Net neutrality is on the chopping block again. Network packets will soon no longer all be created equal. Those with financial backing will be given a fast lane. Make no mistake, that financial backing will come from you. For example, Netflix, et al, will have to pay the toll to keep their service responsive and competitive, and they'll pass that cost right on to you, their customer. The decentralization and democratization of network connectivity and services forms part of the design basis for the Personal AI we are building at Presence. Let me take you through why this is so.
In some sense, net non-neutrality is actually a reality we have been living with for quite sometime. ISPs offer connections with a bandwidth ceiling and charge a premium for higher bandwidth service. Not only that, unlike other utilities, you pay whether you use it or not. For example, if you buy a 50Mbit bandwidth service, you pay the same amount whether you are streaming HD video 24/7 or reading email once a week. In other words, bandwidth is throttled not metered, although the technology exists to do so. As an analogy, imagine that your electricity service was billed at a flat rate, no matter how much you happened to be drawing at any given time. Whether you were running your electric clothes dryer or an LED light bulb, you would pay the same amount. Now imagine that the maker of the clothes dryer was forced to pay a premium to the owner of the power grid to provide an adequate clothes-drying service to you. That's net non-neutrality.
In response to looming net non-neutrality, discussion of mesh and peer-to-peer networks is heating up again. I first encountered mesh networks in 2011 through the work of the Free Network Foundation. The idea behind these mesh networks was that people's devices could talk to each directly rather than relaying all interaction through centralized infrastructure and services. It also meant that a single internet gateway could be effectively shared among all the interconnected devices even if only one of them had a relationship with the provider of that gateway (the ISP).
The self-organizing, emergent networks I envisioned for netfoundry have some fundamental differences from mesh networks, however. Netfoundry networks are application-level peer-to-peer (P2P) networks. While mesh networks typically involve lower level protocols and connectivity structures, P2P refers to applications that connect users directly to each other rather than through an intermediating third party service regardless of how the lower level network connectivity is achieved. P2P networks are commonplace these days. Voice-over-IP and web conferencing services like Zoom use P2P techniques, as do cryptocurrency, file sharing, and chat applications. While mesh networks remove the ISP intermediary, P2P networks remove the intermediating service provider. The combination of the two creates an entirely decentralized network.
Presence is evolving the thinking behind netfoundry at the network application level. A Personal AI will have the ability to connect directly with other Personal AIs, without going through any centralized intermediary. This will result in a P2P social network of artificial intelligences. Our design for Personal AI encodes your needs as the prime directive of its algorithms and optimizations. Since it has connections to your friends' Personal AIs, and thus by extension, to your friends-of-friends' Personal AIs, and so on, you benefit from having an agent on a vast network whose directive is to get you what you need and shield you from distraction. Whether you need to talk to someone who has expertise in, for example, 16th century horsehair paintbrushes, or someone who can help you rid your computer of malware, your Personal AI will be searching on your behalf.
It's not all about you, however. Getting what you need usually requires that you give back in some way. In fact, the network depends on it. A network in which no one gives back is a network that does not fulfill anyone's needs. Such a network would quickly die. What do you give back? You give your skills, information, strengths, expertise, and interests. Your Personal AI will help you make available what others may be searching for. If you are an expert in 16th century horsehair paintbrushes, for example, your Personal AI can automatically find others interested in the same topic.
Networks interconnect those who offer something to those who need it. Thus, the relationship between a need and its provider is the unit of value, the currency, of a network. The more interconnected the network, the more likely it is that what you need, no matter how obscure, is only a few network hops away. Strong relationships create strong networks.
I hope this has provided some insight into where we are headed with Presence. The end of net neutrality will motivate new thinking about how networks are built. One of the core principles of the design of the internet is that it routes around bottlenecks. If money becomes the bottleneck, then the structure of the network will change to route around it, otherwise it will die. The strength of the network is how well it enables mutually beneficial relationships. P2P and mesh network are generally neutral, democratic, and immune to financial leverage. We are preparing to get your Personal AI connected to its peers.
Welcome to our blog! Presence is a new kind of software company. We stand at the intersection of technology, philosophy, and psychology. Everything we do stems from observations of the interplay between technology and what it means to be human. We believe that technology should be employed in service to human meaning. Yet today, our use of technology exploits humans in service to advertisers and consumerism. This blog will explore these ideas and concepts, which are at the core of our company and products. It will also provide updates on our growth as a company and on our product development progress.
Bring your attention to your breathing. Notice the screen upon which these words appear, and the device that contains the screen. Bring your attention to the room or space in which you are using the device. Presence. Welcome back.
“Now approaching, Kendall/MIT,” the subway train conductor said over the loudspeaker. A throng of sleepy looking young people shuffled toward the doors of the Red Line train, positioning themselves for the start of the next dash of their commute to campus. The doors opened and they spilled out over the station platform. After a pause, two tones sounded. Then the doors lurched closed and the train pulled out of the station, continuing its inbound run.
The subway car was now conspicuously empty. The sudden contrasting silence did not go unnoticed by most of the remaining passengers. For a few seconds they looked in mild bewilderment about the now largely vacant space. The train exited the subway into the morning light and began to make its way up the approach to the Longfellow Bridge over the Charles River. It was then that a young man sitting across from me in a smart wool coat and a plaid scarf looked up from his smartphone and, seeing natural light streaming through the train car windows, jolted to his feet. His smartphone-induced distraction had caused him to miss his stop! He had missed the transition from full train car to empty. He had missed the throng of people moving around him and exiting the train. He had missed the conductor’s announcement and the tones of the doors’ closing.
While this lapse could happen to anyone, on any given day, for a variety of reasons, this particular event lodged itself into my memory. The year was 2008. Smartphones as we know them today were new and not yet ubiquitous. I had first tried out the original model of the iPhone a few months before and had remembered the rush of delight I received as I experienced the ingenious synthesis of its diverse app ecosystem and touch gesture interactions. We all know now that this delight I, and so many others, felt upon first touch was a deliberate design feature, not an accident. Despite this initial seduction, I firmly resisted inviting smartphones into my life. Something about their proximity and their deeply compelling design was troublesome to me. That moment on the Red Line was a confirmation of my concerns.
Now I’m no luddite, I assure you. I’ve been programming computers since 1984, and have built a career keeping up with the latest advances in software development and architecture. But the tools I used went away when I got up from the chair. The web browser lived on the disk drive along with the word processor. I decided when to give it my attention, and it did not reach out to me with "notifications" at any other time. My pocket held coins and keys. Back in 2008, I saw the impossibly slippery slope of an always-on, always-near, always-present web. It would be several more years before I got my first smartphone.
It is the nature of webs to be sticky and to ensnare. Here and now, in 2017, it is clear that the online world is a spider web that ensnares our attention, which is then consumed for profit by its makers. If we so much as glance at it, with one small flicker of our attention, one click, one little spin of the scroll wheel, the spider pounces on us, wrapping us up with its machine intelligence as it spins vomitus amounts of “feed” that it knows our psychology and neurochemistry will find incredibly difficult to tear away from. Notifications and gamification exploit these same psychological and neurochemical access points to ensure that we return to the trough frequently. Through this hypnotic, viral exchange, the spiders grow wealthy and fat as they hijack our human faculties and feed upon our rapt attention.
The solution is clear. If we wish to reap the benefits of the web without it hijacking our attention, then we must employ an agent to interact with it on our behalf. Such an agent would act as a mediator that a human can safely direct and manage from an insulated distance. This agent would seek the information we need and maintain the social pulse of our networks without putting our attention at risk. Such an agent would not work on behalf of advertisers or data mining engines. Rather, it would work tirelessly for us, and only us. Unlike its human master, this agent would be immune to distraction, as well as to emotional, behavioral, and neurological manipulation. Presence is creating your Personal AI to do just that.