Friday, January 29, 2010

Secure Natural Communications – Initial posting

Sitting in a lecture about global warming you have a new insight about the climate model you have been quietly building in your office, twelve time zones away. You mutter under your breath; let me change these variables, re-run my model, and see if my new results change how we deal with this pressing issue. As soon as the words come out of your mouth, the three dimensional plot of the new result appears on the personal display in the conference center. One example of secure natural communications.

You run into a college roommate on line. You are reminiscing about a third roommate. You say: I would like to talk to him. Although you don’t know where they are, your mere request to speak to this person causes him to be found and for the conversation to start.

Secure natural communications

Over the past twenty years, society has benefited from and been transformed by new infrastructures. Wireless infrastructure and cell phones have made us instantly accessible. The Internet and the World-Wide Web have changed the way we obtain information, interact with others, and shop. The next transformation will come from a far more intelligent infrastructure. Individuals will have a rich communications experience at will. People will be liberated from managing devices, constraints of distance and location, and knowledge of arcane commands. With foresight, we will build security into this infrastructure so privacy is restored.

We call this future vision “Secure natural communications”. It begins with a simple premise which provides a powerful result. The simple expression is:

Any player (person or device) can have a rich communications experience at will with any target without encumbrances of distance or additional devices.

We use the word player to refer to any person or device that needs to communicate with any other set of players.

People have many input / output capabilities – including speech, gesture, feel, vision, keyboard, etc. Devices also have their built-in input / output capabilities. Whenever a player wants to accomplish something which involves another set of players which has an information component, they can do so. An information component could be any communications or computing task imaginable.

Five key constructs: First, the player’s semantic experience is natural. That means, that they communicate – or request that a task be performed in their most intuitive fashion. They use exactly the same words, sentences, and nuances they would use if they were analogously trying to accomplish something in the physical world. The meaning of their action in the digital world matches what it would mean in the physical world.

The physical world is fully enabled and prepared to do what it must at the physical level to provide this semantic experience. Thus the player has a natural physical experience as well. Not only do they express the task with the words and sentences that are natural, but they use their preferred personal input / output modality: whether speech, keyboard, handwriting, gesture, video screen, etc. Sensors are ubiquitous to detect and display what is going on so that the expressive piece of the requester is natural and receptor piece of the player(s) being communicated with are equally natural.

The more natural the player’s experience at the semantic and physical level, the more intelligence required by the infrastructure to figure out what the player wants to accomplish. That is what we call the decode engine.

Aside from a decode engine that translates intent into action, there must be sufficient capacity to achieve everyone’s wishes. Core infrastructure is the design and specification of the aggregate capacity needed.

With this adequate capacity there needs to be a management operations system that allocates capacity to the requested tasks in an efficient manner. This is what we call information intelligence.

Purpose of this blog

I’ve been thinking about these ideas for a long time and part of my time will be to explore them further. Others have similar ideas and we need a place to come together to develop them. So this blogspot becomes a place where a community of people across different organizations come together to share ideas about future infrastructure.

I have ideas to get us started. The roughest outline is posted above. In my next several postings I will develop them further. But at each step I invite people to comment so we can make this everyone’s idea of the future.

To get from where we are today to a vision of the future requires a great deal. First it requires a well socialized vision that we can all agree upon. But that vision will rely on technology that does not yet exist. So part of the objective is to create a research agenda spanning several industries: IT, telecommunications, and nanotechnology with a very focused end goal.

At some point, the blog format will become unwieldy. At that point we’ll move to a wiki or some other sharing mechanism.

As we solve technical problems to create
this exciting future we will need to build prototypes and ultimately build out the infrastructure. That will be another topic we work our way through.

Where did this come from?

A bit about my background. I’ve been fortunate in my career to get the broadest exposure possible to a palate of technologies. At IBM Research for over 16 years, we explored the limits of the IT industry, and as VP of Systems and Software I learned, participated in, and explored the entire range of computer system and software technology. Later, as IBM Corporate VP of Technology, I assessed IBM’s entire technology base – including semiconductors, storage, systems, software, and services.

Later, as President of Research at Bell Laboratories, I had a similar experience and exposure – here with a stronger emphasis on telecommunications, nanotechnology, and physical sciences. Towards the end of my tenure at Bell, I gave a few papers on secure natural communications. It was the coming together of all the advances in two industries – projected a few years in the future – and bolstered by technology making new things possible.

I didn’t pursue it further. Many of the technologies were too early. The vision was too broad. How could one construct an effort to bring all of these technologies together.

I took a position as Executive Vice President and CTO of Novell. Novell, a leading Linux distributor participates heavily in the open source community. I saw the power. I saw how communities of like minded people can build operating systems, database systems, app servers, virtualization solutions, etc.

Here I am today, armed with this vision that unifies IT, telco, and core technology by creating a new infrastructure for our future. I see how this can be accomplished with the power of communities. I resigned my position at Novell. One of several objectives I now have is to now to create a community to drive secure natural communications. We start today.

Call for action

What am I requesting from you? First, participate. Give your viewpoints on the vision. Add your own vision. My starting blogs necessarily will evolve as great minds add their ideas

Second, invite your colleagues to participate. We want as many viewpoints as possible.

Third, have some respect for different viewpoints. The blogosphere can be unvarnished. I think we are all better off when we listen to others. There is a reason that we all have two ears and only one mouth.


  1. Is globalization that scary, more than often I can see that globalization is the devil, well, in some ways it is, but it others it is not.
    The World Wide Web (or the world wild web as some will call it), is globalization, communications happen instantly nowadays, when not that long ago it would have taken a trip via a steam boat from the old to the new continent.
    Coming together, teaming from all over the world is great, and it is to everybody’s reach or would soon be.
    Being open is great but this will not bring any rewards unless it is a base for discussions and offerings.
    I guess those are only words thrown in the courant

  2. To Anonymous: thanks for breaking the ice with the first comment.

  3. "You run into a college roommate on line. You are reminiscing about a third roommate. You say: I would like to talk to him. Although you don’t know where they are, your mere request to speak to this person causes him to be found and for the conversation to start."

    Will this not be an invasion into privacy? Today you cannot talk to the third roommate because he has chosen not to do so and we should respect his/her privacy.

    If you mean to say that suppose my friend and I are using say gtalk chat to talk. We suddenly think of our third roommate, but alas he is not online. But we have his contact number, we call him up and we can all talk together (two of us are using Internet and third is using telephone). If you are talking about this model, then also imagine the complexities involved in pricing(who will be charged for making the phone call and connecting with the Internet). Most of the people/Businesses involved are in for money...

  4. Chiku,

    I agree with your comment and clarification is required. I say in the blog that "we build security in so privacy is preserved". That is a fundamental piece that I omitted from the opening scenario. To your point, however, the infrastructure must connect the third roommate only if he has provided permission to do so. And the infrastructure needs to have the right mechanism for the third roommate to express his/her preferences.