A community contribution to the guide by the DSCVR user @darkmath.
We have all been there. A new piece of technology or buzz word comes and we quickly try to look it up somewhere to understand it better. More often than not, we fail to actually understand it beyond some definitions or jargon, which is not everyone’s cup of tea. The same thing can happen with a shiny new blockchain technology from Dfinity – The Internet Computer.
So in this article, I will explain what the Internet Computer really is in a way that even a 5 year old could understand it.
What is the Internet Computer?
The Internet Computer is a very powerful, high-speed, and limitless blockchain which extends the Internet. (Kid says, “I don’t really understand any of this” and asks more questions)
What is the Internet?
It’s like a tree. If you look at a tree, there’s a lot of individual leaves. A computer that you might have in front of you is a single leaf, which is connected to a branch with a bunch of other leaves on it (a small network, neighborhood, etc). That small branch is connected to a larger branch (ISP, cable company), which is connected to other computers around the world.
What is a Blockchain?
It’s like a scorecard of a game which you play with your friends that you write on a board with a marker. But instead of an erasable marker to capture the scores on the board (which can be erased, modified, tampered with), you use a permanent marker (everyone can read but no one can erase or change it). Now no one can cheat by changing the scores. Also, other kids watching (nodes) can take a picture of the board (means making multiple copies of it) and keep it with themselves (blocks on different nodes) and can use it to verify the scores at a later date. Verification can be a little slow as it takes time to open each kid’s picture and compare the scores with each other.
So now what is the Internet Computer again?
Lots of powerful computers are connected together in a blockchain, but verification is very very fast. It’s like a school (the Network Nervous System aka NNS) that keeps a copy of the picture on the school notice board and everyone can just see (read) it there quickly. The school (NNS) also makes multiple copies of it (high replication factor) and displays it on multiple different notice boards across the school so that many children can read the same information quickly in a scalable way.
What is Dfinity?
Dfinity foundation is a not-for-profit organisation whose mission is to build, promote, and maintain the Internet Computer. It’s like a group of people who manage your school like head teacher (Dominic W.), class teachers (programming language experts), subject specific teachers (cryptography experts, distributed systems engineers), administrative staff (operational experts) and many more.
What is the crypto ticker used for buying/selling the token?
ICP. It’s similar to the name of your favourite brand of chocolate (cryptocurrency) which you buy from the shopkeeper (cryptocurrency exchanges) in exchange for money (fiat).
Where is the team located?
Main team (main school) is based in Zurich, Switzerland, which oversees research centers (other branches of school) in Palo Alto, San Francisco, and Zurich, as well as teams (some teachers work remotely these days) in Japan, Germany, the UK, and across the United States.
Can I meet the team?
The team is a group of very smart people at the top of their fields. They are scientists, PhDs, cryptographic experts, creators of Web Assembly (WASM), creators of languages like Motoko, distributed systems engineers, operations experts, programming language experts, and many more. More importantly, they are people who care about the betterment of this world by providing technological breakthroughs but look like just you and me.
Say hello to the team!
Is the Internet Computer similar to Bitcoin?
No, far from it. Bitcoin was the first cryptocurrency and is like digital gold. You can buy it, track it, keep it, wait for its value to fluctuate, and when the time comes, sell it. But other than treating it as digital money, you can not do much with it. The Internet Computer, on the other hand, is a combination of digital money and the internet and smart contracts and much more, to say the least. Verification (block time) on Bitcoin can take minutes to complete, but it can be done in less than 2 seconds (writes) or even milliseconds in some cases (reads) on the Internet Computer.
What is a Smart Contract?
Smart Contracts are like the rules of a game, which once set, can no longer be changed. All the players in the game follow the rules and play the game, and at the end of the game (based on those rules) we have an outcome of the game. Rules are known (can be read or verified) to everyone – players, audience, etc., and you can check the outcome with anyone based on those rules and the reply will always be the same (consensus). On the Internet Computer, smart contracts are also known as Canisters. One of the earlier examples of Smart Contracts in Blockchain is Ethereum.
Is the Internet Computer similar to Ethereum then?
Not really. Ethereum has smart contracts which can contain written rules (programmable code) and can be verified within seconds but it is very expensive (Gas fees) to play the game. Imagine waiting for 30-40 seconds in a game of football before making every pass between players. Doesn’t that sound slow? Because it runs slowly (global consensus) you cannot easily run websites or play games directly on Ethereum. The Internet Computer, on the other hand, is like a fast football game where each pass can happen within milliseconds (reads) and a goalkeeper kick can happen within a couple of seconds (writes). The Internet Computer can also host websites, games, complex Enterprise systems, or DeFi based systems. The Internet Computer is also significantly cheaper for the end user than Bitcoin or Ethereum due to its Reverse-Gas Model (free to access a resource, developer pays to host it).
What is the Reverse-Gas Model?
Imagine you want to watch cartoons on Television and want to change the channel to your favourite cartoon show using the TV remote. But every time you use the TV remote, you have to pay a small fee to have batteries in the remote. Who would want to do that? You will be paying more on usage than the batteries actually cost!
This is known as the Gas model when you are paying money (Gas) to use something. In the reverse-gas model, your parents have purchased the batteries already (cycles) and have put the batteries in the remote (canister), and you can come and use the remote without paying anything for it. The Internet Computer uses this reverse-gas model. When the remote runs out of batteries, your parents (developers of applications on the Internet Computer) can buy more batteries (cycles) and put it in the remote for anyone to use.
Is it safe and secure?
When we go out of our home, we make sure to keep the home safe by closing all the windows and door, and then using a key (password) to lock the main door (identity). Same for our car—we would need a different key to secure our car. Now, what if we lose our key and someone else gets ahold of it? Now they can easily open the door and enter the house (hacking, unsafe passwords) and take away your things (steal personal or financial information). So if you didn’t have a key (password) to lock the door but instead had a camera (facial recognition on smartphone) or a touch sensor (fingerprint authentication, security key) then you don’t need to worry about losing your keys or even taking care of so many different keys for your car, house, etc. You can just unlock the door using facial recognition or fingerprint authentication or security key for everything like your car, house, etc., with the same mechanism (internet identity) without worrying about a thief stealing your things. Internet Computer use this new security mechanism to keep you and your things safe and secure.
OK! Last question. What can the Internet Computer really do?
It can do a lot of things, and it can do them better than normal hosting providers! Any of the traditional websites can be built on the Internet Computer without worrying about the complexity of security, power, scale, limit, costs, or any of the traditional IT stack used by Big Tech in traditional Internet. All of this complexity is handled by the platform that the Internet Computer provides. DeFi, Smart contracts, Tokenized internet services, Pan-industry platforms, Enterprise systems, Open internet services, Open tokenized governance systems, etc. It provides alternatives to centralisation and Big Tech, and it makes developers’ lives easy as they can create hyperscale Internet services in just 1000 lines of code. The possibilities on the Internet Computer are Infinite ∞.
Thanks, I like the Internet Computer. It is so cool!
1. Father of 2 boys from London, UK (4 years and 2 years old, can’t wait for them to turn 5 so that I can explain this to them then)
2. 17 years of IT technology experience, working as Cloud Architect mainly Google Cloud and AWS designing and building cloud strategies for multiple large organisations.
3. IC Community Ambassador
4. Follow my ramblings on DSCVR @darkmath
Disclaimer: If you find some topics too hard for a 5 year old, just understand it yourself and explain to them later when they are a bit older.
Note: this is a community contributed article, and while it has undergone thorough review, it does not necessarily reflect the thoughts, ideas, opinions, or beliefs of the ICP Guide.