Vallee, Jacques. The Heart of the Internet. Charlottesville, VA: Hampton Roads Publishing, 2003. ISBN 1-57174-369-3.
The author (yes, that Jacques Vallee) recounts the history of the Internet from an insider's perspective: first as a member of Doug Engelbart's Augmentation group at SRI from 1971, and later as a developer of the pioneering Planet conferencing system at the Institute for the Future and co-founder of the 1976 spin-off InfoMedia. He does an excellent job both of sketching Engelbart's still unrealised vision of computer networks as a means of connecting human minds in new ways, and in describing how it, like any top-down system design, was doomed to fail in the real world populated by idiosyncratic and innovative human beings. He celebrates the organic, unplanned growth of the Internet so far and urges that it be allowed to continue, free of government and commercial constraints. The present-day state of the Internet worries him as it worries me; he eloquently expresses the risk as follows (p. 162): “As a venture capitalist who invests in high tech, I have to worry that the web will be perceived as an increasingly corrupt police state overlying a maze of dark alleys and unsafe practices outside the rule of law. The public and many corporations will be reluctant to embrace a technology fraught with such problems. The Internet economy will continue to grow, but it will do so at a much slower pace than forecast by industry analysts.” This is precisely the scenario I have come to call “the Internet slum”. The description of the present-day Internet and what individuals can do to protect their privacy and defend their freedom in the future is sketchy and not entirely reliable. For example, on page 178, “And who has time to keep complete backup files anyway?”, which rhetorical question I would answer, “Well, anybody who isn't a complete idiot.” His description of the “Mesh” in chapter 8 is precisely what I've been describing to gales of laughter since 1992 as “Gizmos”—a world in which everything has its own IPv6 address—each button on your VCR, for example—and all connections are networked and may be redefined at will. This is laid out in more detail in the Unicard Ubiquitous section of my 1994 Unicard paper.

May 2004 Permalink