The dawn of the internet moved humanity into a new area of knowledge and information sharing. It has held the potential to democratize information and ideas globally. Combined with the rise of lower cost smart phones, it has lowered the barriers for people all over the world to gain access to new education and learning possibilities.
As the internet has grown, matured and continues to become more feature-rich, it has the potential to catapult human progress and equalities to entirely new levels. This potential brings with it change. Change can also be feared by many who value control and preserving the current status quo at a higher priority than unilateral prosperity.
The internet itself is a physical infrastructure. One that can be controlled. The fact that the world is interconnected today through a limited set of oceanic cabling projects is just a single example of how that connectivity can be controlled, censored or perhaps even cut off.
In this article we will look at:
The Threat – What is happening to threaten the future of the internet?
Dark Web – What is the dark side of the internet?
Global Model – What opportunity does a global model bring?
National Model – What does a national model mean?
Private Model – How far could this really go?
Business Impact – What does it mean for business?
Grand Challenges – What does it mean for solving the Grand Challenges? Insights – What to take way from this article.
On May 1st, 2019, Russian President Putin passed into law terms that would allow Russia to develop its own national internet. Reasons around national security were cited. The overall reaction pointed to a regime that wants to impose more control and censorship over its own people. Following in the footsteps of countries like China and Iran, we are seeing increased trends in nationalism and a desire to erect barriers across the world. While security is a concern, the real risk is what will humanity lose in terms its ability to be connect, share ideas, learn knowledge and work collaboratively to solve today’s and tomorrow’s challenges.
Many political groups use the growing understanding of the Dark Web as a justification to move towards isolationism. It is true that the internet can be abused and interconnectedness can be repurposed for evil. However, the Dark Web has taught the world many lessons about what a connected world can look like. Each lesson has yielded new insights into future risks, but also new methods of counter-measures, governance, and traceability. Each of which improves the next generation of infrastructure that supports a global internet. Already we have seen the Dark Web exploited for terrorism and interference in national election processes, but those instances are tiny in comparison to what the spread of knowledge, ideas, networks and business has made possible in the world and what it will enable in the future. Unlike the cloak-and-dagger methods of nationalistic competition, the Dark Web leaves highly traceable digital finger prints on its activities. As technology progresses this traceability will also increase as new capabilities are woven directly into the fabric of the internet.
What will humanity lose in terms of its ability to be connected, share ideas, learn knowledge and work collaboratively to solve today’s and tomorrow’s challenges?
Today’s global internet enables people from all over the world to share ideas and knowledge. It helps provide education and understanding across the globe. It makes us more connected and collaborative. It is laying the foundation for global efforts to address and solve many of the Global Challenges that threaten the very survival of our planet and species.
A open internet helps promote world order by giving direct visibility into activities carried out in other countries. It reduces the willingness of oppressed people to accept the leadership of their regimes when they see the value systems of other models in countries outside of their own. It attracts attention to the problem spots on this planet to align support and resources to counter act those situations. We know we are still at the beginning of the journey to a connected world. Just as the first generations of any technology are not fully understood and pale in comparison to what they will become a century later. History tends to repeat itself. The patterns of isolationism and nationalism have brought the world into conflict many times. The internet is but a piece of the future that could move humanity into a more collective existence, give voice to injustices, prioritize the greater good and help collectively pursue of a vision of a shared future for our planet.
With more dictatorships beginning to implement nationalistic strategies to create national internets we see the beginning of the closed internet. Today it is the form of heavy censorship, but can it reach the extremes of Private Models that completely cut a nation off from the global internet and free communication with the rest of the world?
The reaction in Russia to the new laws were the same inside as outside of the nation. It is a clear play of the dictatorship to increase control over its people. It is important to watch the roll out of this effort in all of these countries to identify the patterns of propaganda and oppression that are used successfully. Also, it is important to watch what the patterns of resistance and level of subversion in countries to remain connected. Will this trend continue, will it accelerate, or will it meet large-scale revolt by the populous of those countries? Time will tell…
Alarmists would take this argument even further, saying that even at a national level the misalignment of special interest groups and security concerns might result in a many private networks. Would a European Union, for example, split up to the point they are unwilling to have shared internet? Brexit raised the level of conversation around this topic. In reality, private networks have always existed in the networked computers era. Companies, consortiums, universities, households, military and government have always had private networks. The internet did not do away with private networks at all and they are not about to go away. The better question is will there be developing nations that can not support the internal infrastructure of a national internet if a global one does not exist? It is more likely that most of the free world will share an internet like today. Even nations that create a national internet, will probably maintain some access to the global internet for security and intelligence reasons, but maintain tight control over their countries access. Again, limiting the overall human potential to collaborate and solve problems collectively.
Industries worldwide are impacted greatly by a non-open internet. Industry has become global and integrated in many ways. The ability for business to operate globally relies on the open internet infrastructure. Even private virtual networks, that corporations manage, can rely on the global network infrastructure that the internet provides. Today’s companies may experience huge disruptions in business if national boards close off network traffic or apply censorship at a level that tampers with free commerce. All industries will need to collaborate and unify around their support for an open internet and assert their combined influence against those political trends.
As our planet faces challenges in clean water, abundant food, population growth, safety, sanitation, and many other aspects, we will need worldwide coordination of research, investment technology, implementation and legislation to be able to meet these challenges. Industry must assert their combined influence against destructive policies. We need to maintain a global infrastructure of open communication, sharing and business that will accelerates all these efforts and puts humanity on a course of becoming one united planet of people with a shared future. Efforts from world super powers like Russia and China hold back humanity’s potential. This puts us at risk of being on a course that will not respond to the Grand Challenges in time to reverse the damaging effects they could have on our planet and populations. They arrogantly begin to repeat history in ways that lead to friction and conflict. They are not leading their people towards prosperity or a greater good.
A development worth paying close attention to is Russia’s government’s decision to try and pursue a national internet. If they force it to happen, it may encourage other regimes to also attempt to try and implement that level of control. The power of industry to influence these decisions is great and it is time for cross-industry initiatives to begin to assure this global infrastructure remains open for the betterment of all. The power is also in the people of nations to stand against these totalitarian shifts towards control and suppression of information and knowledge. It begins with the leaders they elect and the legislation they allow to pass. While time is always a great teacher, time is running out for a global response to many of the Grand Challenges.