Zittrain's Generativity riff

Jonathan Zittrain, witty and clever as always, is leading off the
iLaw program with a session on the future of the Internet.  (Also
blogged here by Irina as well as Herkko and generally at Deborah Elizabeth Finn’s.)

1) JZ starts with North Korea.  Fighting against the pressures of the Internet, the ultimate radio.  Back to history:

2) Freiden Flexowriter: it was a very early Word processor, easier
to use than MS Word, but that’s all it did.  Couldn’t toast your
breakfast or brew your coffee or any other thing you might envision.

3) Bill Gates:
created the ultimate “open” architecture.  If you can code
something that will work and which end in .exe, then it will run on his

4) Vint Cerf and friends from Van Nuys High School:
from PC architectures to Internet architectures.  Created a
network that allowed you to do whatever you wanted at the top, but
which worked very well at the bottom layer(s).  They wanted to let
others invent applications that can run on top of their network, about
which they were (are) agnostic.  Principles: simple, open, arguing
only about substance, a technical meritocracy, and the assumption that
people are reasonable and nice.

5) The Bees: the IETF approach to a network, rather than the IBM
Token Ring network, could work — just as a bee, which the laws of
physics might suggest that they can’t fly.  TCP/IP didn’t look
that promising to critics but it flew.  And Wikipedia might be our
latest bee.

6) Three counter-reactions:

a) Copyright: “ultimately a cultural debate.”

b) Current generation software, with various hooks and technological protection measures

c) Cybersecurity: all started with Robert Morris, the Cornell
student who wrote the first (?) worm, and who eventually sold a
terrific dot-com to Yahoo! after getting his ph.d. at Harvard; all hell
has broken lose since 2000.  (JZ can prove it with a lovely graph.)

7) The Cap’n Crunch whistle: could enable the hack of the phone
system to make free long distance calls.  Inband signalling was
this flaw.  TCP/IP has this same flaw — in which setting it is a
feature, not a bug.  It is meant to do something more than just to
transmit pre-canned information from one place to another.

8) National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace (February 2003): Be
afraid, be very afraid.  We need committees, information sharing,
and other thngs that IT-ISAC does.  You can’t fix it the way that
AT&T could just single-handedly patch the phone network.  It’s
the double-edged side of the end-to-end neutrality of the net.

9) SmartEnforcer: pushing security to the local network, to the
PC.  The Pinkertons you are hiring fight one another: Symantec v.
SmartEnforcer v. MSFT: when you try to run a “.exe” to protect your
machine that your PC does not recognize, it tries to stop you from
running it. 

10) The infrastructure is dependent, and we are dependent on it: If
something terrible happens — digital Pearl Harbor — the security guys
will want to end end-to-end.  Even smug MAC users will find that
United will not fly them back to SF.  When the cash registers
don’t run, FedEx can’t deliver packages, and worse, there will be
terrifying pressure on network-level security.

11) Question to the people who love end-to-end: what’s the plan to
stop the worst excesses without setting us up to shut down the
end-to-end version of the Internet?  If not at the network level,
more will be done at the PC level. 

12) Internet governance is not about domain names.  Governance
is about figuring out how not to have one company deciding what shall
run and what shall not.  Can we, as a grassroots community, make
the decisions about what is malware and what is not?  Can we
together stave off the end of .exe?

13) TiVo = return of the Flexowriter.  It does one thing really
well.  (And now offers you other commercials when you skip the

14) The Mr. Coffee-ization of the network: from an open network with
open boxes in consumer hands, to great coffee but not anything
else.  It’s the return of the one-station radio, as in NK.

15) 02139: do what they like.  02138: read books.  The
sheep in the middle: everyone else.  What can the sheep do? 
What are the creative uses that people are able to do with an open
network?  Can the non-02139, non-02138, crowd do cool things as
creators with this technology, creating meaning, not just consuming it?


* Henry, a lawyer: isn’t there a fourth push-back, which is a political counterreaction?  JZ: yes, see OpenNet Initiative.

* Charlie Nesson: so, knowing that you believe in
generativity, what’s to be done, Z?  JZ: yes, we do need an
alternative answer.  Terry’s Alternative Compensation System for
digital media is a good example.  Another is to start
thinking about different ways in which to represent two Internets: a
prime-time Internet (with Everybody Loves Raymond securely on all the
time, like eBay and NYTimes and other things reliably on the Net), but
also the ability to shift into offroad, to take a computer where it
hasn’t gone before.  So, then, who determines what’s prime time
and what’s alternative?  It’s what ICANN was meant to be, some
thought, and wasn’t.  Now we have a second crack at it: what .exes
should be able to run on your machine.

* Charlie: the bubble is bursting again. No longer the blush on the
rose on the Internet.  It’s vulnerable to your three (four?)
attacks.  Can that turn around?  Z: look to Larry, look
internationally.  The US is so (too?) close to the Net, as it’s
main epicenter.  We can’t appreciate its potential, as we are
still charmed by it and its first and second-gen applications. 
We’re defensive about them and are not able to look around the
corner.  Internationally, it’s a different story.  The mode
in which the Net is spreading: here’s the Net as it is, or, no, take a
cool instrumentality and do something cool with it that you

* Camella Rhone, of Jamaica: Z, so, it’s called the World Wide
Web.  US isn’t that great at realizing that there are other places
in the world.  The technology is in different states in different
parts of the world.  Business, profits, drive the US Web. 
What drives it internationally is just that: for social and economic
development.  What about standards?  Z: The lesson is that it
would great for government officials to become obsessed with
standards.  (JZ promised not to give us conventional wisdom: this
is not what many people want to have happen in the standards business.)

* Charlie: there’s an audience out there, people who want to push
back along these lines, around the world.  Z: yes, teach the kids
to code.  Teach the artists to code.  Let them control their
own culture.

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