Tuesday, Jan. 13, 2009 | The internet is the most complex and far-reaching system ever developed by man — without it, modern society would essentially grind to a halt. Yet it is about as regulated as a pick-up basketball game.
As a result there is no atlas, no global view of this vast system of interconnected computer networks that has become so crucial to modern daily life.
State and federal agencies keep track of how many cars travel on each segment of our road network. No one knows how many packets of information travel from node to node on the internet. The Federal Aviation Administration collects the name of every passenger who flies on a commercial airliner. No one has a sense of how much of each type of information — such as spam — that is being sent over the internet.
That so much about the internet is unknowable doesn’t necessarily mean that it is in trouble. But it does mean that if it were in trouble, we might not know about it until it was too late.
This is what really bothers Kimberly Claffy and Dmitri Krioukov, two internet researchers at the University of California, San Diego’s Supercomputer Center. Claffy and Krioukov are nationally renowned for their study of internet architecture, and their work has been widely published, most recently in November in the journal Nature Physics.
“We don’t have a rigorous discipline of internet science, no formal channel of getting data,” said Claffy, director of The Cooperative Association for Internet Data Analysis at UCSD. “Even economics has the Bureau of Labor Statistics — and [economics is] called the dismal science. So what does that make us?”