Zittrain | Stark warning for internet’s future

BBC carries this interesting piece on Jonathan Zittrain’s warning about the rise of closed devices (e.g. gaming consoles like the Xbox 360) leading to a closed network. (As a marketer of “Generative” nodes, or PCs, I obviously would have to agree):

“With the second billion of the planet’s citizens due to go online in the next 10 years and an avalanche of online-enabled devices hitting the market with each passing year it would be understandable to assume that the internet is in a healthy position.

The 1960s vision of a network of networks has grown into a tool that encircles the globe, drives economies and connects citizens.

But Professor Jonathan Zittrain, one of the world’s leading academics on the impact of the net, is warning that the future is potentially bleak.

His book, The Future of the Internet: And How To Stop It, highlights key concerns about the direction online society is heading in.

“I want a recognition from people that the network they enjoy now is in many important respects a collective hallucination,” he said.

“If too many of them start treating it as a cash and carry service they are going get the network they deserve.”

Zittrain is the professor of internet governance and regulation at Oxford University and co-founder of Harvard Law School’s Berman Center for Internet and Society.

He said the “happy accident” of the net, which was designed by researchers for researchers, resulted in an open platform which facilitated innovation because it enabled anyone online to implement ideas at the edge of the network.

He calls these technologies “generative”, meaning open tools that can be put to a multiplicity of purposes.

Fundamental backbone

A PC is a good example of a generative device because it can be reprogrammed for many uses, and one machine on the net can impact every other without compromising the fundamental backbone of the network.

He contrasts generative devices with “sterile appliances”, closed systems which appear to give consumers access to the net.

He argued such devices were damaging innovation and potentially putting easilly-abused powers into the hands of a few companies and governments.

Author: David Churbuck

Cape Codder with an itch to write

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