The Internet: is it Time to Start Over? - Issues and Assumptions
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To gain a better understanding of why the current Internet architecture faces some real challenges when dealing with the demands of modern users, it’s necessary to think back to its origins. Computing conditions were very different then. Connections were slow, and so were computer processors. Memory was expensive. And computers were so big that it was natural to assume anyone connecting to the Internet would be doing so from a fixed location.
Those weren’t the only assumptions at work, though certainly the hardware and technology available played an important role. Other assumptions concerned who would be using the Internet and how it would be used. Its earliest users were researchers and scientists, and they largely knew each other. It seemed natural, then, to build the system on a basis of trust. The Internet was built to be open and flexible. This turned out to be a mixed blessing. It helped it to grow rapidly, but left it open to those who would use the network for more nefarious purposes.
It was also assumed that the Internet wouldn’t be used for emergency applications – not in the way we often think of emergencies anyway. It’s true that the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), when it funded the project that led to the Internet, envisioned a communications network that could survive a nuclear war. That may work well for e-mail, but consider this: when was the last time you used e-mail for an emergency communication? There are other uses for the Internet, just over the horizon, that involve time sensitivity and won’t work well with the current “best effort” approach.
Fast forward to today, and the current state of the web. Connection speeds vary enormously, but are much faster that those available even ten years ago, let alone nearly 40. You can buy a laptop today that has more computing power than all of NASA had when we landed a man on the moon. Not only that, but that laptop comes with a card that lets you connect to the Internet wirelessly from any hot spot. The Internet is available to almost everyone, not just researchers and scientists.
This is good, but it is also bad. You can no longer assume that you know who is on the other end, which means you don’t know whether you can trust them. This leaves the door wide open for hackers, virus writers, spammers, phishers, bot nets, and others who practice predation online. It may not make the Internet unusable, but it takes a lot of the fun out of the experience.
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