Future of the Internet

In March, I attended the EU’s “Future of the Internet” conference. This was a meeting of Europe’s top computer scientists from both business and academia, planned to discuss future research and development. The meeting was jointly convened by the rotating Presidency (the Government of Slovenia) and the Commission, and held at Lake Bled. I attended a number of sessions dealing with technical, societal and economic issues together with the state of research in the European Union.  The original articles were written from notes taken at the time, posted the following week and back dated to the approximate time the speech was given; they were copied across to this ominbus blog in July 2016. It is now, really quite long. The sessions included, Dr Ziga Turk, who spoke of enlargement and the 5th freedom, Dutton on Privacy, Trust and economies of scale, Wyckoff Lovink, Johansen , Vasconcelos in a panel on economics and Heuser, Grégoire, Uddenfeldt , Nathan , Hourcade on the development of technology in Europe, and speakers from the US and Japan.

The Church on the Island

The 2nd information revolution

The conference, “The Future of the Internet” was opened by Dr. Ziga Turk. He is the Minister for Growth of Slovenia, which holds the rotating EU presidency at the moment. He opened by talking about Slovenia’s adoption of the internet, which was prior to independence and stated that the internet was an important tool for the campaigners in pre-independence Slovenia. After my experiences in trying to get connected in Italy, I have been pleasantly surprised. Easy connection for both phone and laptop.

He then, cleverly (well, I thought so), compared the development of the internet and its opportunities with the discovery of cheap paper and the renaissance. I was particularly interested in his assertion that while the invention of paper came from China, it was the European’s letter based writing that enabled the first knowledge based revolution since printing was easier. He also pointed out that the first global knowledge revolution, the “p-revolution” while global, was led in Europe, but today’s revolution, the “i-revolution” is not. The European response to this needs to be two fold. The simplest is to continue with EU enlargement, the other political responses are within the EU’s “Lisbon Strategy“. This is aimed at creating and stimulating jobs and growth in Europe, and places innovation and research at the heart of this effort. It is also about dynamism and entrepreneurialism in the context of caring for people and environment. The driving economies of the US and Japan are being challenged by China and India, but by placing knowledge as a 5th freedom, the EU can hopefully harness the creativity and entrepreneurialism of its citizenry. The first four freedoms in the EU are a bit different from Roosevelt’s declared at the time of the founding of the United Nations.

A word from our sponsor

Ms Viviane Reding, the sponsoring commissioner spoke to the conference via a video cast. I promised to find it, but didn’t.

Privacy, trust and network effects

Dr Will Dutton of the University of Oxford Internet Institute addressed the conference. On his blog, he argues that there is an overwhelming concern around privacy and trust, which was confirmed by contributions later in the day. A high point for me in his presentation is the extent to which people trust the accuracy of internet content, which is not very much. He stated that people are using the internet, but trust it as much as they do the TV & papers. The good news is that people are beginning to trust each other and their networks though, and are learning to apply personal bullshit filters.

Another piece of trivia is that the EU is the largest internet user base in the world, whatever that means. But, there is a natural centripetal force in that there are so many different languages. (Mind you it should be noted that the US, China and India are all also multi-lingual nations).

The socio/economic impact

The rest of the morning was taken over with a panel presentation, which focused on the socio/economic impact of the changing internet. The first speaker was Andy Wyckoff from the OECD who spoke of a number of economic issues reinforcing the link between creativity and wealth creation. In fact the OECD are running a ministerial conference, see http://oecd.org/futureinternet, which has had massive and unexpected support from the OECD’s member and candidate members. He also emphasised the need for openness & interoperability. He also argued that smarter interfaces will be needed to truly create an internet of people, and that is required before further evolutions will occur.

Led by Geert Lovink of Institute of Network Cultures, the panel explored the question of paying for creativity given the marginal cost to copy is zero. Will it be possible to implement a form of micro payments?

Another issue raised was the duopoly of the search engines. It was argued that it is necessary to have a diversity of search engines, and that fortunately, the smaller players are staying in the market and continuing to innovate. Search will remain the “killer app” of the internet, but where is the “only people are experts” dimension. Will the next evolution be people finders?. They may become more important than resource finders, and is a dimension of the NESSI problem. How will you find services, in a world of billions, with hundreds of thousands joining each day. (Obviously that’s the vision, not today’s reality).

Dag Johansen asked if can we build a ‘push’ search engine, and that its very important to protect one’s privacy. He (and others argued) that many internet users are prepared to trade some of their privacy for free services and resources. In terms of his privacy, he deliberately uses multiple search engines to hide from those that want to know about everything he does, he also stated that he doesn’t think Google is good enough to justify exclusive use. I am moving towards this behaviour and often use exalead which tries to use semantic technology to improve the search quality. Another thought this raised in my mind is that {English} schools are once again pretty poor, they’re teaching how to use apps, not the internet, and so while today’s children are being taught in class how to use Word to write a letter, they are missing how to protect your privacy and use firewalls and spam filters. Actually it would seem they are teaching how to circumvent poorly configured content filters. (Don’t ban Google images for the UK & USA, if you leave Ireland, India and Australia available.)

Diogo Vasconcelos from Cisco came up with the following insight, “People like politics, with politicians it depends”, he also raised the issue of sustainability. Some of his visions had a real ‘Minority Report’ touch. A question was raised suggesting that, sometimes selling you stuff you thought you didn’t want is good. But how much more than Amazon recommendations do we need? This did remind me of the minority report scene where the shop recognises Anderton (Tom Cruise) via an eyeball scan. Diogo repeated the idea that the EU is the most connected place in the world? I wonder if its true. I find connecting in the States when travelling easier, the network and wi-fi seems much more pervasive, although I often have to pay. You can see elsewhere in this blog for my views on Italy and Brussels.

The morning was finished up with a presentation on internet governance, and the need to address bureaucratic degeneracy and market failure. See also http://www.intgovforum.org/, which is a United Nations body.

.. and in the rest of the world

After lunch, we listened to presentations from the US & Japan. The Americans seem to be concentrating on systems issues and using virtualisation to deliver resources to individual researchers. When I get the slides we might discover how easy it is to join their network as suppliers which is an indication of how well they’ve addressed and solved the ‘federation’ issues. The presenter was Heidi Dempsey and the projects web site is http://www.geni.net/. Fumito Kubota from Japan presented on Project Akari, which is being run by the New Generation Network Research Centre of Japan, an interesting view on the growth of communication in Japan. The Japanese project has massive academic input, and is very focused on the network layer and bandwidth.

What changes in technology will do to the Internet tomorrow

The afternoon panel was billed, in contrast to the morning’s emphasis on society and economics, as about the technology. The session was opened by Lutz Heuser, of SAP, who had an interesting slide about the nature of innovation and a layered architecture model of the internet, which is pretty common place in these meetings, layering business services over common services over a platform, which itself has computers, switches and interconnects. He did ask where the European business services were? Thus ignoring plazes, last.fm and bebo, and if I knew the non-UK economies better, I bet I could name some more of these SaaS Web 2.0 startups from Europe.

Christian Grégoire, of Bell Labs, Alcatel-Lucent spoke of the need to re-invest in the network’s intelligence and that vertical industries adoption of remote sensor technology will change the applications portfolios, the bandwidth demands and backbone topology. A number of speakers seem to equate the internet of things with RFID, I wonder if the argument that they lack intelligence and programmability has been considered and dismissed, or just not engaged with.

Jan Uddenfeldt a senior advisor to the CEO of Ericsson spoke, surprise surprise, about how mobile phones will drive change. I am not sure on two counts. Phones while very portable, have CPUs, RAM, storage, a screen, a keyboard and a network interface. This makes them computers, and if you have a consumer Sony Ericsson, its a pretty poor screen and keyboard. The volume and rate of adoption does make a difference, but the “internet of things” is a step beyond connecting people.

Krishna Nathan Vice President of Storage System Development at IBM. An interesting and thoughtful speech about how the “internet of things” will drive the evolution of an event driven network; sensors will require real time management. He explored the use of sensors to manage the data centre? They made quite a lot of noise about it earlier this month [ IBM Press Release ]. I was quite annoyed about this; I had planned suggest Sun did something about this leveraging Wonderland and Darkstar. (See also MMORPGs, making them massive, at this site.) However, it may not be too late. It interests me that no one is really talking about the nature of the services that the internet will need to provide for these new models. He was explained well the changing nature of traffic patterns that will occur as sensors become pervasive. His slides are also worth a second read.

Jean-Charles Hourcade of Thomson SA, spoke from the perspective of a content company and his speech shows why we need to consider change from different perspectives. He argues that the devices of the future are the pc, gateway and phone. (I don’t think so). He argued that HDTV and Cinema Technology will raise the bar again. This is probably true, but to me what’s popularising video is youtube, and the reducing of video’s length. They’ve become snacks. A countervailing force in the UK is the BBC’s iplayer and BT Vision. Maybe the UK has some more serious legacy inhibitors to change. Both the commercial structure, where content providers own their own network and the business is dominated by de-facto or de-nationalised monopolies, and the age of the local loop. I wonder how easy the rest of Europe will find it to move forward.

The Bled Declaration

We closed the day by adopted the Bled declaration, calling on the Commission and member states co-ordinate their R&D and do other good things, including the support in the construction of a “Future Internet Assembly”.



Originally posted as a series of article, on my sun/oracle blog, these links have now gone.


  1. My recent travels have confused me and I can’t make up my mind whether to buy a wi-fi or 3G connected hand held appliance. I hope that I will be allowed to trial a new vodafone commercial solution, or maybe I’ll check out BT Fon, which reminds me, I really need to sort my household content subscriptions. It just never stops.

  2. Over the last two day, we have been in workshops, discussing aspects of the development of the internet. The workshops, their agenda and supporting papers are all hosted at the future internet site. We’ll have to wait for the slides to see what agreement was discovered.

    I was interested to attend BO6, “Future Internet Research and Experimentation”, otherwise known as FIRE where I heard a number of presentations from FP6 funded projects talking about the Grids they’d built, primarily on University sites. There’s a lot going on. It’s a shame we couldn’t find someone to take on Sun’s London “grid-for-rent”. There was some innovative stuff in the re-provisioning solution.

    The other working groups were called Networks, Services, Content and Security. I am eagerly waiting the slides from the plenary sessions that introduced and concluded these workshops.