How IPv6 missed the Peace Nobel Prize by Ignoring the Economics One

Let’s face it, IPv6 had it all: the promise to revolutionize the Internet by freeing it up of the shackles of limited resources, the promise to democratize the Internet by freeing it up of the shackles of NAT, the promise of a new, cleaner framework for innovation. All that while playing nice and not rocking the boat with some crazy new concepts. Clean, solid changes that make all our lives easier. In a year devoid of famine, climate change and human rights abuses it is absolutely worth a Peace Nobel in my view (and I am TOTALLY impartial). Of course (and IPv6 knows this better than anyone else) it is all about timing.

So why is it that IPv6, like many scientists who claim to not care about the Nobel, still waits to be called with the big news? To begin with, it still must be nominated. That of course will not happen until it has a proven body of work which in turn will not happen until it is broadly deployed. We all know however that deployment has been a struggle for many years and even though we approach, at least on average, mass adoption levels, detractors and laggards abound. You can even still find some of those who believe IPv6 will be replaced by something else before it even gets fully adopted. We all know Nobels are not awarded postmortem so …

Being in this space for so many years, I wrote a lot about the challenges of IPv6 adoption. Like most, I started with the starry-eyed technology view and tried to sell it based on cool features and quite a lot of FO (Fear Of … ) address exhaustion, security and other yeti types. Reality set in after a while, arguably a long while and moved more towards addressing the business realities where the selling points revolved around FO and some FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) on competitive services, brand enhancement and other chupacabra types. After all these years and all this pushing the ROI on our efforts is pretty low.

While reading some writing by Thaler who got the prize on economics in 2017 I realized that we just went the wrong way all along. The technology perspective is inevitable because we talk about technology. The business perspective is reasonable because we ultimately need to justify the funding even though all this is done to the benefit of the organization. What we didn’t do and should have done is to take the Psychological view. We made the same mistake as economists did for decades if not centuries, we assumed humans are rational and make the optimal decision to benefit them, both long and short term. It was a nice, sterile, tight axiom that made us feel worm and fuzzy in our logical theories and model. Life is different, messier, more interesting.

Humans are bad at long term planning, bad at recognizing and managing risk. We are also very good at rationalizing our immediate decisions and then argue that hindsight is always 20/20. We don’t save for retirement or for dark days because we don’t think they will ever happen to us. We don’t save because we NEED to buy that fancy car for safety when we know it is for the Jonses. Sounds familiar? No point in planning for plenty resources and a cleaner network, we will never run out. We need to buy that latest, biggest switch or that SDN controller because, well that is what everyone else is doing.

My fellow IPv6ers I do declare we had it wrong all along. Driving IPv6 is not and never was about the business case or the ROI (that one we eliminated early on even though we all still carry a secret wish that there is a magical ROI showing up any day now). All that was a red herring that wasted our time. No, no, no it is all about either coercion (healthcare is a mandatory thing) or it is about intelligent nudging people to make the right decisions (the default is opt-out of vs opt-in your 401k).

It is possible that my friend Alain Fiocco will at some point convince politicians that Internet Access is a human right and with that come the corollary of everyone having the right to their own addresses. Until then, we need to change our game plan. Dust off your psychology knowledge and skip past the business case discussion straight into behavior modification.

And one more thing, don’t forget to nominate IPv6 for the Peace Noble Prize. That would hopefully be a better nudge than “IPv6 is the plan of record for the industry”.