What are Munchkins?

by Rohit Khare and Adam Rifkin

Munchkins are a killerApp of active messages. We have been discussing them since 1995 on the FoRK mailing list, including the following posts:

  1. Kudos
  2. Teledesic Analyzed (Munchkins)
  3. When Munchkins Were Pepper Shakers
  4. Active Networks
  5. Munchkins and Teepees Go To Hawaii
  6. More on events. Also: the munchkins are coming!

See, today, on the wired Internet, only a small percentage of intermediate machines carry the load of internetwork routing. A ubiquitous wireless networking infrastructure, though, suggests devolving routing responsibility to autonomous end-systems.

Munchkins represent a gedankenexperiment analyzing the possibility (and desirability) of decentralizing routing, naming, and accounting services to an unprecedented degree to enable ubiquitous, untethered computing. A "munchkin" is an extremely cheap (on the order of cents), extremely low power (read: asynchronous chip technology), wireless (or at least untethered), multiway, communication device about the size of a golf ball that will be available in such quantities around the world (say, trillions, possibly quadrillions) as to achieve "true ubiquity".

Munchkins offer the potential to surpass every existing communication technology model, from radio to telecom to cable TV to satellites to networked computers, and to transcend them.

When you think about it, the fundamental changes afforded by munchkins will affect the underlying 'service model', moving away from the 'best-effort' packet-level delivery of today's Internet. New economic and logistical constraints (i.e. ad hoc individual adminstration, constant mobility) have implications for both the network layer and for application protocol and middleware designers.

Imagine now that in addition to the incarnation aforementioned, the intelligence in munchkins can be embedded in any device with a connective cable, power cable, or wireless facility -- so we can communicate with any such device either through electric current, through networking, or through infrared. Basically, anything with a (wireless or wirable) port can embed a munchkin communication chip.

What's on said chip? Why, something that speaks a universal transport protocol, can mediate, can negotiate, and can automate tasks. And, when a munchkin isn't doing work, it sits idle, consuming no power. Plus, munchkins have the ability to route messages on-the-fly.

Now, as to why Web servers are important...

Imagine having an HTTPserver/ORB/InfosphereDjinnMaster as the program that does the work of routing, transporting, exchanging, mediating, negotiating, and automating. Imagine the use of XML for on-the-fly typed authenticated secure document creation (complete with embeddable components), WIDL for typed authenticated secure interface specification, and naming/ownership/trust algorithms for adaptive location and use of services...

How are things paid for? With kudos. I get some kudos every time I agree to spend power routing someone else's messages for them, and I spend some kudos every time I request information or send messages of my own. Think of kudos as roughly corresponding to bits; an analogy is FoRK, where the name of the game is to contribute (when you post useful stuff as per the 10 Commandments of FoRKposting) as many bits as you slurp (when you a. read the bits others have taken the time to harvest, and b. waste the time of 24 people posting something they'll spend time reading and/or deleting). Hence, if I am an infosponge, sucking up bits like there's no tomorrow, then to hold my own in the kudo economy I will have to contribute bits and/or bandwidth like there's no tomorrow.

But kudos are so much more. Kudos become some sort of ad hoc rating system, because you can tell the quality of someone's information by how much other clueful people are willing to pay for that information. Additionally, an entire economy emerges: an advertiser can pay me kudos in exchange for my reading the email he sends me, web surfers can pay me kudos for the privilege to read the information-rich Web pages I make available, and people running bit surpluses can give me kudos based on my potential to put them to good use. In return, I can use kudos to buy more bits and bandwidth. It's a radical bootstrapping of an economy not possible with previous architectures; this economy dovetails the nature of munchkins being endpoints AND routers in a trillion-node network.

So, instead of a few organizations selling connectivity and bandwidth, every person, machine, and organization in the world can be his or her own provider and user of these commodities, trading for them when needed with other people in the world.

Related Documents

  1. Kragen's Page on Decentralized Computer Networks
  2. FoRK
  3. YML
  4. Global Event Model
  5. An Events Bibliography
  6. Trust
  7. XML and other Relevant Web technologies

Adam Rifkin, http://www.ifindkarma.com/attic/

PhD-Related Documents, Caltech Infospheres Project

Last modified: Thu Dec 17 18:47:30 PDT 1998