Centralization, Hidden Networks, and Society Change

The discussion about scaling brought up an interesting argument between centralization and progress.  Typically, centralization prevents progress from taking place.  Look at the telephone companies during the 1960s; they refused to take part helping build ARPANET.  To be fair, it would compete against their established phone lines, but this was the opportunity for them to improve their communications technology.  They had the mindset “this was the way things have always been done.”  However, not all centralized entities have this mindset.  Take Apple for instance.  They are the sole distributers and users of iOS, and their technology is closed source.  However, whatever new technology they make, from the Macbook Pro to the iPhone X, it always appears innovative.  Furthermore, because they design both the hardware and the software, the performance of their technology is phenomenal.  At this point, the importance of progressive centralization must be made known.  Centralization is not necessarily a bad thing, but it can keep us in the past if it refuses to move with the times.  In regards to the Internet, it was the best decision ever made.  It will definitely not have been at the scale it is today without decentralization.  It makes me question the motives of people who argue for a centralized, ‘stronger’ network (Ted Nelson, I believe).

I am not sure if it was Professor Smith or Professor Waldo who commented that “the World Wide Web is a small part of the Internet.”  Nonetheless, as I heard this statement, I could not help but think about all the other networks that the Internet connected, networks that we are not able to easily access.  It seems that the professors were alluding to the entity called the “Deep Web.”  Before leaving Saipan, I was having a great conversation with a friend about the Deep Web.  He talked about all the things you can find there, from illegal drugs to aircraft blueprints.  Although I never had the time nor the courage to explore this realm, it has not stopped my sister and I from learning about it.  However, it makes me think about the scale of the Internet.  What are these networks?  How did they get started, and what is being circulated around there?

The discussion about the iPhone backdoor and cryptocurrency was intriguing.  Although they are two separate technology issues, they are both representative of how technology, most notably cryptography technology, is redefining the way we live.  

Let us take a look at the iPhone backdoor incident.  Although the government was able to get into the attacker’s phone, they do not have the capability of unlocking all iPhones.  Even Apple, surprisingly, is not able to unlock all of its iPhones.  However, it could do this by installing some backdoor to all its future models, which it is hopefully never going to do.  If we think about it, phones are the extension of our minds and of ourselves.  While our lives might not be so private from the government anymore, our minds are still, and it should be kept this way.*  

Finally, let us take a look at cryptocurrency.  Before discussing about it, it must be noted that James Dimon, CEO of JP Morgan Chase, was the one who called Bitcoin a fraud.  Sure he may be an expert economist, but he is a leader of a bank, which makes us question if he has a conflict of interest.  Simple and hopefully obvious answer, yes.  After all, the whole idea of cryptocurrency is starting to undermine the centralized banking system.  Why would he not try to call out fraud on the currency that would ruin his bank?  However, it must be noted that whether Bitcoin is great or not, the fact is that our monetary system needs to change.  Recall what happened back in 2008.  It was not the fault of the people who bought houses they could not afford.  It was the fault of the banks for giving out all those subprime loans to people who definitely could not have afforded it.  Bitcoin was created in response to this.  And what did the banks have to suffer for punishment?  Nothing.  Instead, the Federal Reserve dubiously bailed out the banks using about $700 billion under the TARP (Troubled Assets Relief Program).  The Dodd-Frank bill was passed to control the financial institutions under the government, but the call to repeal it raises doubts about whether or not the centralized money system has truly reformed.    


* The ideas that were expressed here were by CGP Grey’s Youtube video “Should all locks have keys?  Phones, castles, encryption, and You.”  His ideas have made me rethink about security in the digital age.  He has other great videos that are related to the class.  A link to is video is posted below:



  1. profsmith

    September 22, 2017 @ 5:33 pm


    Interesting stuff, Robert. Thanks for your thoughts and the pointer to the helpful video.

    Jim said the line you quoted, and it is true. However, I want to make sure that people don’t assume that the WWW is a physically separate network in the way ARPANET and ALOHA network were physically separate networks. As the wikipedia page on the WWW states, “The Internet is a global system of interconnected computer networks. In contrast, the World Wide Web is a global collection of documents and other resources, linked by hyperlinks and URIs. Web resources are usually accessed using HTTP, which is one of many Internet communication protocols.”

    The Deep Web or Dark Net is also a collection of documents and other resources accessed through existing Internet protocols. Besides being an information space where lots of illegal activity takes place, the Dark Net actively works to stay hidden. It’s not that much different than illegal activities taking place in our physical society. These activities take place, for example, in cities and on our streets, using the U.S. mail system and the telephone networks. The same resources all of us use for our normal (legal) activities. We might pass right by an establishment doing illegal activities and not even know it. On the Internet, my data packets (pursuing legal activities) might speed along the Internet next to another person’s, a person sending and receiving data from Dark Net servers on the Internet that transact in illegal activities and do not broadcast to the general public that they exist.

  2. Jim Waldo

    September 24, 2017 @ 8:53 pm


    Very nice post; you are bringing up a lot of interesting points.

    When we said that the World Wide Web was just a part of the Internet, we were talking about more than the Deep (or Dark) web. All of the web traffic uses the http protocol (including the deep and dark webs). But there are lots of other protocols that are layered on top if TCP/IP. The voice calls that go over the Internet aren’t web traffic, nor are most of the video feeds. As we get to the Internet of Things, very little of the traffic goes over the web, and a lot of the traffic is between one computer and another.

    As for innovation and the question of centralized and decentralized– I think innovation can happen with either. The phone network, after all, was very innovative when it was first built. I think the real question of centralized or decentralized is around the question of who gets to do the innovation, and how much inefficiency you are willing to live with. Centralized approaches allow a great deal of coordination (and are therefore more efficient), but the only people that can contribute to the innovation are those who the central authority allows. This is why all of the Apple pieces work so well together (they have the centralized control) but only people from Apple can contribute (at least to the core system).

    Decentralized innovation is a lot more chaotic, but anyone who is interested can contribute. Sometimes the price of the chaos can be offset by faster and faster machines; the phone network didn’t need any gateways, but by the time the Internet came around those gateways could be built cheaply enough and could be fast enough that they didn’t interfere.

    Lots to think about as we move forward…

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