Brief session description:
Tuesday, April 24, 2012 – The landscape of the Internet is ever-changing. Just 20 years ago, the inventors of the Internet couldn’t fathom the sensation it would become or the major role it would play in our day-to-day lives. The Internet has brought about enormous amounts of change. Twenty years from now, what will the Internet look like and how will it affect the world? Three generations of Internet experts weighed in on the future in a roundtable discussion that included audience participation and speculated about what the Internet might become after another two decades of growth and development.
Details of the session:
Participants included: Titi Akinsanmi, academic and consultant at the LINK Centre; David Appasamy, executive director at Madura Micro Finance, Ltd; Maria Casey, Vodafone in Ireland; Jayantha Fernando, director and legal advisor of the ICT Agency of Sri Lanka; Demi Getschko, CEO, NIC.br and vice-president of Internet Society Brazil Chapter; Burt Kaliski Jr., senior vice president and chief technology officer at Verisign; Kanchana Kanchanasut, professor and director of the Internet Education and Research Laboratory at the Asian Institute of Technology in Thailand; and Charles Mok, founding chairman of the Internet Society Hong Kong.
What is in store for the future of the Internet? We have come so far in the last 20 years but where will we be 20 years from now?
These were questions that appeared again and again throughout panels and sessions at Global INET and they were the sole focus of Tuesday afternoon’s closing roundtable, “Game Changers: Where Will They Take us by 2032?”
A team of diverse panelists shared their ideas of the “game changers” and their general hopes and predictions for the future of the Internet.
They also fielded questions from the audience and remote participants, often echoing one another’s opinions but occasionally landing on splinter thoughts or bold predictions.
The Internet may become more ‘self-governing’
For instance, panelist Burt Kaliski, senior vice president and chief technology officer at Verisign, predicted that by 2032, the Internet will be self-governing. “In 20 years the Internet, the collection of interconnected computer systems, will be sufficiently capable for many parts to handle its own governance, to steer itself in accordance with the interests of its stakeholders,” he said. He pointed out that computers’ top speeds have been improved by nearly six orders of magnitude – to 200,000 times faster – in the 20-year history of ISOC, and he said it might be expected that at least another factor of 10,000 of improvement could be achieved in the next 20 years.
“What are we going to do with the other 9,999 additional units of compute power?” he asked. “Maybe they can be applied to the system itself, taking care of this all-important issue of governance. So it’s technologically capable. It’s also socially and economically essential, because our global economy and our personal lives will depend so much on the Internet in 20 years, that we cannot handle it all ourselves by traditional human methods. We will need the computers to help us to accomplish these objectives.”
He said such a system would have to understand the objectives and policies of stakeholders, reconcile them with one another, suggest ways of addressing these as much as possible an recommend improvements and remediate. “The compute capability will be there,” he said. “The data infrastructure will be there. We are seeing it all built now. Systems will need to become more transparent and more accountable, so that they can be composed toward a more autonomous goal. Just step back a moment, and think of two of the words that we use so frequently in discussions like this: ‘cyberspace’ and ‘governance’. They do have the same root, the Greek ‘kuber,’ to steer. The game changer, the mini singularity, if you will, will come when the Internet begins to steer itself and takes its own place at the table of Internet governance on behalf of its 10 billion users.”
This prompted audience member and Internet pioneer Vint Cerf to half-jokingly ask Kaliski if there’s going to be an automated Internet who will be responsible for the inevitable bugs that exist in any software program.
“It ain’t gonna be me,” Cerf smiled.
Kaliski said a system of verification and remediation, which will most likely be carried out by humans, will be responsible for protecting newly-designed systems.
Governments lag on governance; global citizens may just route around them
Other predictions from panetlists took into consideration the fact that governments are likely to continue to lag behind the innovations online. Panelist Titi Akinsanmi, an academic and consultant at the LINK Centre, said she estimates that there will be some centralized control, central governance of the Internet, but asked if it will remain relevant.
“To a certain extent, we will have some central governance of the Internet, that’s a given,” she said. “Policies and governance will be in place, centralized to some extent. But what excites me more is that there will be an alternate reality, literally, where people who would be labeled as dissidents, as people who have refused to exist within certain confines, will thrive, and will thrive in a particular way, in that the policies and the regulations will be in place, but because the Internet is what it is, and because the ecosystem is so dynamic, it will continue to exist outside of those rules.
“Yes we can put policies in place, yes we can have arguments around what institutions will manage the Internet, but more interesting is the fact that as we continue to have those discussions, the Internet is moving ahead. By 2032 we will have young people, we will have a whole range of people, who are so engaged with the technology that whether or not policy exists is likely irrelevant for them.”
She added that the second point she wanted to make about the future is that geography will no longer define most people. “Mostly you will have a generation of people who see themselves as Internet citizens, and not necessarily as one nationality in one physical space,” she said. “The answer will no longer be I am a Nigerian or South African or I am from Switzerland, or I am an American citizen, but the answer would be to a different kind of question: ‘What are you engaged in?'”
Jayantha Fernando, director and legal advisor of the ICT Agency of Sri Lanka, said in developing countries like his, government and policy changes are even harder to predict because governments react slowly. He said policy and lawmaking is behind technology and innovation instead of the other way around. In he future, he said, this will have to change.
“Looking at the next 20 years, and speaking from a developing South Asian perspective, and coming from a region with a significant ongoing investment towards ICT development and e-government applications, I feel that government makers and policy makers globally will be more compelled to play a more significant role connecting and empowering people with Internet and associated tools and technologies,” he said.
“We heard from many speakers that the broadband gap is bigger than the digital divide, and that more than two-thirds of the world’s people don’t have access to broadband, let alone the Internet. I see this as a challenge for governments and policymakers, and how they respond to this challenge will shape the Internet in the next 20 years. In order to meet this connectivity challenge governments globally will be compelled to adopt the multistakeholder model to ensure that their countries get the best when utilizing public funds to connect everybody.”
Some of the session was spent in discussion of top-down (decision-making by governments and official hierarchies) vs. bottom-up (edge-intelligence processes allowing any interested and informed individual to participate) approaches to Internet governance and how to reconcile the two.
Panelist Kanchana Kanchanasut, a professor and director of the Internet Education and Research Laboratory a the Asian Institute of Technology in Thailand proposed a Buddhist-like “middle path” approach, with a balance of both.
But Akinsanmi said there was no need to do just this. Instead, she advocates a third option.
“Maybe where we need to be is not fit the concept of governance as we currently have it, but rather take the new entity that has refused to fit in any of our existing models and look at it in a creative way of how we can make it work,” she suggested.
India’s ID system will be a model to study for strengths, weaknesses in the next decade
Panelist David Appasamy, the former executive director of Madura Micro Finance, laid out a very specific plan for the digital future, simply spelling out India’s expectation to assign every one on India’s 1.2 billion citizens a digital identity. In fact, Appasamy didn’t share what he thinks to be any one game changer on the Internet, he says the Internet itself is the game changer.
“I foresee that 20 years from now, when you look at the context of India, we will have a more equitable and corruption-free society because of the Internet,” he said. “Now that is saying a lot. We are talking about 1.2 billion people. We are talking about a fairly high level of corruption. We are talking about 400 million people who are not reached by banks or any proper service. But 20 years from now, in India, we will not be measuring and discussing the digital divide, but instead we will be analyzing the level of digital engagement of citizens. That will be the key to empowerment. That essentially is what will make a difference.
In India’s UIDA system, each person’s ID will be linked to a bank account, to medical records, government services and more. Government will exist online with total transparency and access to records, drastically reducing corruption. Through nationwide access to the Internet and such tracking of people’s actions, it is expected that literacy levels, economic situations, health and life in general will drastically improve for hundreds of millions of Indians, according to Appasamy.
“Twenty years from now,” he explained, “Indians retaining their national identity will look at the world as a market, with greater access to information and distribution via the Internet. Both professionals and entrepreneurs will offer their skills and products to global markets. So the identity will be Indian, but as Titi pointed out, their engagement will be what they do but to a global canvas. There will be sustained economic growth for people in rural areas, as they integrate with the formal economy in many ways. The Internet will enable billions of people to reach their true potential, and by ensuring the productive healthy life for people not only in India, but all over the world, and in terms of how they engage with it. In short, it will become the global nervous system for people to live and live productively.”
Disruptive change in education, travel; challenges to come to core Internet principles
Education was brought up several times in the discussion by Maria Casey, the youngest panelist and an employee with Vodafone Ireland.
“In 20 years time, e-universities won’t be called ‘e-universities,’ they’ll just be called ‘universities,’” Casey said.
She also said the concept of “being there” will drastically change, because the sheer availability of information on the Internet makes travelling less necessary. She added that the Internet grants mobility to people who aren’t mobile. Casey also predicted the death of traditional phone calls and text messaging in the mobile phone sector with the advent of cheaper and more accessible smart phones. “I genuinely think in the next 20 years that it will just be data,” she said. “You can have access to the world in the palm of your hand.”
And while all panelists agreed there would be changes to come in the future, Demi Getschko, vice-president of Brazil’s ISOC chapter, said the current Internet has two strengths: the technical conception of the network and the Internet community.
He said in the future it will be important to maintain the core simplicity of the network and the neutral Net, especially as proposals for new cyber laws continue to be introduced.
“There are two strengths for keeping the Internet as it is now and has evolved until now,” he said. “One is the technical conception of the network, a set of thousands of independent networks that cooperate in a voluntary basis, and without strong coordination. The second strength I really want to stress is that there is really the thing we call the Internet community. This strange thing, the Internet community, allows the Internet to defend itself against bad ideas, against weak implementations, against software-walled implementations, in some ways this Internet community exists and it really protects the network. From the technical point of view, it is important to keep the core of the network simple, not to put loads on the core, because this makes the network scalable. We also have to keep the net neutral, to struggle for net neutrality.
“Two things we have to prevent,” he added. “We have seen in recent years a plethora of propositions of novel new local cyber laws. Many of these laws are very well-intended. But as all of you, as we know, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. The other point is to prevent the regulation or overregulation of the network. The regulation of new things inhibits innovation, and innovation is very important to the Internet.”
He quoted Machiavelli’s “The Prince,” saying although it was written 500 years ago it applies to the Internet: “It ought to be remembered that there is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things. Because the innovator has for enemies all those who have done well under the old conditions, and lukewarm defenders in those may do well under the new conditions. This coolness arises partly from fear of the opponents, who have the laws on their side, and partly from the incredulity of men, who do not readily believe in new things until they have had a long experience of them.”
Power struggles are heating up; where will they take us?
Charles Mok, the founding chairman of the Internet Society of Hong Kong, said the future will witness challenging conflicts between governments, political, social and cultural powers, those in society and others.
“In Hong Kong and in mainland China, I think we have a front row seat to witness these game changers in the next 20 years,” he said.
Hong Kong, while in sight of mainland China, has a mostly open, free Internet, unlike the censored version accessible by the largest online population in the world. Mok expressed concerns over the power struggle being waged over control of the Internet.
“I see conflicts,” he said, “conflicts between governments and those in society where power – from political power to economic and social, cultural powers on the one hand, with the common average people who use the Internet, and especially the younger generation who are not only growing up with the Internet but literally born with the Internet – the struggle for the control of the Internet between them as a set of technological tools, as an environment, as a lifestyle, will intensify greatly.
“It is obvious that governments around the world – and increasingly we are not only talking about the authoritative total utilitarian governments, regimes in the world, but more and more even western democracies are trying to legalize control that they want to impose on the Internet, starting with surveillance in the greatest measures. Privacy and security is one of the key battlefields, but copyright is another.
“Just as people are more like one another than they are not across the world, governments are probably also alike when it comes to the will to control, especially on things that they worry to be out of control. So In Hong Kong, and in mainland China, I think we have a front row seat to witness these game changers in the next 20 years, the greatest technology, to control the Internet and the people on it, and the greatest will from the people to stop these interventions.
Mok’s remarks also captured a predominant theme of the panel’s discussion, that today’s youngest Internet users, those who have grown up with the Internet, will be the ones who really decide the future. “My greatest hope,” he said, “is that Internet of tomorrow will withstand governmental interference and continue to be governed as well as function and operate relatively free from governmental and inter or intragovernmental control, and that Internet users, those who are very young today, who will in 20 years time become the leaders, will develop into truly responsible leaders for the Internet.”
Appasamy added, “These are the people who will find solutions because they are children of the Internet.”
– Reporters: Janna Anderson and Rachel Southmayd
A selection of Twitter Reports from this ISOC 20th event:
#ISOC 20 session Game Changers: Where Will They Take us by 2032? includes change agents and predictions. #GlobalINET
Game Changers Panel: Titi Akinsanmi, academic and consultant at the Link Centre #ISOC 20 #GlobalINET
Game Changers Panel: David Appasamy @Davaps, executive director at Madura Microfinance #ISOC 20 #GlobalINET
Game Changers Panel: Maria Casey of @VodafoneIreland. Focus on customer data security #ISOC 20 #GlobalINET
Game Changers Panel: Jayantha Fernando, director and legal advisor, ICT Agency of Sri Lanka #ISOC 20 #GlobalINET
Game Changers Panel: Demi Geschko, Internet pioneer in Brazil. Int. on Internet spirit #ISOC 20 #GlobalINET
Game Changers Panel: Burt Kaliski, Jr. @modulomathy Sr. VP & CTO, @VERISIGN #ISOC 20 #GlobalINET
Game Changers Panel: Kanchana Kanchanasut, prof and dir. Inte. Edu. & Research Lab, @AITAsia, Thai Internet pioneer #ISOC 20 #GlobalINET
Game Changers Panel: Charles Mok, founding Chairman, ISOC Hong Kong, Chair of Asian/Pacific Islands @ICANN org #ISOC 20 #GlobalINET
Google founder Sergei Brin expressed concerns over the future of the Internet #ISOC 20 #GlobalINET
New report on the future of apps and web by @ImagineInternet w/ @Pew Internet #ISOC 20 #GlobalINET
The multimedia reporting team for Imagining the Internet at the Internet Society’s 20th Anniversary Global INET Conference included the following Elon University students, faculty, staff and friends: Jacquie Adams, Dan Anderson, Janna Anderson, Kacie Anderson, Nicole Chadwick, Jeff Flitter, Addie Haney, Brandon Marshall, Brian Meyer, Caitlin O’Donnell, Rachel Southmayd and Rebecca Smith.