University of Cambridge > > Computer Laboratory NetOS Group Talklets > Political, Philosophical and Economic Assumptions behind my research

Political, Philosophical and Economic Assumptions behind my research

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This talk will be on Politics, Philosophy and Economics of my research agenda in Content Distribution and in Provider-less networks, and will consist 75% rant, 25% technical points.

The world has changed. The idea that we should continue to support a bunch of rich bankers making money out of thin air (derivatives, ninja loans, futures markets, even just plain old usury) is untenable.

[I hope the irony is not lost, given I will be saying this in Switzerland at netarch2009 – viz: ]

On the other hand, no-one has a problem supporting farmers, builders, artists and entertainers. We want houses, food, transport, fun and engagement. We like healthcare. We probably want energy and cars in some affordable way. We like tourism. [cue talking heads : more songs about building and food]

Computing and communications is basically just an optimisation, a collection of tools that let you offer the goods mentioned above and some services (I hate that word} such as entertainment and information (health, education) less expensively than in the old days when stone tablets were hard to post, and sending smoke signals used up the last tree on Easter island.

Unfortunately, the infrastructure for communications is not free. Indeed, traditionally, it was not only expensive, it was a source of much political control. From Napoleon banning code books (so no-one could decrypt his messages to his armies) to the AT&T being the largest consumer of trees in the world for telephone poles, the Net has been associated with the Man.

Worse, yet. Recently under the guise of prevention against (and protection from) terrorism, the government has put additional controls in place to intercept and store (or require business to do it for them ) all our words.

This is not good. It doesn’t even work as advertised.

Recently, we see that networks connect people socially. The network is the people. Generalising Metcalfe’s law (and Reed’s version) the value of the network is super-linear in numbers of users. But looking at small worlds the value of the network is also the value of the meta-network.

I’m motivated to look at low-to-zero cost ways to connect people with each other and with content. This means I am interested in researching techniques and tools that build networks out of communities.

For a while this involved looking at community content distribution. More recently it has involved looking at quite extreme forms of community wireless networks, since, in the end, there is plenty of spectrum to do this, and to use spectrum we don’t need to cut down too many trees.

Why do the incumbents deserve to go broke? Well they don’t deserve it, but history tells us that they are probably incapable of changing. I don’t expect telephone companies to see this – My experience with 1 large UK Telco was that they didn’t realise the Internet might bite until some ISPs had round 7 million customers – it was below their radar. Cellular is just as hidebound.

But more crucially, we need to undermine these incumbents in favour of primary producers and consumers. Music should flow from composer to performer and performer to audience. If the channel cost 100 times less (i.e. MP3 on IP compared to CD on truck) shouldn’t all musicians get more, and more obscure music be a possible sustainable career, while the consumer payers less? we stopped making and wasting all that plastic. Show me the dividend.

What is more, the network connecting everyone reveals the real interest and the real interest dynamics. We don’t need marketing, ever again.

Content distribution is still way to centralised. Indeed, successes like youtube are the enemy now.

We need a vertical (cross layer) architecture that is fully decentralised starting with humans connecting (via social structures, interests, geo-specialisation etc), right they way through data driven nets, down to Open spectrum. Spectrum can be allocated to relevant communities. Fundamental research is starting to yield some end runs on the gupta-Kumar limit to multi-hop radio (not just David Tse’s work, or the DTN wireless capacity result from Grossglauser, but plenty of more concrete approaches to realising it).

[cite Van Jacobson Data Oriented Networking etc etc]

Of course incumbents resit. Governments don’t like this: it is almost impossible to wiretap, so they have to do the hard work of actually investigating people properly, e.g. by infiltration or speaking to people; the tax revenue on profits from telcos go away. On the other hand, so does the pointless waste of money. the disposable income freed might actually pay for goods that are also taxed but are actually useful. What a novel idea.

Not only is the economic agenda aligned with this sort of idea we should also be making loud claims to a massive Green dividend.

Free music and networks now! Save the planet.

This talk is part of the Computer Laboratory NetOS Group Talklets series.

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