The Base Delta Principle (Codex Vagus: essay 03)

Some time in 1997, I was unemployed and bored, and in between translation gigs which I conducted via email (which was relatively new thing in those days) I was frustrated with the low speed of the dial-up modem connection I had in my provincial location. Over the course of three days, I composed and posted a proposal on how connection speed could be improved. The essay eventually made its way to publication in The Internet Research Journal. For what it’s worth, I was awarded “the commended paper of the year award” by the journal, which I understand to be a notch below “outstanding” paper of the year. I regret that I never thought of presenting the paper as a dissertation for a degree in computer science, in which case I might have gained another PhD.

Codex Vagus is the title I gave to essays unrelated to creative writing on this blog.

Codex Vagus: essay 03

Back in the day when the internet moved at a snail’s pace and images appeared on the browser like molasses creeping down the screen, we would spend those moments wondering how many years we would need to wait before we had cable connections in our homes as the dial-up modem buzzed and clicked away.

It was in those moments that I came up with a simple solution. Arpanet, the precursor to the internet, was developed as a defense against a nuclear attack. In the conventional telephone network, all calls connected to a centralized telephone station where they were redirected to whoever you were calling via a mechanical (or manual) switchboard. Such telephone stations were usually situated in the middle of the city, a logical target for a nuclear attack, and if they were taken out, two survivors living close by in the suburbs would not be able to communicate with each other. The telephone network was laid out like a school of starfish each radiating from a central hub. The idea of the Arpanet was to get rid of the starfish layout and replace it with a fishnet. If any point in the fishnet was destroyed, the message would be relayed along net until the message found its intended recipient.

But the time the internet reached individual homes in the 1990s, the fishnet structure of Arpanet was gone. It was replaced by numerous internet service providers (ISPs) which connected to larger, more centralized service providers, which connected to each other via broad bandwidth cables. In short, it had reverted to the same starfish structure that made the telephone network vulnerable to nuclear attack.

My solution to the slow internet connection was to go back to the fishnet structure of the original Arpanet. More accurately, to incorporate a built-in incentive to build a fishnet structure. Back then, as it probably still is now, a subscriber would pay the ISP a monthly fee. The ISP would pay a connection fee to a higher level service provider, which in turn will pay a larger provider which had access to the biggest bandwidth connection. The starfish structure was actually shaped more like snowflakes with high bandwidth “trunks” protruding from the hub, which divided into narrower bandwidth “branches” which in turn divided into narrower bandwidth end users. The subscription fees flowed from the end users with the lowest bandwidth to the ISPs with the greatest bandwidth.

My proposal was to keep this payment hierarchy intact, but allow the peripheral servers to mutiny against the fee collecting servers. If a medium level server on the branches of the snowflake were to sprout a new broadband connection directly to the hub, the formerly superior trunk servers that used to collect fees from said server will become subservient. The table will be turned on the former superior “trunk” servers and they will be forced to pay fees to what was formerly the inferior “branch” server. The “trunk” will become the “branch” and the “branch” will become the “trunk”, and the money will flow in the reverse direction. Since all businesses would prefer to collect fees rather than to pay fees, each ISP would continuously create new broader bandwidth connections in order to stay ahead of the game.

Near the end of my proposal I wrote “The world would be a significantly different place by then. The cost of information in such an environment will not be free, but terribly cheap. People will work, play, and communicate through the Net at levels unimaginable today. Network computers may be integrated into such household items as microwave ovens, dish washers, air-conditioners, toys, and anything else that contains microchips today. The volume of data transmitted through the Net will reach astounding levels and more profit will be at stake for the servers than ever before.” This prediction was made a decade before “Internet of Things” (IoT) became the new buzzword. I titled this essay “The Base Delta Principle”.

“Delta” refers to the triangular shape of the smallest unit of the internet. Three servers must be connected to each other. If servers A, B, and C are connected in the shape of a triangle, when the cable between A and B is destroyed, a message from A can be sent to C and relayed back to B. When all three servers are connected to each other with the same bandwidth, they are peers to each other. When many such triangles are interconnected in an extended mesh, you have a fishnet structure. Components of this fishnet structure may collect fees from slower connections branching off from it. If any part of the mesh adopts a faster connection, they will be able to collect fees from slower portions of the network, with the stipulation that the fastest connection must have at least three interconnected triangles to start collecting fees as the top tier network. Profit motive will incentivize slow servers to upgrade by connecting to the nearest fastest base delta.

It’s a shame I never learned to code. I was clearly on to something. But my proposal was missing a crucial element, which was the automated payment structure. There was no way to make the money automatically flow toward the faster networks because cryptocurrency had not been invented yet. In 2014, I incorporated cryptocurrency into the original idea and tried to get my new proposal published, this time in a Japanese journal. Japanese companies had been lagging behind in the IT industries and I wanted to contribute. It was a mistake of course. Japanese journals were not interested in such conceptual proposals. Being already busy in my professional life, I shelved the project.

Eventually, I discovered that the cryptocurrencies Theta Token and Helium Token were based on ideas similar to mine. I have yet to invest in them. I have become rather wary of cryptocurrencies.

Both Theta and Helium tokens incentivize the adoption of ever greater connectivity, but only within the framework of existing cable. They do not encourage investment in physical cable construction. Which is a shame. What is the point of an exponentially appreciating crypto asset based on connectivity if they do not incentivize the construction of physical broadband connections? If cryptocurrency could be tied to physical assets that are producing marketable services, it would be compatible with such concepts as “book value” and “earnings per share” making it a much less volatile asset and a much more trustworthy one.

But it doesn’t end there. What if every cell phone and every car phone were not just end users of connectivity, but could serve as waystations that could earn connectivity fees from neighboring phones? Areas without cell phone service will be greatly diminished. If some cellphones could connect directly to orbital satellites, they could earn fees while resting in your pocket. Even if you are an end user, the constant give and take of fees depending on where you are and how you are situated will offset some of your connectivity fees.

Such a system may also bypass the problem of net neutrality and internet choke points. When broadband connections are no longer monopolized by the richest corporations, you will no longer have to worry about net neutrality. You could turn the table on your ISP by building a connection to your nearest delta. You can also get the message in and out of totalitarian regimes via satellite phones and constantly shifting networks.

Someone clever enough to work out all the engineering hurdles of the Base Delta Principle may become a billionaire some day. I am still waiting for that day to materialize.

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