The Future of the Internet and the Internet of the Future

Convocation Lecture
Herrick Chapel, Grinnell College
Tuesday, October 27, 1998, 11 AM

Nathaniel S. Borenstein
Robert Noyce Visiting Professor

Since the beginning of recorded history, every new technological breakthrough has been envisioned as leading humanity towards either a utopia or its opposite. In actual practice, each technology has brought with it a mixture of blessings and curses, relatively few of which were foreseen by the futurists who witnessed the technology's birth.

It is easy to make a few technical predictions: the Internet of the future will be easier to use, faster, more powerful, more personalized, and better integrated with other media than it is today. The social effects of the Internet juggernaut, on the other hand, will probably feature more harm than good in the short term. Privacy and security will become increasingly treasured but elusive commodities. The power of large corporations will continue to grow, while the barriers to small ones will increase. Unchecked commercialism will drive the net's continuing development, while much of the technology's less commercial potential to do good for humanity will be neglected.

In order to limit the damage caused by Internet technology and to unlock its potential to enhance human society, we must begin to formulate the ethical and political principles that should ultimately define the role of the Internet in all human interactions. One such effort, the "One Planet, One Net" declaration from Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility, will be presented in some detail as a starting point for thinking rigorously about the appropriate role of the Internet in human society.

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