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Jonathan Zittrain On the Future of the Internet 216

uctpjac writes "Jonathan Zittrain, Professor of Internet Governance and Regulation at Oxford and renowned cyberlaw scholar, gave a lecture explaining that the Internet has to be taken out of the hands of the anarchists, the libertarians, and the State, and handed back to self-policing communities of experts. If we don't do this, he believes the Internet will suffer 'self-closure' — the open system will seal itself off when the inability to put its own house in order leads to a take-over by government and business. The article summarizes Zittrain's points and notes, "Forces of organized interests that do not play by the rules, like malware peddlers, identity thieves and spammers are allowing another army of interests — corporate protectionists, often — to demand centralized, authoritarian solutions. This is the future of the Net unless we stop it.'"
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Jonathan Zittrain On the Future of the Internet

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  • Experts in what? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Nomen Publicus ( 1150725 ) on Sunday March 09, 2008 @01:10PM (#22693156)
    Why on earth should he think that "experts" are any better at self regulation than any other random group of people?
  • by Dr. Eggman ( 932300 ) on Sunday March 09, 2008 @01:12PM (#22693168)
    Because, more often than not, people's ideals are just as far removed from reality as their fears are.
  • Who? (Score:0, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 09, 2008 @01:13PM (#22693176)
    John Nobody blathers on about something he knows very little from his summer place while sipping tea.

    Why do Slashdotters buy the banal esoteric blather that comes from guys like these who have no real connection to reality?

  • by Prysorra ( 1040518 ) on Sunday March 09, 2008 @01:15PM (#22693188)
    End the age of "internet free speech" to save it?

    Burn a village to save it.

    God damn, you wolves in sheep's clothing don't give up. ....

    AWESOME troll username btw
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 09, 2008 @01:18PM (#22693210)
    Out of the hands of anarchists... and into the hands of self-policing communities. What exactly does he think anarchism means in practical terms?
  • by NickFortune ( 613926 ) on Sunday March 09, 2008 @01:24PM (#22693244) Homepage Journal

    So he's saying that the only way to stop the 'net from being placed under centralised control would be to place the 'net under central control?

    All right. I'm being flip, and I'm sure there has to be more to it than that. All the same, how do you prevent the two cases from becoming functionally equivalent? If you hand net governance into the hands of a small clique, the obvious moves for those who want to unfairly exploit the net is to gain control of the clique.

    All this would do is open a second avenue of attack for the forces he seems to be so worried about. That's if we accept the initial premise that the 'net is doomed as things stand... and I'm not sure that I do.

  • by drsmithy ( 35869 ) <drsmithy@gmai[ ]om ['l.c' in gap]> on Sunday March 09, 2008 @01:31PM (#22693294)

    I've been on the Internet longer than most people (since 1991). I know the concepts and the goals of a lot of people who have used it and created it. Heck, I've downloaded music and movies, etc. too. But honestly, if now what we have is a bunch of people who think that stealing is ok because that is what the Internet was designed to allow us to do (see replies to this thread, then were we really so right to choose an open Internet?

    All the internet is doing is helping to demonstrate how and why copyright is broken.

  • by TaoPhoenix ( 980487 ) <> on Sunday March 09, 2008 @01:32PM (#22693302) Journal
    Society takes a rather long time to accomplish it, but consensus does eventually grind through topical issues over a course of a generation or two.

    It may surprise people to recall that it was Star Trek of all things which, after the Mobile Phone, made a big point to announce that Replicators (seen first here with media, and coming in 20 years with mainstream custom-form solids) would seriously thrash economic theory.

    Trek eventually settled into a kind of Meritocracy-for-Rent, where the right to be a part of some high-skill group (such as the Enterprise) was the payoff for being able to keep up on a par with that group.

    Also, the Internet is bringing the Big Brother question to its proper discussion level by actually demonstrating what was previously an abstract conceptual warning.

    "Experts"... Many of us here may qualify if that term is generous enough. Any one of us could moderate out the worst of youtube style TurboTroll users - and for forums that don't have this site's free speech theme, that is in fact necessary to protect basic functioning value.

    My favorite example of a real "Expert" here is our friendly neighborhood NewYorkCountryLawyer. When he posts, we get really quiet and listen. : )
  • by arabagast ( 462679 ) on Sunday March 09, 2008 @01:34PM (#22693312) Homepage
    but do you want the possibility to post anonymously (say, you are Chinese) just because people download shitty Hollywood movies and some top 20 music ? I would like an open internet, not a network being monitored left and right - some may even say this is already happening. We have to make it clear that monitoring traffic is not O.K . I want my personal messages to be personal, and not being read by a god damn agency somewhere.
  • by thewils ( 463314 ) on Sunday March 09, 2008 @01:35PM (#22693318) Journal
    Professor of Internet Governance and Regulation says that Internet should be Governed and Regulated?

    Sounds like a nice make-work project to me...
  • okaay (Score:2, Insightful)

    by rucs_hack ( 784150 ) on Sunday March 09, 2008 @01:39PM (#22693354)
    That article sure uses a a lot of words to say 'the web should be communist'.

    Any system where a small group of people get to make the decisions will skew towards making the world more to the liking of those people. Further, new additions to this ruling class will be those deemed acceptable by the current encumbants. This is a bad thing.

    All analysis like these are missing a huge, huge point. The wider web may well end up under the control of powerful, agenda ridden groups. This isn't that important, no really, it isn't. They are trying to control something which is already on its way to being obsolete as a means to disseminate information between ordinary people.

    Why not? Because the net will contain sub-internets within game worlds. sub-internets will be the new places to hang out. We may even see clones of our current Internet hosted entirely inside game worlds (or whatever game worlds become).

  • by bcrowell ( 177657 ) on Sunday March 09, 2008 @01:45PM (#22693384) Homepage

    Yeah, the article is pretty incoherent. Hard to tell whether it's an incoherent summary of a coherent talk, or a correct summary of an incoherent talk.

    One problem is that he talks about the internet as if it were a nation-state. The internet is a tool. Calling me a "netizen" is like saying that I'm a citizen of my screwdriver.

    If a society is organized along centralized, authoritarian lines, then the problem isn't that that has a bad effect on the internet, the problem is that the whole society is screwed up. I care about whether there's free speech or not; the issue isn't free speech on the internet, it's free speech. I care about "the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures;" the issue isn't whether TSA employees demand to paw through my laptop's email boxes, the issue is whether the bill of rights is being raped in general in the U.S. as a response to 9/11. If copyrights and patents are out of control, that's an issue for our society as a whole, not just for the internet.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 09, 2008 @01:46PM (#22693392)

    I think intellectual property (or at least the current laws governing it) will be responsible for the death of the internet as we know it today.
    Obviously you are not a person who relies on your creativity for your income. Perhaps you still live in mom's basement.
  • by Original Replica ( 908688 ) on Sunday March 09, 2008 @01:46PM (#22693394) Journal
    I think its time for the Internet to get back in touch with reality.

    The social contract that we call "government" is just an shared idea that has been realized by the efforts of very large numbers of people throughout history. Having a different shared idea embodied in the internet is no more or less "real" than the idea of government, it just doesn't have the same amount of history or communal effort put into realizing it yet. Order, Justice, Law, those things are just ideas. Reality is Gravity and Thermodynamics. I think the internet is actually more in touch with the physical realities of the universe than most of the government is.

    When you look at how most people want our society to be, the internet is a more accurate reflection of that desired society than our government is namely because much larger numbers of people have a more direct and malleable input into the internet than they do of their governments. This is important because the "reality" you mention is the social contract that is what makes us a society, as opposed to a mere collection of intelligent bald apes.

    Social contract theory provides the rationale behind the historically important notion that legitimate state authority must be derived from the consent of the governed. The starting point for most of these theories is a heuristic examination of the human condition absent from any social order, termed the "state of nature" or "natural state". In this state of being, an individual's action is bound only by his or her conscience. From this common starting point, the various proponents of social contract theory attempt to explain, in different ways, why it is in an individual's rational self-interest to voluntarily subjugate the freedom of action one has under the natural state (their so called "natural rights") in order to obtain the benefits provided by the formation of social structures. []
    Because of it's newness and sudden growth the internet partially escaped the rule of military force and the meat-space reality of scarcity []. Because of this the social contract has manifest differently than in "real world", however that doesn't make it any less valid.
  • by vertinox ( 846076 ) on Sunday March 09, 2008 @01:51PM (#22693418)
    But honestly, if now what we have is a bunch of people who think that stealing is ok because that is what the Internet was designed to allow us to do


    Do you know the difference between punching someone in the face or stabbing them dead

    One is called assault and the other is called murder.

    What you are describing as theft is most likley copyright infringement.

    Neither is ok, but using the internet to copy copyrighted material is not theft but copyright violations which are judged and prosecuted under a wholly different set of laws.

    Here is an example... You copyright a song that is whistled. It is catchy and one of the persons who hears it goes about his daily life and whistles to his hearts content and teaches others to whistle it as well. Absurd as it sounds, that violates copyright laws but your right to your whistling song is temporary for the sake "of useful arts and sciences" according to the constition and one day that song will be free to the public to whistle as much as they choose.

    Now if it were theft of the same scenario, I suppose that would include an angry fan punching you in the stomach and forcing you to whistle against your will (theft of services) or removed actual profits that you made from your catch whistle directly from your bank account. Now that is theft... Again its the difference between manslaughter and murder.

    If you ever end up on the wrong side of a jury, you'll hope the jurors know the difference.

    As far as an Open Internet, one has to simply point at Iran and China as why regulation and lack of anonymity is a "bad thing".
  • Out of the hands of anarchists... and into the hands of self-policing communities. What exactly does he think anarchism means in practical terms?

    Self-policing communities means that he's making the decisions. Anarchists means that somebody else is.
  • by mfnickster ( 182520 ) on Sunday March 09, 2008 @02:07PM (#22693498)
    > Out of the hands of anarchists... and into the hands of self-policing communities. What exactly does he think anarchism means in practical terms?

    Simple, really-- anarchy means no laws. Given that, every individual is either self-policed or policed by others (or both). Having a "self-policing community" means having laws. It conflicts with anarchy. Whether the laws are voted on or imposed from above, or whether the policing is done by volunteers or the government, is really irrelevant next to the fact that a group of individuals is telling other individuals how to behave.

    In short, anarchy = self-policing individuals. A self-policing community can't be anarchic.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 09, 2008 @02:19PM (#22693552)
    Experts don't use ideals or fears. They use facts and data. They seek solutions that work, even if they don't live up to someone's libertarian ideals. Real experts are indispensable in any field. The White House has received considerable criticism for ignoring experts, and we should ignore them at our own peril.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 09, 2008 @02:32PM (#22693638)
    Anyone else think this is just some guy posting with a 'Ron Paul' signaure just so they can somehow make the point that Ron Paul is racist, when we know he isn't? You must be a neocon. Maybe you work for the MSM?
  • Re:Anarchism (Score:5, Insightful)

    by OakDragon ( 885217 ) on Sunday March 09, 2008 @02:51PM (#22693736) Journal

    Do not underestimate the number of people who think of "anarchists" as those bomb-throwing, window-shattering, break-into-your-house-and-poop-on-the-carpet kinds of people. I would guess Zittrain was using the term with that in mind.

  • by OakDragon ( 885217 ) on Sunday March 09, 2008 @03:00PM (#22693776) Journal

    ...I would like an open internet, not a network being monitored left and right...

    If it's an open internet, it's certainly open to being monitored.

    I want my personal messages to be personal, and not being read by a god damn agency somewhere.

    Then you may want to refrain from sending your personal messages over an essentially public network that was pretty much designed to pass your message through an indefinite number of points before being delivered.

  • Bits don't vote. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by rs79 ( 71822 ) <> on Sunday March 09, 2008 @03:07PM (#22693830) Homepage
    "That article sure uses a a lot of words to say 'the web should be communist'. "


    The point is internet technology is so complex very few people understand how all of it works, and how it works all together. The further away you go from technical to admisistrative skillsets the less likely are people to understand what's going on. That's the difference bewteen SMTP actually working and a sock puppet raising venture capital.

    This has nothing to do with capitalism or communism and is inappropriate for a framework of discussion about technology and what kind of environment open standards and processes need to flourish.

  • Re:okaay (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Jane Q. Public ( 1010737 ) on Sunday March 09, 2008 @03:11PM (#22693850)
    Zittrain clearly shows how clueless he is by lumping Libertarians and Anarchists together, in his contrived "graph". In fact, Libertarian principles support the very kind of self-governance that Zittrain espouses... without the "central authority".

    Governance -- even self-governance -- is not "anarchy". Other nations predicted that the self-governance model of the new United States would fail miserably. It has taken over 200 years, and it is finally starting to fail. But that is not because of the principles that it is based on! On the contrary, it is because of the corruption of those principles by our "leaders".
  • by phaunt ( 1079975 ) on Sunday March 09, 2008 @03:18PM (#22693908)


    In short, your personal messages are not personal. And they are being read by an agency somewhere. (...)

    It is real and it's happening now.

    And, most importantly and frighteningly, the average user doesn't give a damn.
  • by psychodelicacy ( 1170611 ) <> on Sunday March 09, 2008 @03:45PM (#22694092)
    Two things:

    "Who decides who gets elevated above everyone else and installed as an 'expert?'"
    Well, I guess the kind of models that work here are those that create sites such as Slashdot, for example. I'm not saying that's the only model, but it seems to be a relatively effective one for this community. Beyond that, we look for people who have actual qualifications - in whichever necessary area. This is how society works, and I don't imagine you complain about it... "How come you get to be the surgeon? I want to try..." I take your point about paid-for bias, but Zittrain seems to me to be arguing against corporate control as much as he argues against governmental control or arachism.

    Which brings me to my second point.
    "a medical system that is the envy of the world currently"
    O rly? You'd find one heck of a lot of people in Britain who don't see it that way. A huge number of American citizens have no health insurance, causing them to miss out on essential (though not emergency) health care that they would receive in Britain for free. Sure, British people may have to wait some time if they can't afford to pay, but the treatment will be there for them. Social models that take into account the needs of all can work, and they make a better world. Not a great one, perhaps, but certainly a better.
  • by Rakishi ( 759894 ) on Sunday March 09, 2008 @03:53PM (#22694130)
    Ha ha ha ha. They only use facts if it supports what they want to think is true, that is human nature. Even science with all it's safety measures and massive number of scientists in any given field is far far from immune. Even then it only works because the group of experts cannot be restricted.
  • by psychodelicacy ( 1170611 ) <> on Sunday March 09, 2008 @04:31PM (#22694340)
    Okay, people. I'm getting a bit annoyed. I can understand a lot of the controversy over what's said in the article, but can we please remember one important point: Zittrain didn't write this article, and this is just one person's interpretation of what he said.

    When I give lectures, I'm generally shocked at the distortions of my words that turn up in my students' papers.

    From previous knowledge of Zittrain's works, I'd be more than surprised if he said some of the stuff that's attributed to him here. I'd ask everyone to take a step back, and wait until you've read the book to judge what Zittrain (as opposed to the article's author) has to say on this.
  • Re:No No No (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Planesdragon ( 210349 ) <slashdot@cPERIOD ... minus punct> on Sunday March 09, 2008 @05:18PM (#22694572) Homepage Journal

    Forget going to Mars - you want to develop more technology, just let porn do the job.
    Porn is secondary to the true driving force of all innovation: sex. Not images of sex, but actual humans actually copulating. Anything that quickens this goal gets adopted quickly, be it furthering communication, allowing generation of wealth, enabling couples to stay together throughout more of the day, or, even, allowing the unfortunate among us to find solace in porn.

    I'd wager that VHS beat betamax not because of porn, but because of the ease that a bride could videotape her wedding day.
  • by Jeff DeMaagd ( 2015 ) on Sunday March 09, 2008 @05:58PM (#22694804) Homepage Journal
    I agree to an extent. Expert input should be taken, but I don't think a rule BY experts is a good idea.

    The problem is that experts can also tend to have pet hypotheses which they can selectively filter what they see that proves their hypotheses. They can be stubborn to admit they are wrong or made a mistake.

    Experts are human. To say they don't have or use ideals or fears is folly. I think they can be just as corruptable as any other human, because they are human.
  • Re:No No No (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 09, 2008 @07:15PM (#22695326)

    I'd wager that VHS beat betamax not because of porn, but because of the ease that a bride could videotape her wedding day.
    that's the dumbest thing i read all day. congratulations.

Q: How many IBM CPU's does it take to execute a job? A: Four; three to hold it down, and one to rip its head off.