Humbly Report: Sean Bechhofer

Semantics 'n' stuff

Archive for October 2010

Infinite Bandwidth, Zero Latency

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Rich Picture

Rich Picture

I participated in an workshop on Infinite Bandwidth, Zero Latency (IBZL) last week. This was the second such event organised by the Open University and Manchester Digital, and brought together a diverse group of people to discuss the changes that might come about through the provision of limitless bandwidth. Participants included academics from a number of institutions, telecoms and networking experts, creative consultants, and representatives from community and third sector organisations. In his entertaining talk after dinner on Tuesday night, John Naughton reminded us that in terms of the changes that might be brought about by distruptive technologies, prediction is futile, citing the examples of systems such as YouTube and Facebook, which “no-one saw coming”. However, it is still a useful exercise to examine the challenges that new technologies can bring.


The workshop was facilited by Simon Bell of the Open University using a process known as Triple Task. This involved first drawing a rich picture that tried to capture our current thoughts about the issues raise by the introduction of IBZL. Following that, we identified opportunities and dreams within those pictures (although the distinction between the two is not always clear). These were then classified according to their achievability (easy/hard) and interest (exciting/not exciting). Finally, clusters were defined, that grouped these together, encapsulating various changes or transformations that might be brought about.

Throughout the day we worked in three groups, coming together after each session to report progress and exchange ideas. It was interesting to see much the final outcomes of each group differed, not just in terms of their content, but also the shape and level of the final clusters. One group identified a number of concrete proposals which one could begin to work on today (including some fairly radical ideas involving sheep farming). Our group identified four rather high level groupings: interfaces, control, data and network topology. Of these, the two that most interested me were the notions of interface and control. A summary of the workshop findings will be available in time.

Interfaces will be key. How do we filter the huge amounts of information now available in order to allow us to make sense of and use it? Along with the question of infinite bandwidth and zero latency, there was also a desire identified for ubiquity — such infrastructure is no use unless I can guarantee access to it. With such ubiquity the interface should become less about particular devices and more about simply the access to the information. Of course, I’m not claiming here that I know how any of this will work!

Throughout the day, we continually returned to the question of privacy. This eventually came out as a more general notion of Control, with the individual being given greater control over not only what information might be exposed but also where it might be stored. IBZL could remove the necessity for data replication or data centres — if I have unlimited connectivity, why don’t I just keep all my personal data on my desktop and then explicitly choose who I serve it to? This has the potential to shift the power balance back towards the indidivual, bringing greater personal responsibility.

Thanks to Steve Walker and Shaun Fensom for organising the workshop and inviting me, and also to the other participants for contributing to an interesting and stimulating day. It was particularly useful to meet Steven Flower from Substance, who is involved in the Open Data movement in Manchester and who has some data sets relating to Angling, which could well be useful for our FISH.Link project.

Rich Picture

Big Bird

Look at the size of that!

Finally, on a different topic, as the workshop was held at Manchester Airport, we had an opportunity to see the Emirates A380 Airbus. We missed the landing, but watched it take off in the afternoon. That’s a big, big plane. Increased bandwidth maybe, but it’s still a five hour flight time to Dubai — a long way from zero latency!

Written by Sean Bechhofer

October 25, 2010 at 10:52 am

Posted in workshop

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