Is it time for the internet to get the plumber in?

A system created to link researchers has grown into part of everyday life. But are its foundations still secure?The strange thing about the internet is that it went from being something exotic to something mundane almost without us noticing it. As a consequence, our societies have become frighteningly dependent on a system that almost nobody understands, and that nobody – except for techie types – thinks about very much. It has become the electronic plumbing of our world, with the difference that we pay far more attention to our actual plumbing than we do to its virtual counterpart.In fact we take it for granted. We regard the internet as having almost magical properties and as essentially limitless. Someone comes up with a bright idea – for example internet telephony or VoIP, as it’s called – and adds it to the things that the network is expected to do. And the network obliges, with the result that many voice calls are now handled by the network. Same story with e-commerce, streaming media, file-sharing, social networking, web mail, and all the other online services that we now assume to be among the appurtenances of civilised life. We assume that we can continue to add tasks of greater and greater complexity to what the network already does and that it will continue to deliver.

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