Drawing from his recent book, Jonathan Zittrain examines the Internet of today, which has catapulted from backwater to ubiquity—and reveals that it is threatened precisely because of its runaway success. With the unwitting help of its users, the generative Internet is on a path to lockdown, ending its cycle of innovation and facilitating unsettling new kinds of control.
Zittrain believes we don’t see clearly what we risk losing. iPods, iPhones, Xboxes and TiVos represent the first wave of Internet-centered products that can’t be easily modified by anyone except their vendors or selected partners. These “tethered appliances” have already been used in remarkable but little-known ways: car GPS systems have been reconfigured at the demand of law enforcement to eavesdrop on occupants and digital video recorders have been ordered to self-destruct thanks to a lawsuit against the manufacturer thousands of miles away. New Web 2.0 platforms like Google mash-ups and Facebook are rightly touted—but their applications can be similarly monitored and eliminated from a central source. As tethered appliances and applications eclipse the PC, the very nature of the Internet—its “generativity,” or innovative character—is at risk.
The Big Questions About Big Data
The power of big data has been alternately overestimated and underappreciated. But its use is becoming routine, and patterns are being established now that may last years or decades. What are the most important long-term issues arising from the widespread accretion and use of big databases and powerful tools with which to analyze them, and how might they be addressed?
Cyber Threats and Terrorism: Are We Secure?
In the wake of WikiLeaks and China hacking American computer networks, cyber security continues to be a hot policy and legal issue. The challenges are real and plentiful: while the openness of PCs and the Internet has spawned an abundance of connectivity and creativity, it has also brought a growing scourge of spam, viruses, identity theft and cyber-terrorism. But in the face of such threats, the answer is not a move toward simpler, locked-down devices in exchange for security, Jonathan Zittrain argues. He discusses the false starts in understanding the simultaneously underappreciated and overhyped fields of cyber security and cyber warfare, and offers a view on where the deepest problems lie – and how to address them. Should we be afraid? Are we prepared?
- Cyber Terrorism and Technology Infrastructure Protection: Why is the government so deeply concerned about it, while proposing only a “partnership” to deal with it?
- Civil Liberties: Zittrain paints a picture of the surveillance society to come and highlights the ethical implications.
- The Cantonized Internet: Get ready for filters left and right—ideological, mercenary, governmental, and ultimately our own, as the idea of a “generally accessible” web site available on “the” Internet recedes into the past.
Minds for Sale: The Rise of Distributed Labor
The cloud is not just for computing anymore; you can now find as much mindshare as you can afford there, too. A new range of projects is making the application of human brainpower as purchasable as additional server rackspace. What arises is ubiquitous human computing, enabling individuals and organizations to network and distribute mindpower as a global fungible resource. The result is brainpower applied to problems as varied as aerospace technology (X-Prize), chemistry (Innocentive), and micro labor (Amazon Mechanical Turk). What are some of the issues arising as armies of thinkers are recruited by the thousands and millions? How might this phenomenon do great good, but also potential harm? Jonathan Zittrain offers a provocative view of a future in which nearly any mental act can be bought and sold.