One Information Super Highway Is Not Enough

Steven J. Searle
Web Master, TRON Web

The year 2000 began very quietly. Although it had been predicted by some doomsayers that industrialized civilization as we know it would come to an abrupt halt as a result of Y2K problems, the world made the transition from December 31, 1999, to January 1, 2000, without any major computer system problems. However, shortly after the new year began, a series of incidents occurred that rattled the very foundations of the on-line revolution that appears to be propelling the world economy forward. Hackers from Russia and China respectively broke into CD Universe and RealNames Corporation and stole large amounts of confidential financial information. And then pranksters very successfully launched denial of service attacks on popular Web sites, such as CNN and Yahoo! The vulnerability of electronic commerce and major Web sites on the Information Super Highway was made plain for all to see just as the new millennium was beginning.

The United States government, which is responsible for developing the basic Internet technologies we have all come to use, was highly concerned. The White House quickly put together a wise man's council to tackle the problem of Internet security, and it even invited super hacker Mudge to participate in discussions about how to keep the Internet boom going. Mudge, who seemed to be one of the less influential members of the group, appeared on CNN, and in response to a question from a reporter got to the heart of the matter when he stated that the Internet was never intended to support this "notion of e-commerce." Bravo, Mudge! Unfortunately, most of the other gentlemen in the wise man's council, who are more powerful and who have vested interests (read: future hardware/software sales) at stake, probably got the U.S. president's ear. But as Mudge knows, the Internet is little more than a TCP/IP-based version of CB radio on a global scale. And just like CB radio, the Internet is chock full of inherent limitations.

From the viewpoint of the TRON Project, the biggest limitation of the Internet is its unstable throughput, which makes it difficult to obtain real-time performance. The ultimate goal of the TRON Project is to create real-time networks in every area of human society, and TRON Project Leader Prof. Ken Sakamura has serious doubts about whether TCP/IP can deliver the real-time responsiveness that is required to achieve this goal. Dividing transmission data up into packets and sending it in various directions across a commonly used wide area network may be acceptable for e-mail, but it is totally unacceptable for video streaming, as most Internet users have no doubt experienced. At present, we look at streaming video in tiny viewers that are roughly five centimeter square, and the image quality is horrible. On top of that, the video streaming sometimes stops because of network congestion. Imagine what will happen when the size of video streaming viewers is increased to deliver current television resolution, and then increased again to deliver high-definition Video-On-Demand (VOD) movies!

But the Internet's problems are not limited to transmission capacity. In addition, all data either sent through or connected to the Internet are highly insecure. Introductory manuals to the Internet go out of their way to remind the uninitiated that their e-mail messages should not contain anything they would not want an unknown third party to see, since just like CB radio it is possible others could be "listening in." Although incidents in which which malicious hackers have either destroyed or stolen sensitive data make the headlines, the are innumerable cases in which data have been "borrowed" from one site and posted on another. There is also the "spam" (unsolicited e-mail) problem--a problem aggravated by browser designs that allow spammers to steal people's e-mail addresses right off of their own machines!--plus "viruses" and "Trojan horses" that can enter a system from e-mail attachments. And finally, there is the problem of anonymity--not only the anonymity of individuals using CB radio style "handles," or pseudonyms, but also that of organizations that regularly switch domain names. The Internet is the con man/con woman's dream machine come true, since it is difficult to know who you are dealing with in many cases.

So what's the solution to the problem?

The solution to the problem is to think about network data transmission in multiple paradigms rather than in a single paradigm, i.e., the "Information Super Highway." Is all physical transportation in the U.S.--or any other country, for that matter--based on a single model? Does everything that is transported go through super highways on cars, buses, or trucks? Of course, not! In addition to super highways, there are also railways, waterways, and airways. In fact, the least efficient of these physical transportation models is none other than the U.S. interstate highway system, which is subject to frequent traffic jams, since just like the Internet anyone can use it any time they want. Scientists at major universities and government computer centers in the U.S. have already figured this out. As a result, they have created "Internet2," the on-line equivalent of an airway to which access is restricted, and thus high-speed throughput guaranteed. In essence, a "parallel network architecture" has come into being, and it will probably serve as a model on which VOD transmission services will be inaugurated in the future.

Security could likewise benefit from a "parallel network architecture." Proponents of digital network technologies like to dismiss the existing analog network technologies as being hopelessly inefficient and behind the times, but were there ever any cases of youthful pranksters crippling an analog radio station, telephone exchange, or television broadcast center? In fact, the "plain old telephone system" is so secure--a result of the fact that it uses "inefficient switched circuits" that create a temporary dedicated circuit between two points--that it forms the backbone of telephone banking services that have lowered transaction processing costs at financial institutions, even though service has been extended to 24 hours per day in some cases. Not bad for antiquated technology! Such temporary dedicated circuits are also what is needed if one is to, for example, manipulate any kind of machinery remotely. And, of course, advanced telecommunications applications such as video telephony would also greatly benefit from temporary dedicated circuits.

In addition to unstable throughput and lack of data security, the Internet presents one more problem to contemporary society. Since Internet proponents have created the illusion that it can become the sole artery around which human society in the 21st century will develop, the Internet has attracted massive injections of capital into almost anything that is related to it. GNU/Linux-related companies, which few investors seem to remember are marketing a server operating system that can be "legally copied," have attracted $40 billion of capital. In Japan, Yahoo! Japan, which is not doing anything that anyone else cannot "legally copy," recently saw the value of its stock rise well beyond $1 million per share. Would it not be better to spend this money developing real-time, highly secure parallel networks to the Internet that could speed up and stabilize the on-line world as we currently know it? Would it not be better to develop unique, value added services on those parallel networks that could actually lead to corporate profits rather than profitless competition?

Ultimately, the road to the future can only be found by looking at the present with a critical eye. Let's hope that critical eye sees a diversified network structure in the 21st century as a plus rather than as a minus. One Information Super Highway is simply not enough.