The future of interplanetary networks-A talk with Vint Cerf

30 Nov 2022 10:50h - 11:50h

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The internet is at a crossroads. We are entering a new space age, with many stakeholders completely revolutionising the playing field. Hence, there is a pressing need to think ahead about the challenges this new stage of the internet will bring. Developing an interplanetary network implies questioning ourselves about ethical issues, technical difficulties, and legal frameworks. This panel explored all of these topics and shed some light on potential solutions.

In 1998, the Interplanetary Network Special Interest Group was created as part of the Internet Society. Nowadays, the technical state of affairs is very advanced. The team has grown to about 30 people who are implementing bundle protocols all around the Earth to test on different platforms, different operating systems, and low-latency environments on planet Earth. They expect these to run just as well in the highly variable environment in the rest of the solar system. So, the problem has shifted from mainly technical implementation to deployment at this stage. What happens when you deploy a system like this? 

At the initial stages of deploying this kind of large-scale infrastructure process, the private sector always plays a central role due to the share of investment they can bring to the table. When large-scale infrastructure is set out in space, where so many issues are unprecedented, that immediately opens new avenues for debate. For instance, can a private company own a mine on the moon? Where do you register your ownership? What happens if there is a dispute over the claim? These are still unresolved questions, but a set of agreements called the Artemis Accords that are basically conventions by the parties participating in the Artemis mission are starting to look into it.

Another concern expressed by the panellists is how the concentration of power, resources, and patents by big tech companies like Google will translate into an interplanetary paradigm. The community currently in charge of the interplanetary work believes in open standards. 

The militarisation of space was also highlighted as a relevant issue to pay attention to. This can be solved in a similar manner as disputes that happen on international waters, where collaboration is more likely to occur than conflict. There are many joint missions and the International Space Station is a good example. The panel was optimistic that there is at least an opportunity to move in the direction of collaboration and resource sharing in space, where private and public players should also be able to work together as they do on the internet as we know it today.

By Paula Szewach


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