It’s amazing how short our collective memory can be. With all the fuss around the imminent massive deployment of electric vehicles, one might get the impression that such technology is cutting edge. But impressions can be deceiving: few know that electric vehicles are nearly as old as the motor vehicle itself.
The same can be said about networking. While it’s true that we’re more connected than ever, it’s also true that every change to the digital space seems aimed at squeezing our freedom and our wallets a little more.
With governments and corporations all over the world rushing to increase their wealth, when it comes to the internet, people are increasingly concerned about the place of the average citizen in its future. People are looking for alternatives to the internet and developing modern mesh networks, only to discover that those have been around right from the start.
Packet forwarding, for those who are unaware of it, is what makes the internet what it is. It was a 1950s technology meant to be resilient to nuclear warfare.
The other component of the model was mesh networking which provided multiple communication links between any two nodes in the network. The keyword here is decentralization: when no node has special significance in the network, any of them could be destroyed yet the system as a whole would remain functional.
A variant of this known as wireless mesh networking has attracted a lot of public attention lately (as the name implies, it’s the same model just using wireless communication links).
In Hong Kong, a large number of people protesting in the streets found themselves disconnected suddenly from the internet when their cellular network crashed. Some were saved by an application called FireChat (CNN). What this marvelous little thing does is simple: It allows devices to connect with each other to provide its users with a means of communication. Messages are not sent directly between devices; they are forwarded to their destination via a relay system. If enough people were using this application, an entire city could have free coverage.
It doesn’t take a genius to realize that this kind of network can do much more than just messaging. Implemented as a general purpose system, this model could very well replace the present day Internet. Industry insiders know this very well and you should expect many proposals coming up soon. For example, Kim Dotcom, the infamous founder MegaUpload, recently announced MegaNet.
What they don’t know is that the race might be over already. Among the upcoming proposals, there is one particularly promising: Alternet. An international patent application for it was presented to IMPI (Mexican Patent Office) on December 18. How do I know? I filed that patent myself.
I’m an independent inventor and writer who identifies as a philosopher. That gives Alternet a unique pedigree; and, potentially, a huge advantage. Most IT developments are produced by professional engineers working at large companies, but this is turning into a huge problem due to narrow-mindedness; as engineers become highly specialized, they focus on solving specific problems and nothing else (it’s like a car mechanic who rarely checks anything unless you tell him to). An outsider to the industry is more likely to think outside the box.
Alternet is unique among telecommunication systems because it implements a complete information network. It not only transmits information, it stores and processes it as well. It all happens in a distributed way to keep information safe. It is designed to be completely autonomous.
Traditionally, if you are to deploy an Internet service of any kind, you have to pay the ISP or the hosting company just to keep it running (which can be a huge expense for services such as video streaming). Alternet does the very same thing, essentially for free. If it succeeds, the days when websites begged their readers for donations to cover their basic expenses will soon be over.
Alternet not only means free services; it also means free physical access to them. Once deployed, it will allow everyone to connect to it; in other words, universal access for the first time in history. Gone will be the days people had to pay a monthly phone bill or any other expense related to the digital space.
However, the main benefit of Alternet is not economic. It’s far more important to say that it was designed in such a way that nobody will control it. There will be no ISPs to threaten or bribe, no DNS servers to lock up. Since services are provided by the network itself and not by entities such as corporations, you can be sure that nobody will slow your phone overnight (hello Apple), read your private messages without your consent (hello Facebook) or anything remotely like it.
Alternet is more than just a substitute for the Internet. It’s an institution dedicated to protecting information for the future generations. Think of it as the modern equivalent of the Library of Alexandria. It will store so much information that, eventually, a currently unknown discipline called Information Archaeology will emerge. Its goal will be to uncover forgotten treasures among huge layers of digital debris.
You might be wondering: how does this work? From a user perspective, it’s just a matter of buying a small box (a type 1A symmetric node) and plugging it into your electricity supply. Other than sporadic replacement, such nodes need nothing from you — just keep them dry and well fed with electricity. Left alone, they’ll work their magic among themselves. They have a wireless link (radio) built in for that purpose.
In more technical terms, Alternet is based on the abstraction principle: the notion that all telecommunication systems (past, present, and future) perform the same basic functions (transmit, store and process information), making systems dedicated to specific services (such as TV or telephony) essentially redundant. This is the reason behind the huge success of Internet: it’s flexible enough to implement all of them using a single framework. Alternet just extrapolates this principle to the extreme: everything, from the logical to the physical layer is unified. Not surprisingly, Alternet claims the whole electromagnetic spectrum for itself. This is a concept never seen before: the unification of the electromagnetic spectrum.
As surprising as it might seem, the key to its success will not be technical in nature, but social: properties like universal access emerge from the way its users are organized, and not from an internal characteristic of the nodes. In practice, this means that you’ll have to keep your own node open for anyone to use. As long as you keep it active, you earn the right to use anyone’s equivalent on the Planet. Note that, by doing so, you’ll become a follower of Mo-Tzu, the Chinese philosopher of the Fifth century B.C., who said that all social issues arise from ignoring the principle of impartial care (to give complete strangers the same considerations you give to your loved ones).
Stay tuned. This is good stuff.