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?
  5. Is a clear distinction between social media like Facebook or Twitter, and private companies naming Vodafone, that can be drawn in the context of political transformations or social movements?
  6. What are responsibilities/duties in providing the freedom of expression, especially in authoritarian environment?
  7. Can the extended use of social media during the Arab Spring be seen as providing a sense of security in number,

whether the political change in Arab world encouraged people to use social media or rather to change their use of it into political tool?

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

Student Reflections

The Future of the Internet section brought iLaw 2011 to a close. It was thought that this slot could be used to tie in some of the most popular unanswered questions from the backchannel, with a view to leaving open the variety of issues raised for future thought and discussion. Naturally, and generally, the section became more conclusory and the unanswered questions that were dredged from the depths of the iLaw question tool archive were left for any of those still interacting online.

Much of the real world room conversation lent itself to summing up iLaw as a whole, with thanks being duly accorded to its organizers, speakers, participants, and all concerned. That is not to say that no questions or ideas were posited for future thought. Alongside the general appraisal of the efforts that went into iLaw 2011, and the remarks regarding the other sections of iLaw, two main themes emerged for consideration.

First, we discussed intellectual property and scholarship––particularly with regard to Harvard's own intellectual property and its role in improving open academic discourse. Two projects were brought up as examples: H2O project (an “open courseware repository”), and Berkman's H2O project. After a brief uneasiness about the prospect of many of their lectures being leaked online, the professors, noting MIT’s ongoing Open CourseWare endeavours, moved toward embracing the idea. The remaining reluctance to fully sanction LectureLeaks was due to the potential for conflicts with Harvard’s copyright policies, and more significantly for the professors, the fact that classes are frequently like sanctuaries or fora within which students can develop and sharpen their oration skills without (too much) fear of public attention or oppressive ridicule. Several professors also talked about conflicts between Harvard's open access policy and journals' conflicting requirements.

The second theme concerned iLaw itself. In a somewhat Dickensian manner, the discussion covered the iLaws of past, present and future. It was noted that previous iLaw conferences had a much more limited scope, but as the internet and the conference both developed and issues became broader and more complex, so did the areas under discussion. The iLaw of present was indicative of this growing complexity and demonstrated well the emergence of new issues; Cybersecurity, Privacy, Digital Humanities, Exploring the Arab Spring, and the fascinating and shocking, Minds for Sale; as well as the disappearance of previous issues, such as domain name conflicts, that are now considered solved, or at least less challenging. Professors raised two major ideas for future iLaw conferences: franchise conferences that brought iLaw professors and curricula to other universities and even countries, and longer iLaw courses that might fill up an entire semester or more. It would be hard to say, “Bah, humbug”, to that experimental invocation of the Net’s spirit of global interactivity.

So, with that, the (almost) weeklong iLaw2011 drew to a close and the myriad participants toddled off somewhat confused, perplexed, inspired, tantalized, and probably in need of some sleep. Personally, as a big fan of the multimedia interactivity aspects to the Internet, Patrick was particularly beguiled by some of the activities of those immersed in the digital humanities; but, not nearly as much as he was disconcerted by the potential (mis)uses of the outsourcing possibilities the Internet is beginning to offer through the likes of Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, or the altogether more frightening issues raised by JZ in the Cybersecurity section. Will he ever log on again after that? Maybe, but certainly not without covering up his webcam, changing any and all passwords, and potentially moving to his own island where he can be sure of being free of the real world implications of someone gaining control over any government’s centralized top-secret backup servers, and where he can be sure to avoid having to witness Bruce Willis subsequently, and single-handedly, winning in a fight with an F-35B.

Dan, on the other hand, felt remarkably optimistic about the potential for future innovation in the internet, thinking perhaps that professor Zittrain was too pessimistic about the potential consequences of innovations such as Mechanical Turk. While JZ in this panel moderated his conclusions from The Future of the Internet and How to Stop It, saying that the path to potential internet lockdown would be subtler than he had expected, Dan thinks that the most optimistic panelists this week had it right. The most important innovations in the structure of the internet (such as TCP/IP, WiFi, peer-to-peer) have developed despite being considered impossible or unlikely under existing theory. As JZ mentioned, making predictions in this kind of field is devilishly hard, but most developments have had ultimately positive results. Taking the long view, then, we should expect the resilient internet to survive and thrive despite the challenges to come.