Feb. 21, 2011, 7:14 a.m.
posted by ksch
What's Next on the Internet
An interesting way to consider what's next on the Internet, or in ICT in general, is to play a game that Vinton Cerf, one of the heralded fathers of TCP/IP and the Internet, is fond of introducing in his presentations. He calls it the "Fifty Year Game." It goes like this: "Let's go back in time from 2006 to 1956. What mistakes would we make? How would we act if we expected doors to open as we approached or faucets to run automatically and toilets to self-flush? And what would people think of our odd behavior as we walked into doors, expecting them to swing open? Now, go into the future and go back again from 2056 to 2006. What mistakes would we make? Imagine trying to talk to all the appliances and no one is listening. Or waiting for a room to recognize you and adjust to your personal configuration in terms of temperature, lighting, music, ambiance, and so on. And what would we think of their odd behavior?" If you really want to play this game well, when thinking of 2056, remember the things we talked about in understanding the broadband evolutionall the significant and dramatic developments in intelligent wearables, embedded devices, teleimmersion, virtual reality, and so forthand make use of that in playing this game with your colleagues.
The following sections describe some of the new Internet projects under way, including the Next-Generation Internet (NGI); other Next-Generation internets (NGis), such as the Interplanetary Internet; Internet-enabled devices; RFID applications; Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) telephony; digital objects and libraries; and the Semantic Web.
The Next-Generation Internet
Next-Generation internet (NGi) is a term used by governments, corporations, and educators to describe the future network and the work under way to develop it. This Internet will be so pervasive, reliable, and transparent that we'll all just take it for granted. It will be a seamless part of lifelike electricity or plumbing.
Current NGi projects include Internet 2 (www.internet2.edu), Abilene, Hybrid Optical Packet Infrastructure (HOPI; http://networks.internet2.edu/hopi), National LambdaRail (NLR; www.nlr.net), Global Lambda Integrated Facility (GLIF; www.glif.is), Manhattan Landing Exchange Point (MAN LAN; http://networks.internet2.edu/manlan), GÉANT2 (GN2; www.geant2.net), and Trans-Eurasia Information Network (TEIN2; www.tein2.net). The Advanced Research and Education Network Atlas (ARENA; http://arena.internet2.edu) project is a compendium of information about advanced research and education networks around the world. The Atlas database includes links to various types of network maps; administrative, technical, and operational contacts for networks; and information about connections between networks. It provides several tools with which to explore this information and the relationships between networks.
The Interplanetary Internet
The vision of NGis does not stop with our planet. One very interesting project involves the Interplanetary Internet (IPN), which is being designed as a network that connects a series of internets. These internets would be located on planets and moons or aboard spacecraft. The IPN will need to embody an inherent design that allows for long transmission times, bandwidth constraints, blockage, lost data, and constantly moving sources. It will form a backbone that connects a series of hubs on or around planets, space vehicles, and at other points in space. These hubs will provide high-capacity, high-availability Internet traffic over distances that could stretch up to hundreds of millions of miles.
IPN researchers have already assigned Internet addresses to all the planets, satellites, and spacecraft in our solar system. Because of the large speed-of-light delays involved with interplanetary distances, the IPN needs a new set of protocols and technologies that are tolerant of large delays. The key components of the IPN, as presently conceived, include planetary internets linked to one another by internet gateways located at various locations across the solar system, an Interplanetary Channel Protocol, functional layers of the protocol, and an interplanetary network and information systems directorate.
The standards being adopted as a basis for the IPN are the result of work done by both the IETF and the Consultative Committee for Space Data Systems (CCSDS; www.ccsds.org). The protocols that underlie the IPN will need to share many of the capabilities that the earth's Internet has required (which are embodied in TCP/IP). The IPN will work somewhat like e-mail, where information can be stored and forwarded to any hub on the system. This delay-tolerant network will provide an always-on connection between planets, spacecraft, and the terrestrial Internet. The IPN's store-and-forward approach will help minimize problems that arise due to the vast distances involved, such as high error rates and latency rates that are minutes or even hours long (versus the fractions of a second we experience on the earth-based Internet).
In early 2004, a pioneering demonstration of communications between the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA; www.nasa.gov) Mars Exploration Rover Spirit and the European Space Agency (ESA; www.esa.int) Mars Express orbiter succeeded. On February 6, 2004, while Mars Express was flying over the area Spirit was examining, the orbiter transferred commands from earth to the rover and relayed data from the robotic explorer back to earth. This was the first time we had had an in-orbit communication between ESA and NASA spacecraft, and it was also the first working international communications network around another planet, both of which are significant achievements.
As of 2005, NASA had cancelled plans to launch the Mars Telecommunications Orbiter in September 2009; that orbiter had had the goal of supporting future missions to Mars and would have functioned as a possible first definitive Internet hub around another planetary body. Still, while earth-bound Internet and mobile phone users won't be surfing the IPN any time in the near future, the research that goes into the IPN is very likely to spark exciting innovations in our terrestrial networks. The InterPlaNetary Internet Project Web site at www.ipnsig.org provides ongoing information about this exciting project.
One trend affecting the future of the Internet is the growth of Internet-enabled devices. As discussed in this book's introduction, we're looking toward programmable devices, mobiles, palm devices, Web TVs, videogames, picture frames, electronic teachers, and even smart surfboards. More and more home appliances are smart, including washing machines, refrigerators, and bathroom scales. Smart vehicles are increasingly being equipped with GPS receivers, and geographical databases will become more valuable as a result. An extension of Internet-enabled devices is Internet-enabled clothing. All these products will require sophisticated authentication and cryptography mechanisms.
Another technology affecting what's next on the Internet is the increasing availability and use of radio frequency identification (RFID). A growing list of RFID applications can be found in the transportation industry, consumer products, drug and food IDs and shelf life indicators, patient identification, smart houses, and intelligent wearables. RFID is discussed in detail in Chapter 15.
The concepts behind SIP promise to be disruptive, and SIP represents something much more dramatic than VoIP. Whereas VoIP basically addresses only telephony, SIP opens the door to all sorts of capabilities that are not possible in the Time Division Multiplexing world, such as presence management across both voice and instant messaging, Secure SIPbased instant messaging behind the corporate firewall, instant messaging archiving, click-to-talk voice functionality, speech-to-text functionality, and specialty modes for road warriors and telecommuters. Chapter 9 discusses SIP in detail.
Digital Objects and Libraries
Digital objects and libraries will grow in importance. Industry experts are painting a future of structured information in which data is surrounded by a layer of software, where content is encapsulated in procedures, with active object interfaces that say, "Show me your language or rendering, show me your media rendering, transcribe yourself to my media." Cataloguing and indexing of digital objects will similarly gain importance.
A whole new world of information management is arising from the growing codification of objects alone. We can also expect to see the rise of digital object identifiers, uninterpreted strings as handles, the binding of objects and controls and indexed repositories, digital signatures for authenticity and integrity protection, codification of copyright control terms and conditions, and long-term storage that can last hundreds of years.
We have many storage and media challenges to overcome. For example, memory sticks break. We seem to all be swimming in a vast sea of CDs. How long will today's digital media last? How will we approach the concept of media rewriting, going from videotape to CD to DVD? And how do we handle exabyte and attabyte archives? We're looking toward molecular memories and biological memories, as discussed in the introduction.
There are more questions to answer as well: How do we deal with indexing? How do we handle read/write rates? The solutions will no doubt involve the indexing of unstructured data; the standardization of information representation; the creation of new Web crawlers and search engines; the association of media with text; the indexing of images, video, audio, music, and so on; and the need for powerful new tools for finding otherwise unstructured information, such as blogs.
The Semantic Web
There is much talk about the next generation of the Weba concept referred to as the Semantic Web (www.semanticweb.org). This is Sir Tim Berners-Lee's latest project, and it is focused on creating a universal medium for information exchange using refined indexing and searchingin other words, providing meaning (semantics) to the content of documents in a manner that machines can understand. The Semantic Web looks at enhanced processing of structure information where you can search by business documents versus scientific data, or for an author versus an entertainer. It also supports the ability for command and control of scientific instruments and the labeling of data from those instruments. This is very important to data collection and archiving of data coming from the exploding population of sensors. The Semantic Web greatly expands the utility of the World Wide Web, and it does so by using standards, markup languages, and related processing tools.