The Future of the Internet

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Pillar Themes of iLaw
Open Systems/Access · Online Liberty and FOE
The Changing Internet: Cybersecurity · Intellectual Property
Digital Humanities · Cooperation · Privacy
Cross-sectional Themes of iLaw
The History of the Internet
The Global Internet · Interoperability
The Study of the Internet: New Methods for New Technologies
The Future of the Internet
Case Studies
Digital Libraries, Archives, and Rights Registries
Exploring the Arab Spring · Minds for Sale
User Innovation · Mutual Aid
Program Schedule · Program Logistics
Evening Events · Student Projects · Participation
Old iLaw Videos · Mid-Point Check-in


Friday, 4:00-5:00pm
Format: Roundtable Discussion
Lead: Jonathan Zittrain
Participants: Yochai Benkler, Herbert Burkert, Urs Gasser, Charlie Nesson, John Palfrey, Jeffrey Schnapp

In a moderated discussion hosted by Jonathan Zittrain, Berkman Directors and Faculty Leads will be invited to reflect on the central themes emerging from the previous days, with a particular focus on the Internet’s future. Participants will engage one another regarding the next “big thing” – anticipated developments, opportunities, emerging issues, and risks within their particular area of research or interest. Foundational to the discussion will be the future of the Internet's generativity, including innovative and creative outputs and participatory input (the opportunity to connect with other people, work with them, and express oneself). Concerns regarding security, invasions of privacy, and other emerging issues may threaten that generative infrastructure; what are the potential costs? What are the visionary solutions?

Driving Questions from Faculty

The questions posed below by Berkman Faculty members reflect the fundamental inquiries for participants to consider during the 2011 iLaw Program:

Yochai Benkler

  • How do we systematize cooperative human systems design, now that we all know that online collaboration is a critical component of the networked information economy?
  • How do we integrate power into our understanding of networked society? What are the limits of public action, and what are the limits of decentralized action, given power in the market, the state, real-world society and the network?

William Fisher

  • To what extent, if any, is legal protection for creative works necessary either to stimulate creativity or to ensure that creators are treated fairly?

Charlie Nesson

  • Suppose it were to be agreed among us that when the founders wrote the Progress clause of our constitution, the exclusive right they were granting to publishers of creative works was the legal right to stop other publishers from selling copies of their works. Can you tell a coherent legal story about how we got from there to here?
  • Viewed from the vantage of equal citizens in a public domain of common (totally usable) knowledge, when did We the People surrender the liberty of privately copying works of any kind? That is to say, when was this liberty taken from us?

John Palfrey

  • What have we learned over the last fifteen years about the opportunities and challenges of studying digital networks and how we mediate our lives through them? What methods are the most fruitful, and which the most fraught?
  • How are the dynamics of politics changing as activists and states alike use digital networks as both their tools and their workbenches? What do these changes mean for governing and for campaigning for change?
  • Does the arc of the Internet bend toward justice?

Jonathan Zittrain

  • How do we reconcile welcome contributions from all corners with poisoned apples?
  • What is the Internet doing to us?

Your Questions for the Future of the Internet Panel!

Please visit the Discussion Page and add your questions to the panel for discussion during the the Future of the Internet session!

Questions will be added below.

Questions related to Online Liberty and Freedom of Expression

  1. Palfrey points out that “technical filtering is problematic both for censors, who must choose either overbroad or under-inclusive filtering, and citizens, who face challenges to creativity and innovation and a reduction of free expression and privacy.” How should this balance be struck, and what makes that option better than the alternatives? If a filtering regime cannot be implemented in an accurate manner, should it be undertaken at all?
  2. Ethan Zuckerman explains that Global Voices has attempted to address the problem of selective global attention by providing an outlet for news stories from underrepresented countries. However, Zuckerman states that they have not been as effective in setting the agenda in such a way that these stories receive widespread readership. Is this sort of “agenda setting” desirable, or does deliberately emphasizing stories that are underrepresented in mainstream media merely exacerbate the problem of the media telling individuals what stories they should care about? How can we determine whether the right amount of audience attention has been achieved?
  3. If we accept the premise that some government regulation of the content of the internet is necessary (for example, to prevent distribution of child pornography), to what extent should a country’s legal and regulatory restrictions track those that govern similar prohibited offline conduct? Does the global reach of the internet call for stricter regulatory standards than more traditional modes of communication in order to protect the larger population that will be exposed to the information, or do the challenges of enforcing national regulations in the context of a border-transcending medium like the internet imply that governments should only attempt to enforce minimally restrictive requirements?

Questions related to Exploring the Arab Spring

  1. To what extent can intensely focused people multiply their voices online to actually shift a public agenda? Is involvement by the mainstream media essential, and if so, what role does it play?
  2. How do you tease apart rebellion rooted in social media from a larger national public movement driven by factors greater than social media?
  3. Do decentralized networks run the risk of dispersing organizers as opposed to facilitating their collective action?
  4. Where is the law on the topic of social media and the Arab Spring? Equality sits at the core of social media and the Internet and so why is that the United States, which is founded on this notion of equality, seems to have so little to offer on how to structure democratic government after the rebellion?

Questions related to Privacy

  1. As the Internet and technologies increasingly blur physical boundaries, how should we address national differences in privacy law?
  2. For Prof. Burkert: How do economics and concerns about the market inform the conversation about privacy? Do cost-based concerns about data protection regulation get much traction (as they do in the US).
  3. What (if any) is the relationship between the strong, protection-of-personality privacy law that has arisen in Germany and the more limited use of e-commerce and social media in Germany than in the US? More generally, how and why have attitudes toward privacy developed differently in Germany and the US?
  4. Given the economic implications of privacy regulation for e-commerce, how should regulators and policymakers be thinking about the policy process around privacy?

Questions related to Digital Libraries, Archives, and Rights Registries

  1. What roles should government and private organizations play in future innovation projects such as digital humanities registries?
  2. What is the future of written (paper) materials like books, and what’s the future relationship between public libraries and the Internet?
  3. How do we balance the interests of copyright protection of creator’s rights against the benefits of more free use, access, and collaboration?

Questions related to The Changing Internet: Cybersecurity

  1. To what extent are cybersecurity breaches the result of laziness and to what extent would these breaches occur regardless of individuals’ vigilance?
  2. If the proper response to cybersecurity threats is greater regulation, how should that regulation balance security concerns with preservation of the Internet’s generative power?
  3. In addition, if regulation is required, who should do the regulating?

Questions related to Cooperation

  1. What’s the next WikiPedia? And what will the future of WikiPedia look like?
  2. Why are signallers more productive than non-signallers? How can an organizational infrastructure provide motivation to participants/members when each individual is motivated in different ways by different factors?
  3. How can the study of online cooperation influence and inform our understanding of human interaction off-line? How can we use what we observe online to provide an alternative to the self-interest model?

Questions related to Digital Humanities

  1. How do we help citizens become curators of their own cultural history? Is the preserver or archivist an additional model of cultural behavior to Read-Only and Read-Write culture?
  2. How are those leading the Digital Humanities charge accounting for the technical fragility and legal ambiguity of link-based contributions and information?
  3. How do experiential, scruffy, and curatorial attitudes of digital humanities reshape the genre of research? Should Digital Humanities projects work to supplement or replace more traditional modes of scholarship? And how does this fit with Zittrain’s concern about scholarship and entrepreneurship in the university?

Questions related to Intellectual Property

  • To what extent is it helpful to use concepts like original constitutional meaning or first principles when evaluating current internet regulatory frameworks?
  • Are those ideas still relevant in an internet (and international) context or should we start with something new?
  • If an overhaul of the copyright system is needed, and if it is unlikely that a new framework will ever be implemented due to the difficulty of reaching consensus, then where does this leave us in terms of finding a solution today?
  • How do these questions change as we move to the Cloud? Is there such a thing as IP in the cloud?
  • What is the implication of copyright law in user created appropriation works on the internet (YouTube videos, mashup gifs, etc)?
  • Is there a difference between public perception of “real” art and “user” art? Are they significant enough for discussion?

Interesting Unanswered Questions from Twitter, the Question Tool, etc

  • How central is US government policy to the future of the global internet?
  • Should law students learn how to program?
  • Should academics be more entrepreneurial or practical?
  • Was Berkman's release of Facebook data in 2008 worth the potential violation of privacy?
  • Should the US move more toward Europe in privacy regulations? Vice versa?

Questions Discussion Page on any topic (including those that weren't covered)

  • What is the next field for explosive growth or progress in the Internet?
  • What kind of feasible projects should the Berkman Center, or students, take on next?
  • What is the future of relatively closed and tethered platforms such as the iPhone? Could that model ultimately prevail?
  • What is the current state of the software patent prosecution and litigation fields now? What do you think needs to change? And, should we be worried about patent claims that cover methods like "exercising a cat" with a laser pen?
  • How do we integrate power into our understanding of networked society? What are the limits of public action, and what are the limits of decentralized action, given power in the market, the state, real-world society and the network?
  • Do you think that social networks have reached full growth or do you see an other model emerging in the future?
  • What is the approach that developing countries should take to the net neutrality issue: the US' or Chile and Netherland's?
  • How important are broadband policies to the commons-based peer-production model that has been discussed during iLaw sessions?
  • How can commons-based peer-production systems help shape/influence state internet regulation?

Recommended Readings

Background Readings