Interview with Hari Balakrishnan
28 January 2008
Over the next decade mobile Technologies will be perfected and the car network will become a reality.Hari Balakrishnan: Head of Department of Technology, Massachusetts and member of IMDEA Networks Scientific Council.
This summer, in Madrid, IMDEA Networks Scientific Council met with 10 of the world’s top experts in network technology. Among those present was Hari Balakrishnan, member of the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory of the Institute of Technology, Massachusetts, one of the United States’ leading institutes dedicated to the teaching and research of this subject. Professor Balakrishnan is considered a pioneer of P2P technologies (peer-to-peer or between two people).
- What is the focus of the Computer Science and Artificial Intellligence Laboratory’s work?
The laboratory works in many different veins.In particular, my work focuses on wireless communications, network sensors, internet architecture and peer-to-peer technology. Everything I do is motivated by a single question: how do you construct a technology network that is capable of connecting billions of people from all around the world?I also direct some attention to the design of technology for extremely mobile people who don’t have time to sit and turn on a computer.
- What is the future of network technologies? What will be the dominant aspects over the next few years?
It´s not a question of developing new support structures.For example, the differences between mobile phones and computers are rapidly disappearing.The mobile that I have in my pocket right now is faster and more powerful that those of 14 years ago.Networks through mobile phones are a relatively new phenomena but still much more advanced than those of computers in years gone by,
- What developments in wireless networks will reach the public in the near future?
It´s hard to predict, but I believe that over the next few years many people will connect to the internet through wireless technology.I expect that during the next 10 years mobile technology will be perfected and a network of cars will become a reality.Within around five years, network sensors will also come into our homes.
- What other areas of communication are you involved in?
Lots of people own a computer, MP3, mobile phone or a computer in their car.But the big question is whether or not we will have the capability to obtain information from these devices, and if we could do it in real time.And not only receive information, but also send it to anywhere in the network.If new mechanisms were invented, new mobile phones or new keyboards, then maybe we’d only use screens, perhaps in our TVs, but more importantly all the information would be available whenever we needed it.
At the moment there are several problems associated with using mobile phones in cars, such as the dangers involved with distracting the driver.Easy access to a car network is yet to become a reality and is an important obstacle that we must overcome, and not just because we want to be connected, but more importantly because through GPS, cameras and pollution sensors, we could actually improve our driving.It’s about gathering and processing information, all in real time.
- Who does and will in the future benefit most from peer-to-peer technology?
Absolutely everyone!Peer-to-peer is a good idea for the market, you don’t need large infrastructure to carry out projects, you can form and idea and let the world know about itright away.It establishes a more democratic level.It´s especially useful for small groups, who don’t have the resources to make themselves known.
- Does the development of these technologies depend more on large corporations or on research carried out by small groups?
I truly believe that the greatest research comes from the independent minds of small groups and that Google or Skype are a testament to that.The biggest companies are not necessarily the sole leaders, they are simply more contributors.Sometimes the most surprising ideas come from a couple of mates just working in their garage.
- What do you think about the IMDEA Networks initiative? What are the greatest challenges that it needs to address?
I think it’s a great idea.It’s a unique initiative in that in that it’s not only focused on networks but it’s a collaboration with business too.It is set to be an international model and there are very few companies in the world like that, or at least, not enough.
The most important thing is not to get bogged down.You have to keep up to date in order to respond to society’s needs and the challenges posed by new inventions, which keep on coming.We mustn’t focus on things that happened 10 years ago, but rather look to the next advance in technology.It’s about thinking long-term.
- Why should young researchers consider working for IMDEA Networks?
Because it’s the perfect place, not only for people who want to do interesting work, but also bold, pioneering work and not just in the intellectual realm, but in the practical one too – research in the real world.To be part of an initiative like this guarantees professional success because more than likely it will lead to results that couldn’t be achieved independently.The most ingenious ideas come from ingenious minds and here you get a chance to work with them!