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May 13 , 2005 | Post-Script: The Swarm Manifesto

I spent the last week touring around Australia's two biggest cities, with one message on my mind, repeated to anyone within earshot: the audience has taken control. I used many stories, from "This Land's" epidemic spread across the net last fall, to the ascendance of Wikipedia, introducing and reinforcing one idea: the audience is starting to exhibit a truly unique emergent quality - swarming.

Predicted a decade ago by Kevin Kelley in Out of Control, we've finally caught up with the future. We have protocols which allow us to swarm our data (BitTorrent). We have websites which allow us to swarm our knowledge (Wikipedia). We will no doubt soon have some evolution of social networks which will allow us to swarm our understanding.

The battle continues unabated. Today the MPAA shut down the six most obvious TV torrent sites on the Internet. It's true. You go to their web pages, only to find that they've been pwned.

And yet, as I type this, I am getting a torrent from one of these sites, even though the BitTorrent tracker, the one central, fixed and therefore vulnerable element in the system, is down, down, down. This shouldn't be happening. Yet it is. With the latest and greatest update to Azureus, a popular BitTorrent application, the torrent trackers themselves have been given over to the swarm.

1. What's new in Azureus

1.1 Distributed Database
Azureus now has a distributed, decentralised database that can be used to track decentralised torrents. This permits both "trackerless" torrents and the maintenance of swarms where the tracker has become unavailable or where the torrent was removed from the tracker.

They can't say they didn't see this coming. Back in December, when the MPAA shut down, they could see they'd stumbled into a hornet's nest. Highlighting the centralized tracker - the weakness of BitTorrent - gave the whole swarm of hackers all the inspiration they needed to set to work on the problem. I predicted this in Out of Control: The Sequel back on the 20th of December - but that really wasn't much of a feat. Anyone who'd been watching the progression of P2P networks could see the truth of it.

And while I was writing these paragraphs, I got an email from my diligent and intelligent graduate student, inviting me to participate in the beta program for an oddly familiar piece of software:

Outfoxed is the implementation side of my master's thesis at the University of Osnabrück, Germany. The thesis title is Trusted Metadata Distribution Using Social Networks. In a nutshell, I'm exploring ways for you to use your network of trusted friends to determine what's good, bad, and dangerous on the internet. Outfoxed does this by adding functionality to the Firefox web browser. Coding began on Dec 27th, 2004.

That's very odd, because the author began coding Outfoxed the same day I began writing hyperpeople, a book which discusses what happens once applications like Outfoxed - media swarms - become part of daily life. It looks as though we are opening into the swarming of understanding right on time.

Two predictions so recently made, and so recently come true. You know what this means? I am no longer a futurist. I am a presentist. Everyone else is simply living in the past.

Check back next week for part two of Piracy is Good?

Mark Pesce is the creator of the Virtual Reality Modeling Language (VRML) - the first 3D interface to the internet - and the founder of the Interactive Media Program at USC's School of Cinema-Television. In 2000, Ballantine Books published Pesce's The Playful World: How Technology is Transforming our Imagination, which explored the world of interactivity through a detailed examination of the Furby, LEGO’s Mindstorms and the Playstation 2. In late 2003, Pesce was invited to the Australian Film Television and Radio School, with a mandate to redesign the curriculum to incorporate the new opportunities offered by interactive media.

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