'People piece' next in internet evolution

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'People piece' next in internet evolution
Puzzle piece. Credit: D. Sharon Pruitt

Former IBM strategist and White House adviser envisions cloudy future.

It’s been fifty years since the development of packet switching, and yet the internet is only a fifth the way along its evolutionary path, according to ‘internet midwife’ Michael Nelson.

The researcher, former IBM strategist and White House advisor said the “people piece of the equation” was the next step forward as technology matured.

Dr Nelson, who advised enterprises in the CSC Leading Edge Forum, said that organisations faced new security and management challenges as the traditional “castle moat” approach lost steam.

He expected new processes and encryption, rather than firewalls, to underpin enterprise security as consumer devices took hold.

Similarly, a democratic, Web 2.0 environment was forcing organisations to embrace transparency and reconsider what information should be shared with whom.

“Many companies are starting to realise that they’re trying to lock up too much information, while sharing it within the organisation,” he said.

“One of the lessons from WikiLeaks is that you should think about what’s really damaging and what should be made available.

“I don’t condone what Bradley Manning did, but his actions and the actions of Julian Assange and other groups like OpenLeaks, are putting more pressure on both governments and corporations to open up a bit more.”

In 2007, Wired reported that the internet had “inverted the social physics of information” by allowing organisations to more openly accept credit and blame, and crowdsource ideas.

“If you've got hundreds or thousands of sites linking to you and commenting on you, the law of averages takes over, and odds are the opinion will be accurate ... The Net rewards the transparent,” journalist Clive Thompson wrote.

Thompson highlighted the public backlash when Sony’s secret anti-piracy rootkit came to light in 2005, which prompted the company to offer users compensation money and free music downloads.

Sony’s public relations returned to the spotlight last month, when users criticised its delayed announcement of a data breach of up to 77 million accounts.

Dr Nelson said there was an opportunity for vendors to market more sophisticated systems for managing transparency, security, and regulatory demands.

Different policies would be required to govern sales figures, product plans, executive strategies, and operational data in various sectors, he explained.

The global nature of the internet posed further challenges: in Norway, for example, tax authorities released salary information of nearly every taxpayer in the country – an act that may breach privacy and confidentiality clauses elsewhere in the world.

“Right now, we’re at the start of the third phase [of the internet’s evolution],” Dr Nelson told iTnews in advance of his presentation to the Amplify conference next month.

“Technology has advanced very quickly; the next big change is getting people and organisations to use it.”

Moving to the cloud

Dr Nelson described how the internet had developed from one-to-one connections to today’s cloud of people and services.

With average global connections now well into the megabit-per-second range, speed would soon become a non-issue for technologists, he predicted.

Instead, the internet would be viewed “like electricity is today”, Dr Nelson said, referring to Nicholas Carr’s vision of computing over the wire.

“Today, with electricity, you walk into any room, there’s a plug there, and you know how to get the electricity that you need,” he said.

“In a few years – five, maybe 10 years – 80 percent of the world’s computing is going to be done this way.”

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