Thought Leader: Digital networks

Thought Leader: Digital networks


Founder of Juniper Networks, California

 For the Thought Leadership meeting on March 10th 2015, Pradeep Sindhu's reflexion:

On disruptive forces 

“Many, if not most, of the disruptive forces in the coming decades will be traceable directly to continuing exponential improvements in information technologies.”

 On the capability of humans unaided by technology

“In sharp contrast with the exponentially growing capability of individual computing, storage, and networking (CSN) elements, the capability of individual humans unaided by technology certainly is not. It is growing (if at all) slowly and at evolutionary time scales.

The total population of humans is also growing much more slowly (a few percent per year) than the number of CSN elements (close to 100% per year).

Thus the difference between the total capability of CSN and the total capability of humans unaided by technology is growing exponentially.”

 On three elements of Information Technology

“While technology is all around us, the basic elements of information technology: computing, storage, and networking, are still poorly understood by policy makers. What is even less well understood is which aspects of these elements are fundamental and which are merely superficial.

Computing (C): these elements perform calculations and make decisions; the kinds of computing elements that are fundamental are those that are general purpose and fully programmable.

Storage (S): these elements store information; the kinds of storage elements that are fundamental are those that provide random access to storage locations or those that store information permanently, or both.

Networking (N): these elements provide connectivity between the computing and storage elements; the type of networking elements that are fundamental are those that provide any-to-any interactive connectivity at large scale.

Of the three elements, networking enjoys a special status because it empowers the other two: while the capabilities of individual computing and storage elements are limited, networking permits these limits to be transcended by allowing these elements to communicate with each other. When the network is fast, any-to-any and interactive, the power of the storage and compute elements is maximized.”

 On why computing, storage, and networking (CSN) are growing exponentially

“Is there some kind of law behind this growth or is it simply a consequence of the use of particular technologies used to build these elements? Ray Kurzweil has argued convincingly that this growth is more fundamental and has little to do with the particular technologies used.

I agree. In fact, I will go further to assert that this growth is exponential for two reasons: First, the rate at which any closed system can innovate (i.e. produce new knowledge) is proportional to the total capacity of CSN available to the system at that time; since we have every economic incentive to increase the overall rate of innovation, it follows that we also have a strong incentive to increase the total capacity of CSN with time. Second, the increase in the capacity of next generation CSN elements depends directly on the capacity of the current generation elements; this leads to exponential growth in capacity given the economic incentive.”

 On consequences of exponential growth in CSN

“Most of the consequences of the exponential growth in the capability of computing, storage, and networking (CSN) has been, and will continue to be, overwhelmingly positive. There is virtually no aspect of the human condition, from mundane to esoteric, that is left untouched by technology. Most importantly, technology has expanded the capability of humans beyond what was thought even remotely possible even a decade ago. The Internet has become the most awesome platform for innovation the world has ever seen, and the innovation unleashed shows no signs of slowing down.

However, there are areas of concern as well, and these should be debated openly and thoroughly to see how their negative impact can be mitigated. Two of these issues go to the heart of what it means to be human, and therefore deserve special consideration:

The nature of work: Over time more and more of the work that required capabilities once thought to be uniquely human will be automated. The type of work that will remain for humans will either require ever greater intellectual capability, or consist of tasks that most people can do easily but machines find difficult at that time. This bifurcation of work into two classes that pay very differently is already visible and will have far reaching consequences on society.

The nature of thought: Thinking once occurred inside our heads and occasionally these thoughts were communicated using language, either orally or in writing. Increasingly, as our mind is augmented by CSN, thoughts once completely private are being rendered into electronic form, making them vulnerable to compromise by individuals or organizations. The legal framework for protecting the privacy of such thoughts is wholly inadequate to address this issue, and unfortunately the technology to secure the underlying information is not in much better shape. Nonetheless, given the possible profound impact on individuals, this issue needs urgent attention.

The concentration of power: As the capabilities of CSN increase, there is great danger in them being used for harm rather than good, especially in the light of the privacy issue raised earlier. One danger is the marshalling of technology resources by people intent on doing harm over the network; this danger has been recognized, but unfortunately technology is not yet capable of fully mitigating it. An equal danger is the concentration of power in the hands of a small number of organizations, private or government. This second danger is far more insidious because history has shown that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. There needs to be vigorous debate about how much power should be put in the hands of the few, followed by appropriate restrictions, if we are to retain our freedoms as individuals over the long term.”


For the Scale-Up Party on March 10th 2015, Pradeep Sindhu's thought leadership reflexion:

 On the dark side of creative destruction 

 "I'm going to talk about exponential growth. Most of the destructions that are going to happen with people, with societies in the next decade are going to come from the exponential growth of technology and particularly information technology. Information technology has three components: computing, storage and networking. Out of these three technologies, the one that is actually the most important in driving this exponential growth is networking for a whole bunch of reasons. The problem is that most people do not understand the consequences of exponential growth. Most of the benefits are going to be overwhelmingly positive and we have already seen that, but there are three dark clouds that I want you to be aware of and policy makers need to pay attention to these three things.

Number one is that people’s private information that used to be inside their brains is now going out into the network and devices and so on. This needs to be protected. We need a digital rights law which belongs to the current century and not to five centuries ago. The second one is that the nature of jobs might change dramatically. Historically, whenever there have been new technologies, new jobs have been created. Well this time around, not only mechanical jobs but also intellectual jobs are going to be usurped by machines. What is the nature of jobs going to be ten, fifteen, twenty years from now? We have to think about that. The last dark cloud is that while I had hoped personally that the internet would be a great force for unleashing innovation, it has been that but it has also resulted in the concentration of power by governments as well as companies to do things that individuals may not want, and that’s another thing that we really have to be careful about."