Elon University

An interview transcript from the first Internet Governance Forum, Athens, Greece Oct/Nov 2006: Kuo-Wei Wu

IGF 2006 LogoThis is a transcript from a series of video interviews designed to assess major issues tied to the diffusion of the internet. It is the record of one of many interviews conducted in 2006 with international internet stakeholders from 18 different nations at the world’s first Internet Governance Forum in Athens, Greece. The Athens IGF was the first of five annual global events administrated by the UN to focus on discussion of the overarching issues tied to the future of information and communications technologies. More than 1,200 participants shared information, experiences and best practices.

Kuo-Wei Wu – CEO of National Information Infrastructure Enterprise Promotion Association of Taiwan; longtime leader of the Asia-Pacific Network Information Centre; supercomputing pioneer in the Asia-Pacific Region. Based in Taiwan.

The Transcript:

Q: Who are you representing at IGF?

A: I’m the CEO of the NIIEPA and we are particularly interested in Internet governance and partisan research. And we also do information security for the SME…so this is what we are doing…

Q: Will you describe some of the research you are doing? 

A: As you know, after 1995, the Internet became very important. Not only for the economy, also for society and different angles. Personally, I am from the more technical side, and we are interested to see how the Internet impacts the global societies. And so we start to begin to do this kind of research and to see how the policy changing is an impact to the society; this is the first area we are interested in the research. The second part is the information security is getting more important and more critical for the business practice. So, starting in 2003, we actually began with some…design and doing the information security, ISMS practice for small and medium enterprises. And fortunately, this year we have 10 companies begin to be… I think we get a very good result and we are trying to share our experience with anybody around the world.

Q: How do you find policy has affected society? 

A: I think that it is a symbol the Internet is growing. In the very beginning – in the 1960s until 1980 to 1990, that was a very quiet time of the Internet, unfortunately I wasn’t involved. I worked for an American company in the research in the United States, in Minnesota. During that time, the Internet still only used by the laboratory and academia people. And we still didn’t know the power of the Internet yet. From 1992 to 1993 until 1995 or 1996 – think of the World-Wide Web – the mechanics and the interface became available. And the Internet power and the potential really, we find it’s not only in the academia or laboratory, by the way, but even into the economy, and the business practice and also the social connection. And this is a very powerful tool.

I still remember back to 1995, I actually held a conference talking about the Internet’s impact to the economy, to the education, to the politics, to society. Thinking back to the conference I ran in 1995, I think we still underestimate the powers. I think it’s much more powerful than we thought about back in 1995.

From 1995 to the year 2000, there is what we call the booming of the Internet. And during that time, I actually quit the job in the laboratory and joined in the business practice and it wasn’t a success. I was part of the bubble. That was a very interesting time to 1995 to the year 2000, you can see a lot of people were really crazy about the Internet’s potential and put a lot of resources and money in there. And at that time, a lot of people underestimated the basics of the business model. Making money is still the fundamental base of a successful business. And people had too much imagination during that period of time. A lot of people said the Internet is something so great – there is nothing we cannot do if we can imagine. A lot of people imagined so many funny things.

If you look at the year 2000 to now, people really learned a lot of lessons during the booming and also the bubble times. But the Internet didn’t stop the growing. And so, if you look at the situation right now, I think we can see the Internet still expand its territory, but also the Internet is involved in change.

A lot of people say the Internet is one of the best places for free expression, free speech and liberty, of the human imagination, something like that. But we find that actually, Internet also creates a very harmful tool. This is going to have a serious impact – the privacy issue, security issue. And we are afraid the privacy issue will be a victim of the Internet expansions.

Personally, I am happy to see in the IGF meeting the privacy issue being raised and people concerned. And hopefully more and more people really understand how the privacy effect will be valid for many different reasons. Most of the people say we need to make Internet security better and so privacy is part of that.

Another thing is free speech. A lot of people in this conference and the people talking about free speech, free expression, and I think that is an advantage of the Internet, and, of course, some of the people abuse it. We understand that. But somehow, the solid structure of the government or infrastructure is a layer. Personally, I still believe in security definitely can resolve in a certain level. And the privacy and the free speech is something we should protect as basic human values. That is my personal point of view of these developments.

Q: Given the fact that the Internet is so powerful, how should that affect society? 

A: That is a powerful technology. In many cases I say that technology actually is a neutral tool, technology didn’t hack a site – it’s people who hack a site. Technology is something that tells you what you can expand to a certain direction or certain futures. Basically it’s human beings who hack sites. And I think that for a powerful technology, it’s a very important thing. Human beings need to use wisdom instead of knowledge to handle the powerful technology. The difference between wisdom and knowledge. With just knowledge you might abuse the technology, you use the technology to do whatever you like. And you even do some harmful things and you don’t know. Wisdom is not only knowledge, you’re also making the right decisions. If the human being uses this powerful technology and uses wisdom to take care of this powerful technology, that is a policy that will have impact, that is a policy that will be, “Go on, you need to do it.”

I think this is a very interesting meaning from the IGF, from the ICANN, and the many Internet-related conferences, and I think many different stakeholders join in and you can see this technology or its impact from very different angles.

For example, many years ago actually I didn’t see the need for Internationalized Domain Names, and it’s really critical and I really thought about the IDN and was kind of, well, sometime I questioned, do we really need international domain names or not. But until about one or two years ago, I heard people talking about how difficult they handled the domain name from left to right, because their language is from right to left. And I tried to put myself in that position and begin to understand why they are so eager to get the domain names in their own languages.

To have a policy under a wisdom decision, we must hear all the different parties to speak out, what they are talking about, what their difficulties are, and then we all sit together to get some compromise and to get the best choice to be acceptable by all the people and all the different parties and communities. This policy decision is a very new way. It’s very different from the traditional. And in the past we maybe say we are listening to the stakeholder, but we are not really do it. Because we still very keen to authority, we do not have much space, or we don’t have the opportunity to let the different parties or different people, different community entities speak out. They are thinking. And this is a very important practice for the modest stakeholder’s decision process, and this is a very good starting point to getting a good Internet policy-making decision process in the future.

Q: Who do you think would be best to put in charge of issuing these policies?

A: I think it’s most important to ask if we have that platform available for every modest stakeholder to speak out and to say their concerns and what their interests are. And I think ICANN maybe is the first such involvement to create it, to be available for the modest stakeholder to speak out, no matter you’re in government, or you’re a community, or you’re an organization, or you’re an entity, or you’re just a singe individual. And I personally, I’m very happy to see the IGF tech almost the same way, and I compare it with WSIS’s process in the last five years and I usually say, last five years I think WSIS teaches a lot of lessons, and the IGF is changing dramatically. And I think if you’re talking about who should make the policy decision, and I will say every single person, every single entity, corporation, government, non-profit organization, international organization, they should take some of the burden. No one, single body can make a decision on this because this is a very different involvement from what human beings have had in the past.

Q: What is your greatest hope for the future of networked information technology? 

A: Hopefully we still can have a very simple human value continued. For example, the decision-making is transparent and we listen to the modest stakeholders voices and we still maintain human privacy, and we also would like to see the economy keep growing based on this new technology to developing the global Net.

And everybody can connect. And of course some of the people say we still have many people left behind, and of course, that will be another issue we need to resolve. But at least the Internet did create involvement that we didn’t have before.

The world really connects together. It is much simpler than taking an international flight from Asia to Africa, you know, you can get on the Net and in two seconds you connect to the world and you can express yourself. This is a dramatic innovation, and this is a dramatic change for human involvement.

If you want me to make a wish, I wish the Internet really can help the people understand each other much better and better perform than the traditional involvement we had before. These are good things. Anything that can improve the communication between the human beings, I think is good technology.

Q: Describe the future impact of the Internet in one word. 

A: Connecting and communicating.

This video transcript is offered for use under a Creative Commons Noncommercial License allowing no derivative works. Executive producers, Erin Barnett and Janna Quitney Anderson; chief engineer, Bryan Baker; videographers, Barnett and Baker; editor, Barnett.