Live, he was asked this question:
Interviewer: 'What do you think is the biggest competitor to Ethereum today?'
And his answer was...
Vitalik: Dfinity's Internet computer.
And a part of the reason for that is that today's decentralized applications are only partially decentralized.
They have a minimal amount of logic and data that are hosted on a secure blockchain.
But the majority of the logic and the data is all hosted on large Web 2.0 companies.
For example, using Amazon's AWS or Microsoft Azure in order to host a lot of the data or using something like Chrome's browser extensions in order to connect a wallet and let users spend and earn tokens.
So if the majority of a dapp is not on-chain, then it's not really decentralized and it doesn't have all of the benefits numbers that are offered by a truly decentralized application.
So it means that any of these companies, Amazon, there are Microsoft, can actually shut down your project just by snapping their fingers.
So why is this? Why is it that we have all of this technology and yet we're still relying on legacy infrastructure?
Well, the reason is that it's extremely difficult with the current blockchains, for example, Ethereum, to be able to host large amounts of data and carry out a large number of transactions because it wasn't built for that purpose.
Ethereum was built primarily to act as a ledger. It's not designed to handle a lot of computation or data storage.
So if we look at a day in data just to see how much data gets created in your bog-standard web2 applications, there are something like 500 million tweets that are sent every day, and about 95 million photos and videos are shared on Instagram, which is a crazy amount of data to try and put onto a traditional blockchain.
How does the Internet Computer compare to its Web 3.0 competitors?
In addition to its groundbreaking use cases, security, governance, and ecological considerations, the Internet Computer vastly outperform other major blockchains on nearly every metric.
And if you look at how much it costs just to store one gigabyte of data on the blockchain, for Ethereum, that's something like $350 million at the current price of Ethereum. Storing 1 GB of data on the Internet Computer costs only USD 5!
Plus, transaction fees on the Internet Computer are about 0.0001 ICP, which translates to a fraction of a cent in USD. This is substantially cheaper than any other blockchain except Solana. However, unlike Solana, the Internet Computer can change transaction fees over time to accommodate rising or falling ICP prices.
So a gigabyte of data is just about 300 phone photos.
So if we go back to those 95 million photos, if you multiply them out, that'll cost something like $11 trillion, which is basically just completely unfeasible, which is why nobody creates fully-fledged decentralized applications entirely on the chain, which is what I meant when I said Ethereum just wasn't designed to handle the entire tech stack of a web application.
Also, remember how we said that each new block contains transaction data that updates the blockchain. The rate at which transactions can be processed determines how fast a blockchain-based app can run or how big it can scale.
In a decentralized social media app, each new post is a transaction. That means the number of transactions per second of the blockchain itself will limit how many posts all of your users can make because the TPS determines how fast your app can update its state.
Furthermore, no other blockchain comes close to rivaling the Internet Computer's speed at processing transactions. With no limits on the number of transactions per second (TPS), the Internet Computer takes only about 2 seconds to attain finality. Thus, at Web speed, the Internet Computer guarantees that cryptocurrency transactions cannot be altered, reversed, or canceled after they are completed.
It currently takes something around 14 seconds to create a new block on the Ethereum blockchain, and Ethereum has gradually increased the block size over time so that more data can be stored into a single block.
But in the current version of Ethereum, we're limited to about 15 transactions per second.
So imagine a Twitter that is entirely on-chain on Ethereum and only allows four users to post a tweet every minute.
And it will probably cost them something like $100 to tweet that single tweet because it's so expensive and so slow.
Now, the Dfinity organization has been researching this problem and trying to come up with a better technological solution to address this.
If you search the Internet archives, you can see that even as far back as 2015, the Dfinity team has already started working on this problem.
How do you make blockchain smart contracts scale?
How can you make it more performant?
How can this simple ledger be transformed into a new type of computer capable of processing thousands of computations per second and even storing data on a chain?
And they came up with basically a novel consensus algorithm—what they call a threshold relay—that allows the Internet computer to reach much faster speeds when compared to the other major layer one blockchains that are currently in existence.
Lastly, to encourage participation in governance via the network nervous system, the Internet Computer offers incredible staking rewards!
For a full comparison of the Internet Computer to other major blockchains, check out Berto Parga Pena's article, "Internet Computer VS Other Top Blockchains: Competing To Build The Future". When comparing the Internet Computer to its competitors, the strengths of its cutting-edge technology are astounding!
Why does the Internet Computer matter?
Bitcoin brought us digital gold, then Ethereum launched the decentralized finance revolution and popularized the notion of running software on blockchains.
Now, the Internet Computer heralds the third great innovation in blockchain technology by extending, decentralizing, and enhancing the World Wide Web.
For the first time ever, all public internet users can enjoy the privacy and peace of mind that come with end-to-end blockchain security.
Indeed, the Internet computer represents a significant advancement in the development of decentralized computing, so much so that some refer to it as a blockchain singularity.
What they mean is that prior ways of evaluating, building, and thinking about how to use blockchain technology are now incomplete and increasingly obsolete, thanks to the Internet Computer's astonishing architecture and capabilities.
The Internet Computer matters because:
The Internet Computer is democratically governed by its network nervous system, in which participants who have skin in the game via staked ICP shape the future of the Internet Computer.
The Internet Computer secures your digital identity and activity against advertisers, hackers, and other malicious agents; also, no more proliferation of passwords across dozens of Web services!
The Internet Computer reimagines smart contracts and software in a decentralized, integrated ecosystem that synchronizes services to best meet your needs.
The Internet Computer's governance token, ICP, presents an exciting new theoretical model of value that will complement Bitcoin by associating cryptocurrency with fiat currency's tokenization of utility, without the weaknesses of centralized administration.
The Internet Computer is environmentally friendly, so transacting ICP or NFTs or doing other everyday tasks consumes only about as much electricity as sending an email. This makes the Internet Computer sustainable, with a minimal carbon footprint in contrast to other blockchains and cryptocurrencies.
How does the Internet Computer work under the hood?
Well, basically, the Internet computer aggregates the computing capacity of a large number of independent data centers, and it takes all of these data centers around the world and combines them using the Internet computer protocol into a large, single, decentralized world computer if you will.
And this decentralized computer is organized into individual, what they call, canisters or canister smart chains.
And these canisters can basically run processes, execute code and store the data for the programs.
As a user, you can tap into the canisters directly by making HTTPS requests.
But as a developer, what you need to realize is that this Internet Computer is basically just a whole bunch of canisters, where each canister can hold programs and programs' states through a web assembly module and a flash memory model called a memory page.
You as a developer can write code that compiles into a performant way to run web applications on user hardware using web assembly, and you can do that using many languages such as Rust or Dfinity's Motoko smart contract Language.
And the really cool thing about these canisters is how they manage memory. Because of the state of your program, the contents of your variables, collections, and arrays may be stored within the canister.
And each of these canisters acts a bit like a process or a code sandbox. It's kind of similar to containers if you're familiar with Docker and that kind of stuff.
But essentially, the program state gets preserved, so your canister kind of acts as if it runs forever.
Consider this: if you run something in Code Sandbox and click Run, and that program never terminates, all of your data can simply be stored in its variables.
If you have a collection, if you have an array, a dictionary, or now an object, they just hold on to their state and they never get wiped, that means you don't even have to think about data persistence or putting things into databases, taking things out of databases, because your program behaves like it never gets killed.
Canisters represent not only an evolution in the way smart contracts work, but also a quantum leap in the way programs can be written.
Because you, as a developer only have to worry about the logic, and the Internet computer takes care of the rest.
Now, currently, there are over 2.752 TB of these canisters that are running on the Internet computer, and they're growing at an incredible rate.
There are already hundreds of applications built on the Internet Computer, for example, decentralized Reddit or the decentralized version of TikTok.
And because everything is on-chain, you can enable some fascinating new ways of interacting with these Web applications.
For example, the decentralized version of TikTok, which is called Cancan, runs on the Internet Computer, they have the ability for you to like a video.
If that video later goes viral, Web 3.0 is looking at who were the first ten or twenty people who liked it and rewarding them with Cancan tokens, which you can then spend to buy real products, virtual products, or get things from sponsors.
So it's genuinely bringing about a new way that we think about developing web applications and how you can interact with users through these token economics.
And there are currently some Dfinity developer ground programs where you can receive grants ranging from $25,000 to $100,000.
So no strings attached money to assist you in developing Internet applications.
So there is no better time than now to get started.
How do I join the Internet Computer Revolution?
Joining the exciting new era of Web 3.0 is as easy as creating an Internet Identity. Follow these easy guides on setting things up and getting started with investing and participating in the network nervous system. You'll be surfing an entirely new Internet in no time!
I believe that many of the blockchains mentioned in this article will coexist for the next few years. Thereafter, those that bring the most advances and solutions to blockchain technology will remain.
The Internet computer is the newcomer, offering the world a new paradigm and technology with revolutionary near-term goals such as the integration of Bitcoin and Ethereum.
It is the fastest blockchain, with a finality time of 2 seconds and a query call time of 100 ms. Its canister smart contracts offer a real Web 3.0 serving the web and interacting directly with users. Scalability is unlimited, and it provides a highly adaptable blockchain that allows its community to vote on proposals through the Network Nervous System to manage the Internet Computer.
These are just some of its innovative and robust features!
"Everything you want is outside your Comfort Zone. If you are not willing to risk the unusual, you will settle for the ordinary."