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February -April 2011 COOK Report

This issue — about research and education networks — marks the beginning of a process by which I’m trying to do several things. The first goal is to bring out the complex story of the application layer that is being added to the physical layers of the optical networks in Europe that I described a year ago. This application layer is now also being added to optical networks in the United States. The building of this new layer it is taking place in parallel efforts by key networks in Europe and the United States; as well as some of their counterparts in Asia.

I take in this book a broader view of it than what its architects may have intended. I see the new application tools as a means to enhance communication and collaboration among researchers and networked communities as well as social groups. These groups are all trying, in independent and yet parallel ways, to bring cooperation and collaboration into research, teaching, and economic activity as a whole. I believe that, from their point of view, the work the research and education network architects are doing is designed to raise the productivity of their researchers in the most powerful and cost effective manner. However, I hold a a some what different point of view. I believe that what they are doing has the potential to mitigate the most undesirable directions of the solely profit-oriented capitalism of the past century. But proving this will be a challenge. For observing what is happening and trying to make sense of it all, is rather like riding the crest of a breaking wave and trying to figure out how the currents will arrange themselves. Nevertheless, the effort is one that I believe should be undertaken with the hope that it will further a more widely-held understanding of the kind of civilized future in which we should all want to be investing.

One of the threads that I have developed in these first five chapters, and will continue to develop over the next several months with the remaining chapters is an understanding of what a full-fledged optical network based information and communication technologies ecosystem looks like in the Netherlands and should look like in the USA. It is time to make more people aware of what is happening and the possibilities inherent in what it can enable within SURFnet and the GLIF and by Internet2 in the United States.

Chapters 2, 3, 4 and 5 are dedicated to this effort. Also chapters 6 through 12 are dedicated to further elaborations of this point. For the first time I have made a great deal of effort to summarize what is being done in the United States as well as elsewhere in the world.

Internet 2 and the US UCAN grants

There is a lot more going on in the US than I realized. I provide a lot of information about the brand-new awards to Internet2 and to the middle mile networks of many states that for the first time will extend the benefits of these optical collaborative networks outwards to Community Anchor Institutions in the United States. These institutions are being defined as schools, libraries, hospitals, city government, museums, performing arts organizations and the like. I’m very much in favor of this although, since it has not really been done in this country before, it undoubtedly will need and I hope will receive a great deal of conscientious effort.

In the context of reporting on the technology developments going on both in the US and in Europe, it is important to note that major effort is being put in to establishing web-based user-controlled dynamic light paths that may be set up and torn down by end-users in the manner of pre-Internet circuit-switched networks but which will have a huge advantage of making unparalleled amounts of bandwidth available at very reasonable prices for collaborative work in science, education and many other activities unimagined at this point.

I have covered the organization known as the GLIF [Global Lambda Integrated Facility] in more depth here than I think it has ever been covered elsewhere. I do so because the organization is both a skillfully constructed and federated version of interests that exists in order to make it possible for otherwise independent national movements to develop in such a way that their optical networks will interoperate with each other as completely and fully as possible. The mutually-agreed-on goal of the resulting virtual organization is that the participants can cooperatively shape and then use and benefit from a rapidly spreading global system of interoperable lightpaths. The networks are creating an infrastructure by means of which it is to be hoped will enhance the ability of members to communicate, cooperate, and assist each other in difficult political and economic environments with which the post-economic-collapse global civilization is currently faced.

I show in some detail how these new systems will work. Federated mechanisms of identity management will connect ultimately millions of users with software and tools that they are authorized to use. They will be enabled to set up and tear down globally based virtual organizations to accomplish their agreed-upon tasks. Speaking for myself, I hope that by use of these unprecedentedly powerful networks and the largely open source software and tools built into the infrastructure, to the extent possible, they will tear down political and corporate silos. These are the silos whose previous economic raison d’être seems to have been designed to inhibit the widespread inter-organization collaboration necessary to resolve the problems facing their respective societies.

I also address a more ambitious goal. I am seeking to establish whether or not there is, or can be, a community-of-interest between the high-end research groups and a rapidly growing grassroots “edge”. These are efforts of small communities of mostly younger people located currently at the edges of 20th century large corporate-based capitalism. This is an archaic capitalism that is being challenged on all levels and is very likely unsustainable for many reasons – political, economic, resource-based, ecological, and a general inability to manage the emergence of new networked technologies that undermine the sustainability of the old centrally-based, hierarchical, corporate mechanism. I begin this discussion with my Preface and Chapter 1 which point out, in language that a decade ago would have been unthinkable, the capture and corruption by financial elites of the political and social structure of especially the United States, and only to a somewhat lesser extent Europe and most of the developed world.

To do this I use the analysis of John Robb and his blog Global Guerrillas, as well as the broad community-of-thought represented by Michel Bauwens in his Peer-to-Peer Foundation that seeks to organize a globally-based effort on behalf of the open-source knowledge -commons. Increased awareness of these new technologies has spread in such a way as to place the future locus of economic and political sustainability in local communities and cities rather than where they are currently located namely in the capitals of what Robb calls the “hollowed-out nation states.”

These are states where the political classes have given in to the interests of globally based corporations and a global banking system. A year ago I would not have said this but I do say it now: Both banking and corporate and military-industrial sectors (one need only read Chalmers Johnsons’ last four books on the military) exist primarily to increase the wealth of their executives and shareholders. The banks, by capturing the political system within the boundaries of each state, have, with the collapse they brought about in 2008, made it no longer possible to maintain the economic and social safety-net by which their respective governments have established their legitimacy among their respective peoples. It seems likely that the enormous debt buildup within these states will lead to breakdowns of their central authority and may leave the world fragmented in such a way that long-term sustainability may be found only in what many thinkers are beginning to call “resilient communities.”

Such local communities may well come to depend on what they can provide, build, and provision for their own members. It is here that I suggest that a confluence of interest may exist between the university-based researchers and their high-end networks and what programs such as the United States Unified Community Anchor Institution Network will offer locally on a much more widespread basis. Will the offering be a foundation for schools libraries and local civic institutions that can move local self-reliance away from the increasingly bankrupt hierarchical, political, and corporate sectors into the hands of local communities having their own self-interests at heart? This seems to me to be the most critical question.

I would hope that in the end it will not turn out to be so depressingly apocalyptic, but rather that it turns out that the edge-based low-end and university-based higher-end can establish a mutually beneficial dialogue whereby the people, rather than the self-aggrandizing large corporate elites and their captured government handmaidens, can work with each other to build a more humane and sustainable civilization.

An important request –

I have had two lengthy conversations with Kevin A. Carson, author the Home Brew Revolution: A Low Cost Manifesto. This extraordinary work should earn him a PhD were he to ever want one. More important though for my purposes is my hope that he, Michel Bauwens and others will assist me in connecting with the folks who are building these local alternatives. I have the high end expertise. One critical thing that at the moment I lack are bridges to local “tribal” leaders along with feedback telling me what they think of the information that I am trying to convey, as well as how to do this job more effectively. Kevin who has been reading a draft of this publication told me today:

“My main reaction so far is that this is a more reliable and secure specific mechanism for guaranteeing the communications prerequisites for the kind of phyle or resilient community network Robb describes, and in general for a society where exchange of CAD/CAM files, teleconferencing, etc., replaces most of the physical movement of goods and people”.

“In general, I think most of the solution will be automatic, as this is a sort of perfect storm given the crisis conditions of capitalism. People are becoming underemployed and being thrown back on the informal economy, looking for means of self-provisioning through networking with their neighbors, etc, at the very same time that we’re experiencing a singularity in the possibilities of low-cost small-scale production technology.  So networked local micro-manufacturing economies will emerge from this “time of troubles” because it’s the only solution possible given the tools to hand.”

To Kevin: warm thanks and to my readers: Please help me build these bridges.

2 Responses to “How Human Ingenuity, DIY Technology, and Global R&E Networks Are Remaking the World”

  1. on 16 Feb 2011 at 5:28 pm Kevin Carson

    Thanks a lot for the mention, Gordon. The actual title of my book is The Homebrew Industrial Revolution: A Low-Overhead Manifesto.

  2. […] The draft version is available here, with intro here. […]

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