Essays offer insight about the Internet of the (near) future—and its implications
CAMBRIDGE, MA | January 6, 2016 — Thirty years ago, the Internet was a network that primarily delivered email among academic and government employees. Today, it is rapidly evolving into a control system for our physical environment through the Internet of Things, as mobile and wearable technology more tightly integrate the Internet into our everyday lives.
How will the future Internet be shaped by the design choices that we are making today? Could the Internet evolve into a fundamentally different platform than the one to which we have grown accustomed? As an alternative to big data, what would it mean to make ubiquitously collected data safely available to individuals as small data? How could we attain both security and privacy in the face of trends that seem to offer neither? And what role do public institutions, such as libraries, have in an environment that becomes more privatized by the day?
These are some of the questions addressed in the Winter 2016 issue of Dædalus on “The Internet.” As guest editors David D. Clark (Senior Research Scientist at the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory) and Yochai Benkler (Berkman Professor of Entrepreneurial Legal Studies at Harvard Law School and Faculty Co-Director of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University) have observed, the Internet “has become increasingly privately owned, commercial, productive, creative, and dangerous.”
Some of the themes explored in the issue include:
- The conflicts that emerge among governments, corporate stakeholders, and Internet users through choices that are made in the design of the Internet
- The challenges—including those of privacy and security—that materialize in the evolution from fixed terminals to ubiquitous computing
- The role of public institutions in shaping the Internet’s privately owned open spaces
- The ownership and security of data used for automatic control of connected devices, and
- Consumer demand for “free” services—developed and supported through the sale of user data to advertisers.
In “Choices: Privacy and Surveillance in a Once and Future Internet,” Susan Landau (Worcester Polytechnic Institute) reviews the concerns about privacy and security—for both individuals and society—that are part of our progressively more connected world. She outlines the tensions in a medium that supports applications as diverse as search engines, maps, Twitter, Netflix, Uber, and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). While the current Internet has become “indispensable to citizens and nations alike,” Landau describes precisely how “its signals provide rich content for anyone listening in.”
Peter Kirstein (University College London) presents the quandary posed by the “Internet of Things” (or the IoT): the billions of special-purpose machines with embedded sensors all around us. What will it take to build an Internet that can scale to the billions—or trillions—of nodes that the IoT will require? With the establishment of such a network, a pressing question arises: Who owns these data, and how are they secured so that unauthorized actors do not have the capacity to act maliciously upon them from a distance?
In their essay “Reassembling Our Digital Selves,” Deborah Estrin (Cornell Tech and Weill Cornell Medical College) and Ari Juels (Cornell Tech) contrast the design choices that are conducive to big data (the collection of information by large data processors in order, for example, to learn about and influence customers) versus choices that are friendly to small data. Through their discussion of small data, Estrin and Juels explore potential paths to empowering users to access their personal data and use it to manage their own lives. And in “Design Choices for Libraries in the Digital-Plus Era,” John Palfrey (Phillips Academy) argues for the continued vitality and essential role of public institutions in order for society—even a heavily privatized one—to thrive.
Essays in the Winter 2016 issue of Dædalus include:
- The Contingent Internet by David D. Clark (MIT)
- Degrees of Freedom, Dimensions of Power by Yochai Benkler (Harvard Law School)
- Edge Networks and Devices for the Internet of Things by Peter T. Kirstein (University College London)
- Reassembling Our Digital Selves by Deborah Estrin (Cornell Tech and Weill Cornell Medical College) and Ari Juels (Cornell Tech)
- Choices: Privacy and Surveillance in a Once and Future Internet by Susan Landau (Worcester Polytechnic Institute)
- As Pirates Become CEOs: The Closing of the Open Internet by Zeynep Tufekci (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)
- Design Choices for Libraries in the Digital-Plus Era by John Palfrey (Phillips Academy)
Print and Kindle copies of the new issue can be ordered at: http://www.amacad.org/publications/daedalus.
American Academy of Arts and Sciences
Chief Communications Officer