Emerging Technology Conference wrap-up: the thrall and the pall

by Andy Oram

Related link: http://conferences.oreillynet.com/etcon2002/

I attended a press conference on the last day of the
O'Reilly Emerging Technology conference.
The journalists were enthralled by the prospect of ever-connected Web
Services zinging requests from one Internet-connected host to
another. I tried to warn them, as I described in
yesterday's weblog,
that connectivity could not be taken for granted.

In contrast, the plug was recently pulled on law professor Lawrence
Lessig's computer by anxious university staffers who detected a Morpheus
server running on it. He had just installed the server so that he
could offer some of his significant and highly desired legal papers to
supporters and researchers. Nothing could better illustrate the
alternatives facing us than the thrall of richly textured Web Services
and the pall of Lessig's blank monitor.

The thrall

Each of the talks during the day came across to me as a taste of the
cornucopia the technical community is creating out of pervasive

  • At the morning keynote, Adam Bosworth of BEA demo'd his company's
    WebLogic Workshop, an integrated development environment that wraps
    Java code in all the rich packaging required for a Web service.

    Bosworth indicated that maintainable code should be coarse-grained
    (try to save network traffic by grabbing as much data as possible in a
    single call), asynchronous (allow results to return long after the
    request has been issued), and loosely coupled (so you can change one
    component without breaking others).

    He slipped in a dig at .NET, suggesting it promoted synchronous and
    tightly coupled applications. He declined to explain this claim during
    the following panel, but merely said it was the result of the initial
    implementation and that he has "no doubt that that will be resolved."
    Dave Stutz of Microsoft confirmed the (still unexplained) accusation
    and said it was a temporary result of creating a product that they
    wanted to be easily demo'd.

  • Rohit Khare extended the horizon of SOAP by promoting the notion of
    SOAP routing. When one service forwards data to another, it opens up
    possibilities of much more powerful applications. For instance, a
    publish/subscriber model could be implemented, where an intermediate
    SOAP router returns results not only to the original caller but to
    other interested parties. Recipients of information could also filter
    it and pass certain messages to subordinate servers for special

  • Dave Winer laid out a world of "250,000 weblogs" and asked how their
    interactions could change the way people form communities. He pointed
    out that a major recent release of a Macromedia product was promoted
    not just by the usual press tour, but by half a dozen weblogs
    published by internal developers. These continuously updated, in-depth
    discussions provided much more coverage than could ever be attained by
    neatly packaged marketing materials.

    Winer suggested that a weblog-heavy Internet would be not only more
    communicative, but nicer. Since a blog is closely associated with its
    poster and reflects back on him or her, posters tend not to "flame" or
    rudely attack targets.

  • Ekaterina Chtcherbina reported the results of research she carried on
    at Siemens AB concerning the potential of peer-to-peer for producing
    more highly available wireless networks.

The formal presentations were not the only parts of the conference
that gave a feeling of abundance. Wireless access throughout the
meeting areas gave us first-hand experience of what we have to look
forward to. At first, I feared that the pervasive Internet presence
would cut off all face-to-face conviviality. I was afraid everybody
would be buried in their email all the time. But this proved to be
unfounded. Instead, the Internet presence promoted interaction; any
time we had an interesting document or online discussion to share we
could just flip open a laptop or PDA and gaze at it as we talked.

The pall

In the midst of this ringing paeon to the new Internet potential came
the dismal toll of Lawrence Lessig's talk on "the future of ideas"
(also the title of his most recent book). Lessig and fellow panelists
conveyed how clueless policy makers are about the value of open
technology and innovation, and how completely they obey their funders
in the entertainment industry.

While Congress extends copyright in to perpetuity temporally, digital
rights management software backed by draconian law threatens to lock
it up technically. Lessig summed up the appropriate response to this
threat as "Write a letter, write a check." Let Congress know there's a
counter-movement out here. In addition, David Reed summarized the
strictures on wireless that I described in
yesterday's weblog.

Exploring my interest in wireless policy, I attended Tim Pozar's talk,
"FCC Rules and Regulations on 802.11." Only about 30 people attended,
which I found surprising because Pozar laid out elegantly the various
important regulations concerning wattage, equipment certification,
interference, and exposure to radiation. The only thing I found
lacking in his talk was that it treated the FCC as God. This may be
the only feasible attitude to take when trying to set up a business in
the current climate, but I would like people also to recognize that
the rules are flawed and sometimes both arbitrary and unfair. While
working within the existing rules, we must also work to change them.

The Emerging Technology conference proved that technologically, our
future looks bright. But legally, the clouds have gathered and are
about to shut out the sun. Both the networks we build and the
political actions we undertake will have a radical impact on the
outcome. The choice is between a multi-layered, omnipresent,
high-speed network with agents and infinite customizability, and an
impoverished, crippled environment of captured devices and controlled
interactions. By the time of our next Emerging Technology conference,
I would hope that society chooses the former, but it appears the battle will go on much longer.

Coverage of the conference:

Lightweight speed and power at Emerging Tech conference

(May 13, 2002)

This morning at the Emerging Technology Conference, O'Reilly staffer and author Rob Flickenger explained why we need wireless community networks (the subject of his recent book) and how to make one that is flexible enough to provide great bandwidth to its owners while still offering public Internet access to anyone who happens by. I also saw a way to build Web applications that is just as lightweight and unimposing as Rob's wireless network.

Emerging Technology Conference goes for reliable and secure

(May 14, 2002)

Many of my articles have enthusiastically promoted the hacker virtues of flexibility and features. But in the real world, reliability and security matter just as much.

O'Reilly Emerging Technology conference: breaking old regulations and old habits

(May 15, 2002)

David Reed: "Under the current regulatory regime, 802.11 would never have been legalized." Also Schneier, blogging, and file-sharing at the Emerging Technology conference.