Friday, April 01, 2022

Disruptive Times

 Welcome to the first issue of the Disruptive Times, of Brussels and London

We live in disruptive times, and no less so because humanity has made many unsustainable choices socially and economically, as well as technologically.

The global pandemic was a result of a combination of unsustainable food and travel culture

The hike in energy and food prices is caused by unsustainable political organisations leading to invasion of the wheat belt of Europe by its gas&oil supplier.

The Internet is hovering on the brink of switching from unsustainable centralised cloud/web services, to even less sustainable decentralised services which can only be made trustworthy by proof-of-work, which  is not something to be considered by anyone wishing their kids to have dry land, reliable food supplies, and personal safety.

This all is the exacerbated by small world networks, combined with Zipf (power law) distribution of resources, which over time, given the  myopic view of global capitalism, or the personal greed of centrally planned economies and power base of China and Russia, concentrates wealth in smallere and smaller subsets of the population. This is structurally unstable, unsafe and unsustainable. The increasing fraction of the population deprived of access to adequate supplies to live (whether dry land, housing, food, education, healthcare or just plain wellbeing), will eventually run out of patience, or the planet will fail, or both.

The way forward for technology is federation - a federation of many small to medium sized systems has locality, and can be dimensioned matched well to local supply and demand. It reduces the immense waste of energy moving information (or other resources) to and fro across the world, increased engagement, ownership and control and therefore privacy, resilience, and reduces latency. Resilience can be provided by occasional mirroring of content to neighbours in the federation, which is far less wasteful than continuous movement, and can largely happen at idle times, and doesn't require copies to be online most of the  time. 

Federation, as an idea, can also be applied to business models - subsidiarity is our friend - local involvement keeps people interested, asa we know from politics. But economically, having skin inis the game (collective ownership) is an even stronger incentive - farmers used to build barns together, savings and loans companies (credit mutuals) were not for profit, and benefited all the investors or borrowers alike. So with the Internet. This is not "free", communistic, or even the old "peer-to-peer"

Examples like (and or how we can create operational and governance  models that have new and old elements- communities of interest bound via information shared through shared infrastructure can be sustained at the human and technical level, without the short sighted, destructive notion of maximising shareholder value that destroys even the most ideal for-profit organisations - 

Next edition we can talk about some of the technical challenges of federating systems, including end-to-end assurances (both of delivery, integrity, and of confidentiality, and in the end, of trustworthiness.


Note many systems in the Internet were federated - routing (through BGP), names (through DNS) keys (through certificate transparency), the Web (originally) through unidirectional URLs,  The move to centralisation came about accidentally through the notion of search. While decentralised search worked (e.g. finding content in peer-to-peer systems), finding content in the one, single, global Worldwide Web, created incentives for people to try and boost their site's ranking in search results if those people had a business to attract customers for, An idea from 1972, inverse document frequency (IDF) weighting in information retrieval, was rebooted as aPgerank, which simply counts the in-links to a site - since that depends on other sites, but not on the site itself, it is almost a democratisation of the notion of popularity of the  site (though static, rather than counting, say, actual visits). From this, it is  a short step to monetizing this by a) selling advertising of things relating to the site b) measuring the visits ("clickthrough") to adverts so as to set the price charged to the advertiser.

While this could be done in the decentralised or federated, peer-to-peer world, it wasn't, and through nothing more than luck and laziness, many other services grew up to copy this business model, even when the adverts were associated with a non federated (i.e. non web) content, such as tv on demand, or social media sites. No excuse there then.

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