Throwback Trillions™ Thursday: Scaling the Connected World

December 15, 2016 in Connected World
Peter Lucas
BCG Senior Advisor

This blog post is an excerpt from the whitepaper, “The Trillion-Node Network .”

For all practical purposes, the requirement of the Trillion-Node Network is for unbounded scalability. This is a major requirement. On the one hand, there is a clear need for some kind of ubiquitous standardization on a grand scale. On the other hand, the need for unbounded scalability places stringent restrictions on the use of central authorities of any kind. Any introduction of central address registration authorities, semantically coordinated global name spaces, universal ontologies, etc. represents costs and potential bottlenecks that cannot, in general, be tolerated. Any organization scheme that requires each device to receive any individual attention whatsoever in order to join the network is simply precluded—you just can’t afford it. Rather, the designer must assume what might be called a “deist” design philosophy. That is, the designer must adopt the role as being the creator of an evolutionary framework—the “laws of physics” if you will—for a sub-universe which will unfold on its own, driven by local decisions and environmental pressures, not by the active supervision of any god-like supervisor.

Establishing a Universal Standard

One of the few existing human-created systems of similar aggregate complexity is the worldwide economy. History has demonstrated that comprehensive central planning does not work in an economy, and there is every reason to believe that it will not work in vast networks, either. In both cases, there is an essential role for universal standards. But this role is extremely narrow and of a particular type. Specifically, successful universal standards tend to be syntactic rather than semantic. Their role is to enforce only enough standardization to support the existence of relatively efficient markets.

For example, governments establish universal currencies in order to define a common medium of exchange. Just so, the Trillion-Node Network will not become a reality until there is an agreement on a common “currency” to serve as the universal medium of exchange of information. This amounts to the establishment of a universal “information architecture.” Attempts to mandate universal standards for the semantics of transactions, on the other hand, are doomed to fail. Rather, these should be permitted to evolve bottom up—emerging by natural selection out of the cauldron of market activity.

A Naturally Evolving Information System

In our economy, standard contract terms are not codified by any controlling authority—they have evolved over time, reflecting the accumulated wisdom of many billions of individual transactions. Establishing conditions that support and encourage analogous evolution should be our highest goal as we design future information systems.

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