5-in-5-in-5: the future of the Internet

I had a fun time on  ISOC-DC’s #5in5in5 panel — talking about five things that will be different about the future of the Internet, in 2020.  There’s video of the panel available on ISOC-DC’s livestream TV site:  http://www.isoc-dc.org/isoc-dc-tv/ .

My 5 points, delivered within 5 minutes, covered:

  1. The Internet continues to try to “get out of the box” — increasingly, we don’t see “the Internet” as separate from our tools or tasks.  They merge.  Sometimes  it’s seamless — you might carry out a text message conversation with someone from your phone, and then answering from your computer as you walk by, and picking it up again on your iPad.  Each device has all the context.  You’re not thinking about which network you’re using to send the messages.   The downside is  the loss of individual control over your Internet experience — having your car hacked over the net while you’re driving it is the downside of all that invisible interconnectedness.  Also, the Internet becomes opaque, another packaged commodity, and a lot less likely to be something we can all hook into, climb onto, and understand.
  2. Various forces — policy makers, big business, whatever — are trying to put the Internet into a box, or some structure.  For example, regulations requiring that the Internet not serve particular information beyond geographic boundaries is essentially implemented by aligning the actual Internet network with those geopolitical limits.  I have had a lot to say about the challenges with that approach, but suffice to say that the Internet was not built to pay attention to political lines, and imposing those structures reduces its resiliency and its efficiency and effectiveness.
  3. New approaches are needed!  If these approaches to regulation and restriction are not going to work (because they reduce the Internet to something unusable), then we need a different way to talk about the Internet, the services that run over the Internet, and how we articulate and enact policies that relate to them.  Don’t try to curtail web page access by making laws requiring ISPs to delete entries in DNS, figure out a better way to get international policy to common ground on what makes inappropriate use of the Internet.  (Make the action illegal, not the tool).
  4. And yet, everything old is new again.
    1. The Internet was developed as an inter-network — making a whole out of disparate parts collaborating.
    2. We could not have seen the kind of IPv6 deployment we have today if large, competitive web companies hadn’t stood up to do World IPv6 Day and World IPv6 Launch.
    3. The future is better if we can regain and foster more of that sense of cross-industry collaboration to find solutions that are best for the Internet as a whole.
  5. As I recall saying at an ISOC-DC “Future Internet” panel some years ago, if I could tell you what the Internet was going to be in 2020, it wouldn’t be the Internet, now would it?!  The beauty and power of the Internet is that it is a platform that supports creativity, communication and development for everyone, and we have no means to size the depth and breadth of that much creative energy.  So much of what we now consider “normal” in the Internet — say, FaceBook — was unthinkable until someone thought of it and built it.  If the Internet loses its ability to support that kind of novel development, then it’s not the Internet anymore, it’s just another network.

It was a fun panel — good discussion with the attendees, too.   From the comments that came up during the session, it’s clear that people have very real concerns about where we’re going with the Internet as a platform for “permissionless innovation”, while ensuring that we retain some level of privacy and management of our personal information.

As Mike Nelson said, moderating the session — there’s enough meat in each of the topics we brought up to fuel a semester long university course!

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