Making GLIAnet happen: Layers10

 

Q.  So, how can we make this GLIAnet concept happen?

A.  Layers10

Certainty is a cruel mindset. It hardens our minds against possibility.

- Ellen Langer


To paraphrase an American politician, it will take an ecosystem.  (Or, to be precise, ten internetworked layers of an emergent GLIAnet ecosystem.)

Simply crafting and deploying in top-down fashion a new support overlay to the Web is neither viable nor advisable.  Instead, a complex, many-rooted, systemic challenge—such as the growing trust and accountability deficit in online tech—requires a coordinated, systems-minded set of organic solutions.  

Much like the tried-and-true software R&D paradigm, the GLIAnet Project will entail an iterative, experimental process—moving from basic research, to development, to deployment.  The raw material is a complementary mix of technology options, business models, policy elements, and organizing features.

Emergence from complex systems means the sum of the parts often will exceed them.  With GLIAnet, the more progress that can be made across the various network layers and business sectors and human systems, the more dynamic the ultimate impact can be.

Evi Nemeth’s keen insight

In the 1980s, software engineer Evi Nemeth posited that the Open Systems Interconnection (OSI) protocol stack, representing the online space, remained incomplete.  Important societal context, she noted, had been left out. Above the seven original OSI layers, Nemeth dubbed a new “Layer 8” to represent Finance, and a new “Layer 9” as Politics.

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Layers10, for the rest of us

Nemeth definitely was onto something important.  Even adding in money and politics to the Net’s design architecture, however, might not be quite inclusive enough.  Above the technology systems, the financial systems, and even the political systems, one other element needs to be added in.  Namely, the user; the consumer; the customer; the citizen; the peer. In short—Layer 10. The Human Layer.

Perhaps the larger insight behind Nemeth’s expanded online construct is that technologies and markets and political systems are not mere determinate forces, beyond anyone’s control.  These systems are created, not born. And humans are the ultimate creators. We routinely intervene and manage and guide events within these living, breathing systems—and can do so again here.

Layers10 essentially means addressing all ten network layers, mixed together in mutually-reinforcing ways.  It constitutes the “How,” the fundamental human dynamics that cross between the tech, the markets, the politics, and the social.  Taken together, it poses an immense but achievable governance challenge: building or reshaping our institutions and communities of interest for the resilience and adaptability, and freedom, necessary in the 21st Century.

A bevy of conceptual and analytical tools is available to help us better understand what needs to be done.  These include complexity systems thinking, network science, game theory, modular analysis, modern schools of economics (behavioral, new growth, platform, and crypto), polarities management, design theory, backcasting, risk management, ethical codes, and even “fuzzy” human values.

Much work needs to be done to identify the opportunities, and tackle the challenges, of bringing to reality something new.   Society today stands at an intriguing crossroads, with the technical means of enhancing human flourishing increasingly outpacing our lagging economic and political models.  GLIAnet provides a viable pathway worth exploring.

The larger collective benefits should not be ignored.  The empowerment of individuals through technology can drive the empowerment of communities of interest, whether the commonality is based on geography, personal ties, or perspective.  Consistent with the Internet’s end-to-end principle, deliberately pushing more intelligence and control to the edge of the network opens up new vistas for experimentation, self-organizing, and self-governing, all based on mutual trust.  The potential impact on society, markets, and politics—how we work and live, who we interact with and vote for, what we create and modify and preserve—cannot be fully appreciated in this moment in time.

To some, this may be a retrograde, against-the-current proposal.  At this historical juncture, perhaps it needs to be. With technological tools of trust and support, however, we have the opportunity to fashion new forms of connection and exchange—for trading and sharing, debating and deciding, buying and selling.  These tools can become a form of virtual glue that, in addition to mending trust and accountability deficits, and giving each of us greater individual autonomy, also can bind us closer together.

Time to think big, and act accordingly.  Future blog postings, white papers, in-person convenings, sidebar chats, and other activities in 2019 will seek to get the proverbial ball rolling.  It will indeed take nothing less than an ecosystem, of countless many people all across the globe, from all walks of life. I invite you to play whatever part fits your own interests, and your personal talents, and the collective need.  For starters, just reach out and say hello.

Thanks much for your time and attention so far.  Let the conversations, and the collaborations, begin!

Richard Whitt