Pointers All the Way Down

in·fi·nite re·gress
noun
LOGIC
a sequence of reasoning or justification that can never come to an end.

From Stephen Hawking‘s 1988 book A Brief History of Time

A well-known scientist (some say it was Bertrand Russell) once gave a public lecture on astronomy. He described how the earth orbits around the sun and how the sun, in turn, orbits around the center of a vast collection of stars called our galaxy. At the end of the lecture, a little old lady at the back of the room got up and said: “What you have told us is rubbish. The world is really a flat plate supported on the back of a giant tortoise.” The scientist gave a superior smile before replying, “What is the tortoise standing on?” “You’re very clever, young man, very clever,” said the old lady. “But it’s turtles all the way down!”

NP_jk_turtles-blog480

I spent most of my last post doing a brain dump of the research that I’ve been doing on the Internet and the digital ad industry. I’m attempting to analyze trends and understand where things are headed.

“The Internet” is actually composed of three parts:

  1. Surface Web – this is the part of the web indexed by traditional search engines.
  2. Deep Web – this is the part not indexed by traditional search engines.
  3. Dark Web – part of the Deep Web that exists on darknets, overlay networks which use the public Internet but require specific software, configurations or authorization to access

iceberg-web

It’s pointers/links/objects all the way down.

Decentralization

In Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler’s book Bold: How to Go Big, Create Wealth and Impact the World, they discuss the Six D’s of Exponential Technology:

  1. Digitalization – the tech becomes bits – ones and zeroes.
  2. Deception – initial hype followed by a period of the tech being dismissed.
  3. Disruption – the tech plays a role in subverting established industries.
  4. Demonetization – the tech makes things free.
  5. Dematerialization – the tech makes things disappear.
  6. Democratization – the tech is available to anyone.

Today, we are at the democratization stage of the Internet. With the rise of mobile phones, and the fuel of the digital ad industry, global Internet penetration, according to Internet Live Stats is over 3.6 billion and climbing, or roughly 40% of the world’s population. Links and clicks (i.e., pointers) are the currency of the Internet, and currently the battle to control these after being waged by the Internet giants.

Decentralization is a parallel step that happens all the way down the 6D process. The Internet protocol, BitTorrent, Bitcoin are all part of the P2P revolution has been happening, but as always in history, there is conflict when power is decentralized.

The AFK We Live In

Since I was a kid, I always felt that there was a subtle oppression against “the smart kids.” It was not cool to be into computers, and nerds were bullied. Things have changed quite a bit, now that computers are ubiquitous and Silicon Valley and the tech industry show the earning potential of nerds. Nerd culture and tech has become cool.

When I watched TPB-AFK, it felt almost like watching an X-Men movie. The government and corporate lawyers were afraid of these young Swedish kids with superpowers that could change the world with their code. The fear and despise that the politicians had for the nerds was palpable. The fact that these nerds were belligerent and immature didn’t help.

When they gave a tour of their underground lair where they housed Pirate Bay, it was just a few few servers in a rack – 4 CPUs with 12 cores,

“an efficient ship.”

With information decentralized and free, the positive, is that we also have an archive. Piracy was part of my childhood in the 80s, and we would use cracking programs like Pirate’s Friend, Locksmith and trade 5.25″ floppy disks that we would hole punch on the left side in order to make them double sided. Today, we have an archive of Apple II games from my childhood that I can look at and play. Nostalgia! and an important preservation of human art and history.

Ed Fries, a former executive at Microsoft has been restoring arcade machines and documenting the process. His blog post is as important as the preservation of the actual hardware. Perhaps more.

Popcorn Time

Popcorn Time is a video torrent streaming site. Will the real Popcorn Time please stand up?

real-slim-shady

The original Popcorn Time split into various forks, and each fork accuses the other of being malware or corrupt, then there’s this Wired article that talks about Popcorn Time being a form of ransomware.

TL;DR – As of this writing (4.20.2017), the version at https://popcorntime.sh/ seems to be the most robust.

popcorntime.png

It has a slick interface and for obvious reasons, much better selection of releases than any of the other “legitimate” video streaming platforms. In other words, it’s arguably a better experience than Netflix, simply because of the library, and that it’s “free.”

The P2P content genie has been out of the bottle since Napster, and it has grown impressively. With decentralization, art, information, and content becomes “free”. More people get to enjoy the content, and the creators have more reach then ever.

“But what about compensation?”

Human nature has a tendency to rank everything from best to worst. It is fundamental to our evolutionary survival. The prefrontal cortex

has been implicated in planning complex cognitive behavior, personality expression, decision making, and moderating social behaviour.[3] The basic activity of this brain region is considered to be orchestration of thoughts and actions in accordance with internal goals.[4]

The most typical psychological term for functions carried out by the prefrontal cortex area is executive function. Executive function relates to abilities to differentiate among conflicting thoughts, determine good and bad, better and best, same and different, future consequences of current activities, working toward a defined goal, prediction of outcomes, expectation based on actions, and social “control” (the ability to suppress urges that, if not suppressed, could lead to socially unacceptable outcomes).

In other words our brains are functioning like a quantum computer, constantly ranking and making choices to decide which direction to go. At some point, for most humans, through that process called life, this computer starts getting specialized programming that gets complex, and in a way corrupted by the traumas we suffer along the way. Much of society has evolved in a zero-sum game model where humanity is competing in a giant poker game to see who can get the most chips and sit at the final table. It’s gotten to the point that the richest 8 people (all men) in the world own as much wealth as half of the world’s population. Income inequality doesn’t even fully capture the disparity here.

Part of this inequality comes from the well known fact that “the rich get richer.” The Internet accelerates this phenomenon. Given that the Internet is driven by Google’s Pagerank algorithms, and social networking behaviors, the people and companies who are focused on maximizing their exposure and mindshare drown out the rest. Launching a new IP or movie requires millions of dollars in marketing to push signal through all the noise. Occasionally, there are those rare viral content hits that spread, but there’s so much competition to capture eyeballs, as was discussed in my last blog post.

Kevin Kelly’s classic essay 1,000 True Fans says that an artist only needs 1,000 true fans to make a living. With the decentralized and free distribution of content, it will be interesting to see how the Long Tail of information evolves.

The key players and pieces in this game in the West:

  • Google – indexing the world and controlling the flow of information.
  • Facebook – connecting the world and controlling the flow of information. Getting users to voluntarily share.
  • Amazon – connecting the products and consumers of the world.
  • Wikipedia – indexing the information of the world.
  • Wall Street – indexing and trading the financial energy of the world.
  • The Pirate Bay – indexing the digital content of the world.
  • Wikileaks – indexing and releasing the secret information of the world.
  • The Blockchain – a ledger containing decentralized transactions of the world.

Everything is a pointer, and there’s a tense battle between control and decentralization. I’m thinking a lot these days about how this will play out.

It’s pointers all the way down!

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