‘Solve’ is the new mantra

In the early days of the World Wide Web, our challenge was the assembly and organisation of information: to make knowledge findable. This was the era of Google. Google, and other technologies like it, gave us the wonderful ‘web of what?’ enriching our culture and turbocharging commercial life.

In the next phase—sometimes referred to as Web 2.0—the challenge was participation: to invite human beings to engage in the process of curating knowledge, contributing and connecting their own thoughts, insights and networks. What began with blogs and Wikipedia has already become the era of Facebook and Twitter. We call this, ‘the web of who?’ and it has undoubtedly enriched democracy and helped us to reimagine our idea of social capital.

But now something new is beginning that could make both of these webs look rather unambitious: to actually do things with all that knowledge. The goal now is to take that storm of socialised data and process it to solve problems, from the trivial (which shirt shall I wear today?) to the critical (which species are pivotal to our ecosystems?) or the simply fascinating (where exactly is all the dark matter?). This is the ‘Web of Why?’.

At the Supernode Foundation, we hope that this new web will be even more transformative—enriching innovation, progress and sustainability by enabling us to take better decisions together. We want to increase the sum of human ingenuity. And everyone is invited to be part of it. Even the child who wants to become a rocket scientist!

The Supernode Foundation, is a not-for-profit venture, which is creating an open source laboratory for problem-solving components. Try thinking of it like Lego for logic. Or a universal open access wikicalculator to which new buttons are added every day.

An era of Big Data needs a Big Calculator. The Supernode is that calculator. It turns instructions for calculation—the code of modern living, if you like—into simple elements we call ‘nodes’, and then allows users to react these nodes together to make new insights, or answer old questions. In the process, people create and then get to name, their new nodes —their own personal calculus—which others can then use to make newer, even more exciting calculations.

The Supernode is just the name we give to the sum of all the nodes—what British science fiction writer Douglas Adams famous for its book ‘The hitchhikers’ guide to the galaxy’ might have called, ‘The Calculator at the end of the Universe.’ It is a game of life where we all write the rules.

But what makes Supernode special?

Well, first, it is incredibly easy to use, based on dragging and dropping simple visual logic elements to make new calculations. A five year old child could do it. And they have. It makes calculations fun.

Second, the code ‘floats’ separately from the sea of data. Once you have established the calculation you want to do, you can simply point it towards the data sources you want it to calculate with.

Third, it is personal. If you do not want to, you do not have to show people how you have actually created your logic molecule, and you do not need to understand others’ molecules to use them. After all, you do not need to be Einstein to use his equations.

Fourth, it will work with any kind of ‘data’. If you can turn something—a film say, or a song, or even a dress—into a stream of descriptive data, then you can do calculations on it. When all life is deconstructed into data, anything can be calculated.

Finally, and most vitally, Supernode is social. In a perfect world —which this is not—no-one would ever need to perform the same calculation twice. They might want to, of course, for fun. But in principle the underlying calculus of life should be searchable, useable and synthesisable by all.

Now, Supernode is just a few months from being ready to use. But already, its early predecessor is online on Livesheets.com. So get in there and play!

Daniel Maxwell, Founder of the Supernode Foundation

Tim Kitchin, Member of the Board of the Supernode Foundation

On behalf of the Supernode Community

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4 thoughts on “‘Solve’ is the new mantra”

  1. Not exactly a supernode, but you can get an up-to-the-minute look at what people are sharing across the social networks, including Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus at http://oowot.com

    I will be looking at how the long term data can be much further analysed to spot trends etc.

  2. When we began to flesh out the designs for our two ideas, we realized that the act of retrieving a friend’s public cryptographic keys was the first challenge to solve. Certificate authorities are the most common way to obtain public keys, but require a large degree of trust to be placed in a small number of authorities. Web of Trust is another option, and is completely decentralized, but often proves difficult in practice because of the need for manual key signing. We decided to make our own decentralized protocol that exposes an easily usable API for clients to use in order to obtain public keys. Our protocol defines an overlay network that features regular nodes, as well as supernodes that are able to prove their trustworthiness, although the details of this are controllable through a policy delegate. The idea is for supernodes to share the task of remembering and verifying public keys through a majority vote of neighboring supernodes. Users running other nodes can ask the supernodes for a friend’s public key. In order to trick someone, an adversary would have to control over half of the supernodes from which a user requested a key. Our decision to go with an overlay network created a variety of issues such as synchronizing information between supernodes, being able to detect and report malicious supernodes, and getting new nodes incorporated into the network. These and the countless other design problems we faced definitely allowed us to appreciate the difficulty of writing a privacy application, but unfortunately, we were not fully able to test every element of our protocol and its implementation. After creating the protocol, we implemented small, bare-bones applications for our initial ideas of peer-to-peer chat and an encrypted social network.