Interstellar Internet – how do we make it work? This is something that has been bothering me lately. How will we extend internet once we leave Earth and start colonizing other planets and/or solar systems. We know that conventional communication methods won’t work due to the distances involved even within our solar system. For example radio messages sent to Mars will arrive there anywhere in between 3 and 30 minutes depending on the relative positions of our two planets in orbit. Go farther than that and any reasonable attempts to communicate via radio will be futile.
Common solution to this used by a lot of science fiction writers is the use of wormholes. Simply create a stable Einstein-Rosen Bridge, leave one mouth on earth, fly the other one to Mars and then string a fiber optic cable through it. Boom! Instant interstellar internet connection with as much bandwidth as you can manage to fit through. That’s of course assuming we can figure out how to create stable wormholes and keep them open indefinitely.
The other idea for FTL communication is the Ansible introduced by Ursula K. Le Guin and since then used by various other writers (most notably Orson Scott Card in his Ender cycle). It is usually assumed that device works on the principle of Quantum Entanglement but even that vary depending on who your read. Le Guin herself for example explain it away by using “simultaneity” – a yet undiscovered force like (but different from) gravity which keeps the Ansibles in sync and allows for instantaneous interstellar communication.
One problem with the Ansibles in Le Guin’s books was that they had rather lower bandwidth. So instead of a microphone/camera they were usually equipped with a built in keyboard. You would type on one end, and the message would show up on the other. Problem was that someone had to monitor the Ansible 24-7 and respond to messages.
It’s a silly set up, I know. If an Ansible can send character data it can send any data. Instead of keyboard fit one with an Ethernet port and you are in business. Why no one thought to do that? Because the concept was introduced back in 1966 when the internet did not exist yet. Things like packet switched networks were just being developed at that time and since Ursula K. Le Guin was not a computer scientist, and didn’t follow the bleeding edge advancements in our field, she couldn’t know what was coming.
Now we know, however and knowing is half the battle. So an original Ansible from her novels could easily be turned from a glorified telegram machine into a full blown network node. In fact, here is how it could work:
Le Guin required that one Ansible had to be anchored to a large gravity mass (ie. a planet). That’s our Anchored Ansible in the picture. Every planed will have one of these. You plug it into a router and then the internet. Part 1 of the plan done. Now you build bunch of Ansibles and set each of them to sync with Anchored ansibles from nearby planets. Le Guin’s devices are not mated pairs so there is no need to actually ferry the devices across the interstellar space. So you have one inbound gateway and several outbound ones, each leading to a different world. Now it is just a matter of configuring your router properly.
Each planet will have it’s own planetary internet setup, and one or more routers that will direct all off-world traffic to appropriate devices. This will create an illusion of a seamless internet – only some pages will be slower than the other.
Do you need to have one ansible per every planet? No, of course not. Is every router on earth connected to every other router? No. Just connect with your best buddies – the planets you trade with, or travel to. If everyone does this, we end up with a nice rout-able network. Not all planets are connected directly, but packets will find their way to the destination eventually. That’s how internet works. If you need a faster connection, just add an ansible. If your being hammered with traffic, add another anchored device and tell your buddies to redirect some of it to the second one.
Low bandwidth is a problem but not an overwhelming one. I mean, we have been there before. After all, people used to access the internet using 300 baud modems like this one:
Yes, at 300 baud, Wikipedia actually takes like a minute to load. But that’s ok though. That’s workable. The mere fact that you will be accessing a page hosted thousands/millions of light years away will make the slowness of the connection irrelevant.
So you won’t be able to access Youtube via an ansible. Big deal. Basic HTML will work just fine though (albeit slowly) and that’s like 90% of what people do on the web these days anyway. Once we have this sort of setup going, people will probably start creating ansible accessible websites (ie. no graphics with large documents split across many files) which will make browsing somewhat more tolerable.
This, children is how we use Ursula K. Le Guin’s Ansible to route packets between different worlds. I should totally like patent this idea, but science says that Ansibles are probably impossible to build due to the No Cloning theorem in quantum physics.