Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 34, No. 187. Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London Hosted by King's Digital Lab www.dhhumanist.org Submit to: email@example.com Date: 2020-07-25 11:14:32+00:00 From: John Naughton
Subject: Fwd: Surprises Dear Willard Re your question: Where do lasting surprises come from? One illustration comes from the history of the Internet (i.e. the network based on the TCP/IP family of protocols that we use to day). Design work on what was called the "internetworking" project began in the Fall of 1973, following the completion of the Arpanet. The design brief was to devise a way of seamlessly linking the various packet-switched networks that had come into being while the Arpanet was being built. The design challenges were (i) that these other networks were 'independent' (i.e. had been built and were owned by non-US entities -- the NPL in Britain, the Cyclades network in France, for example); and (ii) that the new 'internetwork' should -- unlike the analog telephone network -- not be optimised for any particular application because this could make it obsolete as new applications emerged. From these considerations, two design axioms emerged for the new network. 1. No central ownership or control 2. A network that did only one thing: take data-packets in at one edge and make best efforts to deliver them to their destinations at other edges. The second axiom was the critical one. It became known as the end-to-end principle, and colloquially as the "stupid network, smart applications" principle. The idea was to leave all the ingenuity to users at the edges of the network. If you had an idea that could be realised using data-packets, and had the necessary skills to write the code, then the new network would do it for you, no questions asked. And no permission to use the network was required; provided your computer ran the TCP/IP stack then you were in. The network was thus from the outset agnostic about the purposes of users and their applications. All it dealt with was the routing and forwarding of data-packets. And it turned out that users had lots of ideas for applications, and the skills to implement them in code, and so the network proved to be amazingly generative. The explosion of creativity that it enabled was a consequence of its design axioms. Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn and their colleagues had designed what Barbara van Schewick later described as "an architecture for permissionless innovation". A more colloquial way of putting it is that the TCP/IP network became a global machine for springing surprises. Some of those surprises were pleasant ones -- Voice over IP (VoIP), for example, streaming media and -- most of all -- the Web. When it became clear that CERN had no organisational interest in Tim Berners-Lee's design for the Web, he simply put the code onto CERN's Internet server and the network did the rest. No permissions needed or sought. Napster and file-sharing technologies were also a surprise, though not so pleasant for some industrial incumbents. Facebook was also a surprise: having been punished by Harvard for illicit use of the university's network with his original 'Facemash' venture, Zuckerberg borrowed a thousand bucks from his friend Eduardo Saverin and put the Facebook code onto an Internet server. Again, no permission needed. There was, however, one significant difference between Zuckerberg's surprise and Berners-Lee's. Tim adhered to the original generative, permissive spirit of the original design axioms. Anyone could build anything they wanted to on the platform that he created. Zuckerberg -- and the other entrepreneurs who have followed the same corporate approach -- did not believe in permissionless innovation, only in innovation that they approved and regulated. (With occasional lapses, as with Cambridge Analytica -- though in fact that happened because of Facebook's decision in 2007 to turn itself into a 'platform' for other developers willing to adhere to the T&Cs set by the platform owner.) So there is a certain irony in the fact that the sensationally-profitable targeting machines of proprietary social media platforms could be exploited for malign purposes by foreign and domestic agents was also a surprise -- both to the owners of the platforms, and the democracies in which they operate! Best John .............. Professor John Naughton Director, Press Fellowship Programme Wolfson College, Cambridge firstname.lastname@example.org blog: memex.naughtons.org Observer column: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/series/networker tw: @jjn1 _______________________________________________ Unsubscribe at: http://dhhumanist.org/Restricted List posts to: email@example.com List info and archives at at: http://dhhumanist.org Listmember interface at: http://dhhumanist.org/Restricted/ Subscribe at: http://dhhumanist.org/membership_form.php
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