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Home » Networking Faster Than Light: Alex Wissner-Gross at TEDxBeaconStreet (Transcript)

Networking Faster Than Light: Alex Wissner-Gross at TEDxBeaconStreet (Transcript)

Alex Wissner-Gross – TRANSCRIPT

We live in a physical world. We also live in a physical world that’s in a process of merging with the digital world. As a consequence, increasingly, aspect of the physical world such as, say, the fact that it’s geographically distributed, are starting to impact our digital experiences. This is a worldwide property, and it’s due to the fact that we live all across the surface of a planet that has a finite diameter.

So, for example, in virtual worlds, if you have one party on one side of the planet, and one party on another side of the planet, that are interacting via a virtual world, such as Second Life, the experience delays due to the fact that light takes a finite amount of time to travel around the Earth’s surface in order to connect them. And this problem isn’t in any way specific to virtual worlds or entertainment. It’s a problem that’s keenly felt in industrial sectors, in financial sectors.

Financial sector in particular, is very well incentified to make sure that the time delays for transmitting information between financial exchanges is minimised. One more example, telerobotics and telesurgery. As we move towards an era, where a physician in one location on Earth can perform surgery on a patient on the opposite end of the Earth, the delays involved in manipulating remote machines become increasingly essential to performance. And so how if we try to combat this thus far? This is a map of submarine cables strewn all around the Earth’s oceans and on land. We are literally wiring up our planet surface in order to efficiently allow information to flow from any point on the Earth’s surface to any other point on the Earth’s surface.

You might imagine we are relatively close to solving this problem of information delays. But of course, as with all physical properties, there are limits. Here’s one very important one. What you’re seeing here are 2 maps of some of the state-of-the-art Internet connections connecting locations. On the left, a New York to Chicago connection.

On the right, New York to London. Interestingly, if you look at the amount of time it takes to send information back and forth, through these pipes, and you compare it with the theoretical physical limit to how fast you could send information round trip using light through optical fiber, you’ll notice that we’re literally approaching the physical limits allowed to us for sending information around the Earth between these important cities. This is the problem for the reasons I’ve mentioned that’s only going to become more exacerbated with time.

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