Forecasting the Internet Weather

Or a few thoughts on why the internet is truly, not simply incrementally, different:

1] The internet is perhaps most like the interconnected system of 100s of variables which we call simply "the weather". Like the weather, or a garden in your back yard, it is not managed, in fact can not be managed. Like gardens, the internet has many close relations with the weather: more people are busy visiting sites when the weather is bad, excepting Christmas, the lowest usage day of the year, and there are fewer visitors to web sites during periods of very nice weather. In fact, the internet currently appears to have a strong12 month cyclic rhythm tied to the general behavior of people and the global weather. The internet can be said to breathe. Dennis W. Purcell has invented a statistical tool, Gaussian Mirroring, which reveals this with striking clarity.

Like gardening, the internet is, at its best, a "greater than the sum of its parts" activity. This contrasts strongly with the past experience with Industrial history where, despite the best engineering, architecting, design and other management efforts, the results are most generally less than the sum of the inputs.

Mr. Purcell will publish his research, which I call forecasting the internet weather, in the near future. Internet gardeners take heed!

See also the work of Bernardo Huberbman and others at:

"The Internet Ecologies Area's research focuses on the relation between the local actions and the global behavior of large distributed systems, both social and computational. Foremost among these is the Internet. Other examples are provided by distributed information processing, large heuristic searches, ecologies, social organizations and markets."

2] Internet enabled dialog trumps monologue. Via the net we end the last one hundred years of technologically imposed monologues. This turns all of the power structures based upon one way flows, left , right, up or down, on their heads. Hopefully, as we rediscover dialog, we will begin to understand and address the steep negative costs imposed by our past monologue culture, alienation chief amongst them.

3] The internet is the best way we have yet devised to deal with the universal problem of imperfect knowledge. It is the best feedback loop mechanism yet devised - and the most effective. Imperfect Knowledge is one of the essential human conditions. As with the weather, or the origins of the universe, we can never know ALL of the initial conditions, so even if we had perfect, instantaneous, error free, transmissions, with no corruption or distortion, which never can be either, we would still have imperfect knowledge. The internet also makes the "un-knowledge" problem much worse - which is another form of imperfect knowledge.

4] The internet completely turns the Smart Network, with power in the center, the old Industrial era design, inside out. The internet now engenders the Stupid Network with the smarts, that's us, at the edges.

5] The internet creates the largest data space any culture has ever enjoyed. This larger data space should lead directly to increases in the global idea space. Smaller idea spaces are much less likely to learn effectively when confronted by unknown and unexpected challenges. Subsequent increase in knowledge and wisdom "spaces" may result.

6] The internet has a dimension greater than 2. In this it is closer to the human brain, where every neuron is connected to every other neuron, than it is to paper or the other legacy media where dimensionality is 2 or less. In general, the greater the dimensionality the more interesting the possible outcomes are. Mr. Purcell notes that the dimension greater than 2 strongly suggests that the internet is also fractal in nature.

7] The internet is currently best characterized as a system of random, non-architected connections, without a hierarchy, in which everybody can connect with anything. Historically, the computer scientists at Thinking Machines were never able to prove that a network of random connections was inferior to a network of designed connections.

8] The internet is not a static system. The internet is dynamic, driven by continuing increases in users and systems; it's growth driven by positive feedback and "increasing returns".

9] The internet, to paraphrase Stuart Kauffman, maximizes the number of elements in the "open system of complex, collectively autocatalytic networks driven by non equilibrium processes." The inevitable nature of the autocatalism of this non equilibrium soup is the root of the Internet's strongest disruptive force. The internet will enable the emergence of new forms of organization and thought which we can not yet imagine. The idea hinted at here will be best understood if you read Mr. Kauffman's book "At Home in the Universe: The Search for the Laws of Self-Organization and Complexity".

File Date: 24 April 99