How the Wireless Revolution Will Make a Better World

By Paula Reinman
Co-authored by Marty Cooper

44 years ago this month, cell phone pioneer and 2013 Marconi Fellow, Marty Cooper, made the world’s first call from a mobile phone and fundamentally changed the way we communicate by recognizing that people call people, rather than places.

Like many good things, this call and the device from which it was placed originated from conflict. While some viewed the end of the copper wire, or the place, as the destination for people’s calls, Marty realized that people are inherently mobile and that they want to talk to each other without the constraints of wires or location.

Even though there are nearly 5B mobile phones in use today, the industry is still quite young. The first commercial mobile service was launched in 1983, but cellular did not become widely used until 2000. While wireless conjures up images of incessantly texting millennials or tuned out pedestrians walking in front of buses, talking and texting are conveniences, not life-changers.

According to Cooper, “The technology – the networks, devices and intelligence – is here now to stimulate several revolutions based upon applications that fundamentally improve lives and change societal economics. That’s what I’m most excited about.”

Changing Healthcare from Reactive to Proactive

Today, we have a highly reactive health care system. We experience symptoms; they are diagnosed and treated, typically after the problem has set in.

“We’re heading for a world in which wearables, powered by wireless technology, can monitor what’s happening in our bodies on a minute by minute basis, rather than only during an annual exam or an emergency room visit,” says Cooper. “With constant and unobtrusive monitoring, we can sense the outset of a disease, rather than the occurrence, and actually stop the disease from happening.”

We see this in action today with sensors worn by people who are subject to congestive heart failure. These sensors can tell if the heart is accumulating fluid ten hours before a heart attack will happen, allowing time to get treatment and preventing the attack from happening.

Leveraging the Teachable Moment

As we understand more about the human brain and how people learn, we know that much of our education happens outside the classroom and beyond traditional subject silos. In fact, learning is a 24/7 experience, requiring reliable and affordable wireless technology.

Cooper points out, “Research concludes that people who exercise their learning skills never lose those skills. Conversely, people who stop learning lose the ability to learn, irrecoverably. Einstein, for example, had the learning ability of an eight year-old into his eighties. We need to make learning fun and accessible for everyone.”

One example of a new learning experience, powered by wireless and driving huge improvements in math and English outcomes, is the flipped classroom, where learning happens outside the classroom and class time is dedicated to group projects, labs, discussion and projects.

Increasing Overall Wealth Through Collaboration

“New forms of collaboration have the potential to multiply the productivity of every working human by 3, 5 or 10 times,” Cooper believes. “Only the wealth created by that explosion of productivity can solve the biggest problem in the world today, that of poverty. Redistribution of wealth cannot eliminate poverty.”

Collaboration is the most important application of wireless technology because it allows people to work together 24/7 from wherever they are – and to improve productivity by orders of magnitude.

While today’s collaboration relies on fragmented tools and serendipity, collaboration done right will leverage AI and machine learning to get each person’s ideas to the right people and places for input and insights that take the idea to the next level. Our chat rooms, social media interactions and corporate collaboration tools are all early experiments in social intercourse that will evolve into very efficient tools to facilitate the exchange of ideas and thoughtful, challenging interactions.

Building with Social Good in Mind

The technology, vision and capital are there to make these wireless revolutions happen but we only see value as a society if everyone benefits. While falling costs are a key component of technology-driven applications, the systems and philosophies to make this technology widely available need to be baked into these revolutions.

Cooper suggests a few efforts to watch and engage with to ensure universal accessibility and an approach that focuses on helping people attain their goals, rather than on pure technology.  He welcomes ideas about other groups that share common goals:

  • Center for the Fourth Industrial Revolution — set up by the World Economic Forum and supported by inaugural partners including Salesforce, Kaiser Permanente, IDEO and Huawei, the Center will convene start-ups, venture capitalists, the world’s leading companies, experts, academics, NGOs and governments to discuss how science and technology policies can benefit all in society.
  • People Centered Internet — led by Marconi Society Chair and Fellow, Vint Cerf, this organization is working with the IEEE, World Bank, Internet Society, World Economic Forum and others to ensure a people and community first approach to connecting the half of the world’s population that does not today have access to the Internet.
  • Tendrel — a global network for social entrepreneurs, led by executives from Camfed, Teach for All, Center for Digital Inclusion and others, designed to build the underlying advocacy infrastructure necessary for social change.

“It is unacceptable that some parts of our society live longer and more healthful lives while others experience no benefits from new technology. Wireless is poised to make a difference in the lives of people across the planet and I can’t wait to see how it helps others,” says the father of the cell phone.

Starving in the Land of Plenty: The True Story of Consumer Bandwidth

By John Cioffi
Co-authored by Hatti Hamlin

Why is it that we’re surrounded by bandwidth – with a few gigabits per second going through our bodies at any one time between cell, Wi-Fi, and TV services – and yet we have trouble streaming an HD movie or watching the Super Bowl from our computers?

The reason is that our hot spots are white hot, but we can only access a fraction of the available bandwidth. Despite the long-running argument over net neutrality, what will really benefit consumers the most is “net vitality.” And Software Defined Networks (SDNs) will deliver that vitality, even as they upend the conventional telecoms/ ISPs and change the balance of power in providing consumer connectivity. As networks are transformed into giant computers, it will be easier to spontaneously provision a service for a specific application by grabbing bandwidth wherever it’s available.

In fact, the power is shifting to virtual network operators, who, if the network is open enough, will be able to instantaneously provide service based on the bandwidth and quality the user’s application requires. The problem has not been a lack of bandwidth, but a lack of access to the bandwidth around each of us. We’re starving in the land of plenty and SDNs will change that.

What does this mean for consumers?

  • Opportunities will expand for content and application providers (CAPs) as they leverage the virtualized and dynamic on-demand infrastructure offered by network providers.
  • That’s likely to also mean falling prices for bandwidth as network providers compete to have their services selected by the CAP players—who may grab bandwidth from many different sources to serve up content. Rather than settling for commodity status, there will be an opportunity for enterprising and agile network providers to use SDNs to deliver on fair terms the right bandwidth for the consumer-preferred applications to the CAP players.
  • Once consumers can use the available bandwidth all around them, the focus on network neutrality will give way to a focus on net vitality as bandwidth costs get packaged with application and content services—everything from entertainment (Netflix / Amazon), and video (You Tube), to work-from-home/small business services, wearable-oriented services such as health sensors, and many IoT applications. For example, using SDN, an Apple application could switch between AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint to provide seamless service for music and entertainment, because consumers care only about the quality and consistency of the service, not who delivers it. Because previously fenced-off bandwidth will be available through SDNs, speeds will increase as software fixes problems or switches among providers seamlessly. The entire Internet could and perhaps should be available to tap.

This emerging story makes the issue of net neutrality almost academic; net vitality, delivered with emerging SDN technology, is the future of broadband.

Why We Have To Do Better: The Case for Tech for Good

By Paula Reinman

When you talk with Hao Zou, you’re never sure which country he is in or which problem he is working on. Born in China, educated in California and busily applying mathematics and artificial intelligence (AI) to solve social problems globally, Hao is focused on changing lives for the better.

The 2008 Marconi Society Young Scholar has just been named a 2017 Global Young Leader by the World Economic Forum, representing the Greater China region. According to the World Economic Forum, these young leaders are “innovative, enterprising and socially minded men and women under the age of 40 who are pushing boundaries and re-thinking the world around them.”

For Zou, this award brings together the three most important aspects of his work: his entrepreneurial venture, Abundy, using AI to increase efficiency in financial services and healthcare; his academic work as a Chair Professor at Tsinghua University leveraging computer vision technology to detect curable cancers; and his social impact work in developing countries as a member of the Marconi Society Board supporting STEM students.

“Being chosen as a WEF Global Young Leader connects all of my efforts and gives me an opportunity to build relationships with people working in NGOs, academia and industry to increase social responsibility,” said Zou. “I am very honored to be selected.”

Using Math to Give Back

Emeritus Professor and 2006 Marconi Fellow, John Cioffi, was Zou’s advisor at Stanford, where he was one of the few students ever to have earned an MBA and PhD simultaneously. Cioffi says Zou was “perhaps the most brilliant student I’ve ever had.” Following graduation from Stanford’s Department of Engineering and Graduate School of Business, Zou worked as a portfolio manager for five years in one of the world’s largest investment companies, focusing on quantitative investing and identifying values in securities with mathematical financial models. He considered it a great opportunity to learn the financial industry, and the prevalent inefficiencies within it.

“I feel very privileged to have received the education that I did at Stanford and in the industry, and I am passionate about giving back,” Zou explained.

Zou believes that much of the societal divide in our world is based on inefficiency. Often, problems are more about resource allocation and increasing productivity or reducing factors that impede the economy than they are about pure scarcity. AI can be a powerful tool in equalizing opportunities when it is applied to reducing the costs of serving large or distributed populations.

Here are a couple of examples of Zou’s work in action:

Early identification of curable cancers

Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer to affect women, with about 1.7M new cases diagnosed every year. Early diagnosis is critical to survival. Due to a shortage of experienced pathologists and radiologists, as well as the sheer size of the population in China, curable cancers like breast cancer can easily be missed and have much lower survival rates in China than they do in the US.

5-Year Relative Survival Rate (2005-2009)

Source: Healthline

Zou, as the Director of the Center for Intelligent Medical Imaging and Health at Tsinghua, along with his colleagues, are using computer vision technology to help doctors diagnose breast cancer early. AI can help doctors make faster and more accurate diagnoses for more patients – and save more lives.

Financial Inclusion:

Financial services is another area where greater efficiencies will lead to economic opportunity for diverse populations. In China and other emerging countries, there is no mass-market credit scoring system, as there is in the US and the developed world. This means that fewer than 30% of people have credit scores, which entitle them to lower interest loans. Large banks currently have no incentive to undertake the time consuming and costly work of identifying good loan candidates from the pool of those with no credit scores.

Using analytics and AI, banks can more easily identify potential loan recipients, expand their business and offer opportunities to a far greater number of people than ever before, making financial inclusion a reality.

Zou believes that technology in the hands of a select few will create even more inequality. According to Marconi Society Chairman, Vint Cerf, this is exactly the kind of thinking we need from the next generation of scientists. “Hao is quite phenomenal,” says Cerf. “Technology used to build scale and increase performance in areas like healthcare and financial inclusion can make a difference to people around the world. With champions like Zou, it’s easy to have hope for positive global change.”

The Internet’s Wild Ride: From Trust to Cybersecurity Threats

By Leonard Kleinrock
Co-authored by Paula Reinman

On March 31, 1976, Queen Elizabeth II sent the first e-mail to come from a head of state. With assistance from my colleague and fellow Marconi Prize winner, Peter Kirstein, who set up the Queen’s e-mail account with the username HME2 (Her Majesty, Elizabeth II), the Queen sent a message that would have made any techie proud about the Coral 66 compiler on the ARPANET.

While the Queen’s e-mail was a high-profile early indicator that non-scientists would eventually join the engineering elite on the Internet, the idea of interconnected computers and the first message between them had played out years earlier in 1969.

We Don’t Need Networking

When ARPANET started in 1969, most people were not interested in networking computers together. What seemed like a good idea to us was resisted by the scientific community, who felt that their computers were already 100 percent utilized and did not want to share capacity, and by businesses like AT&T, who thrived on voice revenue and had no idea how to monetize data.

The first two networked computers were installed at UCLA and Stanford Research Institute (SRI) in late 1969. Once we had two networked computers, we could evaluate the capability of networking. On October 29, 1969, I supervised a graduate student member of my UCLA software team, Charley Kline, as the first message was sent from the UCLA computer to the SRI computer over 300 miles to the North in our attempt to log in remotely. That first message, intended to be “login,” was truncated to “lo” when the SRI computer crashed after the first two letters. Thus, the first message over a packet network serendipitously turned out to be “lo”, as in “Lo and Behold.” We could not have asked for a more succinct, more powerful, or more prophetic message.

The fledgling network generated little publicity in those early days. In 1972, a public demonstration of ARPANET, staged by Bob Kahn, another Marconi Prize winner, attracted considerable attention. This demonstration opened people’s eyes to networked applications and demonstrated the power of the ARPANET.

From Collaboration to the Dark Side

By the late ‘80’s, as the NSFNET took over the backbone of the Internet, scientists and corporations saw value in networking and in the Internet for e-mail, file transfer and other applications to facilitate collaboration. The user interface was still unfriendly, to say the least, and consumers did not find it attractive until the early 90’s when the Internet became usable for the masses, thanks to the friendly graphical user interface offered by the emerging Web. And flock to it the masses did!

Along with this broadened constituency of users, another behavior emerged. The first computer worm was generated by a Cornell graduate student and appeared in 1988; we saw it and thought of it as a one-time abuse. Then, on April 12, 1994, the first broad-based spam attack occurred – a commercial advertisement that was an abuse of our research network and outraged the well-behaved research community. This ushered in never-before-imagined hostile actions and the dark side of the Internet was launched.

Today’s Serious Problems

Our world today is one in which the Internet supports huge social and economic benefits, yet one in which the dark side is pervasive. This dark side started out as a nuisance by hackers and advertisers and has now metastasized into a significant threat, with illegal actions perpetrated by nation-states and organized crime.

There are two issues of interest, both at the edge of the network, about which I’m particularly concerned:

Built-in network security – Because there was so much initial skepticism about networked computers and resource sharing, we built networking to be inclusive so that everyone could try it and experience the benefits. Our original design made it easy for people to join and relied on a trusted, shared, open and ethics-based culture. Sadly, after 20 years of good behavior, that culture has eroded. We now suffer from a lack of strong user authentication to prove that it is actually you when you are communicating, and strong file authentication to prove that what you got is what was sent.  We could have installed these two protections in the network initially, but they did not serve our purpose of openness and inclusiveness. These protections are far more difficult to implement today than they would have been at the outset.

Vulnerabilities in the Internet of Things – Devices for home security, entertainment, temperature control, etc., are being purchased and deployed by the hundreds of millions and most have very little, if any, security built in. Malicious users will be able to turn these devices on to see what’s happening in the homes of their owners, to lock and unlock doors and to see when occupants are away. They have the capability to exploit web-based connectivity to attack the civilian infrastructure and more. These devices are opening up a whole new set of threats that we’re only just beginning to see. We cannot ignore this issue.

Promising Developments

While these problems are complex, they are not intractable. There are several nascent efforts underway that show promise in making the Internet a safer place for all of us:

Xnet – Ray Sanders and I are developing a new approach to networking. Today’s two most commonly used forwarding approaches are: 1) a data packet network that is complex and offers flexible, asynchronous, best effort services with no guarantees; and 2) a traditional, and dying, voice circuit-based network that is synchronous, deterministic and simple, but not flexible. The new approach is called ‘Xnet.’ It takes the best of both old approaches to deliver a network that is very low cost, efficient, deterministic, low latency, dynamic and secure. An Xnet changes packet bursts into short packet connections, each of which lasts for the period existing between a connection’s source and destination packet bursts. A plurality of connections travels between an Xnet data source area and a data sink area where the data packets will exist. No source-destination information travels with the data stream, which adds an additional layer of security. The packet connections are disjoint, each with their own bandwidths, entry times and durations. At the destination, the packet connections are returned in scheduled packet bursts delivered to the data sinks. The packet connections exist in dual sub-connections with the packet headers and packet data being forwarded over disjoint paths. While we are early in development, we look for initial deployments in private corporate networks and greenfield networks.

Homomorphic encryption – This is a form of encryption that allows encrypted data to be processed by encrypted programs without the data itself or the program ever being exposed in the clear. The research in this area is moving ahead vigorously to provide the needed efficiency for practical use.

End user security hygiene – This is one of the most effective, but one of the most difficult, ways to overcome security concerns. From computer back-ups to password management applications that keep us from using the same relatively simple passwords for everything, the end user community must learn to take strong security hygiene measures to protect itself.

In retrospect, perhaps we should have designed stronger authentication capabilities into our original networking architecture and started using them when the need arose. In spite of these security issues, however, the value and applications of networked computing, and particularly of basic e-mail, prove themselves many times every single day.