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Daedalus was the mythical great architect and artificer of the classical world. Today, embedded intelligence is enabling the most profound changes in the way we create and use buildings since his day.

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Sunday
Oct262008

How to Enable the Energy Revolution

This weekend, I read what may be the most important book yet for those transforming today's grid into the Intelligent Grid, and transforming today's buildings and the systems inside them into Smart Buildings. No, it is not Thomas Friedman's "Hot Flat and Crowded", although that work has set the table nicely for discussions of the importance and opportunity of this effort. It is not and of the chap books from the Department of Energy, or the IEEE, or EPRI. It is not one of the many books on environmental eschatology. Nor is it any of George Gilder's visionary history books that bring perspective to technology.

I recommend that anyone involved in these efforts read "The Future of the Internet--And How to Stop It" (TFOTI) by Jonathan Zittrain. TFOTI is at first glance a sober history of technology and culture and regulation. TFOTI tells how the internet grew from its roots in telephone systems and closed garden communities into the amazing engine for transformation, innovation, and new wealth creation we know today. This happened because of a series of legal decisions and technological choices that let people place any device on the communication on-ramps, and create or install any program on their devices. Zittrain calls the capability of the internet to generate and support new technologies and new capabilities "generative".

Zittrain warns that we may be losing this generative aspect of the internet. The internet is being neutered by the growing deployment of locked-down devices, systems that do only what their manufacturers allow. The glamour and ease of use of the iPhone is afforded by locking down the system to approved programs. Xboxes and PlayStations offer connectivity on locked down computers. The social networks are becoming walled gardens; once again business users are establishing accounts on FaceBook, MySpace, LinkedIn, and Plexus as they once established multiple email accounts on COMPUSERVE, AOL, Prodigy and others.

Zittrain is concerned that we are losing the future opportunity of the Internet. We are recreating the dynamic of the time share system, and loosing the generative features of the internet. The siren song of ease of use can lock in today's internet and forestall future advances. Even the multimedia free-for-all risks turning into one large Cable TV system, with predicable results and one-way communication. Zittrain shares his vision of how to develop new technologies and social structures that allow users to work creatively and collaboratively, participate in solutions, and to thus preserve generativity of the Internet.

When we look at the power grid today, we see ATT way before the breakup, perhaps even before the Carterphone ruling. Today's power grid is essentially closed to the wall outlet, and with walled garden communications to the meter, at best. You can use power with any technology you want, but no technology that generates, or stores, or converts energy is allowed to participate in the wider grid. All access to the energy networks is jealously guarded by the utilities and the utility commissions. The Carterphone lawsuit opened up the old phone network to new technologies such as answering machines and fax machines. We need a similar opening up of energy networks.

The challenge of interoperability, and standards, as we move into the era of energy technology, is if we can create a system for energy creation, distribution, and use that is generative. Solving the most pressing problems of our time, those of energy and its effluents, requires engaging the creative talents of as many as possible. No one knows what the innovations of tomorrow might be. We must learn from the lessons of other large networks and build something that is generative.

Get TFOTI and read it. Send a copy to your utility commissioner as well.

(Full Disclosure: In the mid eighties, I was coding for CitiNet, briefly the largest walled garden BBS in the Northeast. Last spring, I ran into fellow CitiNet alum and star salesman Myron Kassaraba; he was talking up his smart energy venture Outsmart Power Systems. I see former CEO/CTO Tom Considine at Christmas each year. I would love to hear from any of the rest of the gang ...)

 

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Reader Comments (1)

I couldn't agree more with Nora Mead Brownell's comment at Connectivity Week (I'm paraphrasing from memory) ... what this industry needs is a Judge Greene. I'm old enough to have filed with him back in the day (working for the law firm with the antennae on top otherwise know as MCI). I sure would help force things.

Also, check this company out http://www.gnipcentral.com/. Their CTO and co-founder is a friend. Their motto is "Making portability suck less" They are working to create more portable data between applications...keeping the Internet more open.

October 26, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMichaela Barnes

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