“There would be no pollution and limited energy regulation. As the SunCell is fully autonomous, energy delivery becomes impervious to disruption from war, terror, and natural disaster. Importantly, underdeveloped countries will have the same potential lifestyle and productivity as the developed world. Each SunCell could also serve as a self-powered, autonomous node in a mesh network that could replace the Internet.” – Dr Randell Mills
This is like Reset.PlanetEarth.com!
Let’s be honest with ourselves here homo sapiens, the Internet, the greatest tool ever developed for sharing knowledge and ideas, bringing together knowledge from the four corners of the globe… has essentially become a hot bed for global surveillance, propaganda and disinformation, gang stalking, and child pornography…
Well done team GB! You’re now ranked third in the world for viewing online child pornography (better than the world cup)
There was also some stuff a few years back regarding a guy called Edward Snowden, revealing to the world that the National Security Agency (NSA) and Britain’s GCHQ are essentially surveilling and monitoring EVERYTHING that is on the internet.
(Brilliant Light Powers newest advisory board member Ambassador James Woolsey called for him to be executed!)…
Anyway let’s not dwell on spilled documents… let’s look to the future Jim! 😀
“Each SunCell could also serve as a self-powered, autonomous node in a mesh network that could replace the Internet.” – Dr Randell Mills
What is a mesh network? Is it feasible that such technologies could replace the Internet?
“A mesh network would actually allow child porn to be shared more easily”
“Would it?… I guess that’s a problem that has to be solved at a societal level”
It’s amazing how short our collective memory can be (indeed!). With all the fuss around the imminent massive deployment of electric vehicles, one might get the impression that such technology is cutting edge. But impressions can be deceiving: few know that electric vehicles are nearly as old as the motor vehicle itself.
The same can be said about networking. While it’s true that we’re more connected than ever, it’s also true that every change to the digital space seems aimed at squeezing our freedom and our wallets a little more.
With governments and corporations all over the world rushing to increase their wealth, when it comes to the internet, people are increasingly concerned about the place of the average citizen in its future. People are looking for alternatives to the internet and developing modern mesh networks, only to discover that those have been around right from the start.
Packet forwarding, for those who are unaware of it, is what makes the internet what it is. It was a 1950s technology meant to be resilient to nuclear warfare. The other component of the model was mesh networking which provided multiple communication links between any two nodes in the network. The keyword here is decentralization: when no node has special significance in the network, any of them could be destroyed yet the system as a whole would remain functional. A variant of this known as wireless mesh networking has attracted a lot of public attention lately (as the name implies, it’s the same model just using wireless communication links).
In Hong Kong, a large number of people protesting in the streets found themselves disconnected suddenly from the internet when their cellular network crashed. Some were saved by an application called FireChat (CNN). What this marvelous little thing does is simple: It allows devices to connect with each other to provide its users with a means of communication. Messages are not sent directly between devices; they are forwarded to their destination via a relay system. If enough people were using this application, an entire city could have free coverage.
It doesn’t take a genius to realize that this kind of network can do much more than just messaging. Implemented as a general purpose system, this model could very well replace the present day Internet. Industry insiders know this very well and you should expect many proposals coming up soon. For example, Kim Dotcom, the infamous founder MegaUpload, recently announced MegaNet.
What they don’t know is that the race might be over already. Among the upcoming proposals, there is one particularly promising: Alternet. An international patent application for it was presented to IMPI (Mexican Patent Office) on December 18. How do I know? I filed that patent myself.
I’m an independent inventor and writer who identifies as a philosopher. That gives Alternet a unique pedigree; and, potentially, a huge advantage. Most IT developments are produced by professional engineers working at large companies, but this is turning into a huge problem due to narrow-mindedness; as engineers become highly specialized, they focus on solving specific problems and nothing else (it’s like a car mechanic who rarely checks anything unless you tell him to). An outsider to the industry is more likely to think outside the box.
Alternet is unique among telecommunication systems because it implements a complete information network. It not only transmits information, it stores and processes it as well. It all happens in a distributed way to keep information safe. It is designed to be completely autonomous.
Traditionally, if you are to deploy an Internet service of any kind, you have to pay the ISP or the hosting company just to keep it running (which can be a huge expense for services such as video streaming). Alternet does the very same thing, essentially for free. If it succeeds, the days when websites begged their readers for donations to cover their basic expenses will soon be over.
Alternet not only means free services; it also means free physical access to them. Once deployed, it will allow everyone to connect to it; in other words, universal access for the first time in history. Gone will be the days people had to pay a monthly phone bill or any other expense related to the digital space.
However, the main benefit of Alternet is not economic. It’s far more important to say that it was designed in such a way that nobody will control it. There will be no ISPs to threaten or bribe, no DNS servers to lock up. Since services are provided by the network itself and not by entities such as corporations, you can be sure that nobody will slow your phone overnight (hello Apple), read your private messages without your consent (hello Facebook) or anything remotely like it.
Alternet is more than just a substitute for the Internet. It’s an institution dedicated to protecting information for the future generations. Think of it as the modern equivalent of the Library of Alexandria. It will store so much information that, eventually, a currently unknown discipline called Information Archaeology will emerge. Its goal will be to uncover forgotten treasures among huge layers of digital debris.You might be wondering: how does this work? From a user perspective, it’s just a matter of buying a small box (a type 1A symmetric node) and plugging it into your electricity supply. Other than sporadic replacement, such nodes need nothing from you — just keep them dry and well fed with electricity. Left alone, they’ll work their magic among themselves. They have a wireless link (radio) built in for that purpose.
In more technical terms, Alternet is based on the abstraction principle: the notion that all telecommunication systems (past, present, and future) perform the same basic functions (transmit, store and process information), making systems dedicated to specific services (such as TV or telephony) essentially redundant. This is the reason behind the huge success of Internet: it’s flexible enough to implement all of them using a single framework. Alternet just extrapolates this principle to the extreme: everything, from the logical to the physical layer is unified. Not surprisingly, Alternet claims the whole electromagnetic spectrum for itself. This is a concept never seen before: the unification of the electromagnetic spectrum.
As surprising as it might seem, the key to its success will not be technical in nature, but social: properties like universal access emerge from the way its users are organized, and not from an internal characteristic of the nodes. In practice, this means that you’ll have to keep your own node open for anyone to use. As long as you keep it active, you earn the right to use anyone’s equivalent on the Planet. Note that, by doing so, you’ll become a follower of Mo-Tzu, the Chinese philosopher of the Fifth century B.C., who said that all social issues arise from ignoring the principle of impartial care (to give complete strangers the same considerations you give to your loved ones).
Stay tuned. This is good stuff.
The internet needs to be replaced by something else or it will be useless when 5G comes along, says a TSSG researcher who claims to have the answer.
Telecommunications Software and Systems Group (TSSG) researcher and chief architect Miguel Ponce de Leon said the internet as we know it is not fit for purpose and he wants to replace it with something better.
De Leon is part of an EU-wide research project called Pristine to develop a RINA (Recursive InterNetwork Architecture), a computer network architecture that unifies distributed computing and telecoms.
‘When you think about, when the internet was designed originally back in the late 1960s, we never thought about mobility or security, which are huge issues that we see currently’– MIGUEL PONCE DE LEON
De Leon believes that the current internet architecture that we are used to with broadband, mobile and Wi-Fi is inefficient.
Not fit for purpose for 5G
De Leon warns that the internet will be utterly useless when it comes to deploying 5G in the future.
RINA is a theory of how a communications network should be built, and the TSSG researchers have combined the theories of John Day with the ‘grandfather of the internet’, Louis Pouzin, who was involved in the creation of the original ARPANet.
“Look, it is just not fit for purpose,” De Leon explained.
“When you think about when the internet was designed originally back in the late 1960s, we never thought about mobility or security, which are huge issues that we see currently.
“One of the things that we’ve done is that we are looking at replacing the current internet.
“We hear about 5G that it is going to be fabulous with all this quick activity. But the core network is just not ready. It needs to be replaced.”
De Leon likens today’s internet architecture to a two-lane highway built for vehicles with 50cc engines. But when 5G comes along, it will need three- or four-lane highways with turbo engines.
“It’s not right. You need to be able to rearchitect how the internet could and should be used for the future.”
The grandfather of the internet was right all along
De Leon and his team have gone back to the foundation of the internet and interviewed Louis Pouzin, who came up with the idea of the datagram, one of the first ideas around how you could move packets of data around a network.
“We know the father of the internet is Vint Cerf for TCP/IP, but ask Vint about who was there at the time running the groups – it was Louis. He gives great insights into whole lots of alternatives that could be used.
“What we’ve done over the last number of years is we’ve gone and implemented them and tested them against TCP/IP and … there are some good alternatives here that could and will be used in the future.”
Surely this would be expensive? De Leon thinks not: “When you look at how cloud data centres are put together today with virtual machines, there is now much easier ways to seamlessly replace the current internet architecture with alternatives”.
“We were at the SDN World Congress in October and we showed demonstrations of how seamless it is … to move over from the current internet to what we are proposing, which is a much better-architected alternative.”
De Leon indicates that the current limitations of the internet can be seen when homes and office networks experience congestion control when users try to access various apps or games.
“You still don’t get connectivity to the apps that you want,” De Leon said.
“On our alternative, you get a network for your application – a dedicated connectivity from your application all the way to the data centre or the peer application that you are talking with, guaranteed QRS, what we call a guaranteed network slice.”
What De Leon is proposing sounds wonderful but how soon will it become a reality?
“We are just applying TRL 6, which means we are proving the concept. The top of the range is TRL 9. This is in the next two to three years, to show how you can integrate this into products on site and for delivery.”
If De Leon and his colleagues are correct, then network operators and equipment makers need to pay attention, in case they put a massive data cart before the horse, when what we really need is V8 engines on a four-lane motorway.
The internet is weak, yet we keep ignoring this fact. So we see the same thing over and over again, whether it’s because of natural disasters like hurricanes Sandy and Katrina, wars like Syria and Bosnia, deliberate attempts by the government to shut down the internet (most recently in Egypt and Iran), or NSA surveillance.
After Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines last month, several towns were cut off from humanitarian relief because delivering that aid depends on having a reliable communication network. In a country where over 90 percent of the population has access to mobile phones, the implementation of an emergency “mesh” network could have saved lives.
Compared to the “normal” internet – which is based on a few centralized access points or internet service providers (ISPs) – mesh networks have many benefits, from architectural to political. Yet they haven’t really taken off, even though they have been around for some time. I believe it’s time to reconsider their potential, and make mesh networking a reality. Not just because of its obvious benefits, but also because it provides an internet-native model for building community and governance.~
But first, the basics: An ad hoc network infrastructure that can be set up by anyone, mesh networks wirelessly connect computers and devices directly to each other without passing through any central authority or centralized organization (like a phone company or an ISP). They can automatically reconfigure themselves according to the availability and proximity of bandwidth, storage, and so on; this is what makes them resistant to disaster and other interference. Dynamic connections between nodes enable packets to use multiple routes to travel through the network, which makes these networks more robust.
Compared to more centralized network architectures, the only way to shut down a mesh network is to shut down every single node in the network.
That’s the vital feature, and what makes it stronger in some ways than the regular internet.
But mesh networks aren’t just for political upheavals or natural disasters. Many have been installed as part of humanitarian programs, aimed at helping poor neighborhoods and underserved areas. For people who can’t afford to pay for an internet connection, or don’t have access to a proper communications infrastructure, mesh networks provide the basic infrastructure for connectivity.
Not only do mesh networks represent a cheap and efficient means for people to connect and communicate to a broader community, but they provide us with a choice for what kind of internet we want to have.
For these concerned about the erosion of online privacy and anonymity, mesh networking represents a way to preserve the confidentiality of online communications. Given the lack of a central regulating authority, it’s extremely difficult for anyone to assess the real identity of users connected to these networks. And because mesh networks are generally invisible to the internet, the only way to monitor mesh traffic is to be locally and directly connected to them.
But the Real, Often Forgotten, Promise of Mesh Networks Is…
Yet beyond the benefits of costs and elasticity, little attention has been given to the real power of mesh networking: the social impact it could have on the way communities form and operate.
What’s really revolutionary about mesh networking isn’t the novel use of technology. It’s the fact that it provides a means for people to self-organize into communities and share resources amongst themselves: Mesh networks are operated by the community, for the community. Especially because the internet has become essential to our everyday life.
#### Primavera De Filippi
[Primavera De Filippi](http://p2pfoundation.net/Primavera_De_Filippi) is a researcher at CERSA / CNRS / Université Paris II. She is currently a research fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School, where she is investigating the legal challenges of distributed online architectures.
Instead of relying on the network infrastructure provided by third party ISPs, mesh networks rely on the infrastructure provided by a network of peers that self-organize according to a bottom-up system of governance. Such infrastructure is not owned by any single entity. To the extent that everyone contributes with their own resources to the general operation of the network, it is the community as a whole that effectively controls the infrastructure of communication. And given that the network does not require any centralized authority to operate, there is no longer any unilateral dependency between users and their ISPs.
Mesh networking therefore provides an alternative perspective to traditional governance models based on top-down regulation and centralized control.
Indeed, with mesh networking, people are building a community-grown network infrastructure: a distributed mesh of local but interconnected networks, operated by a variety of grassroots communities. Their goal is to provide a more resilient system of communication while also promoting a more democratic access to the internet.
Are We There Yet? —————–
In recent years, different mesh network initiatives have emerged to address the above and other objectives that could be accomplished with mesh networking.
For instance, in face of the damages caused to Haiti’s communication infrastructure by the 2010 earthquake, the Serval project was launched in Australia with the objective to create a disaster-proof wireless network that relies exclusively on the connectivity of mobile devices.
Meanwhile, after the Egyptian government attempted to shut off the internet in the whole nation, the Open Mesh Project emerge with the goal of providing open and free communications to every citizen in the world regardless of national boundaries.
Finally, there is the Open Technology Institute’s (an initiative of the New America Foundation) Commotion Wireless project. Originally aimed at providing a secure and reliable platform to prevent authoritarian regimes from controlling or blocking dissident or activist communications, it has so far only been deployed in confined areas where the communication infrastructure was either damaged or missing.
So why hasn’t mesh networking already taken off?
Well, there are technical reasons of course. The complexity to set up, manage, and maintain a mesh network is one obstacle to their widespread deployment. Getting a mesh network to work properly can be harder than it seems, especially when it comes to latency. Although the technology is there, routing protocols are currently unable to scale over a few hundred nodes and network coverage is constrained by the limited range of wireless user devices.
Another barrier is perception (and marketing). Mesh networks are generally seen as an emergency tool rather than a regular means for communication. While many mesh networks have been deployed during a period of crisis (during the Boston marathon bombing for example) or after standard communication infrastructures have been damaged or destroyed (such as the Redhook initiative in Brooklyn), very few have been deployed beforehand. They’re used more as an ad hoc measure than a precautionary one that could provide an alternative and more resilient network infrastructure.
Finally, there are political and power struggles, of course. Even though mesh networking could theoretically support the government in providing internet connectivity to poor neighborhoods or undeserved areas, mesh networks cannot be easily monitored, nor properly regulated by third parties. As such, mesh networks are sometimes regarded by the state as a potential danger – one that could disrupt public order by providing a platform for criminal activities.
The same is true of the private sector. For large ICT companies (including mobile operators and ISPs) mesh networking constitutes a new competitor in the market for internet communication, which – if it were more widely deployed – could potentially jeopardize their traditional business model based on pay-per-use and monthly subscriptions. Whether nefariously or simply because of structural circumstances, these actors are all committed to maintaining the status quo of the current internet ecosystem.
* * *
As has been done with Freifunk in Germany and GuiFi.net in Spain, more mesh networks need to be deployed on an arbitrary basis. This will help establish the basic infrastructure necessary to ensure the autonomy and long-term sustainability of a community-based network structure. One that, in any kind of situation, can connect people and even save lives.
But beyond the internet, the governance model of many community wireless networks could potentially translate into other parts of our life. By promoting a DIY approach to network communications, mesh networking represents an opportunity to realize that it can sometimes be more beneficial for us, as a community, to rely on our own resources and those of our peers than that of centralized authorities. It’s bringing the principles of the internet to our physical lives.
Editor: Sonal Chokshi @smc90
#indie#politics#Regulation#surveillance#Tech Policy and Law
Connectivity, Developer, Particle Mesh | April 28, 2018
In the past, building beyond a single-point connection required high-cost hardware solutions and software implementations to connect the in-between spaces needed for device to device communication. As IoT platforms have matured, they have started to embrace a low-power, low-cost alternative that can bridge the gaps between these devices: wireless mesh networks.
What is a wireless mesh network?
A wireless mesh network is an infrastructure of nodes (a mesh topology) that are wirelessly connected to each other. These nodes piggyback off each other to extend a radio signal (like a Wi-Fi or cellular connection) to route, relay, and proxy traffic to/from clients. Each node spreads the radio signal a little further than the last, minimizing the possibility of dead zones.
What are the components of a mesh network?
1. Gateway – Border routers are the devices that have additional connectivities beyond mesh that allow them to pass messages between networks. You can think of these devices as providing a “backhaul” to the internet for the local mesh network.
2. Repeater – Routers are devices that forward messages between end devices (endpoints) in a mesh network. They are not typically designed to sleep because they are a part of the mesh networks’ infrastructure.
3. Endpoint – End devices are mesh-only devices that do not route messages for other devices in the mesh network. Because they have no networking responsibilities, they can enter sleep mode and are good candidates for battery-powered nodes and sensors.
How do repeaters, gateways, and endpoints work together?
Repeaters make up the backbone of the mesh network – They are always on and can be trusted to relay messages across the network.
Endpoints are typically sensors or actuators – As oppose to repeaters, they are not required to always be on and therefore can be battery-operated and enter a sleep-like mode. They pair with a nearby “parent” repeater, who queue messages on their behalf when the child endpoint is asleep.
Gateways are special types of repeaters that have a backhaul back to the internet.
How do you build a wireless mesh network?
When planning your network, you need to ask yourself how many sensors and actuators you actually need. That will govern how many repeaters are needed for the network. Then you can decide how many gateways you need to guarantee connectivity. To increase the total network size, you increase the number of repeaters/gateways in a network. A network can support multiple gateways which allows for redundant connections to the Internet.
How does Particle Mesh work?
Particle Mesh is a wireless mesh network technology built on Thread networking protocol, and designed to connect the spaces in between existing Wi-Fi and cellular deployments with local networks that are low-cost, secure, and ultra-reliable.
Traditional IoT devices that use Wi-Fi and cellular connectivity depend on the cloud to relay messages between devices. This works great when you’re making a standalone product – but sometimes you need more than that. Particle Mesh development kits aren’t just connected to the Internet, they’re gateways to the Internet and create a local wireless mesh that other devices can join. These devices work together to ensure that messages get where they’re going, and power products that aren’t possible or economically feasible with Wi-Fi and cellular connectivity. Particle Mesh gives every IoT device a local network to understand and connect with the world around it, ensuring products have the information they need to sound the alarm when it matters most.
In other words, Particle Mesh is for Wi-Fi or cellular connected product that could benefit from additional sensors or add-ons. Giving each of those additional sensors an independent Internet connection would be cost-prohibitive, so Particle Mesh provides a path for a secondary product line to be incrementally added to the system connected via a local network to the central device in an affordable manner.
Why use wireless mesh networking for IoT?
While wireless mesh networking technologies has been around for some time, only recently has the power of mesh reached a point of maturity alongside high availability from chip and silicon vendors. With newer approachable costs, wireless mesh networking has become ideal for IoT builders. And with the rise of connected homes and industry support on open source resources like Thread, Mesh is now truly accessible while being low-cost enough to scale for production. As such, wireless mesh networking is becoming a much more viable choice for industrial and commercial applications. It can provide additional services in a system where extending a connection between two nodes is limited:
1. Smart Cities – Wireless mesh networking is great for extending radio signals through parking garages, campus grounds, business parks, and other outdoor facilities. Parking garages that utilize space availability checkers benefit greatly from mesh networks because they can extend the signal throughout the whole space, and be able to communicate when a spot has been taken by other clients.
2. Healthcare Equipment – Wireless mesh networks can help monitor and locate medical devices quickly. They can also act as a backup for medical equipment that always needs to remain online. If one node loses connectivity, another node can step in to keep the connection alive.
3. Smart Home – Wireless mesh networks can help you track and manage temperatures across your house. Setup one powered gateway and use temperature sensors and Mesh-enabled nodes in each room to capture live data and adjust settings automatically.
4. Farming – Wireless mesh networking is also great for tracking sun exposure and water levels across your crops. You can scale at a low cost with Mesh-enabled nodes across a whole acreage to create a cellular-connected IoT farm.
5. Industrial Internet – Wireless mesh networking is also great for tracking pallets and monitoring large physical objects with a highly reliable wireless connectivity network. With wireless mesh networks, you can easily track key data across your factory floor, and across multiple locations to identify issues before they happen.
What are the benefits of using a wireless mesh network?
It should be noted that not all wireless mesh solutions provide these benefits, but this is the complete list that is unique to Thread and Particle Mesh.
1. No Single Point of Failure – Build a local mesh network that is self-healing – if an individual device goes offline, the network can reconfigure itself to the closest connection. This means no data loss, no dead zones, no problems.
2. Self-Extending – Additionally, if you need to get more range out of a mesh system, you can add another node and the messages can hop through the mesh back to the gateway.
3. Reliable Networks – Interconnected devices can simultaneously transfer data smoothly and will not complicate the network connection. If one node goes down, another nearby node can pick up the connection and continue data communication.
4. Low-cost, low-power – Using wireless mesh networks eliminate the cost and complexity of installing fiber / wires between facilities. As more or less coverage is needed, wireless mesh nodes can be added or removed. Mesh uses comparable amounts of energy as Bluetooth so you can design devices that last for 3-5 years then get tossed and replaced.
Is wireless mesh networking right for you?
When using wireless mesh networks for your IoT project, it is important that you consider these three core variables: installation, network management, and support.
1. Installation – This aspect entirely depends upon your intended application. You need to ask yourself if you actually needed a distributed set of mesh nodes for your use case. If you intend to implement wireless mesh networking for your home, this is relatively easy deployment that can be achieved with low-cost hardware. If you intend to implement mesh for commercial or industrial applications, you should setup a small-scale, prototype, mesh network to determine the efficiency of the system before deploying a mesh networking system at large.
2. Device Management – Most wireless mesh networking solutions come with some form of device or network management through a desktop or mobile application. When comparing solutions, it’s important to find one that allows you to manage fleets of devices, monitor event logs, perform diagnostics and send updates wirelessly. The more control you have over your mesh-topography the better.
3. Support – When selecting a mesh-solution, it’s also important to consider the community surrounding it. Mesh networking solutions with limited adoption will have fewer resources available to aid you in development. For example, Particle’s development kits have a large developer community surrounding it, which makes it easier to find information and support when needed. Also, by selecting a more widely adopted wireless mesh networking solution, you will ensure that integrating your IoT device with existing cloud services will be easy.
Are wireless mesh networks secure?
Rest assured that many wireless mesh networking solutions are going to use standard industry levels of protection. However, new security vulnerabilities are discovered all the time which can put your network at risk. With this in mind, you’ll want to buy a mesh solution that has a team of security experts that can take care of these issues for you. For example, Particle continuously scans the security landscape and introduces security patches via wireless updates even after you buy one of our mesh solutions.
Particle’s mesh solution also builds upon a Thread-certified networking stack. It provides built-in security at the network layer with AES encryption and is supported by banking-class, public-key cryptography. It requires MAC-level security for authorizing devices onto a mesh network, as well as local mesh communication. That is, Thread provides link layer security guarantees similar to encrypted Wi-Fi networks.
Looking beyond wireless mesh networking
If you’re looking to implement wireless mesh-networking into your IoT infrastructure, you must examine the whole system and not just a singular component. To build any IoT product or infrastructure you need hardware, software, and connectivity. To integrate these three components, you must research, plan, and consult domain experts to help you scope these the three complexities. As a fully integrated IoT platform, Particle provides everything you need to deploy an IoT product and is already engineered to address enterprise scalability.
We offer the required scalable hardware, security protocols, reliability, and fully managed infrastructure to handle millions of concurrent device connections. Particle’s Device Cloud, which automatically comes with any of mesh hardware solutions, allows you to control your fleet of devices with wireless firmware updates. Particle’s Device OS also takes care of the many complex integrations between hardware and firmware (like carrier/sim support, security, cloud communications, and wireless modem software) for you. With Particle, you also have access to IoT experts and engineering services to assist you through every stage of your IoT development lifecycle.
The Bottom Line
Mesh networking is the critical driver for IoT because it’s creates self-extending and highly reliable networks for critical infrastructure. It offers developers and companies a low-cost and low-power alternative to connect and build millions of simultaneous device connections with an efficient and performant device-to-device communication system.
Particle Mesh 101: Device roles in your network
Particle Mesh 102: Selecting a role for your device
‘Ethical hackers’ in Fulham think they have a way to make your online life truly private, secure and anonymous. The world will be very different if they succeed
(I actually already belong to this group… someone put me in contact on MeetUp…)
The internet has changed its character dramatically several times over its short life. It started in the late 1960s as a military project, morphed into an academic network in the 1980s and was transformed into a vehicle for commerce in the 1990s, before being invaded by social media in the 2000s. Now it’s on the verge of a change that puts all the others in the shade.
An alternative way of organising the internet is being built as we speak: an internet where no one is in control, where the government can’t find you or shut you down, where big tech companies aren’t able to learn everything about you. A decentralised net that is both private and impossible to censor.
This revolution is being plotted in snazzy offices just off Fulham High Street in south-west London — not what I was expecting, since you associate hackers with hoodies, basements and graffiti. But the Ethereum project isn’t a typical hackers’ collective: it received around $12 million of crowd-funded support when it was founded a couple of years ago, by a 20-year-old Russian-Canadian programming wizard called Vitalik Buterin. That’s been enough to hire 40 of the smartest geeks you’ll ever meet, and house them in comfort in Amsterdam, Berlin and London.
‘Welcome to Web 3.0,’ says Vinay Gupta, a hacker-cum-poverty-activist who’s part of the Ethereum team, as I arrive. Web 1.0 was all static websites. Web 2.0 was interactive social media platforms like Facebook. This third iteration is about encrypted peer-to-peer networks. It sounds dry, but Ethereum — which is launching part of its software this spring — has London’s tech crowd purring. Last year it won the World Technology Award for IT software. IBM has already used it to build a washing machine that orders its own soap.
But these people aren’t in it for the money. Ethereum is an open-source project which is available to everyone, and its employees will slink off when the project is complete. They’re doing it because they want to transform the internet — and, by extension, society.
In practical terms Ethereum does two things. First, it’s what Vinay calls ‘deep infrastructure’. It’s building a new web out of the spare power and hard-drive space of millions of connected computers that its owners put on the network. What they say of the brain is true of your computer — you only ever use a small amount of it. Ethereum links all that spare power and space and allows
people to build apps, websites and software that other users can access. Because it runs with strong encryption and the network is ‘distributed’ across all those individual computers, it’s more or less impossible for anyone to censor or control what’s on it.
Second, it allows people to create immutable, public transaction records. (Bear with me on this: it’s very important.) The problem with digital records is that they can be copied and so are not really owned by anyone. Borrowing the idea from the digital currency bitcoin, Ethereum uses something called a ‘block chain’ to record information on a public database in a chronological way that prevents copying, tampering, fraud or deletion. It’s a new anonymous, decentralised, uncensored internet, and a new way of controlling and storing information. This is why the tech crowd are excited.
Ethereum is one of many initiatives trying to change the way the internet works, making it easier to prevent censorship, monitoring or control (another is called MaidSafe, based in Scotland, which works to similar principles). Many people have been stirred by Edward Snowden’s whistleblowing or by growing unease about the creeping power of Google and Facebook.
When you open a browser and surf the web it feels seamless, but there are invisible rules and systems in the background: domain name servers, company servers, routing protocols, security protocols. This is the stuff that keeps the internet going: rules that route your request for traffic, servers that host that web page you’re after, systems that certify for your computer that the site you’re trying to access isn’t bogus.
All these little stages and protocols create invisible centres of power: governments who can monitor what you do; big tech companies that collect all your data in large centralised servers and sell it; invisible US-based regulators exercising control over what happens on the net. People are getting worried. Andrew Keen, in his new book, The Internet Is Not the Answer, reveals how a tiny sliver of insanely rich Silicon Valley adolescents are capturing the world’s wealth by snaffling up all your data. Public concern about online privacy is on the up. More people are using tools and techniques to cover their digital tracks — heading to the so called ‘dark net’ where surveillance is difficult. And then there are the people like Vinay who think the answer lies in redesigning the whole damn thing so it’s less centralised and harder to control.
Greater freedom online will have vast consequences in the real world. Take the Tor web browser — originally a US Navy research project and still funded by the State Department — which allows its users to surf the web without revealing their location. It has had a hugely beneficial effect on free expression around the world, and played a pivotal role in the Arab uprisings. In 2011 it won the Free Software Foundation Award because it has allowed millions of people to access the net while retaining control over their privacy. And it’s not just in dictatorships that privacy matters. In most democratic societies, privacy creates a sphere of freedom for the individual, which allows for political, social and personal expression.
In this sense, Ethereum is artillery in the running battle between technology and governments. The Ethereum team seem like a leftish anarchic bunch, but the idea that the internet could secure a libertarian utopia by rendering man-made law redundant has always appealed to internet pioneers. Doesn’t Ethereum undermine the ability of democracies to manage their societies? Vinay sees it the other way around: ‘Democratic societies are stifling free expression. Democracies generally have constitutions to protect political rights that no law can ever cancel, and I see these technologies as a way to guarantee the rights we already have. We are maintaining the status quo of, say, reasonable expectation of privacy in letters, not creating some kind of new pirate utopia.’
Perhaps. Technology has always created naive expectations which are usually disappointed. When the internet went mainstream in the early 1990s there was a blaze of optimism about humanity’s imminent leap forward, spurred by connectivity and access to information. Harley Hahn, an influential technology expert, predicted in 1993 that we were about to evolve ‘a wonderful human culture that is really our birthright’. Nicholas Negroponte — former director of the illustrious MIT Media Lab — declared in 1997 that the internet would bring about world peace and the end of nationalism. How’s that been working out, guys?
The frustrating truth is that the baddies are often enthusiastic adopters of anything that can help them avoid getting caught. According to researchers at the University of Luxembourg, 44 per cent of websites on the dark net — which is accessed using the Tor browser — deal in illegal pornography and drugs. Serious child pornographers use encryption and anonymous browsers to stay one step ahead of the law, making it more or less impossible to rid the net of their images. Terrorists keenly follow the growth of difficult-to-censor networks: Isis now routinely shares information about the best way to dodge government surveillance using tech designed for journalists — which is one reason its propaganda is always online. It’s inevitable that Ethereum or Maidsafe or anything like them will make the job of policing the internet far more difficult than it already is. That’s not the inventors’ fault, and it’s not scaremongering. It’s just the way of things.
But for all this talk of terrorists, whistleblowers and libertarian dystopias, Vinay reckons Ethereum will benefit the typical Spectator reader as much as a Syrian freedom fighter. There are lots of bad people doing bad things online: conmen trying to part you and your bank details, internet trolls trying to bully you, hackers trying to take control of your computer. Anything that helps create a secure network is a good thing.
One person who’s spotted the beneficial potential of Ethereum is Jessi Baker. She was working on her computer science PhD in supply chain data when she heard about block chains and Ethereum, back in 2013. She took a break to found Provenance to offer what she calls ‘block chain-powered product histories’. The idea is simple: give people a way to see how the things they buy are made. Provenance, a small team based in north London armed with angel investment, plans to use Ethereum to make opaque supply chains transparent.
Imagine you want to buy a diamond, but not of the blood variety. With Provenance your freshly mined rock would be given a unique digital ‘tag’ (a very long number) which is put in the Ethereum block chain. Each stage of the production process would then be recorded under that tag in the block chain record — it could be a certificate, a photograph, a piece of text, a contract — in chronological order, with each new addition verified by someone at the next stage of the process. By the time it reaches your finger mounted on a gold ring, you also get a record of the diamond’s entire life. Far better than a flimsy certificate or a fair trade stamp — both of which could be added to this block chain anyway — this is a mathematically perfect, immutable record for the ages.
Provenance is starting small with a dozen or so of what Jessi calls ‘good suppliers’ who want to demonstrate to customers how their products are made and workers are treated, including a fashion retailer whose supply chain spans the globe. But who knows where next? If the frozen food company Findus had used Provenance, we’d have known exactly where, or what, that lasagna meat had come from. Palm oil? Supermarket produce? Perhaps even refugees?
It’s difficult to predict where this will all end up: the evolution of the net is immune to forecast. The early 2000s saw several similar efforts at peer-to-peer software which never quite took off. But the combination of new technology and public demand make this a step-change in the internet’s endless evolution. Vinay thinks the big social media companies will feel the pressure, because someone will set up a social networking site on Ethereum that doesn’t collect your data, perfect for privacy-conscious users. Then there’s all the online marketplaces. When you buy something on eBay or Airbnb, a cut goes to the company for facilitating the transaction. A handful of programmers are planning to build an online marketplace on Ethereum where buyers and sellers can connect without a third party and their commission. Vinay also has estate agents in his sights. With Ethereum, you could create an immutable record of your house deeds, and then simply transfer them over to a buyer using encryption verification. As someone who’s dealt with their Kafkaesque administrative costs, I find this idea hugely satisfying.
It feels like Ethereum is pushing us closer to the future: a world where technology becomes more powerful, and by extension, so do all of us who wield it. There are great challenges ahead: 3D printing, drones, artificial intelligence, biological weapons being produced on DNA synthesisers. ‘We’re going to have to deal with a world in which there is unbelievably powerful technology on every front,’ explains Vinay, who looks far less worried than I do. The truth is that no political party has the foggiest idea what to do about any of this. Neither does Vinay, although he admits that ‘how we deal with information will have to change dramatically. Ethereum will force us to respond sooner’.
So what’s a best-case scenario, I ask before I leave. ‘By the end of the year, we’ll be responsible for 5 per cent of the world’s internet traffic.’ And the worst? ‘Someone else will have done what we’ve done, only better. Either way, it’s going to happen.’ I’m unsure whether to be excited or terrified.
Primavera De Filippi & Félix Tréguer
In this paper, we focus on an ongoing—though too often neglected—phenomenon of decentralization in telecommunications networks: we show how the current revival of grassroots community networks can counterbalance the erosion of autonomy of Internet users that results from current telecom policies. As opposed to more larger and centralized network infrastructures owned and managed by powerful third parties (such as the state or large, highly capitalized Internet Service Providers (ISPs)), grassroots community networks are deployed by the community and for the community at the local or regional level. Rather than being driven by profits, they focus on the actual needs of the needs of its participants. They also experiment with novel models of distributed governance relying on cooperation and sharing among a community of peers (from a dozen to tens of thousands participants), and that are reminiscent of commons-based peer production schemes (Benkler 2006). In our study, we focus on ‘Wireless Community Networks’ (WCN) (i.e those community networks providing connectivity through radio technologies, and Wi-Fi especially). While many community networks do not rely on radio technologies, those who do exhibit particular features that contrast more strongly from the dominant model found in traditional ISPs. In particular, to the extent that they rely solely and exclusively on free-to-use airwaves (or ‘spectrum commons’), WCN are to some extent more independent from incumbent ISPs than landline community networks who necessarily have to enter into a contractual relationship with the owners of the ‘last-mile’ landline network infrastructure.
Without Net Neutrality, Is It Time To Build Your Own Internet?
Here’s what you need to know about mesh networking.
Last week, the Federal Communications Commission went ahead with its deeply unpopular plan to end net neutrality protections, giving internet service providers like AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast unprecedented control of our experience online. But what if you and your community could become your own internet service provider?
Congress can still reject the FCC’s decision, though at least one proposed bill suggests there’s reason not to be overly optimistic they will save the day. Either way, maybe it’s time to rethink our relationship with the internet — and with big ISPs that facilitate our access to the web.
Instead of depending on monopolistic corporations, internet users can take back the net by building their own community-supported internet networks. Mesh networks can help.
“Still the best thing the internet ever gave us! (aside from the information on hydrino energy of course)… Cracks me up every time!” 😀