Internetome

trying to make sense of it all

Biology, -ome, and ecology

Biology is the scientific study of life. The suffix -ome is used to denote the object of a biological field of study (eg, genome, interactome, connectome, biome), and so internetome is a neologism presenting the digitalization of our world as a biological field of study.

Ecology is a branch of biology dedicated to the study of the relationships between living organisms, including humans, and their physical environment. Ecology considers organisms at the individual, population, community, ecosystems, and biosphere level.

Facets

The short descriptions below emphasise where we're going over where we've been. You won't see "information flows", or a particular variety of information flow you might call "value flows", because these are universal too ecologies. Nothing can constitute an ecology without them.

Human

It sounds almost trite to say it, but we should try to shape our digital technologies to serve the needs of human beings (see human-centered computing). By extension this means our technologies should serve to help us live sustainably, regeneratively, as nature rather than above it, or worse, in futile opposition to it.

We are social animals (see social below), and it's not simply a case of putting the needs of the individual ahead of society, or the needs of society ahead of the individual; a tricky path to navigate.

On the deep questions of human identity, simply digitalizing bureaucratic forms of identity such as legal identity does not take us to good places; that would be system-centered rather than human-centered. Rather, with respect to human dignity and the human condition, we must contemplate the digital augmentation of human identity in all its wonderful complexities for psychological, sociological, and ecological health. See generative identity. This will necessarily include agency over, through and with interpersonal data, but not ownership of.

Human interface

In the spirit of human-centeredness, this facet is labelled the human interface rather than user interface. It imagines each of us augmented by this interfacial experience — an assemblage of human and digital system.

It forms an integral part of our selves as we increasingly become cyborg, especially when interfaces are informed reflexively with social intelligence and perhaps personal AI rather than being subject to the agenda and biases of some distant third party designer. For more on decoupling the interface from the application and operating system, see the hi:project.

Instrumented

The vast majority of things in the world are not, of course, digital devices. Increasingly, we instrument non-digital things (including our own bodies of course) with digital sensors so that information about their status and behaviour may flow more easily in the internetome.

Information derived and interpreted from the internet of things is always subject to the agenda and biases of those instrumenting it in the first place, and this should not be forgotten as and when data informs policy. Subjectivity and contexts are concerns for any aspect of the internetome.

(The UK's first internet of things conference in 2010 was called Internetome.)

Digital devices

Digital hardware, including their operating systems, are the most tangible representation of the internetome. The devices we slip into our pockets and purses act as our exobrains and exo-peripheral sensory system. They are our most used interfaces into the informational flux of the internetome, just as each of us are then the interface for those digital systems to the physical world.

Understanding our own tools is integral to understanding ourselves.

Semantics & AI

The Semantic Web is a vision whereby the Web itself understands the meaning of the content / information published to it. This vision hasn't been fully realised, and perhaps for pragmatic reasons it may never be. In the context of decentralization, attempting to forge a global consensus on what specific information means is possibly antithetical. Nevertheless, it is innately human to continue to search for and invent superior ways to find and share meaning in the world. See IEML and Semantic Scholar for example.

Intelligence measures an agent's ability to achieve goals in a wide range of environments, and artificial intelligence describes our pursuit to have machines demonstrate intelligence. Clearly, progess in the field of AI will have substantial influence in the internetome, and the major questions will be: How is AI wielded? By whom?

Cryptography

Cryptography is essential to many digital processes. These include internetworking (securely connecting two or more computing devices i.e. data in transit), securing data at rest (storage), enabling digital signatures that simply cannot be forged, and securing incorruptible consensus (e.g. in the form of blockchains and cryptocurrency).

For more on internetworking, see storage below.

Compute

We are on the cusp of quantum computing, an advance on classical computing that exploits quantum states. Quantum computing has proven to outperform classical computing massively in some contexts, and even makes some computations possible that have been infeasible with classical computing. Given the rarity of the required hardware and associated expertise, questions of How? and Who? are as relevant here as for AI.

Nevertheless, the digital revolution has been powered to date by the bountiful and cheap availability of classical computing deployed pervasively both locally and in the cloud, and will continue to be for years to come.

Storage

The provision of storage has become a utility as it has moved from local hard disk drives to the cloud. The cloud, metaphorically speaking, is above us, whereas the similar phenomenon at ground level is called fog. Many consider the next phase in the architecture of storage to be fog-like — distributed amongst all the devices around us — in the form of information-centric networking.

See IPFS, Hypercore, Maidsafe, Swarm.

Legal

Lessig lists four laws of cyberspace: law, norms, markets, and architecture / software code. At the time of writing, legal code trumps technical code, yet unlike legal code, technical code isn't always visible and it regulates a system whether you know about it or not.

Legal developments clearly influence the internetome, particularly in terms of the compatibilities and incompatibilities of law from one jurisdiction to another. The direct translation of legal code into technical code raises ethical and procedural questions. Smart contracts, for example, will become increasingly sophisticated.

Social

Humans are social animals, and by social we include family, neighbours, organizing, markets, governance, and politics, and of course sharing photos of cute cats. Studying the ecology of the internetome demands interdisciplinary work including those who study all things social and those who design, develop and study technology. Social computing, for example, is a rich field of research integral to the broader interdiscipline of web science. Almost needless to say, the societal consequences of the internetome are felt by every individual, taking us back to where we started at the top here.

As for any advanced field of study, it is challenging to communicate the findings of social science in ways that everyone can appreciate. Fortunately, the rich corpus of utopian and dystopian storytelling — in books and movies — over the past century alerts us all to the deep consequences at play here. One rich seam delivering worse outcomes for everyone entails ideas and plans presented in the name of the majority, i.e. quite possibly to the detriment of the minority, aka "the others". How is this worse then for everyone? Because in some contexts at some times you and yours will be "the others".

If there's one conclusion to finish here with then it's this. If anyone presents or champions a policy or protocol or technology or "solution" in terms of it being simple / obvious / a no-brainer, then either they don't know what they're talking about, or they do and hope you don't.


Last update 6 Aug 2021. Creative commons attribution 4.0 international. Thanks to the web design talents of BootstrapMade. Images by naki-sama, Vecteezy.