Splinternet: The looming reality

Nirmal John, Shishir Prasad and Kanika Saxen write: (article behind paywall):

The Internet is dark in North Korea, and considerably less dark, but controlled with an iron fist in China. Russia has its own version of everything, from social networking to search. The countries of West Asia have sought to control the free flow of information, as have some regimes in Africa. The Internet is relatively open in the United States and Europe, but also under massive systemic surveillance by the intelligence agencies….
India has certainly been trying to create a different Internet, one where the country’s clout, heft and richness in data shines through. But this doesn’t mean it is trying to create a whole different beast, the way China did. Instead, India’s endeavour seems to be to find the middle ground between the relatively open, American version of the Internet, and China’s insular bubble. That is a difficult balance to achieve. The effort to create it will redefine the transformative technology’s relationship with India’s 1.3 billion people, hundreds of millions of who are still unconnected. This will create winners and losers in the equation. In doing so, it will also determine so much more than the future of the Internet in India.

There’s another news report which appeared recently:

He said IPv6 Forum is working to implement and expand IPv6 in India to develop the platform indigenously by using trusted devices. At present, there are 13 root servers which play a vital role in working on the internet globally. 11 root servers are located in the US and 1 each in Europe and Japan.”The Internet will stop working if any of the root servers are switched off. With an indigenous root server, India can continue to communicate within its own jurisdiction. Government, industry and other stakeholders can jointly manage it. We want technocrats in India to develop IPv6 servers,” Gupta said.

I will not get into the technical details- however, it has profound implications for the “free flow of data”. I have always held that western governments do extensive surveillance under the garb of “democracy and free speech” while the ones in the eastern world control the narrative and are unapologetic. We have muddled the privacy debate in favor of western constructs, whereas we need a robust ecosystem locally to define what we can give out to companies so that they profit from the accumulated goods “while giving back to the people what’s due”.

It has profound implications for machine learning that depends on the “data tap” (as I call it). Unrestricted flows muddles and favors the corporations who govern it according to a foreign system of governance. The governments of the day are seized of the matter (pardon the cliche) and have (or are trying to) erect several potential safeguards. These rules and regulations would definitely aim to benefit the individual but best ideas usually constructed (and imagined) cross borders by pooling in resources.

I think that the “idea of machine learning” will increasingly assume the complex dimensions of “geopolitics” and regulations would only stymie the innovation as certain bad actors (under the garb of social media) have capitalised on the unrestricted flows for their own benefit.

Here’s something more relevant from the ET Prime write up:

As Benedict Evans, a technology analyst, points out in an essay where he talks about the end of the American centricity of the Internet, “When Netscape launched in 1994 and kicked off the consumer Internet, there were maybe 100 million PCs on earth, and over half of them were in the USA. American companies set the agenda and created most of the important products and services, and American attitudes, cultures and laws around regulation and speech dominated.” He goes on to say that this is no longer so. “80%-90% of Internet users are now outside the USA. There are more smartphone users in China than in the USA and western Europe combined, and the creation of venture-based startups has gone global.” 

Globalisation (and unfortunate weaponisation) of the AI/ML will induce more harm than benefit as the general narrative is going to shift towards AI “taking away the jobs”. It would increasingly become more bureaucratic to even mount an investigation in the purported benefits. I feel that it would be prudent to open source the algorithms and deanonymise the data sets completely in the interests of transparency.

Splinternet (and attendant geopolitics) is a reality. We will have isolated ponds of excellence, and the general benefits of innovations (and a universal healthcare) would suffer.

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