American scientists and researchers, frustrated that the internet's popularity has crowded them out and slowed serious research, are building their own new information superhighway.Aye, there's the rub. But why do I say this is a Beta Test of Internet Mk 2? Because we've been here before.
The National LambdaRail system, described by some as the internet of the future, is an $US80 million ($108 million) fibre-optic network designed to do for science in cyberspace what motorways did for two-lane roads.
On this thoroughfare, speed will be measured in billions of bits a second and information will zip across the US on beams of light.
The first leg of National LambdaRail is a 1084-kilometre segment of optical fibre linking supercomputing centres in Chicago and Pittsburgh. It was brought online last month.
Over the next year, a consortium of technology companies and research universities will add 16,000 kilometres of fibre to create the largest and fastest scientific research network in the world.
The consortium says National LambdaRail will be available only to scientists. But the technology tools being developed for it will lay the foundation for future networks capable of "extreme multimedia" that could enable doctors to perform surgery a thousand kilometres away, permit high-definition videoconferencing and open a door to virtual reality gaming that could make today's internet look like a country back road.
LambdaRail reflects researchers' growing concern that the internet - with its 180 million connected computers, 40 million websites, and a growing number of hackers, crackers, spammers, worms and viruses - is no longer the kind of place to do serious science.
"The great success of the internet is its ubiquity and its shared nature," said Ron Hutchins, associate vice-provost of Georgia Tech and its chief technology officer.
"Unfortunately, the great downfall of the internet is also its ubiquity and shared nature."
Paul Barfield, a board member of National LambdaRail, said the system was also designed to help scientists and engineers go "back to the future" by creating the kind of free-thinking environment that, during the 1970s, laid the foundation for what would become the internet.But unless they've got new protocols that mean you can trust the sender's address, the same SPAM problems that SPAM bedevil the SPAM Internet SPAM now SPAM will SPAM SPAM occur SPAM SPAM SPAM in SPAM SPAM future SPAM SPAM SPAM SPAM.
Many of the networking fundamentals that make possible the seamless flow of information on today's internet emerged from the tinkering that computer scientists did, out of the public eye, on ARPA net, a Pentagon-financed system that linked four computing centres.
In a world where society now depends on the internet as much as it relies on electrical power grids and pipelines, Georgia Tech's Mr Hutchins said scientists simply did not dare experiment with "the net" itself.
"What we need," he said, "is a place where we can crash and burn without bringing down the whole system."