The Rise Distributed Solutions & Architecture.
Our monsters have always played an important role in society, expressing social fears in a way not overly pessimistic, or too paranoid. Frankenstein, Dracula, Godzilla, Skynet – all fantastic fictional release valves for society’s unexpressed political, technological, and moral concerns.
In early 2012 I gave a small PitchJam talk at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace about the role zombie-lore was playing in society. It was a fun topic – at the time World War Z led a seemingly endless number of zombie related story lines that dominate pop-culture. Admittedly, any day I get to think about dystopic future is an interesting one.
More links to Zombie related movies and tv, then one could possibly ever need: Can be found here.
So what can a fetishistic pop-culture obsession with Zombies tell us about the global psyche?
Every good Zombie myth contains two overarching narratives;
- Society begins to lose its moral and ethical capacities en masse – let’s face it, indiscriminately eating the brains of your fellow human is pretty low.
- Governing and service systems are overrun and completely breakdown as a result. Again…who needs clean water or good governance, when you are eating brains?
I have always found this to be an interesting intertwining of the value we place on both our humanity and our systems. In a healthy society, these two values can drive each other to new heights – our humanity demands responsive improvement and advancement in our technology that betters our lives. In turn our systems give us greater control, better oversight, deliver better services, and generally develop in a way that integrates these innovations into our moral and ethical fabric.
However today we find the relationship between society and its systems increasingly at odds. We primarily rely upon legacy design theory crafted in the industrial revolution based on large unidirectional flow, and centralized intelligence/management. While truly revolutionary in its day, this approach is increasingly unsustainable – economically not viable, at greater risk of failure or compromise, and increasingly less responsive to society’s demands. Yet simultaneously we are asking our systems to handle an increasingly interconnected and interdependent world. Our networks of governance, of manufacturing, of infrastructure, of global health operate on a scale larger then ever, putting them at greater risk.
It makes sense then that a corresponding fear of systemic failure as well as the loss of a sense of control would arise. To the average citizen, it feels like the Zombies are at the gate (SEE: Game of Thrones, Season 5, Hardhome).
Here is the upside: Crisis breeds catalyzing change – we are in the midst of a historic shift in systems design. Agency, control, resiliency, and longterm sustainability are only achieved by fundamentally breaking away from brittle infrastructures of the past. We are entering the era of distributed systems.
This shift was set in motion years ago – any Internet historian will point out that the basis for distributed systems architecture can be found in the 1960s when ARAPNet was designed to move our data infrastructure away from single, centralized, and uni-directional system design, to a more robust, scalable and resilient architecture built around many nimble, self-sufficient networks seamlessly interconnected to make up the whole. Systemic intelligence and decision making were pushed to the edges of the network, breaking away from singular central control points that could be compromised.
Today we call this the internet, and with its success other sectors have begun to follow a distributed architecture. Mobile phone networks have successfully deployed networks in this way and, whether utilities want to admit it or not, energy distribution is on the cusp of fundamental change to this model – like the internet, these technologies are breaking away from brittle, vulnerable systems that are unsustainably bloated and moving to a multitude of microgrids seamlessly working together to deliver things like global energy.
On the more human level we are seeing this push as well – organizations like the Accountability Lab and others are working to push greater citizen engagement in governance through innovation technical and social architectures. Localism is a big theme within the social distributed architectures, taking back control. A fascinating mix of technology and humanity are driving local production of goods, food, and service. 3D printing, urban greenhouses, and slow foods, farm-to-table are all disparate social innovations remaking how communities think about their services and logistics.
Even more fascinating, this multi-verse of seemingly disparate networks is now interconnected. We get to ask incredible questions like: “How can tracking the patterns of public trashcan usage improve public transit deployment?” or “How can mobile data flows catalyze citizen engagement in government?” What once was a disparate group of networks has become a dynamic intertwined universe that has improved responsive in its localism, more viable in its design, and yet is universal in its reach.
When you start to look around using the distributed lens, the examples are endless.
The coming age of distributed systems architecture is a fundamental organizing theory at Reluminati. We believe the aging centralized system design of the industrial age is a thing of the past. The rise of distributed theory, built around notions of resiliency, responsiveness, control, and positive impact define every project we are involved in – both for the individual and perhaps, even more significantly, for the community. So while we have a healthy respect for the fear that resides in the Zombie Apocalypse, every fictional crisis provides us a chance to solve the world’s problems. We get to think about how to conquer the monsters – and really, is there anything more fun than that?Tags: 3D Printing, ARAPNet, Crowdfunding, Internet of Things, Mobile, Network Design, Political, Social, Systems of Systems, Technological, Zombies