With release v0.5.0 comes the Alpha version of the Perspectives Distributed Runtime. Having reached this milestone, we’re able to demonstrate how two installations connect for the first time and then exchange information through a private channel. The functionality that illustrates this is a very simple Chat application. On this page we explain in some detail what mechanisms are behind the demonstration.
Copernicus famously put the sun at the center of the universe and so drove man to the periphery. Countless revolutions were to follow, pushing man ever further away in the name of objective science. But the IT industry has taken a step too far with the objectification of information. And society followed: we now take information to be physical and yet have intrinsic meaning. At the same time, we all know that words taken out of their context may take on significance and meaning never intended by their speaker.
I realised this morning that this is exactly what we try to restore with Perspectives! We have constructed a method of creating computer programs that tie information to its context. Information is a physical object (e.g. a letter) that is the result of technology (c.q. paper, ink, the art of writing) that lets people communicate over a distance in space or time. But physical objects persist and can be moved out of that context of communication, hence re-used and misinterpreted, hence the problem. Big Tech in Silicon Valley bases its empires on that fact and thereby has a vested interest in the status quo of IT. Moving information out of its context is a business model. Alternatives have not been given serious thought: billions hang in the balance.
Enter Perspectives, that lets people keep the physical objects (data as represented on a medium like a hard disk) in their physical context of use, because the system is inherently distributed, meaning that each user brings his own device. It is back to the future in the sense that before 1990 we all kept our own (paper) files in a drawer in our study: all of our insurance policies, employment contracts, etc were in our own house. We restore that. It is as simple as that, the difference being that with Perspectives we do not need a postman to communicate: we can have the full benefits of the information age yet keep our own stuff safe.
So we need an anti-Copernican revolution, in IT. Man, for once, should be in the centre of the scheme: not his data.
Perspectives is a new technology and a new approach to software engineering, including a new method of design. It is all about privacy designed from the ground up. But it is about creating wealth and making money, too. We like to think that, like Blockchain, we will create a new market full of new possibilities. Unlike Blockchain-based companies we introduce no ‘tokens’. But we do know how to handle money in a fully distributed fashion, safely. In a new page in the theory section we explain how Perspectives, perceived as a protocol, creates that new market. We explain that it is neither a fat nor a thin protocol. We will have something to say about piracy as a community phenomenon and how a thriving community can handle a little of that.
Perspectives’ theoretical background runs surprisingly deep. Today I’ve added a page to our theory section on:
- the logical semantic foundation of contexts and roles;
- the MVC model that observes logical descriptions of actions in order to create a dynamic user interface;
- the backward chaining logic of the calculated properties and roles;
- the forward chaining system that keeps query results up to date, in effect implementing a truth maintenance system;
- how the notions of distribution and declarative semantics – usually uneasy bedfellows – sit together;
- how the entire system supports forms of common sense reasoning as studied by GOFAI.
In a later post I hope to announce a page that gives the Category Theoretical foundations of Perspectives.
Ev Williams, the CEO of Medium, published a post in April on The Rationalisation of Publishing. Here he defends the idea of user-payed written content on the web. “Look at the renaissance in television — it was driven by a better (non-advertising) business model.” He notices how Netflix has redefined television. Now Spotify did the same for music.
“There is — and probably always will be — a surplus of free content. But that’s like saying there’s a surplus of free food in the dumpster behind the alley. Some of it may be perfectly good, but most of us would rather pay for something more reliable and convenient if we’re able. And many people will pay a lot for something superior.”Ev Williams
Inevitably, from the CEO of Medium, he discusses how consumers like to pay for bundles:
“There’s a reason we don’t subscribe to TV shows or our favorite bands individually: 1) It would be a pain in the butt. 2) It would be a much worse deal. We pay for bundles, which give us access to lots of options. It’s great, and it will be great for published content, as well.”Ev Williams
We argue the above reasoning will hold for co-operative software, too. WhatsApp is great, and so are others like SnapChat and even lootjestrekken.nl fills a (seasonal) role (note to non-Dutch readers: this is a site that helps with the Santaclaus presents). But subscribing to all of them individually would be a pain in the ass – especially if you think of all the others that do not yet exist but that would be very useful! (Just head over to InPlace to get an idea).
So the future looks bright, for subscription-based co-operative software!
Any system has its limits. Perspectives, too, has boundaries. Even though we’d like to think of Perspectives as more akin to an operating system (one with aspirations: the Co-operating System for the World Computer!), from the outside it is just a program running on a Windows, Linux or OsX machine. A program that maybe should interface with other programs, exchanging data with them.
We have a special take on such integration. In the technology page Perspectives on Integration we explain how.
Venture Capital Firm Union Square Ventures has neatly explained how value is accrued at the data layer on the Web. As the data layer, as opposed to the underlying HTTP protocol layer, is very much centralised and privately owned, this explains how some companies have been able to get extremely rich. This is to the detriment of innovation. Their post Crypto Tokens and the Coming Age of Protocol Innovation by Albert Wenger explains this in detail.
I’ve added a new page to the theory section of this website. There I explain how Perspectives is similar to Blockchain in providing an alternative to the centralised data layer of the current web. I also show how it is different from Blockchain and why we don’t need tokens to create incentives for creators.
Perspectives implements a neat separation of concerns with respect to subscription payment, creation and distribution.
Head over to Perspectives on Data!
The previous generation of shared protocols (TCP/IP, HTTP, SMTP, etc.) produced immeasurable amounts of value, but most of it got captured and re-aggregated on top at the applications layer, largely in the form of data (think Google, Facebook and so on).
In contrast, he argues, BlockChain could be described as ‘fat protocol’. Most of the value that is owned is generated ‘at the protocol level’. Bitcoin and Ethereum have a very large market capitalisation, while applications built on top of their respective chains have far less value.
Perspectives can be thought of as a protocol. The Perspective Runtime (PR) uses that protocol to exchange information automatically between nodes, according to models that govern the interaction between individuals holding the nodes. In this sense, alternatives for the PR are fully conceivable. As a matter of fact, while writing “On the Principles of Financial Transactions Secured by Witnesses” I thought of a client for a trust providing organisation that doesn’t need to be based on the PR. It just needs to handle a few actions and a single role in a single type of context. Such a client could be written in any language and use any kind of database, as long as it speaks the protocol.
This is good. It means that Perspectives doesn’t lock you in. Let’s call this protocol the Perspectives Exchange Protocol (PEP). Is PEP a fat or a thin protocol? I give you another USV quote:
by replicating and storing user data across an open and decentralized network rather than individual applications controlling access to disparate silos of information, we reduce the barriers to entry for new players and create a more vibrant and competitive ecosystem of products and services on top
This is exactly what Perspectives is all about. However, USV sees a second component that contributes to the value of Blockchain based protocols and that is the utility token (called protocol token in this context). Users investing in these tokens incentivise development of both the protocol and applications on top of it.
Here is where InPlace comes in. Conceive of the monthly fee paid by users as an investment in Perspective Utility Tokens (PUT). These recurring investments are put to use by expending them to creative modellers who contribute to the Perspectives ecosystem of models.
Seen in that light, it would seem that PEP is a fat protocol, complete with its own token. The one difference from many Blockchain based protocols is that the PUT has no speculative value.
After several years of research and development, we are ready to publish our work. “We”: that is, Perspect IT. Cor Baars and Joop Ringelberg. We’ve written a number of pages describing our work: Perspectives, and will gradually build a full presentation of the method, the theory and the technology.
As we extend our site, we will publish posts here.