Munchnets: bioscale networking
Wed, 17 Oct 2001 14:54:09 -0700
[excerpted from a discussion with a colleague about possible DARPA
research directions. I haven't expounded on my dream of munchkins
recently, so this was a brief snapshot of what I think the problem
statement might be -- never mind solutions! :-) -- Rohit]
Create a prototype biological-scale network.
To reach beyond Internet-scale, even Interplanetary IP (IPN) scale,
we need to reconsider how to build computing systems with absolutely
no measure of central control. How can coordination algorithms
practically scale when in the absence of any organizational arbiter
(e.g. without assumptions like unique Ethernet MAC addresses, IP
addresses, domain name control, or even user name control)? Even
where arbitration is necessary, physical means should be considered,
such as assuming that GPS-aligned clocks are globally available, for
The goal is to build a one-pound device containing a battery,
low-power, load-adaptive central processing (aka async integer
cores), and parasitic communications interfaces that will try to take
in any and all connections available in the immediate environment,
from Gbps to bps (ethernet, bluetooth, irda, UWB, etc) and any local
storage (flash, microdrive, optical ROM caches of major public Web
sites) to provide reliable peer-to-peer multimedia messaging.
A battlefield dataphone that can work anywhere, anytime, securely,
In some sense, this is within reach of conventional technology, it
would seem: iPAQs with Wi-Fi and microdrives running ESMTP... but
there are deep, abiding assumptions of central control littered
throughout such a system, all the way down to the radio arbitration
in 802.11b, I'm sure.
There will also have to be foundational economic research to
establish rules for the spontaneous emergence of order -- these
devices will reinvent systems of banking, currency exchange, and
speculation in the markets for bandwidth and storage.
The guiding patterns for organizing this next level of computing will
have to be biological: adopting the point of view of a zygote
attempting to establish meaningful relationships with the existing 6B
This kind of breakthroughs posited here are essential for
"command-and-control" of MEMS systems and other future, agile,
military and civilian sensor platforms, from automobiles to
free-flying airplanes. Without shattering the paradigm of today's
consciously-controlled and fragile Internet, we will not be able to
leverage the coming universe of trillions of devices across, on this
planet and on other bodies.
Strictly speaking, these technologies are below the level of the
Semantic Web, yet will rely extensively on cutting-edge work in
knowledge management and knowledge representation emerging out of Web
Services, XML Metadata, and related fields.
In the immediate term, this is surely of military interest in the
continuing struggle to maintain communication integration among
diverse platforms, services, and nations in today's archetypal
multinational force deployments. The stories of friction arising from
incompatible data transports -- much less unified models for battle
awareness (mapping, materiel identification, IFF, etc) are legion.
There is also an immediate dual-use need from homeland defence
scenarios, since there is no prototype yet for a crisis-management
network that can be deployed within minutes, and expanded
incrementally and continually, while enforcing proper separation
between the multiple agencies sure to be overlapping in the field of
any such crisis.
So there you have it: the most audacious goal in computing technology
I can articulate: networking without administrators.