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How to Build a Smarter Internet

To keep the Web from collapsing under the weight of ever more data, the network needs to radically change the way it handles information, says the head of Bell Labs Research

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The number of smartphones, tablets and other network-connected gadgets will outnumber humans by the end of the year. Perhaps more significantly, faster and more powerful mobile devices hitting the market are producing and consuming content at unprecedented levels. Global mobile data grew 70 percent in 2012, according to a recent report from Cisco, which makes much of the gear that runs the Internet. Yet the capacity of the world's networking infrastructure is finite, leaving many to wonder when we will reach the upper limit and what we will do when that happens.

There are ways to boost capacity, of course, such as adding cables, packing those cables with more data-carrying optical fibers and off-loading traffic onto smaller satellite networks, but these steps simply delay the inevitable. The solution is to make the overall infrastructure smarter. Two main components are needed: computers and other devices that can preprocess and possibly filter or aggregate their content before tossing it onto the network, along with a network that better understands what to do with this content, rather than numbly perceiving it as an endless, undifferentiated stream of bits and bytes.

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