Hiroshi Esaki, Ph.D.
Hiroshi Esaki, Ph.D. Director

By connecting all computers via digital technology, the internet has succeeded in forming a global platform for the transparent transmission, exchange, analysis, and processing of digital information. This is not merely a digital space. Instead, this cyberspace is made up of diverse individual digital spaces combined in an autonomously distributed fashion.

All people on earth are being connected with computers via digital communications, a vast sea of digital data (big data) is being brought online and digitally processed to become information, and people and “things” are interacting using that information, forming a huge, global-scale ecosystem that continues to expand, spread, and grow more sophisticated at a rapidly increasing rate. Having passed through the “web” as its first wave and “information search” as its second, the internet now appears to be diving headlong into a third wave: “digital native / internet native”. The fusion and integration of cyberspace with the real world is regarded as shifting from the Cyber-Twin (networked digital twin) stage into the Cyber-First paradigm. The internet, having so far been confined to cyberspace, is now beginning to encompass the entire physical world as well, forming a new ecosystem on the premise of integration and coexistence with IoT, big data, and artificial intelligence. We may perhaps call this the internet’s new awakening.

All life forms represent a historical record that is written in genes. They all have a blueprint, and each individual takes shape in accord with this blueprint. The blueprints (i.e., genetic codes) of each organism’s descendants are constructed from components extracted from that organism’s historical record. In his book The Selfish Gene, published in 1976, English evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins argues that the individual organism is a “survival machine” for its genes. The internet’s genetic makeup has continued to evolve in a way that respects what actually works in preference to theory and authority, driven by the standardization of technology and systems that demonstrate a respect for diversity and a deliberate avoidance of optimization. This is reflected in the following words, which are symbolic of the internet community’s shared mindset.

We reject: kings, presidents, and voting.
We believe in: rough consensus and running code.
(Dr. David Clarke, MIT, at INET92 in Kobe, Japan)

The ongoing process of genetic recombination causes genetic functions to be recombined, the imperfect copying of genes maintains and increases diversity, and mutations result in the acquisition of new functions. Natural selection, meanwhile, prevents the explosive spread of unnecessary complexity and diversity, thereby restricting complexity and diversity to appropriate levels. It is in this manner that blueprints (genetic codes) are passed on and evolve.

The internet’s genetic imperative is to use common technology to interconnect exclusivity silos—closed ecosystems built on proprietary technology—to form a single unified system. As a result, it has succeeded in creating a One for All, All for One-style social ecosystem within which flows a positive spiral whereby investments made autonomously by individuals and organizations contribute to the internet’s growth, and the internet’s growth in turn drives the enhancement of services provided to those individuals and organizations. Driven by this genetic trait of interoperability, it seems, the survival machine’s target continues to expand, from a network interconnecting computers to a network that interconnects and integrates all societal and industrial systems, as in the Society 5.0 concept. The biggest opposing genes for the internet’s genes are those that promote the creation of silos and blocs, and since these cause friction with state protectionist policies in more than a few cases, it is important to engage in dialogue to ensure they can coexist. Further, the free exchange of information between all organizations (multi-stakeholders), countries included, and the cybersecurity necessary for autonomous systems to survive the various incidents that arise are important and necessary conditions for enabling the internet’s genes to survive.

With the internet genes’ survival machine having expanded its scope, the genes of nationalism and protectionism have become increasingly aware of its existence, and the stage thus appears set for exploring the prospects of coexistence and competition between the two. Moreover, OTT (Over-The-Top) providers—most prominently hyperscalers such as GAFA & BAT—are accelerating moves toward concentration and centralization, rather than the decentralized, distributed nature of systems that is a key element in the internet’s genetic makeup. The relationship between such organizations and providers of internet infrastructure is thus becoming asymmetric. Network neutrality is becoming the new talking point. In recent years, these three sets of genes appear to be going through a phase of interaction, conflict, and recombination.

The exchange of information across organizational boundaries is bringing transformative changes to the structure of many companies’ businesses.

The ability of all members of an organization to engage in two-way communication with external individuals and organizations is making it possible to plan, produce, and deliver products and services with speed and accuracy. This is the connected organization. The emergence of connected organizations is causing traditional push supply chains driven by vendors to evolve into a pull demand chains driven by users. Information on potential consumers’ demands is collected, shared, and analyzed in real time, and an optimal volume of products and services with appropriate functionality is delivered to consumers, giving rise to a value-creation chain that produces the appropriate volume of high-value-added goods and services. And through the ongoing cycle of disruptive innovation, this value-creation chain will increasingly grow and evolve. Changing the current (or past) vendor/provider-driven business structure to a user-driven one is synonymous with shifting from a top-down (waterfall) model to a bottom-up model.

In addition, streamlining logistics and distribution effectively reduces the amount of physical resources and energy required, which makes it possible to contribute toward resolving global environmental issues as well. This is the concept of “Green by IT/ICT”. In one case, the sharing of information between different enterprises within a business chain successfully reduced the required warehouse capacity by 40%. This is an example of the multiple payoffs that the internet’s genetic code enables. The unbundling of platforms from the media on which they are used, and the unbundling of applications so that they are not locked onto platforms, make it possible for a single platform to accommodate a variety of different applications, and this facilitates platform sharing and the sharing of investments in platforms (multiple payoffs). In short, neutrality and transparency with respect to platform applications enables the formation of efficient, sharing-economy systems that offer versatility and persistence.

Policies for managing data ownership are key to realizing these sorts of multiple-payoff environments. Even if IT devices and systems are provided by the service provider, the user should retain the rights to his or her usage history and any data transmitted. In fact, in the IT industry and the ICT industry, the user retains ownership of all data present on and generated by devices used by the user. For example, if a patient’s medical data belongs to both the hospital and to the patient, this allows for the use and distribution of that data in a patient(user)-centric fashion, and it can also prevent the monopolization of information. It is important to consider big data businesses and IoT businesses from this perspective. To prevent the exclusive ownership of data by the OTT hypergiants, most prominently GAFA + M/BAT, we must establish and put into practice sound approaches to data ownership. This is a crucial requirement for key systems when it comes to guaranteeing opportunities to provide services to all end users, which is a key component of the internet’s genetic makeup.

Hence, the gene responsible for enabling interoperability is what facilitates multi-payoff models, whereby a single investment pays off on multiple objectives. The sharing of resources makes it possible to improve quality and reduce costs (TQC) as well as improve service continuity by increasing redundancy (BCP), helps to improve the environment and save energy by reducing waste, and facilitates new business creation driven by the use of data. Providing opportunities to freely provide new services to all users via the internet is key to realizing the multiple-payoff paradigm. No doubt herein lies the reason why legal systems cannot keep up in economic systems premised on the existence of the internet. For instance, datacenter-based cloud computing systems enable the sharing of affiliated organizations’ data in a safe environment as well as efficient and creative data integration, while at the same time also enhancing disaster resilience, improving cybersecurity functionality, reducing fixed costs (both personnel and equipment), and greatly reducing power consumption. Moreover, they are also an example of the “Compact & Networked” concept promoted by Japan’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, a concept that sets out the direction Japan should take on social infrastructure with a view to 2050. This links in with the Cloud-by-Default policy approved by the Cabinet Office in May 2018.

The internet’s genes also implement a transform that disaggregates (or unbundles) vertically integrated silo-like economic structures into a matrix composed of multiple platforms. Sharing economies on internet systems that separate use and ownership hinge on two properties of an internet technology invention called IP packets (i.e., digital packets): (1) all digital content can be packaged into a common type of digital packet (they are independent of the type of media transmitted) and (2) digital packets can be transported by all transmission media (they are independent of the transmission medium). Making a shared, interoperable platform available to the entire range users and services results in operational efficiency gains and fosters a competitive environment, thereby simultaneously engendering better quality and lower costs. In essence, this mirrors the distribution system sharing economy made possible by containers and pallets invented in the 1950s, and what this says is that we are on the cusp of a major revolution in distribution via digital technology. Another example of a social and industrial innovation that unbundles ownership and usage rights is MaaS (Mobility as a Service), something the auto industry is staking its survival on. Under the MaaS paradigm, people do not own cars and other vehicles. Instead, they pay to use whatever vehicle they need when they need it. Yet, in some sense, almost all human transportation can be seen as MaaS, with automobiles—or more precisely, private-use cars—having been the exception. Planes, trains, buses, and ships represent the unbundling of ownership and usage rights. People pay a fee to use these modes of transport when they need them, and in that light, private-use autos have actually been the exception rather than the rule. Yet we are now set to unbundle auto ownership and use, and we are also seeing private-use autos generating multiple payoffs through services such as Uber, whereby the owner of a vehicle not only benefits from its private use but also earns income by making it available to others. In other words, unbundling clarifies who the user (what the application) is.

By earning fees from a diverse array of users, platform providers enhance their investment efficiency. The internet’s gene code, meanwhile, attempts to maintain an environment in which users can select and use whatever platform is optimal, without being locked in to any particular platform. This makes it feasible to research and develop white box IT devices being advanced by hyperscale companies like Google and Facebook. This has properties in common with humanity’s first digital inventions: language, writing, and money. We are now coming to realize the digital properties of money in full, as exemplified by virtual currencies, and this realization, I would argue, is fueling a major revolution of a type similar to the digital revolution seen in content industries such as publishing and music recording.

Further, the invention of programming (code) has freed functions and services from (made them independent of) the hardware. As a result, functions and services can be updated or changed rapidly, and dedicated devices are fast becoming unnecessary. It is becoming possible to quickly and easily create (and later terminate) physical outlets for services at low cost wherever they are needed. Similar to the way blockchain can be used to define a company in cyberspace, it is becoming possible to define and build society’s physical systems in software. This is known as software-define infrastructure. 3D printers are a prominent example of this. Simply by sending a program to any internet-connected 3D printer, you can output any object you like from cyberspace into the real world. This is a typical example of a cyber-first system.

What we need at this stage is rapid system design and decision-making within cyberspace in a way that respects the internet’s genetic code, along with the formation of strategic and appropriate rules.

New IT strategies are being formulated with a view to the staging of the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo, and we must push forward with the task of making social infrastructure smarter and more sophisticated in a way consistent with internet and cyber-first principles. Given the internet’s broad reach throughout society and the availability of commercial internet services, the task of enhancing the quality of trust offered by the internet is regarded as a priority. Because the internet is now so widespread and acts as a basis for industrial and social activity, governments seek to tighten their control over the internet for national security considerations and reasons. This trend appears to be gaining momentum not only in the likes of China and Russia but across the entire world. From this perspective also, it would seem crucial that we remain acutely aware of the importance of maintaining and developing environments apt to creating and forming the knowledge and experience to independently design, implement, build, and operate global research & development networks, and that we reaffirm the responsibilities that WIDE Project shares with all of its member organizations. Against this backdrop, WIDE Project must develop and expand the global network environment and set in motion a new stage of research & development.

WIDE Project is operated as a consortium of academic and industrial partners. By offering an environment geared toward practical and applied research—which differs from the objective-based research common to business organizations and fundamental research found in academic circles, where creativity and originality are sought—WIDE Project has been able to achieve results that go beyond those of conventional research institutions. This is a research model unique to WIDE as a defining element, and part of its genetic code, and it is essential that we further develop and maintain this approach to our research.

In closing, I would like to express my sincerest gratitude to all those individuals and organizations that have supported the activities of WIDE Project and to ask for your continued participation, cooperation, guidance and encouragement. With your help and cooperation, I am excited at the prospect of having this opportunity to work together with you all to explore new fields and strive towards the realization of safer, more secure social infrastructure.

Hiroshi Esaki
March 2019