Monday, November 7, 2011

We Are Legion: Decentralizing The Internet For Innovation

The general attitude among netizens is that with all the data that comprises the Internet, sharing is caring. Or is it the other way around?

In terms of file sharing, many are familiar with the concept of direct downloading as a means of getting music and videos, and its web of legal issues. An alternative method is BitTorrent, a peer-to-peer system where users simultaneously download and upload pieces of an original file which get shared around the Internet to complete the download. Instead of receiving data from a single source, multiple owners of the file chip in to help others claim their own.

BitTorrent is one example of free and open-source software (FOSS), in which anyone can take available software, make changes, improve, and redistribute it for free as long as they allow others do the same. There is no copyright concern, which can slow or even prevent openly sharing valuable information and knowledge that leads to innovation and breakthroughs. Ultimately FOSS exists to help “individuals and organizations reduce cost, increase use, improve standards compliance, enhance security, and avoid vendor lock-in.”

The philosophy and practical applications of FOSS can help solve impossibly complex problems and even have life-saving ramifications.

In Japan, in the wake of the March 11 earthquake and tsunamis that led to nuclear crisis at Fukushima, little information was made available for people concerned about radiation levels. Safecast, formerly known as RDTN, took matters into hand by aggregating radiation data from various sources. In the spirit of FOSS, the team makes all data available to everyone after planting static radiation sensors around Japan, as well as utilizing portable Geiger counters that work with mobile devices.

As a forefront advocate for internet freedom and global technology policy, Joichi Ito, director of MIT Media Lab and former CEO of Creative Commons , argues we no longer live in a world of central control but rather in ecosystem of "small pieces loosely joined" with innovation on the edges. The ubiquity and low cost creation and distribution of information has fundamentally changed the way we collaborate.

Ito shares his ideas in Innovation in an Open Network at Japan Society on November 10. Drawing from his work at MIT, he’ll look at startups like Safecast, use of citizen Geiger counters, and other examples of 21st century practices that are bettering the world. Michael Zielenziger, McKinsey Global Institute senior editor and author of Shutting Out the Sun: How Japan Created its Own Lost Generation moderates.

--Sean Tomizawa

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