Reclaiming the Internet » with distributed architectures: rights, technologies, practices, innovation.
The research program ADAM (Distributed Architectures and Multimedia Applications, adam.hypotheses.org) (1) studies the technical, political, social, socio-cultural and legal implications of distributed network architectures. This term indicates a type of network bearing several features: a network made of multiple computing units, capable to achieve its objective by sharing resources and tasks, able to tolerate the failure of individual nodes and thus not subjected to single points of failure, and able to scale flexibly. Beyond this simplified operational definition, the choice, by developers and engineers of Internet-based services, to develop these architectures instead of today’s widespread centralized models, has several implications for the daily use of online services and for the rights of Internet users.
The final symposium of the ADAM project, open to disciplines as varied as science and technology studies, information and communication sciences, economics, law and network engineering, aims at investigating these implications in terms of a central issue. With the increasingly evident centralization of the Internet and the surveillance excesses it appears to allow, what are the place and the role of the (re-) decentralisation of networks’ technical architectures – at a time when infringements upon privacy and pervasive surveillance practices are often embedded in these architectures? Are distribution and decentralization of network architectures the ways, as Philippe Aigrain suggests (2), to “reclaim” Internet services – instruments of ‘technical governance’ able to reconnect with the original organisation of cyberspace?
Papers presented at the symposium may focus on one or more of the following four axes, although we welcome proposals that do not fully subscribe to them.
“Back to the origins”? Past and present of distributed architectures. The initial Internet model called for a decentralised and symmetrical organisation – in terms of bandwidth usage, but also of contacts, user relations and machine-to-machine communication. In the 1990s, the commercial explosion of the Internet brings about important changes, exposing the shortcomings – for the network’s usability and its very functioning – of a model presupposing the active cooperation of all network members. Today, in a world of Internet services where fluxes and data converge towards a few giants, experimentations with distributed architectures are seen as a “return to the origins”. But is it really about the dominance of an organizational principle at different times in history – or is there a co-existence of different levels of resource centralisation, hierarchy of powers, and cooperation among Internet users over time? Are we indeed witnessing a “war of the worlds” of which the recent tensions around surveillance are the most recent illustration?
(Re-) decentralisation, a sustainable alternative for the Internet ‘ecology’? The technical features of distributed architectures (direct connections, resistance to failure) and their ability to support the emergence of organisational, social and legal principles (privacy, security, recognition of rights) offer new paths of exploration and preservation of the Internet’s balance. At the same time, the road towards decentralisation is far from linear. The users behind the P2P nodes can assemble in collectives that are very varied in nature, complexity and underlying motivations. This variety may be dependent upon modes of aggregation, visibility devices, types of communication tools and envisaged business models (as well as the difficulty of identifying sustainable ones). Having programmed the infrastructures with the idea that the most part of users’ online activities consist in downloading data and information from clusters of servers, network access providers raise economic objections to P2P models. Finally, developers-turned-entrepreneurs themselves often need to revisit the choice of decentralisation, because of unexpected user practices, the impossibility of making distributed technology “easy” for the public, or the seductive simplicity of centralized infrastructures and economic models.
Decentralisation and distribution of skills, rights, control. How does distributed architecture redefine user skills, rights, capacities to control? How can law support user practices and their diversity, instead of countering them? The decentralisation of Internet services raises several issues at the crossroads of law and technology. What are the differences if compared to centralized architectures, non-modifiable by users, where data are stored on clusters of servers exclusively controlled by service providers? From the viewpoint of user empowerment, what are the consequences of introducing encryption, file fragmentation, sharing of disk space in the technical architecture? While “first-generation” P2P networks have affected copyright first and foremost, decentralised Internet-based service prompt us to investigate issues like the redefinition of notions such as creator and distributor, the responsibility of technical intermediaries, the ‘embeddedness’ of law into technical devices.
What are the communicational models at stake in decentralised infrastructures and architectures? Distributed Internet services have transformed and transform today the ways in which actors make sense of their communicational capacities and their responsibilities in information sharing. User empowerment, prompted by several P2P services – increasingly mobile, self-configurable and flexible – open innovative perspectives for infrastructures of communication, their functions and their mediation capacities among actors. In what ways does this evolution transform data and communication channels? What are the representations of the values subtending these architectures and the relations among their participants, vis-à-vis other Internet services, but also within the spheres of conception, discussion and circulation of these objects? What are the new forms of contribution and what do they enable in terms of pedagogical practices and shared literacies? Finally, in which ways do distributed infrastructures relate to the notion of ‘informational common good’?
We invite paper proposals in French and/or English, in the form of a 500 to 800 word abstract sent to the address [email protected]. Key dates:
Deadline for the sending of abstracts: May 15, 2014 (Please note that the submission deadline for abstracts has been extended to June 5, 2014)
Notifications of acceptance sent by the Program Committee: June 6, 2014
Deadline for full papers: September 15, 2014
ADAM final symposium: October 2-3, 2014
We envisage a collective publication originating from the conference and are looking into different possibilities (edited book or special issue of a journal).
ADAM Project Team and Program Committee of the Symposium
Maya Bacache, Département SES, Télécom ParisTech
Danièle Bourcier, CERSA, CNRS
Primavera De Filippi, CERSA, CNRS
Isabelle Demeure, INFRES, Télécom ParisTech
Mélanie Dulong de Rosnay, ISCC, CNRS
Annie Gentès, CoDesign Lab, Télécom ParisTech
François Huguet, CoDesign Lab, Télécom ParisTech
Alexandre Mallard, CSI, MINES ParisTech
Cécile Méadel, CSI, MINES ParisTech
Francesca Musiani, CSI, MINES ParisTech
(1) Funded by the French National Agency for Research (ANR), CONTINT (Contents and Interactions) Programme
(2) Aigrain, P. (2010). “Declouding Freedom: Reclaiming Servers, Services and Data.” In 2020 FLOSS Roadmap (2010 Version/3rd Edition), https://flossroadmap.co-ment.com/text/NUFVxf6wwK2/view/