Fixing internet search is personal

The missing component in digital interactions is the individual. This is most prominently experienced during internet and site search. The implications go far beyond a lack of convenience and could impact the ownership of our identity and freedom to transact. SENECA is creating the architecture to change this.

It is an understatement of massive proportions to say that search engine technology has progressed a great deal in the last couple of decades. Just a couple of years ago, Google announced a 1,000X improvement in their search technology.

But this progress brings up several questions. Specifically, to what extent has the user benefited from this progress? What does a good search result look like? And if search is tied to an advertising model that feeds on user data, does this progress impact our individual rights and liberties?

In so many ways, search is broken. We find ourselves constantly navigating through a labyrinth of search queries, targeted ads, SEO-boosted content, and platoons of politically motivated thought police who look for any opportunity to guide us to the “right” place.  A person browsing in the year 2000 envisioned a future digital Shangri-La but has woken up in 2023 to find themselves living in Idiocracy.

Whether we are looking for content or products, our primary method of discovery and interaction is search. Search is supposed to be our trusted guide, but it acts more like a scammer taking advantage of tourists' naivety, taking us where it wants and not where we need to go.

The reason is that search is weighted heavily by those that pay the bills. When balancing the needs of the individual versus the influence, advertising spend, and computing power of businesses, the scale is heavily skewed in favor of the businesses. These entities have hijacked the internet, and in the process, have stolen our data.  At best, they provide some value in return that we don't understand; at worst, they have given us empty promises and no value.

Search is supposed to be our trusted guide, but it acts more like a scammer taking advantage of tourists' naivety, taking us where it wants and not where we need to go.

But now ChatGPT has come along and given us hope. It is a step closer to the vision of a Hollywood AI that delivers a human-machine interaction that is completely intuitive and personal — a device that speaks our language and interacts with us as if it knows us and puts answers in context to our personal situation or requirements.

So are our information-seeking woes fixed?

Or is ChatGPT missing something that the AI in movies has: that hyper-personalization? Whether it is the dystopian and corporate serving Ash in Alien or the trusted J.A.R.V.I.S. in Iron Man, fictional AI knows the individual and bases the interaction on an intimate understanding of the human. In reality, ChatGPT only imitates the personal response because it doesn’t have the data set (yours) to learn from.  Write the right prompt it might get close, but it can’t deliver what it doesn’t know to be true.

Imagine if ChatGPT knew everything about us and could be our trusted and powerful sidekick. The mundane task of finding the exact right product turns into an instant, high-confidence transaction. Shopping for a car seat? Get results that fit your car, your kid, and your current bank balance — not a virtual flea market of choices that are delivered based on your algorithmically derived persona. Have a stomach ache? Get personal recommendations based on every intimate detail that could inform your condition. Want to refinance your home? Get a quote in seconds based on the dozens of personal and asset data points.  In these scenarios, the word "search" seems archaic and inaccurate.

The current promise of a personalized future is most prominently framed as an extension of the digital wallets such as the Apple wallet or the so-called fintech super wallets. From proof of vaccine to identification to payments, the digital wallet is envisioned as a ticket to convenience and personalization. Your life in your hand (or iCloud). The problem with this path is that the user reaps these benefits with the consent or permission of someone else. Permissioned systems achieve are the culprits for every dystopian future state in Hollywood or the cause of many repressive systems of our past.

So how do we achieve a truly personal and convenient digital experience without the risk of losing control over our identity (or identities) and liberties?

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"You look like a good joe." Wallace Corporation uses surveillance capitalism to personalize ads for their Joi product. Blade Runner 2049

Giving our data to a centrally run integration of ChatGPT (or Microsoft) is not the answer. We have tried “don’t be evil” and this has taught us that we can’t rely on unchecked organizations to be the arbiter of right and wrong when it comes to our freedoms as individuals. To maintain liberty, the individual must retain control over their data and their identity and those of us building decentralized tools have to surpass the convenience and functionality of centralized applications.

Centralized entities have already shown us what happens when they control our data. In eCommerce, businesses collect lots of user data but they don’t use it to provide a custom, personalized experience unless that experience aligns with the highest profit margin. This isn’t evil. It is rational. So we have to make and architect technology where the better, more efficient, and more rational solution occurs when users own their data and control their digital experience.  

This is where the SENECA blockchain comes in. SENECA is the final piece enabling delivery of a truly personal experience, one that puts us in complete control of our digital activities — one in which search operates as our agent, not the other way around. The data owner, the end user of the internet, utilizes their data for their own benefit in every transaction instead of handing over their data in and hoping that it’s worth it. The result is that the search process returns not simply the best result, it returns the result for you.

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Wouldn't it be awesome if it was this easy?

We are creating the private data layer using blockchain. A SENECA user stores their personal information on their own device or in decentralized cloud storage. When they search for products or answers, they are served results based on their unique personal data. This could be a recommendation for a treatment approach that takes into consideration their prescriptions, medical conditions, DNA, and family history. Or might be a quote for a mortgage based on their current credit score and actual budget.

The best part is that SENECA enables this experience without requiring the individual to share any data.  We do this through a process we call reverse search where decentralized applications combine cryptographic representations of user data with business logic to return solutions and answers.  The user never loses control of their privacy unlike the status quo where this calculation is done under the watchful eyes of a centralized application.

This is a revolutionary change in digital transactions. This isn’t privacy at the expense of convenience. And in a complete reversal of the current dynamics, the fact that the user controls their data and doesn't have to give it up, results in a willingness to bring more sensitive information into a transaction. It balances the needs of the individual with the goals of the entity, or individual, that is providing a service. No more rent-seeking through leverage and information asymmetry. No more wondering if your hours of research to find a product or service truly yielded the best possible outcome. While this model rightly prioritizes the individual’s data sovereignty, this structure will also reward business models that focus on delivering the most relevant product or service.

At SENECA, we want to move to a model where customers are no longer the product and where their private information is not mined and hoarded for third party profit without the user having their rightful say in the matter. We think that’s what you want too.

Keep following this space. In two weeks, we are going to explain how this works.  Thanks for reading!

If you are a developer and you want to build on SENECA, join our limited testnet waitlist on our Discord server.

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