NKN (New Kind of Network): Cellular Automata Blockchain Internet?

NKN (New Kind of Network) is an open-source group committed to developing a networking protocol based on cellular automata; it hopes to change the architecture of the internet itself to both improve security and ensure network neutrality.

While the organization's goals are extremely ambitious and the project is still very early in its development, the team behind includes serious talent, and the ideas detailed in its whitepaper are solid.

Team Behind NKN (New Kind of Network)

NKN is an open-source project, meaning team members can join at any time and are not compensated for their participation. The project's 12 core developers include computer scientists from prominent universities, a contributor to the Linux kernel, and programmers who have worked for Microsoft, Google, and Oracle. The project is being advised by Whitfield Diffie, co-inventor of the widely used Diffie-Hellman algorithm for public key cryptography.

The project has gained several thousand followers on social media, with over 1,000 on Twitter and 6,000 on Telegram. It has not yet gained much coverage from online publications, but this will likely change as it moves further along in its development.

NKN's Technology

NKN is developing what it calls a decentralized data transmission network (DDTN); a massive network of independent nodes will relay data, acting as cellular automata which change state based on a combination of their own received inputs and the states of their neighbors.

The project aims to bring a radical decentralization to networking, much in the way that blockchain technology has decentralized computing power and Filecoin and IPFS have done with data storage, and notes that this is particularly important in the wake of looser net neutrality regulations that give networks' owners greater power to control the data they transmit.

NKN's unusually dense whitepaper includes many equations detailing the scalability of cellular automata systems, but it offers no clear descriptions of what this software will actually offer end users. It seems suited to replace modern internet service providers, and one called Speedy Net has already mentioned that will apply the technology to provide internet to rural areas, but the whitepaper doesn't explicitly discuss this application.

The whitepaper does mention that the service will ease the creation of dapps (decentralized applications) due to its low latency, large bandwidth, and extreme scalability, but it's not clear how developers would use it unless the group releases an API.

The company notes that it will “tokenize” the network, encouraging users to share their bandwidth in exchange for currency, but at time of writing (March 2018) neither its website nor whitepaper offer any further details about this aspect of the system.

NKN Service Details

NKN's platform is still very early in its development; the group is planning to release a beta version of its network in the first quarter of 2019, and a full version in the third quarter. As mentioned above, it's not entirely clear what – if anything – the organization will release to end users; it seems that the group is more interested in creating back-end solutions that can be used by developers or service providers.

The group's Twitter page notes that a small internet service provider called Speedy Net is an early adopter of the technology, which it will use to offer fast broadband to rural areas. NKN's Twitter notes that they are based in the American midwest, but searching the internet yields results for a tiny British company; virtually no information is available about this company, but it's promising to see interest in applying the technology.

The NKN (New Kind of Network) Verdict

Many groups working with blockchains claim to have developed something innovative, but are merely using buzzwords to promote a derivative and often useless product. NKN is, in a sense, the opposite: they're developing something amazing, but need to improve their marketing efforts to better explain it to the public.

NKN's erudite publications are clearly written by computer scientists, for computer scientists, which is okay, but a stronger public relations initiative could attract more investment and early adopters. Nonetheless, there’s a good chance that the technology NKN is developing could becoming ubiquitous in a few decades.

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