Monday, November 25, 2013

The Role of Religion in Revolutionary Network Architectures

I'm looking forward to the forthcoming IAB workshop on Internet Technology Adoption and Transition for lots of reasons (catch up with many people, navel gaze about important topic, maybe even find out what works and what doesn't)!)

However, I'm looking through all the papers that will be presented and am worried that we are missing a very big factor in technology's success or failure, and that is faith.

The papers to be presented break into 4 rough groups
1. Economics -
     e.g. how do markets and commons interact.?...
     how do various tricks bundling, regulation play out?

2. Process -
     what do patents do to things?
     how does the ietf capitalize (or not) on research?

3. Ecology
     does the hourglass emerge always?
     how is diversity helpful (or  hindering)?

4. Technology
   what makes a protocol tick well?
   what pieces of the current experimental world (ICN, bitcoin) will make it to      prime time?

All good, but all roads that have been trod several times before in the communities - in general, economics has not had a great track record in prediction, and bio-inspired stuff is fun, but again doesn't match the details.
It is always worth studying the process and use cases are well worth documenting of course, but what bugs me is that there are so many potential failures we havn't looked at, and what do they have in common?

For me, it is the lack of a fervour, and what is more, persistence in the face of strong adversarial reaction - when we started deploying IP (I am not talking about the mega-ARPA projects, I am talking about the "going into schools at weekends" and "laying out community nets in small towns" movements in the mid 1980s), we were conducting a missionary movement - I recall also giving courses on TCP/IP to hoards of commercial folks despite their seniors in their companies still buying all sorts of CCITT (now ITU) and ISO (now nowhere to be seen) products being pushed by big companies and government agencies (GOSIP - Government OSI Procurement, was the official religion).

We persisted on this for 20 years - we still do....but we are now the official religion.

so now what happens if you want to introduce new tech, you need to make it the underdog - IPv6, no good at all - DNSSec secure BGP? hopeless basket cases. You need something that
a) is really barking mad, but might just work
b) has the feel of overthrowing an older dogma
c) inspires faith, even when the evidence is thin....

but you also need to think long term - 20 years is too short - its generational.
And most of us in the game are from the previous generation, and we need to get out the way.....but of what?

Saturday, November 23, 2013

future of the net & its impact on birth and death of industries

Yesterday, I attended an interesting meeting between policy maker/implementors, and techie/geeky people to discuss this fine topic (again - previous meeting was blogged earlier here under the topic of collective intelligence

this time, we split into two groups first, and laid out our wares to each other as techies all in one room, and policies all in the other, and then came together.

1. Techie discussion was perhaps more far reaching - long term problems like the use of the Internet as a metaphor for organising other sectors (decentralisation, symmetry between clients and servers/peer progressive) for energy, government, education, crowd sourcing/funding, journalism etc etc...

Some v. interesting stuff on power-law distributions in networks, and how these impact the way power itself plays out across a web of organisations, and if we do adopt the internet metaphor for these other secotrs, what that would do to wealth (in all senses of the word).

2. Then the policy people summaries their topics, which were much more about immediate problems the net brtings in their space under the general headings of

Personal - Does the net impact our cognition?; why do some things succeed and some fail? does the net replace people & jobs?

Business -does the net replace businesses or just optimise them?

Government - who is going to lead on regulation and governance?; is the net just too big to control;?
specifics (who is going to pay for rural broadband? how should public broadcast be funded?)

There was sme discussion about transport area stuff (esp. under optimnisaing both the operations and the large decision making - e.g. HS2). There was some discussion about censorship and darknets.

The main conclusions the tech people draw on these discussions (and tried to lead the policy people towards) were largely optimisitic

Again, background reading
1. Jaron Lanier's "Who Owns the Future"monetizing your personal data instead of being owned by the net
2. Cory Doctorow the war on general purpose computing and appliances
3. The Interconnectedness of Everything

Crucial background was on defending systems against bad guys. I'm not so optimistic about this aspect of the net

Thursday, November 07, 2013


More than  a decade ago I was involved in the Internet standards (being on the IAB) and we responded to the RIPA excessive intrusions in the US (and elsewhere) quite robustly - see for example with RFC1984 (so aptly numbered by the late, lamented Jon Postel - see IAB's statement on crypto)).

So then we thought that was that.

Some of us built some cool network monitoring technology (e.g. Endace) which was originally used (innocently) for long term understanding of the evolution of internet traffic characteristics (and led to fine conferences like PAM and IMC (this years conf)

So it became apparent that some agencies in funny big round buildings in the US and UK were buying lots of this kit (esp. when they insisted that companies that built and programmed it only have US citizen employees).

So these, and other worries about wiretap by good and bad agencies led many Cloud service providers (think social media, search, webmail, etc) to turn on HTTPS by default - after all  much of the Internet runs over unsecured physical infrastructure, and much of its use is now a big carrier of transactions of financial worth (home shopping, home banking, whole sale information business too), so loss of identity is no joke - we were aware of the threat - or so we thought

We complied with lawful intercept requests - why would we not? we aren't the bad guys - we want to be a contributer to a healthier, wealthier, greener, happier, safer world. THat's the kind of people we are in the Internet Staff. 

And so, now having stirred the IETF with one big swizzle stick, the NSA and their cronies are going to reap the whirlwind - BUT, this won't just be that they can't wiretap anymore (we did that mostly with HTTPS going on by default, although we can harden systems (like my institution has just done) against MITM attacks too, better - no, we are going to make the WHOLE net and CDN and Cloud go dark - you know why this is BAD, dear #nsa morons? because it means you wont even be able to catch genuine bad guys any more - if you'd cooperated with us instead of attacking us, we wouldn't have had to have done this.

Now they are not only doubly wasting our money, the unintended consequence of having to harden the net against these hardened criminal nut agencies, is that the bad guys will go dark along with the good, not by default - permanently, ubiquitously, eternally, with forward and backward secrecy.

Not even evidence will be gettable - even with warrants.

Well done, NSA and GCHQ. This happened under your watch, not ours.

well hard

Sunday, November 03, 2013

human machine improved collective intelligence....

[Background reading list:
warning- lots!!!]

1. I am very skepticle of some of the far out machine
intelligence/singularoty folks (kurzweil et al) -

They hark back to the big AI errors of the 1960s,
and all the advances in real machine "intelligence"
that appear to be clever have been made on the back of
a) a lot of data and fast processors
b) some very simple mechanisms - e.g. Bayesian Inferencing

Of course, there's some very clever algorithmic work
making big systems go fast -
Just for example, facebook run around 3000 interactive jobs
a day in their entire graph (1 billion users)
to explore various business questions - the tools
(data centers with a million cores,
map/reduce and Pregel style highly
distributed/parallel or large
memory system processing frameworks) 
are not like anything in the past, 
but nor are they anything to do with AI, 
nor do they exhibit any emergent properties we don't expect:)

2. In hybrid human/machine thinking, 
such as we do now with big data in commerce 
(google, aforesaid facebook) and Big Science 
(LHC, Astronomy, Genomics, Proteomics etc) 
there are plenty of cool things to do, 
but they don't involve large groups of people, 
rather small numbers of skilled smart people 
with a LOT of silicon slaves...

3. So in the collective space, what do we have? 

Things like twitter for news, 
Wikipedia as a knowledge base, 
Kickstarter for investment, 
Liquid for democracy, 
EBay for commerce, etc and so on -  
These are emergent social thinking machines, its true - 
and they evolved/emerged out of web systems  - 
so what changed since Vanavar Bush's seminal article, 
As We May Think?

A bunch of things, really 
but they havn't been codified/captured very well...
which are the meta-behaviour constraints that have evolved to
control bad behaviour in online social worlds, 
e.g. to reduce trolling, 
help people defend against fishing and grooming, 
and to damp down flame wars and so on - 

IBM, back in the day, did a study of the
use of Lotus notes in a lot of customer sites, 
and ended up buidling some nice systems that, 
with human help, reduced the 
incidents of antisocial colleapse:
People were allocated roles 
(the "lightening conductor" was one role I liked,
who would take the heat when someone was becoming abusive -
like proxy victim!);
Studies of bulletin board use 
(Usenet News, the Well and so on, 
in the 60s and 70s 
showed informal evolution of similar roles, albeit informally...

So wikipedia now has lots of distributed controls 
to prevent edit wars, 
and liquid and ebay have a bunch of heuristics 
that do a lot of damage limitation.
These systems look a bit kludgy:- 
they evolve to meet needs;
they look a lot like immune systems; 
it looks like they work! 

Systems like recommendation networks, 
and reputation systems (with +ve and -ve) 
which use strategy-proof algorithms (like pagerank)
seem promising, although obviously Wikipedia 
is interesting in that they don't use explicit 
named author&reputation, so its a lesson in
another approach that can work too.

So these involve preventing the 
collapse of group comms into chaos, 
or domination by small vocal groups, 
but don't necessarily demonstrate improved intelligence 
over traditional think thanks/meetings of minds 
(the royal society, the academy of science in US , 
and ad hoc groupings formed to solve particular problems - 
e.g. NASA's moon mission, the IPCC, 
and DARPA's autonomus car (precursor to google cars), 
the LHC, the genome, the search for HIV vaccine, etc etc

I don't have anything to offer that solves the 
problem of increasing intelligence above existing human levels, 
but stopping groups becoming more stupid than the dumbest member 
seems a goood start. 
Also, it depends on your goal - 
if the goal is to have a society with
collective intelligence on the average human level, 
but with buy-in because everyone is involved,
engaged and owns it, then that seems good enough...

Stuff with nanotech meets quantum computing meets singularity 
is not relevant really (in my opinion). All it does (for me) 
is scale up the technolgty we have to day. There's no indication 
that it makes computational thinking easier. 
It just means we can stay on the curve we are on led by Moore's Law 
and other amazing engineering feats of improving performance that
computing has managed in storage and communications as well as

By the way, a nice paper on the non-utopic use of bitcoin by some
friends (and an ex student) of mine:
and I am sure this is just a step in the arms race there...

we just finished a modest EU project in this area which might provide
a few more useful pointers (perhaps:)

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misery me, there is a floccipaucinihilipilification (*) of chronsynclastic infundibuli in these parts and I must therefore refer you to frank zappa instead, and go home