1995-12-31 - (fwd) e$: Looking down, not up, to the future

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From: rah@shipwright.com (Robert Hettinga)
To: cypherpunks@toad.com
Message Hash: bd5336b664793c734294493a89b8ec58d41be1c37c9e2a78dcd556d6b368d5c6
Message ID: <v02120d05ad0ca5b74904@[]>
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UTC Datetime: 1995-12-31 21:11:34 UTC
Raw Date: Mon, 1 Jan 1996 05:11:34 +0800

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From: rah@shipwright.com (Robert Hettinga)
Date: Mon, 1 Jan 1996 05:11:34 +0800
To: cypherpunks@toad.com
Subject: (fwd) e$: Looking down, not up, to the future
Message-ID: <v02120d05ad0ca5b74904@[]>
MIME-Version: 1.0
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From: rah@shipwright.com (Robert Hettinga)
Date: Fri, 29 Dec 1995 15:07:53 -0500
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Subject: e$: Looking down, not up, to the future


e$: Looking down, not up, to the future


First a little administrivia. Going forward, I'm going to be posting my
rants here first at e$@thumper.vmeng.com, with a forward from e$ of the
given rant, after some arbitrary delay, to any other lists that might be
appropriate to the subject. My sponsors have paid for this list, and the
readership of the e$pam and e$ are there to hear what I and others have
to say about e$ and its consequences here, and so my stuff goes onto the
e$ list first from now on. Like all my writing on the net,
redistribution with attribution to me and the other people I cite (When
remember to cite them all...) here is just fine. If you're publishing
it, and you pay your authors, I'd like to be compensated too, of course.

Not that what I say here is going to be all that earthshaking, but I
thought I'd clear the air a bit.

I've read a lot of interesting things about the future of the net in the
last few weeks, some of which I've sent on to e$pam, and I'd like to
talk about them, by way of clearing the decks for the New Year.

First, I'd like to go revise my model of net.reality a bit.

Most of people look at the net as a hierarchy. Architecturally, it is
exactly that, from the IP addressing scheme, to the object
super-hierarchies in component software models, to server-mirroring, to
just about any kind of structural component of the net you would care to
look at.

Physically, big lines get broken up by big switches into smaller lines
which get broken up by smaller switches into smaller lines, in a fractal
process which ends up at you or me, where it goes back up each larger
level to get where it needs to go.

In software, the CORBA object model, and the super-object-model that the
research people have been cooking up at Microsoft, all have a "root"
somewhere; the "top" of their taxonomical system, if you will.

In information, there's a source of the information, and it gets
accreted with other information and synthesized and averaged and
summarized and rolled up into some larger aggregate which allows you to
have some knowlege about that information and other information like it.

In finance, my money gets pooled with other people's money through
several larger aggregation layers and then invested or spent centrally
somewhere. The recipient of capital or cashflow then spends or invests
it in fractally smaller chunks until I get it in a check for something I

I could go on and on with this, but you can see my point, and it is the
same point Rich Lethin loves to use on *me* when I start talking about
"geodesic" anything, that is, the idea that Moore's law exponentially
collapses switching costs, making nodes cheaper than lines, making the
network and the software processes mapped onto it more geodesic instead
of hierarchical, and "surfacting" information and software into
fractally smaller and smaller pieces.

What I've been saying to Rich, particularly when I talk about geodesic
networks, is that the message itself is point-to-point, even though the
actual electrons may flow more or less hierarchically around the
network. That's kept him busy while I made my getaway. It always felt
like a sophistic shuck, myself, but I'd learned to live with it until

I don't know if I've gotten anywhere, but I've been thinking about it a
bit, thrashing anologies from other parts of the world, --the major way
I think, unfortunately -- to describe what I see out there. I've been
thinking about biological models, because in my stranger moments, I like
pretend that the net is an electro-biological entity.

For instance, the circulation of blood is a good anology, I think,
because all the endocrine messages in the blood stream are ultimately
broadcast from a single cell and paradoxically sent point to point to
another cell -- just like things are on an ethernet wire, or on Gilder's
fanciful dark fiber, even though the circulatory "backbone" is

The most obvious example of course is the organization of neurons, in
that the brain pathways are essentially geodesic, but we still have to
deal with the hierarchy of nerves outside of the brain.

The one thing I think that differentiates these models from the
hierarchies we encounter in social life, the industrial induced control
hierarchies we all rail against, and the stuff I like to quixotically do
battle with on the net, is that every one of those biological
hierarchies is chaotic. There is no pretense of top-down control of the
system. The load of the system is hierarchical, and so the system
organizes itself hierarchically. There are physical forces which create
physically hierarchical stuctures, but they're usually set up to solve
the problem of efficient distribution of something over a distance, like
draining a watershed, or getting blood to a central heart and lungs, or
nerve impulses back and forth to the brain.

When distance isn't a problem, networks, like the brain, tend to get
more geodesic. Bandwidth is maintained by an abundance of neuronic
"switches", doubling as processors, tripling as memory, each with some
number of connections to other neurons, rather than a bunch of "fat"
nurons doing all the signal processing. As an exception which proves the
rule, note there *are* in fact "fat" neurons, more precisely redundant
neuron pathways, particularly between the two halves of the brain, and
between the brain and the rest of the body.

So, what else is new? We still have hierarchies on the net, right? We're
about to bump up by many orders of magnitude the number of possible IP
addresses real soon, so that someday your toaster can tell your alarm
clock to wake you for breakfast. I've ranted, tounge-in-cheek, about the
"dangers" of the "X.blabla" book-entry view of the world, with
hierarchical, government-as-root certification "authorities", and the
consequences of having an audit trail on your every net-based financial
activity. Most of this X.blabla stuff will come to pass, mostly because
it's the easiest thing for the financial system as it's currently
organized to do. It's sort of like financial "shovelware", moving the
contents of one financial medium, the hierarchic industrial paradigm of
government regulated central banking systems onto the new medium of the

However, in a world of micro-pay-as-you-go packet routing, where routers
may someday spot-auction their bandwidth on a demand basis at packet
prices displayed best in scientific notation, all those audit threads
could lead to a Gulliverian restraint on personal freedom, much less on
individual privacy.

Fortunately, I don't think that's going to happen, because those same
Lilliputian audit trails will just get in the way and slow the system to
a standstill. We need to get more chaotic.

I think my contention on this is that as we get smaller and smaller, the
more chaotic it's going to have to be. Book-entry based transaction
processing systems will choke on their own accounting at those levels.
To look at the extremely-hypothetical router above, it will be easier to
attach some digital bearer microcertificates to an information packet,
so that the packet pays its way through all the routers it needs to go
to, than it will be for some giant book entry system to account for it
all. People have said that those microcertificates could work like
stamps, where the first router cancels the stamp and pays back the other
routers in the route some fraction of the "stamp" price to be settled
later, or it may be possible to simply endow a packet with all the
certificates nessary to get from point to point in a network someday. It
kind of reminds me digital cash-as-processor-food, a bit.

Note that this kind of bio-economic thinking is not new, the Agorics
folks and Stewart Brand have been talking about this stuff for quite a
while. My point here is that "down" the network, not up, is the place to
look for the interesting stuff in the future.

There are several interesting micropayment certificate systems out
there, and there will be more. As software gets smaller and smaller with
component architectures like OpenDoc and its eventual successors, it
will be more and more economic to charge rediculously smaller and
smaller amounts for rediculously smaller and smaller network behaviors.
Just wait until someone figures how to get software to really "evolve",
or gets software to write other software on a practical basis.

Most of the people I read, on the net or off, don't see this. They're
looking "up" the net, how connections are made up, at the level of the
grosser network features, like how monolithic corporations, or
book-entry database and financial control systems, or government
regulations, will happen on the net. How the net will integrate itself
with the "real" world they're familiar with.

8 years ago, I used to talk about people who lived "on" microcomputers
versus the ones who lived "in" them. I used to say that Macs were more
for people who lived "in" computers because they weren't hindered by the
mechanics of the interface so much. I think that there are still a lot
of mainframe-cum-client/server folks out there who still live "on" the
net, and not in it. Those are the people who are looking "up" at how the
"big" players will behave, when they should be look at their feet, where
the real action is.

Where the very ground is in the process of dissoving out from under

Bob Hettinga

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--- end forwarded text

Robert Hettinga (rah@shipwright.com)
e$, 44 Farquhar Street, Boston, MA 02131 USA
"Reality is not optional." --Thomas Sowell
The NEW(!) e$ Home Page: http://thumper.vmeng.com/pub/rah/
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