We urgently need a new internet
Let’s be honest about it. Nobody – including those very clever people that were present at its birth – had the slightest idea what impact the internet would have in only a few decades after its invention.
The internet has now penetrated every single element of our society and of our economy, and if we look at how complex, varied and historically different our societies are it is no wonder that we are running into serious problems with the current version of our internet.
There are some very serious threats to the internet, the key ones being:
- Cyber-terror and cyber-war
- Political (government) interference (Russian and Chinese hackers, Prism, Stuxnet, etc)
- Privacy intrusion (governments, Google, Facebook, Amazon, etc)
So far the reaction to all of this has been to create draconian regulations which will never be successful, because the internet was never designed to cope with such complexities.
The internet is now so critical to our society that we can’t afford to lose it and so we are beginning to accept the breaches, hacks and interferences, because the need to use it is greater than the concerns we have in relation to the abovementioned activities. This is creating very dangerous situations politically, socially and economically.
We have been somewhat sheltered by the fact that over the last half century – in western democracies – we have had good institutions, both private and public, which in general terms have been addressing these negative outcomes with the good of all in mind.
While this is, in general, still the case it is not too difficult to see that populist regimes might have other ideas about what defines the ‘public good’ and that they will want to use the internet for their own purposes.
On the other hand, we see the more responsible governments increasingly being forced to intervene and regulate, as they are unable to get on top of the abovementioned issues. We know this is futile but they feel they have no other option.
Rather than following this path it would be much better to address the underlying technology issues of the internet. There is no way that we can avoid terrorists, criminals, and disruptive populist factions who will always look for ways to misuse the internet; but we can make the internet much safer than it is now.
Unfortunately however, the current internet cannot be fixed. So we need a new one.
My colleague Martin Geddes has written an excellent article on why the old net is broken and why it can’t be fixed.
It is not going to be easy to resolve this. It basically means that, bit by bit, the old internet will need to be replaced by a new one. The good thing is that the engineers involved in both the old and the new internet know what this new internet should look like – in some places this (industrial) internet infrastructure already exists.
What is needed is the commercial and political will to start working on replacing the old with the new.
Based on Martin’s article a group of my colleagues have started a discussion on this topic. I am a firm believer that our industry will need to drive this new development, so we will have to create further awareness of the problem and at the same point the way forward.
There is widespread support for looking at RINA for both the strategic and the technological guidance that is needed. There is a good description of RINA on Wikipedia – the following is only the introduction to it:
RINA stands for Recursive InterNetwork Architecture and is a computer network architecture that unifies distributed computing and telecommunications. RINA’s fundamental principle is that computer networking is just Inter-Process Communication or IPC. RINA reconstructs the overall structure of the Internet, forming a model that comprises a single repeating layer, the DIF (Distributed IPC Facility), which is the minimal set of components required to allow distributed IPC between application processes. RINA inherently supports mobility, multi-homing and Quality of Service without the need for extra mechanisms, provides a secure and programmable environment, motivates for a more competitive marketplace, and allows for a seamless adoption.
As mentioned, I firmly believe that our industry has a vital responsibility to show leadership and ensure that our societies and economies get a better and safer internet than the version (Martin calls it a prototype) that we have now. The industry is starting this discussion which will hopefully lead to a safer internet for all.
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