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Black Box Infrastructures

I am fascinated by internet routers. Every time I stare at them, I can't help but appreciate their simple user interface. A router probably is a classic example of Black Box Products. It simply needs to be plugged into the network, and with very little configuration, it becomes a gateway to the internet. That's incredible isn't it ?

If we compare products invented in different timelines, we get some interesting insights into the underlying infrastructures which defined products of their time. Yesterday's black boxes relied on Physical sciences to give them an underlying framework to work on top of. Electromagnetism, as an infrastructure, gave birth to several black box products: electric motors, radios being some of the examples. Many of today's black boxes build on top of on man-made infrastructures. Internet is a brilliant man-made infrastructure which provides a breeding ground for a plethora of products. A router is a black box given that the internet infrastructure exists. Similarily, a cell-phone is a black box provided the telecom network exists. Looking into the furure and drawing relevance with what I do in my job as of this writing; if tomorrow, smart grids become big enough to provide a powerful ecosystem, we might qualify smart meters as black boxes.

A new technology is something special if it introduces the scope for new black boxes to emerge. A new technology is something special if it provides an infrastructure for a new era of black boxes!


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