The future of computing is transforming the Earth as we know it. Powerful supercomputers are in the hands of millions, and millions more are going to get them by the end of this decade.
What’s next? A complete rethinking of the networks that connect each and every one of us together.
As we explored in the last article, an unstoppable race for information has transformed society. One person, one company, one idea can create a cascade of events that cause a paradigm shift for the entire world.
As the dawn of a new century rose, an expansive network connected the world together. The International Telecommunications Union (ITU), an agency of the UN, estimates that 3.2/7 billion people use the internet in 2015. Humans have become intimately connected to the people, ideas, and events that exist half a world away. Cultures, religions and politics will never be the same.
Nothing is static, something all too many forget today. We marvel at the computing power of our devices, but their networking abilities are largely ignored.
This ability to network wirelessly is giving birth to the Internet of Things (“IoT”). 2016 will be filled with news stories on the “IoT”, Google already displays 724m results on the term.
I would argue that the Internet of Things does not yet exist. Oxford dictionary defines as such:
“The interconnection via the Internet of computing devices embedded in everyday objects, enabling them to send and receive data”
The rise of the term “IoT” relates to the connecting of small devices to the Internet. Wearables, trackers, and sensors have flooded the markets. Our appetite for enhanced connectivity is insatiable, yet in 2015, our devices don’t truly interconnect.
“I would argue that the Internet of Things does not yet exist.” (Garrett Kinsman)
In order for us to see a true Internet of Things, devices must be able to communicate directly with one another, utilising a widespread standard of communication- much like the Internet.
Today, our current model for connecting small devices is quite hierarchical, generally requiring an internet connection for devices to communicate just a few feet:
Each type of connectivity depends on one another. For a smartwatch to go online, it has to connect through a smartphone over bluetooth, then through an ISP over WiFi or LTE. The beginnings of a new internet have begun to form.
Devices are beginning to connect directly via Wi-Fi and cellular, but one major thing is missing: Software.
Small devices can’t communicate directly with one another en masse.
A true “IoT” connects all devices together in a more localized network. Information is routed and repeated wirelessly between devices, all packets are created equal. The “IoT” will follow the ideas of the Internet, but on a much smaller scale, a human scale.
Wireless human to human communication will open up avenues we cannot begin to imagine, and it is all feasible today.
The New Internet will not only impact the developed world, but have a profound influence on bringing the developing world online.
Quite possibly the most interesting aspect of this “New Internet” is its peer-to-peer nature, allowing a network to operate on its own. Useful networks will now form completely isolated from the Internet.
Like bacteria growing in a petri dish, these localized networks will spread across continents until they reach an internet connection. One can laugh at the idea, ignore it, but these networks will form and cannot be shut down. (At least without basic electronic warfare equipment)
The hardware device that will bring forth such networks will be ARA. To understand what will happen, we first must rethink what a “smartphone” is: A tiny, networking supercomputer outfitted with multiple transmitters, receivers, and a human interface.
Let’s remove the human interface and spread these ARA devices across a rural village in Africa. Utilizing a special radio module, antennas, and power supply, the ARA computers communicate with each other over many miles.
A young child, Muhammad, uses his own Ara PC to connect via Wi-Fi to the nearest specialized ARA. Each specialized ARA is a neuron in a giant local network. Costs are so low that hundreds of these devices cover a village, powered mostly by the sun.
Not only is Muhammad connected to all of the ARA computers within that network, but virtually everyone in his village (and their smartphones) within the range of the network.
Extremely elegant software will arise (along with a whole new class of apps), allowing people to message, email, collaborate and learn over an offline network. FireChat, a basic messaging app, already exists, allowing people to text. More offline applications are sure to come from a variety of developers, eventually replicating much of the services we use online.
The economics of the Internet will eventually shift to a hyper-localized economy. Information will be stored and hosted locally (to optimize latency and energy), the cost of bandwidth will be virtually free. The only value that will be left in these networks will be software and content. Hardware will be sold, but at very low margins (unless you’re Apple).
Distributed, offline applications will eventually be backed by terabytes of storage and absolutely insane computing power. Hundreds of devices will act like one giant supercomputer. Internet may not reach a village, but connectivity certainly does. “The cloud” can now fit in your pocket.
Muhammad uses this free network to read textbooks for class and hand in homework. After studying for World History at home, he uses the local social feeds to keep in touch with friends, and VOIP with his brother.
These “Social Meshes” exist today. Open Garden, a San Francisco company, is building the Firechat messaging network utilizing phone radios. Custom hardware exists too, like GreenStone, RoamPod and GoTenna, but all are in early stages of deployment. With Google and Apple having a gargantuan interest in the “IoT”, the time to innovate and imagine is now.
By comparison, the US military has been building mesh networks for decades. If we can learn from history, non-lethal military technology generally ends up in the hands of consumers.
Another company, Lantern, is currently developing satellite receivers for the developing world. Much like a radio station broadcasts music, Lantern is using an old communication satellite to broadcast a single stream of data.
Lantern builds receivers that can be mounted to schools, and is developing a portable, solar powered unit. Wikipedia, weather reports, and news can now be delivered to millions – for free.
PirateBox, an open source project, allows information to be stored and shared within a portable Wi-Fi hotspot. An android device can be rooted to do the same. What is keeping these devices from everyday use is the difficulty in building, and poor user interface:
A true “IoT” network will allow one device to reach an entire village. Information essential to daily life will be stored and shared across hundreds of devices, all without internet. ARA will bring this networking technology into the hands of everyone.
A single 3G, satellite, or “loon” connection will now enable a whole village to communicate via text to the outside Internet.
2016 will come with these networks forming globally. Ara just might be the enabler. One thing is for sure, whoever can be the first to create these connections will change the Internet forever.
- Project ARA: A Perspective. Introduction.
- Project ARA: A Perspective. The Free Internet and The Rise of Social Computing.
- Project ARA: A Perspective. The convergence of 3D printing and computing.
- Project ARA: A Perspective. Controlling the Future Around Us.