The new research follows closely the "small world" concept popularized by the Kevin Bacon game, a pop culture fad which involved linking actors to Kevin Bacon through as few people as possible.  (Source: Wikipedia)

In order to determine the quickest path a topology is generated based on similarity of nodes. By considering this topology smarter networks can be designed and messages can be better routed on existing networks.  (Source: CAIDA, San Diego Supercomputer Center, UC San Diego)
New mathematical "Six Degrees of Separation" principle seems to guide everything from internet routing to neurology.

Could Kevin Bacon save the future of the internet?

Scientists have developed a key breakthrough that could provide critical insight into how to improve the internet and other systems.  The breakthrough, though reliant on very complex mathematical concepts, bears a startling similarity on a high level to a pop culture phenomenon.

The "Six Degrees of Separation" principle is an old one, first theorized in the "small world" principle developed in the1960s by sociologist Stanley Milgram.  One version of the principle goes that any living person on Earth is connected to any other person by a mere six people. 

The concept reached feverish pop culture status when the "Six Degree of Kevin Bacon" game launched.  A board game, television, and Broadway play all involved version of the game, which consisted of connecting actors to Kevin Bacon in the least steps possible.  The game was based on a quote by Mr. Bacon in which he stated that he'd worked with everyone in Hollywood, or someone who had worked with them.

The new study finds a similar principle in computer networking and other natural phenomenon.  It reveals the "hidden space" which lies in many problems.  This hidden space drives natural networks such as gene regulation or neural networks that connect neurons to organs and muscles within our bodies.  This hidden space also reveals insight into how the internet functions smoothly and how it can get bottlenecked.

Dmitri Krioukov, the study’s principal investigator with the Cooperative Association for Internet Data Analysis (CAIDA), based at the San Diego Supercomputer Center at the University of California, San Diego states, "Internet experts are worried that the existing Internet routing architecture may not sustain even another decade.  Routing in the existing Internet has already reached its scalability limits; black holes are appearing everywhere."

Kimberly Claffy, director of CAIDA and adjunct professor of computer science at UC San Diego, adds, "Discovery of such a metric space hidden beneath the Internet could point toward architectural innovations that would remove this bottleneck.  Although quite prevalent in the natural world, the idea of routing using only local rather than global knowledge of network connectivity represents a revolutionary change in how to think about engineering communications networks. It’s clear that the Internet’s current architectural requirements are incompatible with the overwhelming amount of information that’s being transmitted through this now critical global infrastructure."

The new concept explains how complex networks, like the human nervous system, can route messages highly effectively through many nodes with no node having knowledge of the entire system.  This is possible by visualizing the global network as a geometric topology and optimizing a complex network for maximum efficiency.

States Mr. Krioukov, "A vast majority of very different complex networks have similar shapes.  They have similar shapes not just for fun, but perhaps because they all evolved toward structures and shapes that maximize efficiency according to their main common function, and that function is communication."

In nature this process is controlled by evolution, but in manmade systems, this guiding optimization principle requires complex visualization, not previously developed.  With the new discovery similar refinements of computer networks and an overhaul of the internet in general should be possible.

One application of this "hidden space" is to optimize message routing through similarity.  People with similar personalities or interests have been shown to be more likely to connect online or off.  In a random routing scenario, routing between similar parties produces faster results, as demonstrated when the topology of similarity and the nodes are graphed using the new method.

The new method could increase the size and speed of the internet.

However, it also has many other possible uses, such as social searches or medicine.  Explains Mr. Krioukov, "This could be applied to cancer research, for example, whose studies rely heavily on gene regulation.  Suppose you were able to find the hidden space here. One could then figure out what drives gene regulation networks and what drives them to failure. This would be an important contribution to the field."

The research, co-authored by Marián Boguñá is published in the journal Nature Physics.

The study was funded by a DGES grant, a Generalitat de Catalunya grant, a Ramón y Cajal program of the Spanish Ministry of Science donation, and by networking giant Cisco Systems.

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