Despite ChatGPT requiring users to provide an email address or link themselves to a Google account—because the OpenAI API requires users to authenticate their identity as a security measure—some are touting ChatGPT as a (decentralized, privacy-preserving) chatbot, search engine, and personal assistant hybrid, much in keeping with the ideals of Web3.

Though the impact of ChatGPT is yet to be fully realized, the avenues it has and will continue to open highlight that the future of Web3 will depend on things other than Web3-specific technologies.

ChatGPT is a chatbot developed by OpenAI (founded by Elon Musk and backed by Microsoft), designed to generate human-like text based on the input provided, in a variety of languages. It does not have personal experiences or physical sensations and does not have the ability to browse the internet or access new information. It can only provide information and assistance based on its supervised learning and reinforcement learning training and the information that it has been programmed to understand.

The cut-off for training data was in 2021, so any events after that will not be part of the training and the model will not be able to tell us about them with any accuracy. Though it is powerful enough to combine natural language processing (NLP) with task automation, as evidenced by it gaining more than a million users in the five days after its initial launch, it could not tell us who won the 2022 Football World Cup.

ChatGPT has other issues beyond not knowing that PSG teammates Messi and Mbappe faced each other in a nail-biting final that went to a penalty shootout. OpenAI’s GPT3.5-powered chatbot is capable of some striking cognitive errors, such as stating that a kilo of bricks weighs more than a kilo of air. But its declarative tone often makes it seem believable. Concerns have arisen about students using the chatbot to write (rather convincing) essays. Deeper fears exist about such AI systems being manipulated by a multitude of bad actors, including disinformation proponents.

Web3 is the next phase of the internet

Whereas Web1 was characterized by static pages, the current Web2 is characterized by the emergence of user-generated content, social media networks, and user interaction. Web3 is primarily an ideology of privacy, decentralization, and zero trust. Much of the aims of the next iteration of the internet will rely heavily on blockchain technologies. AI is also important in Web3 projects, enabling efficiency and functionality at scale.

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Web3 is immature, and challenges exist and act as a barrier to widespread adoption. There is an understanding gap between Web3-literate users and the rest of us. But this was also the case with early Web1 and Web2.

Web3 adoption will not happen all at once, it will likely come in fits and starts before we become fully immersed in it, if at all. It is hard to put a date on when this might happen, but if it does it will be sometime in the next two to 10 years. Web3 and NFT proponents are still waiting for a killer use case to drive mass adoption. What many of them fail to recognize is that Web3 adoption will happen only if and when it is cheaper, faster, more useful/better, and as easy or easier to use than what is currently available in Web2. It is unlikely that the deployment of digital collectibles in gaming, NFT-based marketing campaigns from consumer brands, or intellectual property sharing would drive mass adoption in Web3 beyond a few million people, at best.

Search needs to change for a true Web3

Web2 is built on a bedrock of search. There are few key players in search, the most infamous of which is Google, so much so that the brand name is even often used as a verb.  Website builders, owners, and maintainers, constantly chase ever-changing, often opaque, search engine optimization (SEO) criteria to ensure their web pages rank high in Google’s algorithm—and can therefore be found by Web2 wanderers. Google (and other search engines) profit in two ways: by returning ad-supported answers, and by selling user data to programmatic advertisers who pay depending on how many or how long people spend on their page.

Obviously, in a utopian, open, trustless, permissionless Web3, cross-platform data sharing that relies on centralized infrastructure providers—which have become somewhat akin to utilities—is not in keeping with the decentralized ideology. True Web3 proponents seek to move away from their current dependence on centralized technologies, including some search engines.