Sally Adee had barely taken off her coat after arriving for her first day of work at IEEE Spectrum last June when she began pleading to attend DARPATech, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s convention. Her request was a little odd—most writers find obscure conferences they absolutely must attend in Honolulu, Paris, Tokyo, or maybe Vegas. Adee, a self-described defense nerd, really wanted to go to DARPATech—but never dreamed we’d actually send her.

We did. Two months later she found herself at the Anaheim Marriott in California, across the street from Disneyland, whose attractions compared poorly with the festivities at DARPATech as far as Adee was concerned. Among the 3000 defense contractors, academics, researchers, and DARPA program managers wandering the enormous hotel, Adee felt like she was at a whole different level of theme park. Instead of cotton candy, ­attendees carried Starbucks cups and DARPATech M&Ms tinted green, yellow, and a sickly, translucent white. The 2007 conference kicked off DARPA’s 50th anniversary, and speakers were introduced with flashing lights and pounding rock music. Some of the music choices were puzzling—one program director jogged to the podium accompanied by a song that began ”It’s no surprise to me; I am my own worst enemy.” The secretary of the Navy was introduced to the chords of the Violent Femmes’ ”Blister in the Sun.”

Keep Reading ↓Show less

This article is for IEEE members only. Join IEEE to access our full archive.

Join the world’s largest professional organization devoted to engineering and applied sciences and get access to all of Spectrum’s articles, podcasts, and special reports. Learn more →

If you're already an IEEE member, please sign in to continue reading.

Membership includes:

  • Get unlimited access to IEEE Spectrum content
  • Follow your favorite topics to create a personalized feed of IEEE Spectrum content
  • Save Spectrum articles to read later
  • Network with other technology professionals
  • Establish a professional profile
  • Create a group to share and collaborate on projects
  • Discover IEEE events and activities
  • Join and participate in discussions

Why the Internet Needs the InterPlanetary File System

Peer-to-peer file sharing would make the Internet far more efficient

12 min read
An illustration of a series
Carl De Torres

When the COVID-19 pandemic erupted in early 2020, the world made an unprecedented shift to remote work. As a precaution, some Internet providers scaled back service levels temporarily, although that probably wasn’t necessary for countries in Asia, Europe, and North America, which were generally able to cope with the surge in demand caused by people teleworking (and binge-watching Netflix). That’s because most of their networks were overprovisioned, with more capacity than they usually need. But in countries without the same level of investment in network infrastructure, the picture was less rosy: Internet service providers (ISPs) in South Africa and Venezuela, for instance, reported significant strain.

But is overprovisioning the only way to ensure resilience? We don’t think so. To understand the alternative approach we’re championing, though, you first need to recall how the Internet works.

Keep Reading ↓Show less