What is the Internet Computer?

What is the Internet Computer (ICP)?

Internet Computer (Ticker ICP) is a blockchain project developed by the Dfinity foundation. They’re backed by Andreezen Horrowitz and Polychain Capital and have raised $195 Million in venture funding. Their crypto token ICP launched in May 2021 and has a market cap of $5.3 billion as of writing this article.

Their aim is to build a “blockchain that runs at web speed and can increase its capacity without bound to host any volume of smart contract computations and store any quantity of data.” What does this mean though? 

According to one of their founders “The purpose of the Internet Computer is to facilitate a “blockchain singularity” in which nearly all systems and services can be rebuilt using smart contacts and run entirely from public blockchain in reimagined form — i.e. to create a future where where every system and service can run from blockchain”

Whilst none of this has been realized yet (the launch date for public use is late in 2021) the aim is to build a decentralised protocol where app and web developers can launch sites, built on public blockchains and served directly to a user's browser. Crucially without relying on cloud providers like AWS Google Cloud or Azure. It harks back to the original concepts of net neutrality and open internet, where a monopoly controls publishing and hosting rights.

How does Internet Computer work?

Internet Computer is building an alternative to the way traffic is currently managed by the open protocol known as the internet protocol or IP. Internet Computers new standard ICP lets developers build software that doesn’t rely on server firm computers, but could run off any computer anywhere in the world, or run from any data center (including more bespoke or smaller data centers.)

So far Internet Computer works with 48 sovereign data centers across the Americas, Europe and Asia and has 1,300 nodes.

Internet Computer asserts this means nobody can own or control the data (or censor it.) The data centers that host a developers website or app are paid using the ICP token but they won’t have access to the data in the same way current data centers do. The significance of this is twofold: firstly it’s harder for advertisers to track you, secondly that also goes for malicious bodies or censorship prone governments.

There of course is a downside, violent, offensive or illegal content would be harder to pull down too, but the Dfinity organisation believes that their community of developers, hosts and users will generate a governance system that decides what content crosses the line. 

What Technology is Internet Computer Using?

Chain Key Technology: Is largely responsible for making Internet Computer run at speeds that allow it to be competitive, it updates smart contracts in 1-2 seconds. Although this too isn’t fast enough they’ve solved this by splitting smart contract functions into “update” and “query” calls. An update call is a contract Internet Computer is familiar with and takes 1-2 seconds to update, a query call however can take milliseconds, as these calls discard memory pages which make update calls slower. CKT also allows any device to verify “the authenticity of artifacts from the Internet.”

Non-Interactive Distributed Key Generation (NIDKG): Certifies and authenticates messages using a network of nodes that agree to verify and sign a message. It’s essentially a cryptographic system of encryption that relies on a multitude of nodes that cannot decrypt data alone, thus keeping data private until it reaches its intended audience.

Network Nervous System (NNS): According to Dfinity “The NNS is the autonomous software that governs the Internet Computer and manages everything from economics to network structure.” It’s basic job is to create the governance structure and voting systems ICP holders use to make decisions about the future of the system.

What does the Internet Computer (ICP) token do?

The ICP token (which you can buy on most of the leading exchanges) is used for:

  • Network Governance: Each holder of an ICP gets the right to vote on the protocols future and any governance related issues set out by the network nervous system. Each holder is rewarded with more ICP for being involved in the voting process.
  • Compute Power: The ICP token is also a store of value that can be converted into so called ‘cycles’, these power computation, in essence similar to an AWS credit. The rate of compute (ie cost of hosting) is variable and is configured by the network nervous system. 
  • Rewards for Participants: ICP is minted and given as reward for those who participate in their network. Participants can be involved in governance decisions, voting or setting up machines that are used to host the network (ie the servers to host websites and apps.)

The ICP token will max out at 469,213,710 tokens, and the circulating supply will be determined by the NNS and on the market conditions at the time. 

What has been built on Internet Computer

So far they’ve demoed two apps a LinkedIn clone “LinkedUp” and a TikTok clone called “CanCan”. They’re not intended to be used, but were developed to show the potential of teh system to host and sustain real world apps.

What is the Badlands Concept?

As a part of challenging the dominance of big tech cloud providers, Dfinity wants to make participation in the network of node/hosts accessible to everyday people. The aim is to allow amateurs to spend a small amount of cash on low cost devices like Raspberry Pi’s (very small and affordable computers.) The current cost of Internet Computer capable computers for hosting is around 10,000 but the Badlands concept has been formulated to create a cheaper more accessible layer for “amateur” users.

The idea is to allow for true decentralization, because the more accessible the network is the less Dfinity and the Internet Computer will rely on more concentrated centralised nodes, which was the issue they were trying to solve to begin with.

Author bio

Alex started Clara (clarafinds.com) a site to compare fintech apps to help people and businesses understand all the new money saving tools that are revolutionizing finance. They love to write, travel and connect with new people.

Publication date: 
07/12/2021 - 19:15
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