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Q&A With MIT's Nicholas Negroponte 185

Posted by Hemos
from the learn-at-the-feet dept.
Lisa Langsdorf writes "Thought you might be interested in this interview between Nicholas Negroponte and BusinessWeek Online's Steven Baker. In it, Nicholas says that peer-to-peer is his prediction as to which new products or services are likely to make the biggest splash, he says: Peer-to-peer is key. I mean that in every form conceivable: cell phones without towers, sharing leftover food, bartering, etc. Furthermore, you will see micro-wireless networks, where everyday devices become routers of messages that have nothing to do with themselves. Nature is pretty good at networks, self-organizing systems. By contrast, social systems are top-down and hierarchical, from which we draw the basic assumption that organization and order can only come from centralism. "
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Q&A With MIT's Nicholas Negroponte

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  • I wonder... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by hazy_fakie (781520) on Thursday June 17, 2004 @04:24PM (#9456372)
    exactly how can peer-to-peer networks come into our lives so easily. I mean how do you trust totally unknown people to transfer your data/food/whatever between any two points?
    As a matter of fact, who would trust their credit card number to travel through a peer-to-peer network to get to the company he/she's ordering from? And this is just money... how about food as mentioned in the article?
  • Unsatisfied (Score:3, Insightful)

    by wombatmobile (623057) on Thursday June 17, 2004 @04:26PM (#9456398)

    A: Peer-to-peer is key. I mean that in every form conceivable: cell phones without towers, sharing leftover food, bartering, etc

    Is it just me or is his answer devoid of reasons why "peer-to-peer is key"?

    Nature is pretty good at networks, self-organizing systems. By contrast, social systems are top-down and hierarchical, from which we draw the basic assumption that organization and order can only come from centralism.

    Ok... so, why is "peer-to-peer key"?

    Key to what?

  • Mail (Score:5, Insightful)

    by meehawl (73285) <meehawl,spam&gmail,com> on Thursday June 17, 2004 @04:27PM (#9456408) Homepage Journal
    I mean how do you trust totally unknown people to transfer your data/food/whatever between any two points?

    This happens every day when I drop mail into the postbox. Or when I buy a banana in the local market.
  • by Monty845 (739787) on Thursday June 17, 2004 @04:27PM (#9456415)
    Wont it take a lot longer for a message to work its way threw a massive network of wireless devices than it would otherwise take for the message to travel threw a conventional backbone? Has anyone come up with a method to reduce the impact the additional routing will create?
  • Late, but ... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Otter (3800) on Thursday June 17, 2004 @04:30PM (#9456453) Journal
    OK, so Negroponte is a bit 2002 on this one. At least he's expanded his repertoire beyond "Being digital is important. Atoms are heavy; bits are weightless. Did I mention that being digital is important?"

    Kids, back in the olden days of the 1990's, there was a whole magazine that consisted of repeating "Atoms are heavy; bits are weightless." over and over again, interspersed with pictures of stuff they said you had to buy. Strange times.

  • Re:Unsatisfied (Score:3, Insightful)

    by metlin (258108) * on Thursday June 17, 2004 @04:31PM (#9456463) Journal
    Key to decentralized technology, I suppose, judging from the analogy.

    When you have centralized entities, it does not take much to bring them down -- think Napster. However, when you have genuine P2P -- where there is no real central point of failure, it would become almost impossible to bring out the destruction of such a system.

    And we are always used to central and organized systems (hell, we even have a hierarchy of people ruling, err governing us) -- he just says that this is deviant from the norm because we do not have any one point upon which everything is based.

    Therefore, it is unique and will be harder to bring down than traditional systems. Does that help? :)
  • isn't this news as of 2000?

    the killer apps that proved the model: im ala icq, music sharing ala napster, are already dust in the wind, taken over by aim, kazaa, etc.

    and we know what the concerns are with those apps: patent infringement, viruses, spam, etc.

    what we need is a wireless killer app without these concerns thwarting it

    we also need a user base: enough infratstructure and people with bluetooth or whatever wireless protocol enabled gadgets to make a critical mass for the rest of the world to notice

    and then we can start talking about p2p again the way negroponte is

    i don't know what this killer app is, i'm no futurist, but some of you out there closer to the ground with some wacky ideas may be, and i say, to you goes the spoils of the future of computing/ the internet/ media itself

    roll up your sleeves and get programming

    the internet is still a very young place, we are still on the upside of the bell curve of innovation yet to come, so even though what negroponte says is dubious and/ or obvious and therefore useless, the basic observation of the youth of the internet and its promising future remains unchallenged

    that's why futurists like negroponte sound interesting, because they get that (no matter if their predictions are crapola)

    one of you out there reading this is going to become very rich/ influential/ famous

    that is for sure

    but how you are going to do that probably has very little to do with what negorponte is talking about
  • Re:Mail (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Nakito (702386) on Thursday June 17, 2004 @04:43PM (#9456574)
    This happens every day when I drop mail into the postbox.

    I think your analogy actually cuts the other way. When you drop your mail into the mailbox, it enters a highly regulated, automated, centralized system that collects fees (i.e., stamps) of which the government gets a cut. Yes, it's true that you do not know the people, but you sure know who they work for.

    By contrast, Negroponte seems to be suggesting that you would (in effect) hand your letter to a stranger on the street, who would hand it off to another, who hands it off to another, etc., until it gets to where it's going, with no intervention by a centralized agency.

    It's an interesting theory, but we'll never see it happen, for one obvious reason: it does not lend itself well to being taxed.
  • by Ars-Fartsica (166957) on Thursday June 17, 2004 @04:44PM (#9456591)
    By time Negroponte published that book, most of the important aspects of digital information management and theory had already been nailed.

    Whats interesting is how wrong he got some parts. He totally missed the web...he seemed to be stuck on some vision of uber-TV.

  • Erm... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by MindNumbingOblivion (668443) on Thursday June 17, 2004 @04:45PM (#9456597)
    Most of this stuff is fairly obvious (to /. at least). It is nice to see mainstream treatment of it though...

    P2P has already proven its effectiveness, whether you look at programs like KaZaA, Mercora, etc. But it works on wired systems because there is established infrastructure that makes the rest of the system work. For his system to work, it would be like taking out the router/server farms from the ISPs and turning every desktop computer into both a router and a server. It adds complexity, and while it ensures redundancy and would keep outages like the earlier one at Akamai from happening, it would require lots of overhead.

    There is a reason that we assume that centralised systems work better; they are easier to establish, coordinate and control. This outlook only works if you are going for a fully anarchist system, which you will never get everyone to buy into, barring a massive sociological paradigm shift; something has to happen that convinces everyone that a truly open society is more beneficial than the current model.

  • by DeepDarkSky (111382) on Thursday June 17, 2004 @04:47PM (#9456614)
    Because historically, smaller groups of very poweful people will always do everything to control the masses. Sure, P2P is great and all, and nature's self-organization is a good model, but human society works like that only in certain limited ways. Free market is supposed to work like that in theory, but in practice, it's obvious the market is not really free.

    Those with money and power will continue to control and influence the masses while giving the masses the illusion of lack of centralized control.

    RIAA, MPAA, governments, banking and financing industries, are all out to centralize control of flow of things. They are not going to give up that power easily. This is partly why we have social classes, and that in the world, the wealthy get wealthier and the poor get poorer, why government's agricultural subsidy create farmers who are not wealthy, but become addicts to subsidy, and why certain companies make so much money from them.

  • Hype that matters? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by rafael_es_son (669255) <rafael@human-assisted.i n f o> on Thursday June 17, 2004 @04:49PM (#9456633) Homepage

    Nicholas Negroponte is f a r being from a geek. He is a suit that pretends to be one. I have not read a single piece written by this person having anything resembling substance. He embodies the prototypical techological-determinist, quite ill read or prepared for anything besides business-talk. For this, amongst many other reasons, I'd rather read a publication like "Scientific American" than "Wired" any day. This guy is seriously brain-damaged.

    Now what would an interview with this guy be doing in Slashdot?

  • Re:Unsatisfied (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Have Blue (616) on Thursday June 17, 2004 @04:49PM (#9456641) Homepage
    You'd think he'd notice that the natural, nonhierarchical primitive evolved naturally towards the top-down system of society in the end. It's also worth noting that Bittorrent, the program most commonly cited as the best P2P design out there, requires a central server to operate, while something like Freenet, which is truly decentralized, is a bear to use and has significantly disdvantages such as being unsearchable.
  • by Strange Ranger (454494) on Thursday June 17, 2004 @04:51PM (#9456650)
    > Wont it take a lot longer for a message to work its way threw a massive network of wireless devices than it would otherwise take for the message to travel threw a conventional backbone?

    One might have asked, "Why would I want to route this post through hundreds of devices on some crazy internetwork when I could just dial straight into the conventional BBS?"

    Just at thought.
  • Re:Mail (Score:3, Insightful)

    by generic-man (33649) on Thursday June 17, 2004 @04:52PM (#9456669) Homepage Journal
    By contrast, Negroponte seems to be suggesting that you would (in effect) hand your letter to a stranger on the street, who would hand it off to another, who hands it off to another, etc., until it gets to where it's going, with no intervention by a centralized agency.

    It's an interesting theory, but we'll never see it happen, for one obvious reason: it does not lend itself well to being taxed.


    That's the most ridiculous dismissal I've seen in a while. If someone at the USPS messes up my shipment, I can file a claim against the insurance I bought. The postal service is liable for the conduct of its employees. How exactly is this system improved by arbitrarily trusting anyone on the street?

    I'd also like you to price out insurance on sending mail via this method. If anyone would even bother to insure you, I guarantee it would cost a lot more than the taxes you so hate to pay.
  • Re:Unsatisfied (Score:3, Insightful)

    by metlin (258108) * on Thursday June 17, 2004 @05:00PM (#9456771) Journal
    Peer to peer technology challenges traditional norms, therefore any new technology that employs P2P is most likely to make a big splash.

    Traditional innovations are stifled by centralization, so if the queen bee falls, everything else around it falls. However, P2P does not have that issue and therefore, any new technology that employs this is more likely to be popular, and will last longer.

    I'm guessing he jumps to this conclusion from the outburst of P2P applications after Napster, and how all the media conglomerates are trying to drive P2P to the ground.

    Look at today's distribution methods -- they are centralized. On the other hand, look at BitTorrent and other P2P technologies -- they are NOT centralized. Look at data processing -- distributed (non-centralized) processing can be used to beat the law.

    Any area that you look at, the present day socio-economic technology model is outdated in the sense that it was not made with the assumption of such fast and instantaneous transfers across large distances, the way it's happening today with media.

    However, the way of the future is understanding that P2P is inevitable, and using this to your advantage. The companies that would do this would be successful, and hence his statements.
  • by dtmos (447842) on Thursday June 17, 2004 @05:13PM (#9456888)

    The problem is in the definition of "better." Read "The Innovator's Dilemma [amazon.com]" by Clayton M. Christensen.

    The basic idea is that your present customers value a certain set of features or parameters of your product, which leads you to continue to make the same product, only "better", defining "better" to be "the same as your present product, only with [the parameter(s) they care about] improved." Significant numbers of new customers, however, can only be attracted by a new technology that, while perhaps scoring lower with your present customers, has some other feature that is not in your present product. Christensen uses the example of disk drives, which have been placed in smaller and smaller form factors, even though that hurts the existing customers of disk drive manufacturers, by reducing their storage capacity (which is the parameter the present customers care about). Smaller disk drives, however, enable the drives to be used in minicomputers instead of big iron, then in desktops instead of minicomputers, then in laptops and PDAs, etc., increasing their sales volume each time--the new customers at each transition value physical size over absolute storage capacity. The larger sales volume in turn led to R&D that enabled the new generation to eventually surpass the old in the original performance metric, storage capacity.

    Existing customers resisted the change each time because, for example, the first 3.5-inch drives had less capacity than 5.25-inch drives, and who wants less capacity in a hard drive? But the manufacturer that listened to his present customers, keeping to the 5.25-inch format and not making 3.5-inch drives, found his market, and his business, disappearing quickly. Christensen used the term "incremental change" to describe the capacity improvements made in a given drive form factor (which made existing customers happier), and "distruptive change" to describe the move from one form factor to another (which brought in new customers).

    And that's what Negroponte meant.

  • by Alomex (148003) on Thursday June 17, 2004 @05:15PM (#9456913) Homepage
    sharing leftover food

    Page me your chalupa...

    Nature is pretty good at networks, self-organizing systems. By contrast, social systems are top-down and hierarchical,

    I always thought that society was a direct result of nature, as exemplified by the complex relationships of wolf pack, a lion pride or a troop of macaques, but seemingly the geniuses at media lab have discovered that social systems are not from nature.

    Skype is remarkable (I know them well) and will change the landscape radically.

    Yet another "breakthrough" prediction from the people at Media Lab. They were richly endowed, with ready access to MIT students and living right at the time of the PC/Internet revolution. Yet, nothing has come out of them. It surely takes some talent to miss the boat this much.

    So this leaves universities somewhat alone. This isn't meant to be self-serving,

    Of course not. The MIT Media Lab would never hype a technology or situation for their own benefit (</sarcasm>).

  • by rudy_wayne (414635) on Thursday June 17, 2004 @05:26PM (#9456993)
    who knows nothing.

    From 1998:

    Nicholas Negroponte predicts "You're going to see within the next year an
    extraordinary movement on the Web of systems for micropayment ... ." He goes on
    to predict micropayment revenues in the Billions of dollars.
  • by analog_line (465182) on Thursday June 17, 2004 @05:51PM (#9457207)
    By contrast, social systems are top-down and hierarchical, from which we draw the basic assumption that organization and order can only come from centralism.

    This is a fallacy you don't even need to be a PhD to figure out (which is lucky for me). To each person, their social network might appear to be a hierarchical system with them at the top, but that is only because of their rather limited scope, and some helping of selfishness that all of us carry at least a bit of. However all these little social networks are just pieces of the real "Social Network" sitting out there.

    If you know no one, it's really hard to get anything done in this world. The old saw of, "It's not what you know, it's who you know," is truer than many people would like to believe. I route my friends to people and places I know that have what they want or need, exactly like a node on a p2p network does. Me and the people I know are just a small chunk of the Social Network that humanity has built and made itself a part of for the last...gods how long has humanity been around? It's so big it's hard to get a grasp on it. Most people just see themselves and those they know and ignore everything and everyone else, most of the time out of necessity. It's hard enough to cope with the immediate for the vast majority of people out there. Taking the time to look at all the connections and build the big picture is just not something that's worthwhile to most people, but that doesn't mean it's not there if they're not aware of it.

    Central control is not the way humanity, left to it's own devices, organizes itself. Centralized systems try to limit the natural peering we do to focus people for some particular end (closed countries and economies, corporate officers determining the company direction, jobs period limit us and what we do and who we talk to) and it's neither good or bad. Unrestricted peering is an unfocused haze of not much getting done. People spend a lot of time dealing with things that don't further any specific agenda. Focus requires limits on what we do, and not much good has happened in this world without a lot of people focused on it.

    However, even then the most it can do is limit it. Sometimes to a very strong degree (like North Korea) but even then the peering happens and communication and commerce happens outside that central control. People get smuggled out of North Korea to freedom in South Korea despite the efforts of the most draconian regime on the planet. People get smuggled into Western nations as slaves (for sex, sweatshop work, or whatnot) despite the abolishment of slavery, tough laws, and seemingly almost universal abhorrence of the practice. If centralized control was the way people actually worked, this kind of stuff would be pretty much impossible.
  • Nicholas... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by aminorex (141494) on Thursday June 17, 2004 @05:55PM (#9457257) Homepage Journal
    The point Negroponte was making was that p2p
    has not yet achieved its potential. You must
    admit that after the boom in filesharing,
    new applications of peer-oriented network
    protocols dropped off dramatically. But the
    economies and liberties enabled by p2p have
    not yet begun to emerge in many areas where
    they can be applied to good effect.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 17, 2004 @06:34PM (#9457627)

    When someone from MIT says peer-to-peer is a good thing, he's talking about peer-to-peer as an architecture



    So yeah, don't just think that MIT is jumping on the bandwagon. They've been on the bleeding edge for some time.


    Boy are you naive. MIT is a big place. Just because some people based at MIT are doing some good work doesn't mean that just because some idiot says something about peer to peer anything that he's saying anything at all. Nicholas Negroponte is an aging, unproductive, unknowledgeable whore (Swatch beats anyone? I mean honestly, you're MIT educated and you can't see how moving the prime meridian one hour over to Swatch corporate headquarters is anything more than a marketing ploy?). Merely a figurehead for the sad MIT Media Lab (which may likely have some knowledgeable people within the shadow of the blowhard).

    This is no different than the dipshit at Princeton that wrote about how opensource was like a Nigerian 419 scam.
  • tired (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Doc Ruby (173196) on Thursday June 17, 2004 @06:42PM (#9457720) Homepage Journal
    Negroponte is a windbag. Every one of his "endpaper" essays for Wired mag in the bubble was wrong, or superfluously obvious. Then his cashin _Being Digital_, retreading the most obvious. So maybe he's right about P2P - but by the time he's praising it, it's no longer "News" to nerds.
  • Re:I wonder... (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 17, 2004 @08:46PM (#9458660)
    Nope, you got it wrong. It's not DNS that helps insure that you are really talking to Amazon.com, it's the certificate authority. If you are communicating with amazon.com, and you have a secure certificate, then "someone" has verified that amazon is who they say they are.
    Assuming that you keyed in the URL correctly (amazon.com), AND that you got verification of a valid certificate (a lock on your browser), AND assuming that Microsoft doesn't have a flaw in IE, and your IE hasn't been tampered with, THEN you are trusting the certificate authority. (You DO view the properties to see who issued the certificate, and who bought the certificate, don't you? Of course not.)
    If DNS was hijacked, you would wouldn't get a valid certificate (a lock) certifying that it's amazon.com, unless the certificate authority had failed.

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