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Thoughts on Deriving a Set of “Principles” Designed to Support a Multi-Dimensional Matrix of Connectivity


We are caught in a vortex of change that is picking up speed. Within the vortex the number of uses for the net mushrooms and the ways in which they interconnect merge into a finely spun mesh. People like David Reed, Nico Baken and Sheldon Renan have been trying to describe at a very high level what’s going on. When I sent David the short essay that forms part one below, he responded that he recognized what I was describing and added that he preferred to call it the “liquid phase” of networks. Nico describes the emerging interconnected network of the 21st century as the “mycelium” borrowing the name of the fibrous web that connects the underground root systems of mushrooms. Sheldon Renan calls the system that he has been structuring in his mind “netness.” I suppose I should look for my own unique metaphorical name. For the time being the headline title above will have to do. The point is that, with George Dyson’s estimated production of 15 billion new transistors every second, “intelligent devices” grow more ubiquitous in our environment by the hour. The ubiquity is such that it gets difficult not to imagine the phase change of which David Reed speaks. David, in a communication with me, spoke of a “liquid phase” of networks where we are like fish swimming in a sea of connectivity. How would one explain the meaning of all this to someone who was previously unaware?

One might lead off with the following ten-point manifesto:

1. Interlinked intelligent devices surround our daily existence and are creating a newly connected fabric without which our civilization will soon be unsustainable.

2. Our prior fabric of mechanical based analogue devices rested on an economic system where a publicly supported set of infrastructures enabled the commerce necessary to develop and sustain individual corporations supported by equity markets.

3.These infrastructures were basic utilities that were treated by government policy and by the law differently than private equity based businesses. They were roads; water and sewage; electricity and basic telecommunications. They were supported by taxes in the recognition on the part of the government that it was investing in an infrastructure that would not, could not and should not, on its own turn a profit – bit that it would make possible fundamental and positive change in the wealth of the populace that it – the government – was elected to serve.

4. With an explosion of microprocessors joined together via interlinked networks running common protocols a new digital all-enveloping “fabric” is maturing.

5. This fabric – from the photonic streams in fiber through the protocol layers that the photons represent - is becoming a new foundation for the commerce of ideas and trade in “things.” It underlies and connects all the sectors of a modern economy as surely as roads and electricity.

6. Therefore it demands treatment as publicly supported and funded utility that exists as an enabler for all other parts of the economy.

7. Leaving it under the control of corporations with sole responsibility to equity shareholders motivates these companies to use the technology in a way that maximizes shareholder income while restricting the ability of the infrastructure to be used in a way that creates wealth and new opportunity for those customers who pay for access to the network. This is fundamentally anti-democratic.

8. The economic interest of the corporation controlling the network and those of the larger society diverge. It is not in the economic interest of the present telcos and cable cos to act in a way that promotes the public good.

9. Since this conclusion brings up the same issues that caused the earlier utilities to be seen and regulated as vessels for the common good, it is incumbent on all of us to work towards an understanding of how to create publicly and, most likely, locally owned and controlled entities that can enable the most cost efficient networking of all these devices.

10. In order to do this we must better understand the pervasive extent of the technology transformation and web of connectivity that is being described by people like Nico Baken, David Reed and Sheldon Renan. An improved understanding maybe used to inform policy makers and investors in order to enhance the likelihood of decisions that will foster rather than stifle opportunity to create opportunity and wealth in this new world.

Those societies that grasp and move forward to implement these ideas will become stronger. Those that fail will be come weaker.

Published as the prologue to my July issue yesterday.

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