Wednesday, July 22, 2009
Jonathan Zittrain said that internet relies on 'kindness on trust' photo credit: TED / Duncan Davidson
The TEDGlobal conference began its second day with views of the internet as a fragile network running on the kindness of strangers and as a force for spin and repression
The second day of the TEDGlobal conference in Oxford began with contrasting optimistic and pessimistic views of the internet.
Internet: The fragile but functional network of people
Jonathan Zittrain at the TEDGlobal conference in 2009 Jonathan Zittrain said that internet relies on 'kindness on trust' photo credit: TED / Duncan Davidson
Jonathan Zittrain, who recently wrote the cautionary book The Future of the Internet and How to Stop It, decided to paint an optimistic view of the internet and its future.
Discussing the creators of the internet, he said that they built the foundation for this global network despite facing a huge difficulty:
[They had no money to build it] but they had an amazing freedom. They didn't have to make any money from it. The internet has no business plan. There is no firm responsible for building it.
In many ways, the internet should not work. As late as 1992, IBM said that it wasn't possible to build a corporate network using internet protocol.
Zittrain said the mascot of the internet is the bumble bee. It shouldn't be able to fly, but a recently government-funded programme discovered how bees fly: They flap their wings really fast.
The internet works on a process that Zittrain compared to passing a beer to a person in a mosh pit. "This system relies on kindness and trust. This makes [the internet] rare and vulnerable."
Wikipedia also shouldn't work, according to Zittrain. "Wikipedia is an idea so profoundly stupid that even Jimbo [Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales] didn't have it," he said. Wikipedia was originally a way for editors of another project, Newpedia, to collaborate. But the backroom eventually took over the front room.
He showed how Wikipedians debate issues, and said that they are making their own law democratically. They decided to remove the real name of the boy who appeared in the Star War Kid YouTube video after his parents requested it.
"At all times Wikipedia is 45 minutes away from utter destruction. It's a thin geeky line that keeps it going," Zittrain said.
He believes that the lessons of how the internet works can applied to real world and also back to the technology of the internet itself.
I think that we can build architectures online so that such human requests are easier online. It represents human emotion, endeavour and impact. We can decide how we want to treat it.
Why iPods won't topple dictators
Evgeny Morozov at TEDGlobal 2009 in Oxford Evgeny Morozov challenged the idea that access to greater technology would lead inexorably to democracy photo credit: TED / Duncan Davidson
From that optimistic view, Evgeny Morozov countered some of the cyber-utopian ideas that the internet, new media and technology were an unalloyed force for good and democracy.
Morozov, who is from Belarus, worked for an NGO using new media to promote democracy, but he found:
Dictatorships do not crumble so easily. Some get even more repressive.
He started studying how the internet could impede democracy. Cyber-utopians believe that with enough connectivity and devices that democracy will inevitably follow, he said. It was an assumption that underlies what he called "iPod liberalism" that everyone who owns an iPod must be a liberal.
If you believe 'Drop iPods, not bombs', the problem is that it confuses the intended versus actual uses of technology.
Governments are learning that censorship doesn't work but spin does. They are actually encouraging people to share information online. Blogs, Twitter and Facebook actually allowed the Iranian authorities to gather open-source intelligence on networks of anti-government activists.
The KGB used to torture people for weeks to get that information.
Also, he said that while many assume that technology is a catalyst for change, it might also be an opiate for the masses. Governments can engage in meaningless exercises that allow their citizens to believe they have a voice when the exercise itself is meaningless or it gives a government a scapegoat – the public – if the policy fails.
For technology to really be an agent for change, he said we need to stop thinking about computers per capita and start thinking about empowering NGOs and other members of society.
Posted by | पोस्ट द्वारा Abhinit Khanna at 11:24