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Shaping the Internet's Future

The Global Internet Report: Consolidation in the Internet Economy

The 2017 Global Internet Report: Paths to Our Digital Future focused attention on the significant potential of the Internet for innovation and sustainable development, but without denying or shirking the challenges it also introduces. This forward-looking analysis is a powerful advocacy tool for anyone who wants to protect and build the open Internet.

Over the past year, we spent time working with our community on a new report. It takes a closer look at one of those forces and how it may impact the future: Consolidation in the Internet Economy. Understood as growing forces of concentration, vertical and horizontal integration, and fewer opportunities for market entry and competition, this topic includes the impact of consolidating forces on all stakeholders as well as on the Internet’s underlying and evolving technology.

We chose this theme because findings from the 2017 report, and what’s happened since, are showing increasing concerns about a growing concentration of power in the Internet economy. They point to market and technical forces that may be driving consolidation at different “layers” of the Internet, from network developments and hosting services to applications. Among these trends are processes that enable some companies to own our experience at almost every stage.

Such trends of consolidation are not new and can be expected as markets and industries mature. To some, it is an evolution foremost characterized by lower prices and better services. But consolidation also implies a greater influence by a few, raising concerns of a more centralized Internet that could impede its resilience, openness, and diversity.

When we started this project, our ambition was to provide clear answers and recommendations. Instead, it raised an even longer set of questions.

This report marks the start of a new conversation. One where we need your help. In 2019 we will be conducting a deeper dive into the topic of consolidation. There will be new research through a collaboration with Chatham House. This will be published in a special issue of the Journal of Cyber Policy. We will also offer to fund for the collection of relevant data, to be made available for further research. And, of course, we will continue our conversations with you on our website, over social media, and more.

Read the 2019 Global Internet Report: Consolidation in the Internet Economy

Learn more about the Call for Papers for the special issue on consolidation.

Applications for research funding for data collection will open 1 March and be available here.

If you have comments, questions or suggestions to the team that has worked on the report, please email foti@isoc.org

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Shaping the Internet's Future Technology

Future Thinking: Wired Editor in Chief Nicholas Thompson on the Role of Media

Last year, the Internet Society unveiled the 2017 Global Internet Report: Paths to Our Digital Future. The interactive report identifies the drivers affecting tomorrow’s Internet and their impact on Media & Society, Digital Divides, and Personal Rights & Freedoms. Last month we interviewed Nicholas Thompson, Editor in Chief of Wired, to hear his perspective on the forces shaping the Internet’s future.

Prior to joining Wired, Thompson was a journalist at The New Yorker, where he was also the editor of newyorker.com. Thompson has written about politics and technology for numerous publications, and  has spent time reporting from West Africa on the role technology plays there. He is also the author of The Hawk and the Dove: Paul Nitze, George Kennan, and the History of the Cold War.

The Internet Society: You recently published (and co-wrote) a long feature on Facebook’s difficulties over the past two years, focusing to a large extent on its role in distributing news and misinformation (or fake news) alike. As policy leaders shape future norms in this field, do you think platforms face stricter regulatory measures? How? 

Nicholas ThompsonPlatforms need to do better. They need to play a better role in helping civil society, not breaking apart civil society. They need to do a better role of helping to build a world that shares the broad values they have, which includes truth and basic human rights.

I don’t know whether regulation is the right answer. Platforms certainly need to change their internal policies; they certainly need to look at their algorithms; they certainly need to be much more aware of how people are using them and the effect they are having on civil society. The question with regulation is whether the regulation will actually help more than it harms. And regulating a tech company is hard: you have to understand and dig deep into its layers and know how it works. I wouldn’t trust many governments to do a good job of that. Sometimes the threat of regulation could be equally helpful.

In my view there are three things that can happen. First, we could see changes in competition law. If we have more competitive landscapes we’ll probably see better behavior by the big tech companies. Second, we could also see more regulation to specifically limit what the tech companies can do or control. I’m very wary of these two options, which require us to intervene and either break up big tech or regulate tech more closely. Lastly, we could see action being taken internally by tech companies without any regulation. This is my favorite one; one in which tech companies start to look more carefully at themselves; think more carefully about their actions and start to act differently. 

Recent research has questioned the notion of echo chambers, misinformation (or so-called ‘fake news’) and other media myths that impact the media’s credibility today. Are you concerned about the media’s role as counterweights to the excesses of power and corruption in the future?

I think that echo chambers are a huge problem right now, especially in the current political situation in the US. I don’t think we’ll always have a president like Donald Trump, but even under Obama we had echo chambers and divisiveness and filter bubbles. The issue of filter bubbles and echo chambers might have been overstated at times, but it also is real and I think it’s really important for media to try to gain trust across a broad spectrum of society. I think the fact that serious media – media that actually checks facts and reports across multiple sources – only appeals to a segment of the population with one ideology is a huge problem. You need to have facts for society to work. You need everybody to agree on basic facts and then to have arguments and discussions and negotiations about those facts. And media is very important in providing those basic facts. So the fact that the media has lost the trust of the larger population is a massive problem in the US and elsewhere. 

There are often different interpretations of particularly the right to freedom of expression in, for example, Europe and the US. How do these differences impact media and tech companies?

American companies’ views of free speech have changed completely. They have gone from massively valuing free speech to not valuing free speech. If you look at many of the biggest trends in the tech industry, they have all been about filtering and limiting free speech. To get rid of comments sections; to make it harder to be anonymous online; to remove people from platforms.

The reason why views on free speech have changed is because of what tech companies saw. They saw the abuse on Twitter, for example. If people are allowed to post anything on YouTube, people post videos of putting children in washing machines. The base human emotions lead to some terrible outcomes. And that’s a totally legitimate reason for the crackdown on free speech. Has it gone too far? I’m not sure. There are legitimate reasons why the tech industry’s view on free speech has changed in my view.

What will the media landscape look like in three to five years? What/who will be more important producers of news in the future: citizen journalists or algorithms/artificial intelligence?

AI is going to play a huge role in the future of the media. You can already see that in sports journalism, for example, where the Washington Post has AI writing sports pages. It’s pretty easy to describe a soccer game – you know, the game was tied until the 63rd minute and somebody scored. You could probably even get AI to write about a UN vote: for example, this country voted that way, etc. Over time, computers will become more sophisticated and should be able to write much larger proportions of stories. They wouldn’t be able to write our story about Facebook, because it required talking to lots of people, but they probably could do all kinds of sophisticated data pattern analysis that humans can’t do now. So, I think that AI will have a huge effect on journalism; both because of reporters using it as a tool to find things, and publishers actually using it as authors.

While citizen journalism has become more important, I don’t know whether it’s going to keep growing the way it has grown. There are some really important limits on it. It’s very good for reporting on basic stories like ‘this is what’s happening here’. In fact, if the business model for local journalism goes away, citizen journalism about local reporting will become more important.

But in the long term I think AI will have more of an influence. I suspect that while citizen journalism will always play a very significant role in the ecosystem, it has already had its biggest impact.

Wired recently instituted a paywall. What made you take this leap, and do you think paywalls are the future for serious journalism online?

One of the problems with media is that chasing digital advertisements makes you do things that aren’t great. It makes you pursue sensationalism, for example. Publications that are supported by paywalls and subscriptions and unique business models have a whole different set of incentives. My hope is that maybe some of the problems that have existed now, like misinformation and echo chambers, are caused because of publishers chasing digital advertising. I hope that when publishers start thinking more about paid content in different forms, whether it’s a paywall or other types, some of the problems we created in the last few years will be addressed.

The recent feature Facebook article is around 11,000 words. What do Wired’s analytics say about whether readers can focus their attention on reading long pieces of journalism in an age of constant distraction?

Our story about Facebook is long and hard to read, but within the first week of it being published it had almost two million readers.

There has been a lot of concern about the shortening of attention spans because of the Internet. I think that concern is overstated. It is true, that sometimes it’s hard to concentrate. People start reading a book, they’ll read two pages and they grab their phone. We all do it ourselves. But if you look at the data it does seem like while phones distract us, they also make us smarter and they allow us to have conversations.

You spent time reporting from West Africa on the role that technology plays there. What role do you think technology – especially technology from developed regions – has to play in sustainable development in developing regions?  

Technology has a huge role to play in development; it could be incredibly important. When I was reporting on it, mostly in 2002 and 2003, I overestimated the role it could play though. I overestimated how easy it would be. It was really interesting for me in those early days of the Internet to watch and to think: “oh, if there is an Internet connection suddenly people will be connected to the world.” But it turns out that to have an Internet connection you also need to have electricity, and you need to have computer screens, you need to be able to repair them, you need to have a fiber optic network, and to have fiber optic network you need a telcom company, which means you need functioning transactions and economies.

I was going to write a long essay about an incredible, brilliant guy in Ghana who was going to set up a technology center a couple of hours outside of the capital. He got Microsoft to sponsor him; he got ahold of computers. But it was hard to teach people how to use computers, as the power kept going out. I think the building may even have flooded. It was hard, it was really tricky.

But today we see particularly the mobile telephone revolution that has come to West Africa. You’ve seen massive technology growth there. I think it’s doing all the things I thought it would do, it’s just doing it through mobile and it’s doing it later. And it was all way more complex that what I expected at the time. But it’s on my bucket list is to go back and find all the people I talked to then, and to ask them what role technology has played in their lives the past ten years or so. 

What do you think of the role tech companies like Facebook are playing in connecting people to the Internet (or parts of it)?

Platforms always have a conflict of interest when it comes to promoting connectivity. What you would really like is for the connectivity to happen separately from the platform providers. You don’t want Facebook providing Internet access because they are going to lock users into using only Facebook. You want the Internet being provided and then you want society to choose whether people spend a lot of time on Facebook or on other things. But Facebook’s business model works really well. And Facebook has all the money in the world, so is gaining access to the Internet via Facebook not better than not having connectivity? Probably. But I do wish that all people can just have a fresh start to the Internet.

How has technology’s role in societies changed in the time since you’ve been working in this field? Have you perceived a backlash against the tech industry?

Technology has changed since I started writing about it. It has also changed since Wired was started. Most big platforms and Internet companies were started by a bunch of outsiders with revolutionary ideas that were cool and different. Then, they all made billions of dollars. They started as David and became Goliath.

I believe, though, that the people who run these companies are genuinely sincere people who are trying to help the world. At Facebook, for example, they want the world to become more open and connected. They are all smart, sincere good-hearted people who aren’t in it to manipulate us to gain power and make money. They happen to have made a lot of money, but I actually think that the top management at companies like Facebook and Google and Microsoft are in it for the right reasons.

At the same time, they’ve also created something they can’t control, and they created something with more power than they know how to handle. They have incredible power, but they don’t know what to do with it. I don’t think that the executives are as evil as sometimes portrayed in popular imagination. I think the backlash sometimes goes too far.

But they should have more responsibility, they should have thought more seriously of the consequences, they need to recognize the power that they have, which they haven’t. They need to do much better. They don’t know how to solve the problems they created.

Wired aims to help its audiences understand how technology is changing our lives and what role it is playing in society. On the whole, what do you think are the biggest technological trends that will impact societies in the next five years?

The biggest trend is clearly going to be AI. It has to be to train computers who can think like humans, act like humans, do things that humans did. It’s going to grow massively in the next five years to do the degree that it’s going to be hard to overstate. The biggest unknown is still quantum computing. Will it actually work, what will it do, who will get that power first. Will it be the US, will it be China, will it be Google, will it be Microsoft, will it be a startup. That’s the biggest unknown in the tech industry right now. Those are the two biggest. And then of course robotics, which ties in closely with AI. 

What are your hopes for the future of the Internet? What are your fears?

My hope is that we have a much more competitive tech industry than we have right now. One of the things that I don’t like is that there’s only five companies that have such a dominating influence. I don’t like that the only two social media platforms that are growing are owned by Facebook (WhatsApp and Instagram). I want there to be much more competition. I want Snapchat to thrive; I want five more alternatives. I want there to be an alternative search engine to Google; an online store alternative to Amazon. I want much more competition – not just competition between the tech companies.

Regulation can help that happen, the threat of regulation can help make that happen. Consumers can help make that happen. I am all for regulation to ensure competitive markets. I am less in favor of regulation to either break up the companies. I am all in favor of strict regulation to maintain competition in the market place. And I would prefer regulation to prevent Facebook from ripping off Snapchat, for example.

If we have as little competition as we have right now in three to five years’ time, we will all be in trouble. If we have more, we will be in the right place.

How do we ensure that the Internet of the future is one that betters society, creates opportunity, and empowers people? Explore the 2017 Internet Society Global Internet Report: Paths to Our Digital Future and read the recommendations to ensure that humanity remains at the center of tomorrow’s Internet.

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Privacy Public Policy Shaping the Internet's Future

The Future of Journalism in the Internet Age: Watchdogs or Lapdogs?

Media watchdogs, increasingly criticized, threatened and attacked by corporate interests and global governments, are also among the prominent victims of falling public trust in the wake of the proliferation of so-called ‘fake’ news.

Despite some self-inflicted problems, such as those highlighted by the Leveson inquiry in the United Kingdom five years ago, news media and responsible journalism remain of critical importance to democracy.

The Internet Society’s 2017 Global Internet Report reveals how media is intricately entwined with society and it will become more so as more people and services go online. The Internet has grown from 400 million users in 2000 to 3.5 billion users today and as access expands further the media have countless new opportunities to increase their reach and better inform their audiences.

But “going online” also introduces unique challenges for the media. In the next five to seven years, the Internet will continue to fundamentally impact society and the media. According to Reporters without Borders, media freedom violations – impacting particularly anonymity, privacy and free expression – have increased by 14 percent in the past five years, for example.

As the Internet and news media become more converged, it is relatively easy to identify examples of measures restricting media freedoms under the guise of the conveniently vague ‘national’ or ‘public’ interest. Some governments have, for example, taken to restricting access to the Internet entirely or partially for their citizens, particularly during times of elections or potential political upheaval.

According to 2017’s Freedom on the Net Report, 19 of the 65 countries tracked had experienced at least one Internet shutdown during the past year. These so-called “Internet shutdowns” are generally done by governments in cooperation with the private sector (e.g. telecommunications companies) under the guise of ensuring national security or maintaining public order. But it also limits the media’s ability to report on matters of crucial importance to the public interest when it matters most.

Another example is the control of information through fake news stories, bot accounts and comments, and message framing and bias. Governments in 30 of the 65 countries monitored in the aforesaid Freedom on the Net report tried to control online discussions using such measures. Besides other concerns about misleading news, this phenomenon has also bred distrust in the media as a whole, undermining news business. At a time when information online proliferates but audiences’ attention spans stay the same, it therefore becomes increasingly difficult for credible news sources to survive in an attention economy.

A third example is governments’ tendency to clamp down on encryption measures designed to protect information, journalists and even their sources. In Brazil, for example, four different court orders have temporarily restricted access to WhatsApp, a messenger service provided by Facebook which provides end-to-end communication encryption. The service was blocked because their de facto end-to-end encryption does not enable them to respond to law enforcement requests, even if they had wanted to. This trend isn’t limited to platforms. News publications, too, have felt the brunt of governmental force when covering stories while using encryption services. In 2015, three Vice staff members in Turkey were charged with deliberately aiding an armed organization because one of the men was using an encryption system which is sometimes also used by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), for instance.

While the Internet provides many more opportunities for news media to better inform their audiences and fulfil their watchdog role, these examples illustrate that it can fundamentally endanger journalists and investigative media watchdogs that hold power to account. As noted in the Internet Society’s Global Internet Report 2017, “the future of the Internet is inextricably tied to people’s ability to trust it as a means to improve society, empower individuals and enable the enjoyment of human rights and freedoms.”

We need to ensure protective measures such as the right to encryption become more common, more accepted and more protected. The Internet Society is starting that journey with security toolkits and guidance on how and why to encrypt from organisations like the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the Committee to Protect Journalists. Meanwhile, the Internet Engineering Task Force is working to make encryption common practice for domain name systems queries and emails.

These measures on their own may not be enough to protect the future of ethical journalism though. As stewards of the Internet, we must continue to band together with all stakeholders to find innovative ways to protect our watchdogs and their sources.

This article originally appeared on Ethical Journalism Network.

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25th Anniversary Artificial Intelligence Internet of Things (IoT)

How Governments Can Be Smart about Artificial Intelligence

The French MP and Fields medal award winner, Cédric Villani, officially auditioned Constance Bommelaer de Leusse, the Internet Society’s Senior Director, Global Internet Policy, last Monday on national strategies for the future of artificial intelligence (AI). In addition, the Internet Society was asked to send written comments, which are reprinted here.

Practical AI successes, computational programs that actually achieved intelligent behavior, were soon assimilated into whatever application domain they were found to be useful […] Once in use, successful AI systems were simply considered valuable automatic helpers.”

Pamela McCorduck, Machines Who Think: A Personal Inquiry into the History and Prospects of Artificial Intelligence

AI is not new, nor is it magic. It’s about algorithms.

“Intelligent” technology is already everywhere – such as spam filters or systems used by banks to monitor unusual activity and detect fraud – and it has been for some time. What is new and creating a lot of interest from governments stems from recent successes in a subfield of AI known as “machine learning,” which has spurred the rapid deployment of AI into new fields and applications. It is the result of a potent mix of data availability, increased computer power and algorithmic innovation that, if well harnessed, could double economic growth rates by 2035.

So, governments’ reflection on what good policies should look like in this field is both relevant and timely. It’s also healthy for policymakers to organise a multistakeholder dialogue and empower their citizens to think critically about the future of AI and its impact on their professional and personal lives. In this regard, we welcome the French consultation.

Our recommendations

I had a chance to explain the principles the Internet Society believes should be at the heart of AI norms, whether driven by industry or governments:

  • Ethical considerations in deployment and design: AI system designers and builders need to apply a user-centric approach to the technology. They need to consider their collective responsibility in building AI systems that will not pose security risks to the Internet and its users.
  • Ensure interpretability of AI systems: Decisions made by an AI agent should be possible to understand, especially if they have implications for public safety or result in discriminatory practices.
  • Empower users: The public’s ability to understand AI-enabled services, and how they work, is key to ensuring trust in the technology.
  • Responsible deployment: The capacity of an AI agent to act autonomously, and to adapt its behaviour over time without human direction, calls for significant safety checks before deployment and ongoing monitoring.
  • Ensure accountability: Legal certainty and accountability has to be ensured when human agency is replaced by the decisions of AI agents.
  • Consider social and economic impacts: Stakeholders should shape an environment where AI provides socioeconomic opportunities for all.
  • Open Governance: The ability of various stakeholders, whether in civil society, government, private sector, academia or the technical community to inform and participate in the governance of AI is crucial for its safe deployment.

You can read more about how these principles translate into tangible recommendations here.

The audition organised by the French government also showed that the debate around AI is currently too narrow. So, we’d like to propose a few additional lenses to stage the debate about the future of AI in a helpful way.

Think holistically, because AI is everywhere

Current dialogues around AI usually focus on applications and services that are visible and interacting with our physical world, such as robots, self-driving cars and voice assistants. However, as our work on the Future of the Internet describes, the algorithms that structure our online experience are everywhere. The future of AI is not just about robots, but also about the algorithms that provide guidance to arrange the overwhelming amount of information from the digital world – algorithms that are intrinsic to the services we use in our everyday lives and a critical driver for the benefits that the Internet can offer.

The same algorithms are also part of systems that collect and structure information that impact how we perceive reality and make decisions in a much subtler and surprising way. They influence what we consume, what we read, our privacy, and how we behave or even vote. In effect, they place AI everywhere.

Look at AI through the Internet access lens

Another flaw in today’s AI conversation is that much of it is solely about security implications and how they could affect users’ trust in the Internet. As shown in our Future’s report, AI will also influence how you access the Internet in the very near future.

The growing size and importance of “AI-based” services, such as voice-controlled smart assistants for your home, means they are likely to become a main entry point to many of our online experiences. This could impact or exacerbate current challenges we see – including on mobile platforms – in terms of local content and access to platform-specific ecosystems for new applications and services.

Furthermore, major platforms are rapidly organising, leveraging AI through IoT to penetrate traditional industries. There isn’t a single aspect of our lives that will not be embedded in these platforms, from home automation and car infotainment to health care and heavy industries.

In the future, these AI platforms may become monopolistic walled gardens if we don’t think today about conditions to maintain competition and reasonable access to data.

Create an open and smart AI environment

To be successful and human centric, AI also needs to be inclusive. This means creating inclusive ecosystems, leveraging interdependencies between universities that can fuel business with innovation, and enabling governments to give access to qualitative and non-sensitive public data. Germany sets a good example: Its well-established multistakeholder AI ecosystem includes the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence (DFKI), a multistakeholder partnership that is considered a blueprint for top-level research. Industry and Civil Sociey sit on the board of the DFKI to ensure research is application and business oriented.

Inclusiveness also means access to funding. There are many ways for governments to be useful, such as funding areas of research that are important to long term innovation.

Finally, creating a smart AI environment is about good, open and inclusive governance. Governments need to provide a regulatory framework that safeguards responsible AI, while supporting the capabilities of AI-based innovation. The benefits of AI will be highly dependent on the public’s trust in the new technology, and governments have an important role in working with all stakeholders to empower users and promote its safe deployment.

Learn more about Artificial Intelligence and explore the interactive 2017 Global Internet Report: Paths to Our Digital Future.

Take action! Send your comments on AI to Mission Villani and help shape the future.

Categories
Artificial Intelligence Internet Governance Technology

The Future Internet I Want for Me, Myself and AI

Artificial Intelligence has the potential to bring immense opportunities, but it also poses challenges.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is dominating the R&D agenda of the leading Internet industry. The Silicon Valley and other startup hubs are buzzing about artificial intelligence and the issue has come at the top of policymakers’ agenda including the G20, the ITU, and the OECD, where leaders gathered this week in Paris.

AI isn’t new, but its recent acceleration can be explained by its convergence with big data and IoT, and the endless applications and services it allows. In the market, this translates into investments across all industries as stakeholders try to understand the potential of AI for their own businesses. For instance, at the beginning of the year, Ford motors announced a plan to invest $1 billion over the next five years in Argo AI, an artificial intelligence startup that is focused on developing autonomous vehicle technology. It’s an indication that AI is a hot topic beyond the traditional ICT sector.

How our community feels about AI

There is a growing expectation on the part of many stakeholders that AI and machine learning will fundamentally reshape the future of the Internet and society around it.

This is one of the trends we’ve observed in our own project about the Internet’s Future, where AI, together with five other areas, have been identified as key “Drivers” of change in the coming 5 to 10 years. There is a sense that “we may be experiencing a new [technology] Renaissance.” Indeed, in 10 years’ time AI technologies may dominate all aspects of our day to day lives from driving to banking or even working.

Yet, the uncertainties raised by our community about this technology in the context of the Internet are extensive. These include the potential loss of human agency and decision-making, lack of transparency in how algorithms make decisions, discrimination, the pace of technological change outstripping governance and policy, and ethical considerations.

A number of participants raised concerns related to the impact on industry and employment – and therefore society – noting the consequences of automation-led change across industries and business practices, and the possible increase in inequalities and societal disruption.

Will AI replace human labour?

The discussions at the OECD this week revolved around a specific issue: Will AI replace human labour?

What do humans do at work? They perceive their environment, learn, use language to communicate, plan and navigate tasks – all of them abilities that can be imitated to varying degrees by machines.

Looking back at the history of AI, the concept was born when a group of visionary researchers, including Marvin Minsky and John McCarthy, gathered in the summer of 1956 at Dartmouth College to kick off the project to create computers programmed to act as humans. The risk – or opportunity – was embedded, although perhaps not consciously, in the group’s objectives: replicating human intelligence.

So, is it realistic that we could all be replaced by robots and algorithms?

It depends who you ask and how you analyse the challenge. So far the estimated impact on job displacement has had a broad range: from 9-47%. From the OECD to the University of Oxford, the measuring techniques are quite different. The numbers are alarming and should be taken seriously, but they also do not tell the whole story.

Shaping a future we can look forward to

Fears are natural, but should be put into perspective. Lets think about how AI could improve human performance and lives.

Deep learning has made tremendous progress in reasoning to the benefit of humans. See the example of the Go Game guru, Lee Sedol, who was defeated by “Alpha Go.” He explained that beyond personal disappointment, he also experienced a positive feedback loop. He learned from AI Go patterns and techniques and raised his own performance level. AI performing at the level, or higher, than humans is not necessarily a threat – it can augment intelligence and support our own development.

AI can have also have a positive effect on humanity, notably by drawing inferences from enormous sets of data. For example, in the pharmaceutical field, the combination of AI and big data expands the industry’s ability to solve new scales of problems, which in turn enables the acceleration of research and can bring major breakthroughs in drug discoveries and disease diagnoses.

Energy efficient homes, personal assistants that make our lives easier, etc. There are many other reasons and fields where hope – and even excitement – is possible.

But what we do know is that Artificial Intelligence is already a topic that has triggered hopes and concerns. Going forward it is important that we broaden and demystify the debate in order to balance the headlines with insights and facts. To this end, ISOC recently published a Policy Paper on Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, introducing the fundamentals of the technology at hand and some of the key challenges it presents.

As one of our guiding principles from this paper clearly states: “The public’s ability to understand AI-enabled services, and how they work, is key to ensuring trust in the technology.”

Categories
Growing the Internet

Bringing the school to kids: The importance of Internet in times of conflict

Internet access is critical to support the enjoyment of Human Rights. The most commonly referenced example is freedom of expression, but its potential goes far beyond that. Day after day, it’s demonstrating its ability to support access to all sorts of opportunities – not least to support education for all children facing emergencies and crises, another fundamental Human Right. This is what’s been discussed last week at the Mobile Learning Week.

Today the world is experiencing the highest levels of displacement ever recorded. UNHCR estimates that 24 people were forced to flee their homes each minute in 2015, four times more than a decade ago. Among the world’s refugees, 51 per cent are children, many of whom are travelling alone and have stopped going to school.

In this difficult context, Filippo Grandi, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, rightly points that “It is fundamental that children who have been uprooted by war and violence are not left behind even further. We must be smart about finding solutions.” Because education ensures that a generation displaced from their homes is not also displaced from a future of opportunities.

So if you can’t bring a child to a school, can you bring the school to the child?

Internet access is a fundamental part of the solution

Providing education in refugee contexts isn’t simple. Low resources, teachers with limited training and personal security and safety issues – these are some of the challenges.  But mobile technology offers avenues to work through them and open up the world to children.

Where do we start?

Step one is to get those children online. This is where ISOC comes in because solutions can be found. And they are often coming from those in need themselves.

Take the work of our ISOC volunteers in the hours following the Nepal Earth Quake.  Babu Ram Aryal, alongside the Internet Society Chapter in Nepal, wasted no time in helping to reconnect some of Nepal’s most remote areas. They set up makeshift WiFi charging stations, locations where people could connect, and help install solar panels for charge smartphones or laptops.

Some at the time had conveyed the idea that Internet access and devices are not a primary necessity for refugees. I would challenge this idea and encourage you the read the impassioned post, Aryal wrote showing how mobile Internet becomes a lifeline for people displaced following a crisis or conflict, critical for organizing all aspects of everyday’s life including education.

I believe access to the Internet is key to helping children receive quality education – no matter where they are.  But for those who have no home or no school to go to – it is critical.

And the challenge doesn’t end there. The right to education is essential for exercising all other rights, and in the 21st century, such education includes digital literacy. Access to basic education is a start, but to ensure that those that are in pressing need today are empowered for a future requires a focus on skills and an understanding of the digital world.

The importance of digital literacy is slowly transforming education policy worldwide. There is still much to be done to ensure that those policies go beyond a focus on basic digital skills, and a wider understanding of what is needed to thrive in connected societies. This includes source criticism and a basic understanding of how the Internet and its economy work and how it’s governed. Seen from this perspective, digital literacy is vocational and civic education combined in one.

This broadened understanding places digital literacy beyond innovation strategies and towards the forefront of education as a right. As such, it should not only be a privilege of a few but recognized as a critical part of providing the children currently displaced with the opportunities of tomorrow.

But it’s going to take all of us.  Join us at Internet Society and let’s stand for all the benefits a connection can bring.

Categories
Building Trust Improving Technical Security Internet of Things (IoT) IPv6 Privacy

New Background Paper Available About Next Week’s OECD Ministerial Meeting on the Digital Economy

Next week the Internet Society will be participating in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Ministerial Meeting on the Digital Economy from 21-23 June 2016 in Cancun, Mexico.

The meeting is set to define the digital agenda of the 34 OECD member countries for the next few years. It will address key issues under the pillars of trust and security, jobs for the digital age, openness and connectivity.

Many Internet Society members have been engaged in preparations through the different advisory groups to the OECD (ITAC, CSISAC, BIAC and TUAC). For those who’d like to better understand topics that will be discussed in Cancun, we’ve developed a background paper.

As part of the ministerial agenda, our President and CEO Kathy Brown will have the opportunity to speak as a member of the Internet technical community in the Opening Plenary, along with business, civil society and trade unions stakeholders. This will be a good opportunity to emphasize the Internet Society’s Trust Agenda as well as our collaborative approach to Internet governance.

For more information about Internet Society activities, please see our OECD Ministerial event page.  We will be updating that page with additional information and links throughout the week.

Categories
Growing the Internet Human Rights Improving Technical Security Internet Governance

Wrapping Up A Successful WSIS+10 Review

This week, we concluded the UN’s ten year review of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS+10), a multi-year process, designed to cover discussions about the evolution of the Information Society and the governance institutions and frameworks for its realization. Overall, the agreed outcome document represents a positive vision by re-committing to the Tunis Agenda and the principle of a multistakeholder model for Internet governance. Recognizing the role that the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) plays, the WSIS+10 outcome document renews the IGF’s mandate for ten years. It also asserts that Human Rights online must be protected as they are offline.

We are pleased with how the review process has been conducted by the co-facilitators from the UAE and Latvia. As expressed by our CEO Kathy Brown in her speech to the UN General Assembly this week, they have “really shined a light on the value of the collaborative, multistakeholder model.(…) By their actions they acknowledged that there is only one way to build the Internet future – and that is by working together.

What was at stake: A paradigm choice

The High-Level Event was as much an epilogue of the years passed as a prologue for the years to come. It was a paradigm choice, informed by the progress to date in reaching the WSIS policy targets(access, security, etc.), and how the Internet has evolved and become an intrinsic part of our social and economic lives.

The negotiations were an enlightening journey. Parties had to decide if they wanted to regress to a world of frontiers or not, whether Human Rights should be relative or universal, andwhether the global Internet is more of a threat than an opportunity. In this regard, we were glad to see that negotiators agreed that we can not conceive the future of the Information Society without the respect for fundamental rights (read Nicolas Seidler’s analysis).

What also appeared is that as the Internet has permeated all layers of our lives, we need strong consensus on a holistic approach grounded in shared principles and values. As the one proposed by UNESCO : “Internet Universality“, built on four interdependent principles that reinforce each other: a “Human Rights-based” Internet, “Open”, “Accessible to all”, and “nurtured by Multistakeholder participation”. Like a chair built on four legs – remove one and the chair falls down.

For example, if all stakeholders are not empowered to actively participate, an open governance model remains an empty concept. Also, how can the Internet amplify the enjoyment of Human Rights if individuals cannot get online to express opinions? The Internet will bring no economic or social value to people if it’s not actually accessible to them. This obvious observation is part of the reason why ISOC will be dedicating much of its resources and energy to developing Internet access in 2016 and bringing the Internet to all.

What is ahead of us: remaining tensions around the Internet governance model

No negotiations are without compromises. And we saw how the recent global threat from terrorism affected the focus and tone of the negotiations and the perceived issues to be addressed. We expect embedded tensions to resurface as new issues emerge. Security is one them, with almost reflex responses from governments to regress to traditional, nation-state solutions for global issues. With this in mind, the Internet Society and many of our fellow stakeholders share a concern that developments that assign security as the exclusive domain for governments constitute a real risk to the openness and resilience of the Internet. The Privacy and Security Program of the Internet Architecture Board (IAB) demonstrates the relevance of the technical community as being part of the solution.

The temptation of fragmenting cyberspace for better control and security is at the heart of this issue, and in our view, the text does not emphasize sufficiently that the Internet is a shared, global platform. Of course it asks that nation states “avoid” actions that would alter this global nature and to coordinate better. However, more assertive language on the Internet’s border-less nature and the negative effects of fragmentary national policies would have been a useful safeguard.

These developments should also be seen in light of other developments, such as the parallel World Internet Conference held in Wuzen, China, where China’s President, Xi Jinping, reinforced in his keynote address that the Internet should “adhere to a multilateral approach.”

The Internet Society is concerned that some countries may be tempted to reverse course to a multilateral, state-centric view, of addressing global issues. To us, it would be giving-up on the vision to develop an open Information Society based on universal values and shared goals.

From words to action

Over the past months, the Internet community’s engagement, led by ISOC and other partners was critical in helping secure a positive outcome for WSIS+10, in particular the close to 350 organizations and individuals who signed on to a Joint Statement calling for an open Internet. As we look at the years to come we celebrate the progress made, and the community’s renewed commitment to spread the Internet to everyone, everywhere.

But we also see a fragile vision that can be undermined by the interests of a few – and beliefs that borders belong in the digital space. The WSIS+10 review process may be over, but the work to build the global and inclusive Information Society has just begun.

In this regard, we need the Internet community to stay alert and remain mobilized to address the challenges ahead.

Categories
Building Trust Growing the Internet Human Rights Improving Technical Security Internet Governance Internet of Things (IoT) IPv6 Open Internet Standards Privacy Public Policy

IGF 2015: Tackling key challenges with everyone at the table

This year marks a milestone in the evolution of the Internet and its governance.

The growth of Internet access and its impact on society demonstrate the success and ongoing viability of a collaborative, people-centered, and inclusive information society. But the benefits of the online world in areas such as education, health and development have yet to reach us all. There are now 3 billion people connected to the Internet, but more than half of the world’s population are yet to have access.

With the ten year review of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) to be concluded in December, and the U.N. Sustainable Development Agenda calling for “universal and affordable access to the Internet in least developed countries by 2020”, this is a critical year to build on successful practices and to take new steps towards a people-centric information society.

No one stakeholder can solve these challenges alone though: collaboration and partnerships with stakeholders across all segments of society are imperative to create an Internet of opportunities.

This is where the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) comes in: as a global event and a network of regional communities, the IGF is the only space that can effectively bring together so many diverse voices and experts in a bottom-up and inclusive fashion to address these challenges.

The 10th edition of the IGF will start next week, in João Pessoa, Brazil on 10-13 November. We expect more than 2’500 participants from all over the world to fly to Brazil, from governments, private sector, civil society, the Internet technical community and academia.

But the IGF is not only a series of annual and regional events: it has evolved since last year in an ongoing mechanism for community-based best practices on key Internet issues. Intersessional work through the Best Practice Forums and Dynamic Coalitions demonstrate the community’s efforts to strengthen the IGF, and to build consensus around key issues.

One of the new contributions this year is the “Policy Options for Connecting the Next Billion”, aimed at addressing the challenges to bridge the digital divide. The document benefited from the input of 15 national and regional IGFs, out of more than 80 background contributions from all stakeholder groups, as well as comments through the IGF online platform.

All these IGF Best Practices and Policy Options will be discussed during the “IGF Intersessional Work: Policy Options and Best Practices for Connecting the Next Billion” that will be held on Nov. 11 from 2pm to 5:30 pm in the Main Hall. You are all invited to this session, either in person or remotely.

These efforts offer a unique opportunity for the community to prove the IGF’s value as a trust- building and outcome-oriented platform and to make a solid case for the renewal of its mandate by the U.N. beyond 2015, which the Internet Society is strongly calling for. But this success depends on your participation, and we strongly encourage you to contribute to this work and to use it!

The Internet Society has long been committed to the success of the IGF and will be there in numbers: Board Members, CEO, staff, members and fellows. We would particularly like to invite you to these two events:

Community meeting on Internet Governance challenges & WSIS+10
Day 0, 9 November, 13:00 – 14:00 local time, room 2
This meeting will be focused on the WSIS+10 Review, which will be held at the UN headquarters in New York in December. It will be an opportunity to exchange perspectives on key issues within the negotiations between all stakeholders, including the private sector, civil society and the Internet technical community. We invite all interested stakeholders to attend and participate in this open discussion.

Internet Society Open Forum at IGF – Connecting people across the globe
Day 2, 11 November, 11:00-12:00 local time, room 3
This annual event offers the opportunity to give an overview of the Internet Society’s mission, key activities and regional breadth. It will offer the opportunity to engage with senior members of staff, including our CEO, Kathy Brown and members of the Board.

You can find more on ISOC’s engagement at the IGF 2015, along with remote participation information and regular updates throughout the week on key developments: https://dev.internetsociety.org/events/igf/2015/

We hope you will enjoy the 2015 IGF in Joao Pessoa and we invite you to actively participate in the many activities in which the Internet Society will be involved this year!

Categories
Internet Governance Open Internet Standards

Reflections from the world of Internet governance

Some years ago there was a brilliant man with a notebook. In that notebook he kept a list of names, numbers and specialized identifiers for a project he was working on at the US’ DARPA research agency. That project grew into the Internet we know today. The brilliant man was Jon Postel.

Since that time this simple list – now known as the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) – has evolved into what is arguably the most important database in today’s Internet world. Indeed, if somehow it was suddenly removed, some the Internet functions would become extremely unstable and over the longer term the interoperability that is the hallmark of today’s Internet would be much harder to achieve.

Just imagine if we’d set up a service level agreement for that notepad. Using the technology and standards of the time we might have insisted it be kept dry, away from cups of coffee and locked in a safe when not in use. We would have insisted on archive quality paper and that the writing be clear. Of course we would have insisted also that entries be checked personally and be completed that week, and a copy be held in another location.

While this might seem a trivial comparison, the current discussions on the evolution of the IANA functions are simply about that: reaching agreement on a replacement set of requirements that comprise a rigorous formal contract between the US government – actually its National Telecommunications and Information Authority (NTIA) – and the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). This contract has worked effectively since 1999 with minimal intervention from the NTIA in that time.

As most of the world now knows, IANA is in the process of transitioning into the stewardship of the global multistakeholder community.

For some years now entries into this database have been determined by distinct policy processes and these are not currently up for review. These processes are well defined and sit within the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), The Regional Internet Registries (RIRs) and ICANN itself.

A co-ordination group has been established to draw in the views of the community to define the process for transition. The remit of the coordination group is limited, albeit of great significance: draw the views of the Internet community and compile a proposal that is consistent with the roles and responsibilities of the various bodies performing the IANA functions. Overall, however, the proposal needs to be mindful of the Internet itself– its architecture, nature and future.

This latter point is perhaps the most significant. In order to ensure that this transition does not harm the Internet, the NTIA has provided some guidance: “[…] the transition proposal should have broad community support and address the following principles:

  • Support and enhance the multistakeholder model;
  • Maintain the security, stability and resiliency of the Internet DNS;
  • Maintain the openness of the Internet;

With all this at stake, the coordination group met for its first face-to-face meeting in the middle of July and established a general operational framework; the work is on its way. Information and a record of that meeting can be found on the ICANN website; I would encourage you all to read and reflect on the charter and the issues discussed during this first meeting.

However, it is the next part where the real effort is required. Along the way, there will be various questions that need answering.

Over the coming months I hope to get more input from our community in order to properly represent it, along with my colleague Demi. I trust you can assist in this journey and I am looking forward to working with all of you.

Categories
Internet Governance

Setting the 2015 WSIS+10 Review on the Right Track

Nine years ago, the Tunis Agenda recognized that there are respective roles and responsibilities in shaping the evolution and use of the Internet, not only for governments, but also for civil society, the private sector, and the academic and technical communities.

At that time, stakeholders had limited experience working together so this was no small achievement.

An evolving process

Since 2003, the spirit of the WSIS has progressively and profoundly impacted interactions within the Internet community. Engineers are engaging with governments, and policy-makers have made strides in understanding how the Internet architecture works and the value of open standards. While it’s still a work in progress, stakeholders are learning to better understand and respect each other, and to work together toward shared outcomes.

The affirmation of multistakeholder governance has not gone without growing pains and challenging questions for all groups to resolve:

  • Does multistakeholder governance include equal footing in decision-making or solely in consultation
  • How can we ensure meaningful participation especially for civil society members or participants from developing countries with limited resources?
  • Are multilateralism and multistakeholderism compatible?

Towards maturity

The WSIS+10 High-Level Event last week resulted in the adoption of outcome documents that review the implementation of WSIS over the past 10 years, and offer a vision for WSIS beyond 2015.

These outcome documents were the work of many months of multistakeholder negotiations. The discussions were difficult at times; in particular, the negotiations seemed to be stuck on specific Human Rights language in WSIS Action Line C9 (Media), with the risk of losing an entire section of the outcome document.

Compromise on both sides ─ with a touch of rough consensus ─ allowed all stakeholders to eventually agree on the full document laying out a common post-2015 vision, including recognition of the value of open standards and the respect for all Human Rights, whether online or offline.

This experience illustrates the value of open discussions, nurturing an ongoing and inclusive dialogue that has already proved successful in a variety of fora, including the IETF, IGF and NETmundial, as well as a wide range of local and regional Internet activities. In this regard, the 2014 WSIS High-Level Event represents important progress in how to undertake multistakeholder engagement.

With the future challenges that lie ahead of us, we must tirelessly continue practicing collaboration and consensus building. This is the only path forward. As the WSIS+10 Review process unfolds and is shaped at the U.N. in New York, ISOC will emphasize its view that the process should be open and inclusive of all stakeholders, reflecting the spirit in Geneva.

Categories
Internet Governance Open Internet Standards

IANA Evolution

Last week the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) of the U.S. Department of Commerce announced that it has asked ICANN to convene global stakeholders to develop a plan for transitioning the current role played by NTIA in coordination of shared Internet resources through the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA).

In many ways, the U.S. Government has been preparing for—and the Internet community has been working towards—this moment since 1998, when ICANN was established and was awarded the first IANA contract. The US Government has played an important role in guaranteeing the security and stability of the Internet, and we believe the criteria set out by the NTIA for the transition plan provide an important framework for the work ahead:

  • Support and enhance the multistakeholder model
  • Maintain the security, stability, and resiliency of the Internet DNS;
  • Meet the needs and expectation of the global customers and partners of the IANA services; and,
  • Maintain the openness of the Internet.

The Internet Society was recognized as one of the key Internet organizations by the NTIA statement. The Internet Society has consistently advocated for the US Government to complete the transition of its stewardship role to the global multistakeholder community. We have previously submitted comments to the NTIA, and recently joined with the leaders of other Internet organizations in the Montevideo statement calling for the globalization of the IANA functions.

The global Internet community now has an opportunity to further strengthen the multistakeholder model. We can ensure the continued evolution of the IANA functions and security of the Internet. And, we can establish a framework that is accountable, transparent, bottom-up, and sustainable over time.

We have much work ahead of us. It critical to the future of the global Internet, and important to get it right. The Internet Society is looking forward to working with ICANN and all other stakeholders, and to supporting our community’s engagement in open and inclusive processes. We are committed to an Internet that remains managed by distributed collaboration. This collaboration has been key to its dynamic and resilient growth as a platform for innovation, communication, and economic development.

On Monday, 24 March 2014, ICANN has scheduled two sessions entitled “IANA Accountability Transition” and  “ICANN Accountability”.  Both sessions will be audio streamed in a number of languages.

We have set up a dedicated email list (ianaxfer@elists.isoc.org) for the Internet Society community, and invite you to subscribe:

https://elists.isoc.org/mailman/listinfo/ianaxfer

We will look forward to your input and ideas, and will be working to actively engage you as developments and discussions progress.

Kathy Brown