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Q&A With MIT's Nicholas Negroponte 185

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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  • viruses (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mwheeler01 ( 625017 ) <matthew.l.wheele ... Nom minus distro> on Thursday June 17, 2004 @04:23PM (#9456363)
    let's hear it for a better way to spread viruses. As we all know bluetooth is now starting to spread viruses from phone to phone...this is the wave of the future.
  • by metlin ( 258108 ) * on Thursday June 17, 2004 @04:26PM (#9456400) Journal
    I do not agree with some of what he says.

    Companies cannot really see beyond their current customer base. They explicitly or implicitly do things to protect their current customers. And the last person to want real change is your customer. This is why most new ideas come from small companies that have nothing to lose.

    The last person to want real change is not the customer, these days it seems to be the companies making that decision for the customer.

    Think of any area, there are millions of customers who want a change for the better -- however the companies are just not letting the change happen and say that it's for the good of the customer, or that what the customer wants is illegal (and if it isn't illegal, they'll just pass a couple of laws and make it illegal).

    And to be honest, small companies that bring about great innovations are being stifled, especially because they are shit scared of law suits. I'm surprised that Nicholas did not mention this in his interview.

    True, they hold the key. But it does not take much to crush them down, either.
  • Re:I wonder... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Otto ( 17870 ) on Thursday June 17, 2004 @04:27PM (#9456413) Homepage Journal
    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?
    Why do you trust servers/routers that your number passes through now over the internet?

    Answer: You don't. You use some form of end to end encryption (https).

    As far as the food thing goes, I think he was making a point. I'm not eating anybody's leftovers except my own anytime soon. ;)
  • Negroponte's Law (Score:4, Interesting)

    by bstadil ( 7110 ) on Thursday June 17, 2004 @04:32PM (#9456469) Homepage
    Strange the status of Negroponte's Law from his book Being Digital was not brought up

    His law I guess from the early 90's said that everything that was airborne would become fixed conduits and the reverse.

    Example: Television is mostly fixed and stationary so cable will take over. Telephones is for people that is moving so they will switch to Wireless.

  • Full Faith & Credit (Score:3, Interesting)

    by meehawl ( 73285 ) <meehawl.spam@gm a i l .com> on Thursday June 17, 2004 @04:53PM (#9456674) Homepage Journal
    When you drop your mail into the mailbox, it enters a highly regulated, automated, centralized system that collects fees

    Any mutually inter-dependent system can become self-organising and regulated according to custom and expectations. The key issue is the "centralisation". That's the central point.

    I argue that the centralisation in this case stems from the State monopoly on money. In their recent history States have generally monopolized the right to issue fiat money for settlement of all debts, public and private, throughout their territory. For this monopoly to prevail they rely on consent, coercion, and the implicit threat of judicial or police violence.

    Privatised money that removed this monopoly would also invalidate your counter-argument. There have been cases of non-State delivery networks for private citizens. Today we are in fact living through another periodic renaissance of non-State delivery companies (Fedex, UPS, etc). I think private money is just a matter of time and when and if that happens then a lot of formerly "centralised" economic networks will be reshaped.
  • Half joking here... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by hot_Karls_bad_cavern ( 759797 ) on Thursday June 17, 2004 @05:03PM (#9456796) Journal
    But really, what would be wrong with an approach similar to that of lightning: probe routes quickly, caching along the way, then using the shortest-path algorithm (or some such) to choose which path to "solidify" for a bursted data transfer?

    Yeah, i'm half talkin out of my ass there, but ya know, sometimes good ideas show up that way ;-)

    Oh yeah, the other prob with that, wouldn't it need lots of network traffic and ram just to maintain a network of path/nodes/phones/whatever?
  • Re:Mail (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Nakito ( 702386 ) on Thursday June 17, 2004 @05:07PM (#9456834)
    That's the most ridiculous dismissal I've seen in a while.

    Actually, I meant it in a different way than you have interpreted. Let me try to say it better.

    Centralized governments do not encourage econcomic processes that are not subject to audit and taxation. That is why smuggling is illegal. That is why barter transactions must be reported on your income tax (if you are a US taxpayer). The point I meant to make was that Negroponte's theory does not take this into account. Therefore, I believe it is unlikely that his vision of a decentralized, unregulated, economically-significant distribution system could now come into existence.
  • Re:Mail (Score:4, Interesting)

    by jared_hanson ( 514797 ) on Thursday June 17, 2004 @05:17PM (#9456933) 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.

    I think you are being somewhat shortsighted here. Any P2P system is more centralized than it seems on the surface once you look a bit deeper. The protocol level of these networks are highly centralized in that they are developed at a company or standards body. Any device wanting to be part of the network needs to conform to that protcol. Being that greater power is gained from a bigger network, it is to the device's benefit to conform to the popular protocol.

    Emphasizing humans as carriers for this data is quite rediculous. Most of what you do already is out in the open right now for anyone to see it. Wireless and P2P will make this more prevalent, but hardly mean you have to put more trust in strangers. You are trusting the protocol running over the network. Again, trusting the standards bodies/companies to come up with a reliable protocol.

    Taxing happens at the sale of the device level. Software is of very little use without a device to run on it. Taxing only works when something holds value, which software doesn't necessarily do on its own. That's a bit of a misleading statement but generally correct. Protocols can also have a license "tax" similar to the MPEG standard.

    In short, you shouldn't fear this because it seems more open. Most rapid periods of progress occur when things become more open and free (democracy, railroads, telephone, Internet, etc.) Each invention that opens up information has a certain balance of centralization and openness that gives it credibility. P2P is certainly no different.
  • Re:P2P (Score:4, Interesting)

    by finkployd ( 12902 ) on Thursday June 17, 2004 @05:19PM (#9456942) Homepage
    This architecture, it seems to me, will imply encryption throughout -- somehow, people are more concerned by the idea of their data passing through other individuals' devices (what if they look at it?!) than they are sending the data through the hands of a few mega-corporations. I would say this is a good thing...

    I agree this is a good thing, but I want to point out that I really don't care if most of my stuff is encrypted. The stuff I do care about is pretty much all encrypted anyway. Someone wants to watch the bits while I pull up slashdot, or download a new kernel, they are welcome to it. I am REALLY concerned about the integrity of pretty much all my data though. So those packets better be signed in someway so I know there was no tampering.

  • Re:Unsatisfied (Score:3, Interesting)

    by IrresponsibleUseOfFr ( 779706 ) on Thursday June 17, 2004 @05:49PM (#9457194) Homepage Journal

    I still fail to see how P2P is key. Yes, the network might be harder to take down, but reliability isn't the most important aspect to most systems, usefulness is. In my experience, having a disorganized network becomes more susceptable to abuse. I mean compare Gnutella vs. BitTorrent, I'd argue that BitTorrent generally works better. And that is because there is a little bit of structure built into the system via the tracker.

    I also don't like his nature argument. Nature creates hierarchies too. Your brain tells the rest of your body what to do. Queen bees vs. drones vs. workers. I mean, there are physical differences there, and it can't be pinned on purely social phenomenom.

    I also have a hard time seeing any benefit from having your toaster route packets for you. I can see many houses having wireless routers in the future, just not integrated into every device in the house. It just seems like there will always be some specialized device that will do a 100x better job. People that really care will buy that. Other people will have blinking 12:00 syndrome.

    As a side note to p2p applictions, the one idea that really hasn't come to fruition is p2p content creation. I mean, p2p is very useful for communication (IM, IP Telephony, forums, etc.) and distribution (BitTorrent). Wiki's and Open Source are sort of p2p content creation. But, I was thinking more along the lines of tradition art. Like an app that let's you play music together over the net to make a song. Or paint a picture, or make a movie. Obviously, the market for such programs is smaller than the consume content variety. But, I'd really like the net to really start enabling the production of new art in ways that weren't possible before. Beyond the obvious of enabling collaboration and hand-offs, but actually affecting the production of digital art. Although, I make no guarantees about if it will work well in practice.

  • by Silverhammer ( 13644 ) on Thursday June 17, 2004 @08:35PM (#9458583)

    Blockquoth the parent:

    I may like the Catholic Church for a lot of stuff- but the worst influence it's had on society is giving us hierarchial command structures.

    The Catholic Church gave us hierarchical command structures? Umm, then what happened during those 4,000 years of human civilization before the birth of Christ?

"Never face facts; if you do, you'll never get up in the morning." -- Marlo Thomas