(@amywebb) is an
author and futurist
and the founder of
the Future Today
Institute, a leading
Please Hack Me
The businesses being built on
your computer while you sleep.
amy webb b LEADING EDGE
magine getting into bed tonight. You
dock your phone in its charger, set the
alarm, and, just before dimming the
lights, you start up your new app. It
invites hackers to take over your phone.
This isn’t a nightmare. It’s the future
of the gig economy.
In the coming year, you’ll hear a lot
about the next wave of the decentral-
ized sharing economy. But it’s
not about vacation homes or
cars. It’s about distributing
computing power over a large
network of computers and
devices to accomplish complex
tasks, ranging from mathemati-
cal calculations to cryptocurrency mining. All it takes is what
I call “gigware”: a benevolent form of the malware hackers
use to break into your computers and phones that generates
a tangible beneft to companies and individuals.
Nearly four billion internet users are spread around the
world. Each owns an average of three devices. So there’s always
a gigantic pool of processing power sitting dormant. Sharing
and pooling such power isn’t exactly new. In 2002, researchers
at Berkeley’s Open Infrastructure for Network Computing
(cheekily nicknamed Boinc) realized that if some of us allowed
our devices to be hijacked while we slept, it would be possible
to simulate the power of a supercomputer, which could then be
put to good use. Today, more than 156,000 people donate idle
processing time to worthy projects such as the Quake-Catcher
Network, which looks for seismic activity, and SETI@home,
which searches the universe for extraterrestrial life.
What’s new is that consumers can now use mobile devices—
and will soon be able to use other connected devices in the
home—to do the same thing. Entrepreneurs are building smart
businesses on that idle time. Just as people use platforms like
Airbnb to rent out their properties, and Turo to lend their cars,
the newest gigware lets businesses use your smartphones and
computers in exchange for credits you can spend elsewhere, or
for real money. Since the systems are distributed and decentral-
ized, private data is safeguarded. (Still, caveat usor: There
haven’t been any breaches yet, but there could be in the future.)
Consider the Golem Network, a startup that allows users
to exchange idle power for Golem tokens (a cryptocurrency).
Anyone can lease spare computation resources to the network.
Requesters are matched with such renters; prices will be based
on machine performance and reputation. Devices will process
tasks like training machine-learning algorithms or rendering
graphics. Once tasks are completed, payment is sent.
And there’s a lot of money going around. Cryptocurrencies
are wildly volatile, but in June, Golem was worth more than
$300 million, according to CryptoBriefng.com. Its network is
expected to include video-game developers, graphic designers,
and movie producers who seek supercomputing power without
supercomputing costs. Gridcoin, a startup built on Boinc,
rewards volunteers with coins they can use at online marketplaces like Cointopay, which sells vintage Gucci handbags and
Hermès belts. (It also sells less savory items—it is a crypto
market, after all.) Golem and Gridcoin represent a new kind of
meta-platform, where consumers, businesses, and the platform
developer can all beneft.
Gigware works for barter markets of interest to businesses,
too. Washington, D.C.–based Gladius is a startup that trades
spare bandwidth and processing power for tokens that pay for
private web hosting—it promises to use all that power to thwart
denial-of-service attacks, which can bring a company’s website
down for days.
My favorite just might save America’s beleaguered news
industry. Technologist and entrepreneur Orlando Watson is
building Honeycomb, gigware for a free press. Eventually,
it will invite consumers to let their mobile phones be used for
complex calculations overnight, to earn credits that pay for
digital subscriptions to newspapers and magazines. Who
knows? Soon, you might be paying your favorite writers directly
with credits you earned while sleeping.
106 ● Inc. ● NOVEMBER 2018 ● ● ● ● ● ●