Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The internet of people

Since I started working at GridTalk (now e-ScienceTalk) I’ve heard mention of the ‘Future Internet’ but have never quite known what that means. In an attempt to find out more I sat in on the ‘potential socio-economic impact of the Future Internet’ session at ICT2010 this afternoon. There was quite an animated discussion from keynote speaker, Jonathan Cave, along with panelists Fausto Giunchiglia (University of Trento, Italy), and Graham Vickery (OECD, France). I won’t go into everything they covered but here’s a few key points:

- What is the internet? It began as a protocol, then a network. Now we talk about the internet of things, ideas or services. Most of the speakers at the session spoke of an internet of people.

- Why is the internet going to be about people? Giunchiglia gave this example: A competition asked participants to find the location of 8 different balloons. How was this won? The winner employed the technique of crowdsourcing, setting up a website which asked others to help him locate the balloons in return for a prize. While the ICT industry is focused on making computers faster and smaller this would be of no benefit in this sort of task. Looking for balloons is a problem for people not computers – after all they just have to look up.

- With this in mind the internet would not be a technological innovation but a place where human capabilities are at the centre. They would no longer be regarded as just an end user but involved from the very start of the process. In order to exploit the abilities of the internet, we should stop thinking about the technology first and start thinking about society.

- Following on from a point brought up by Henry Markram, the plenary speaker from this morning, the speakers remarked that hardware isn’t the problem, the problem is on the software side. How can we exploit the internet so it works more like the brain?

- As the internet becomes more pervasive there’s a worry that our collective intelligence could decrease as we all use the same network dominated by just few companies. In general innovation comes from outsiders and diversity both of which will be essential for the future. Is there a way to encourage a greater extent of diversity? This is a role for the EU and governments to play a greater role in.

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