Diane talks with Adrienne LaFrance, executive editor of The Atlantic. She wrote a story in July called "The Prophecies of Q."
Guest Host: Susan Page
The World Wide Web turns 25 today. In a little over two decades, the Web has revolutionized the way we communicate, do business, access entertainment and share information. To mark the occasion, we look to the future, when experts say the Internet will become like electricity, permeating our lives and raising questions about privacy, security and even the nature of reality.
- Jaron Lanier Computer scientist, author and musician.
- Jonathan Zittrain Professor of Law, Harvard Law School, Harvard Kennedy School of Government, and co-founder, Berkman Center for Internet & Society; author of "The Future of the Internet: And How to Stop It."
- Lee Rainie Director, Pew Internet and American Life Project.
- Vint Cerf Vice president and "Chief Internet Evangelist" at Google
MS. SUSAN PAGEThanks for joining us. I'm Susan Page of USA Today, sitting in for Diane Rehm. She's on vacation. The worldwide web turns 25 today. To celebrate, we look to the future. Experts say the internet will become like electricity, it will permeate our lives and raise new questions about privacy, security and more. Joining us from a studio at KQED in San Francisco is Jaron Lanier, author of the book, "Who Owns the Internet?" Welcome.
MR. JARON LANIERIt's actually "Who Owns the Future," and I'm delighted to be here.
PAGEI'm sorry for getting the name of your book wrong. I'm glad you corrected it. Joining us from Harvard University is Jonathan Zittrain, Professor of Law there, and co-founder of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society. Thanks for being with us.
DR. JONATHAN ZITTRAINPleasure.
PAGEAnd here in the studio with me, Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet and American Life Project. Welcome.
MR. LEE RAINIEThanks, Susan.
PAGEWe're gonna invite our listeners to join our conversation later in this hour. Our toll free number is 1-800-433-8850, or you can send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or find us on Facebook or Twitter. But first, we're joined by a man who is widely known as the father of the internet. Joining us from Princeton, New Jersey is Vint Cerf. Welcome to "The Diane Rehm Show."
MR. VINT CERFThanks so much. It's a pleasure to be on.
PAGENow tell us what it means to be the father of the internet. What we're celebrating today is 25 years of the worldwide web. Now, that's something different. Tell us the difference between those two things.
CERFWell, the worldwide web was designed as an application sitting on top of the internet. We're celebrating the 40th anniversary of a paper that the two fathers of the internet, Bob Kahn and Vint Cerf, wrote in 1974. It was published in May. It was actually discussed in September of '73 after Bob and I did the design of the internet over a six month period, from March until September. So, we're celebrating the 40th anniversary of the publication of the design.
CERFThe internet, which is the underlying infrastructure, on top of which Tim's very, very creative idea took flower.
PAGENow, how old were you when you became the co-father of the internet?
CERFWell, it was 1973 when we started. I was 30 years old. And Bob was 35.
PAGESo, he was the old man in the pair?
CERFWell, yeah, come to think of it.
PAGEDid you, at that point, did you have a sense of what was going to happen with this?
CERFAbsolutely. And, you know, I mean, people say, well, how could you possibly know, and it was a long story, which I will not force upon you. But, we had had several years of experience with a predecessor network called the ARPANET, which was sponsored by the Defense Advance Research Projects Agency, to explore packet switching. And it was an extremely successful experiment. Some very interesting applications came along, one of which was electronic mail. Another one, of which, was for all practical purposes, a worldwide web in a single computer that Douglas Engelbart developed at SRI International.
CERFSo, he called it the online system. So, we had several years of experience seeing what was possible with networks of computers, and the job that we were able to accomplish was to figure out how to link an arbitrarily large number of packet switched computer networks together. And, of course, today, we -- there are billions of devices online, many of which are taking advantage of Tim Berners-Lee's invention of the worldwide web.
PAGESo, when you think about the past 25 years with the worldwide web, the past 40 years with the internet, you foresaw some of the things would happen. What has been a surprise to you?
CERFI think, probably, the biggest surprise, honestly, was when Tim's -- when Tim released this, around 1991, nobody noticed. And then a couple of years later, Marc Andreessen and his colleagues, Eric Bina at the National Center for Supercomputer Applications at Chicago, or not Chicago, the University of Illinois, developed a graphical version of the browser. This is something everybody sees everyday now, but they invented something called Mosaic, which was a graphical interface to the worldwide web.
CERFAnd it absolutely took everybody by storm. You suddenly realized that the internet, which had been largely text and numbers, could suddenly be like a magazine with imagery, with sound, with moving images and so on, laid out with colorful visuals and everything else. So, suddenly, people understood that this was a new medium. And I remember being surprised, not by the technology, but by how quickly people decided they wanted to share information that they had.
CERFAnd so this avalanche of content just flowed into the network. It was Niagara. And that, of course, went to the need for browsers, or search engines, to find things in this increasingly large ocean of information. And so, the search companies, of which Google was one, were a bi-product of this avalanche of content. I was so surprised that people wanted to share so much information with each other, and it's still true today.
PAGENow, you are now Vice President and Internet Evangelist at Google. What does an Internet Evangelist do?
CERFWell, to be frank, it's Chief Internet Evangelist, but anyway, I didn't ask for the title. When they said, what title do you want, I said Archduke, but that didn't work. So, the honest answer is that I spend a good deal of my time trying to get more internet built all around the world, because only about 35 percent of the world's population is online. And I think everybody should be online, so that they can have access to all the world's information at their fingertips.
CERFSo, there's still more investments to be made. I spend a lot of time in the research group at Google, because we're also trying to solve problems that still are there with security, privacy, with scalability and capacity and new applications. So, there's lots and lots of work to be done. And if there's any one thing that I think Bod Kahn and I are most proud of, it's that the internet infrastructure has invited so many people to try new ideas out. I think if you talk to Lee Rainie, if you talk to Jonathan, you'll find, especially Jonathan's permissionless innovation notions are very central to the success of the internet.
CERFAnd I believe that's still true today.
PAGEAnd if you were looking ahead the next several years, the next decade perhaps, what do you think's gonna be the most significant development that we'll see?
CERFWell, there are two things that give us trends. One, of course, is increased mobile access to the internet, with increasing bandwidths and increasing amounts of horsepower, or computer power in your hand held devices. Then the internet of things, which I'm pretty sure both of your visitors can speak to, as well, in household appliances, things in the office, in the car, things we carry, things that we actually have on our bodies, or maybe even in our bodies, will be part of this online environment. And that will change the way in which we manage information, because it will allow smart cities to arise that know something about the use of resources, the flow of traffic.
CERFThe conditions of power generation and consumption. All of that information will make it possible to design cities that are a great deal more smart about how they serve their human users.
CERFThe next thing that we can absolutely predict is that networking will be quickly moving out into the rest of the solar system. And I know it sounds like science fiction, but we already have an interplanetary internet in operation. It's only between Earth and Mars and the International Space Station, and a satellite around the sun called (word?) But the positions -- the conditions are now set to allow for a natural expansion of network communication for interplanetary exploration. So, we'll see that coming over the course of the next several decades.
CERFAnd after that, it's anybody's guess. I think only about one percent of all the possible applications of the internet have actually happened so far, so we still have 99 percent to go.
PAGEVint Cerf, thank you so much for joining us on "The Diane Rehm Show."
CERFThanks so much for having me. Bye for now.
PAGEVint Cerf was speaking to us by phone from Princeton, New Jersey. He is widely known as the father of the internet. Well Lee Rainie, you have just -- Pew has just released a report summarizing responses from 1500 experts about what the internet will look like in 2025. Give us a glimpse of the future.
RAINIEWell, first, no one should be in the vicinity of Vint Cerf without starting the conversation by saying thank you. We talked to these experts about the next 10 years and what will come, and the sort of big finding that they talked about was the internet becoming kind of like electricity in peoples' lives. More important, more powerful, more embedded in the rhythms of their life, in the environment itself. But less visible. There'll be fewer people, in 2025, who actually think, on a day to day basis, I'm on the internet today. Many more people will actually be wearing the internet, driving in the internet, walking into rooms with the internet, going around the environment that's full of the internet.
RAINIESo, the electricity metaphor is pretty powerful. In a way, people might only think about the internet when it goes out and isn't available to them the way we now think electricity outages are the only time we are really conscious of the electricity, that we use so much, is part of our lives. The other thing they talk about is the rise of connected devices, the environment itself will be feeding lots of information, understanding lots of information in a way that Vint described with smart cities. But also, just generally what's going on on the planet, and maybe other planets too.
RAINIEAnd the amassing of that information is gonna change the nature of how people communicate, what kind of information flows into their lives, and things like privacy and surveillance and all sorts of challenges go along with that.
PAGEJonathan Zittrain, you are the author of a book called, "The Future of the Internet and How to Stop It." What is it that you want to stop?
ZITTRAINWell, there are many flavors of global network that we could have, and I think we've had a particularly felicitous one, thanks to the efforts of Bob Kahn and Vint Cerf. And later, Tim Berners-Lee. And it may be easiest to understand it through the electricity metaphor for a moment. A key milestone in the development of electricity, and electrical devices, was the invention, somewhat by happenstance, of the plug. It used to be, in the early days, that you would need a licensed electrician to install anything new that was going to plug into the wall.
ZITTRAINYou want a hairdryer, you'd better have somebody come out and be available between two and six in the afternoon, to have it happen. And that, if it had continued, would have led to something for which it would be a real effort to add yet another device, and possibly allow for architectures where other parties could say, what can get added and what can't, for all sorts of reasons. The intellectual property protection. The plug meant that you could plug anything in and just pay in bulk for the electricity that you end up using across the range of devices you choose.
ZITTRAINAnd the internet ended up following that model. Now, it didn't have to. It could have been invented in such a way that we would be thinking of it like a big old CompuServe or AOL from back in the day, where there'd be some central provider of not just network connectivity, but content. And for third parties to reach you with that content, they would have to go through that intermediary.
PAGEAnd we're gonna take a short break. When we come back, we'll go to Jaron Lanier and talk about some of the unintended consequences we've seen already from the internet, from the worldwide web. We'll continue our conversation, we'll go to the phones and take some of your calls. 1-800-433-8850 is our toll free number. Stay with us.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. And with me in the studio, Lee Rainie. He's director of the Pew Internet and American Life Project. Also joining us from Harvard is Jonathan Zittrain. He's a professor of law at Harvard Law School and the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and a professor of computer science at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Scientists. And he's also the co-founder of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society.
PAGEAnd joining us from San Francisco, Jaron Lanier, a computer scientist and author and musician. He is the author of "Who Owns the Future" which was released in paperback last week. Jaron Lanier, tell us, you've been critical of some unintended consequences of the development of the internet and the web. What are you talking about when you refer to that?
LANIERI would say that most of the problems I've been concerned with relate to the locus of control. And so what I mean by that is there's some technologies that I really, really am enthused about that I've actually helped develop over the years, including for instance wearable technologies where you can see the world augmented or health monitoring technologies, technologies that log your life, these sorts of things.
LANIERAnd the problem has been, does this data collection benefit the individual who's using the devices more or less than it benefits remote entities which might be companies or might be governments? And the tricky thing that I think none of us foresaw in the early days, the thing that really snuck up on us is that even in an extremely democratic network environment where everybody can share information equally and everybody can access information, there are some parties who become more empowered than others because they can do more with the information.
LANIERThey have more elaborate computer resources. They have better qualified and larger staffs of engineers and so forth. And so it's led to sort of a perverse situation where you have this sort of race to get everybody's data and be able to process it more. And this race has been entered by companies. And I should disclose, just like Vint is working with Google now, I'm working with Microsoft. So a lot of us have ended up in the corporate side of things. But at any rate, the companies compete to be able to amass more data and -- but more importantly to do more with it.
LANIERAnd so do governments, as we've learned from the Edward Snowden revelations. And so do banks and financiers of all kinds and insurance companies. And this does kind of -- this has resulted in an unintended consequence which is just an incredible concentration of power, influence and wealth among those with the most influential computers. And that's really not how it was supposed to be, and it's not really sustainable. But I just want to say, I'm not a pessimist. I'm totally an optimist that we can sort it out, but that is the nature of most of the current problems.
PAGEAnd, Jonathan Zittrain, what do you think? Does that issue concern you? What is your biggest concern would you say in looking ahead?
ZITTRAINI think Jaron has written very persuasively about these issues. And it does concern me. In some ways we are aware of the problem and kind of know what to do to solve it. There's just a question of political capital and other matters to get it under control, including implanting some technical fixes so you can audit where your data has been.
ZITTRAINInterestingly, some of the technology underlying Bitcoin of all things, journaling stuff in a public way could maybe help with this. Because as entities share the data they have on us, they might be able to journal it over and you can watch its path from here to there as it goes.
ZITTRAINThe issue I would flag, as long as we're talking about data though, is what the government gathers today and the corporations find themselves able to gather tomorrow is what any of us can gather on the third day. And the ability with Google Glass and other instrumentalities to stream your life, to accumulate date about what you see and who you are seeing, even if you don't know them, means it will be accumulating databases among us, peer to peer, that will themselves be something we'll have to figure out how to keep under control.
PAGESo definitely would raise privacy concerns for any of us, Lee.
RAINIESure. And even more questions about what it is to be human. Do you control your identity? Do you control the understanding of who you are in the wider world? Obviously who is watching you, who is collecting data about you, who is building algorithms to try to profile and anticipate your needs, these are huge questions that sort of permeate the answers that these experts gave us. And they also sort of raise another issue about divides.
RAINIEYou know, just being competent to operate in these spaces, knowing exactly what is being shed and understood on your behalf, understanding how to manipulate the world to the way you like it, these are all big questions that we haven't sorted out as a culture yet.
PAGELet's go to the phones and let some of our listeners join our conversation. We're going to go first to Dave. He's calling us from Portland, Maine. Dave, you're on the air.
DAVEAll right. I just wanted to know what you guys thought about the end of net neutrality and do you keep on comparing the internet to electricity? I was wondering if you were thinking that maybe it should be considered a utility?
PAGEInteresting. Dave, thanks for your call. Jaron Lanier, what do you think?
LANIERYeah, net neutrality is a critical issue. What we're learning is that whoever can control the flow of information controls power and wealth, I mean, just to put it as bluntly as possible. There's a funny thing about big networks which is that you can control people statistically. So in other words, if you can control what the immediate options are in front of people and if you can optimize those to influence people, even though no individual person at any particular time is obliged to accept your influence, overall statistically you can still guide the population.
LANIERAnd that kind of ability to statistically micromanage people is the new kind of power. And it's the new kind of power that has to be controlled. So the net neutrality issue is in a way the most basic in raw form of that struggle for control. It's a term that was invented by our colleague Tim Wu. And the basic notion is that whoever controls the physical wire that gets the information to you might seek to control what flows over that wire. And letting them do that is probably a pretty bad idea.
LANIERI should point out though that it's only the first front in what we should consider as an ongoing series of struggles for that kind of control. It's just as true that somebody who controls your device, maybe a wearable or something, might also have too much influence and too much power. We have to be alert to this kind of unintended granting of excess power to anybody in the system. But for the moment, yes, we do have to worry about the people who own the wires getting too much control.
PAGEJonathan Zittrain, what's your perspective on this?
ZITTRAINWell, I think it is a kind of leaf on the tree of questions about internet platforms, that there are all sorts of features that might lead themselves to some natural tendencies toward centralization. And when that happens, as Jaron was pointing out, that can give rise to worries. On net neutrality specifically, the original vision of the internet and that I think had Vint pretty confident that it would succeed, is that anybody could communicate with anybody with nothing in the middle on relatively equal terms.
ZITTRAINThere'd be no main menu. There'd be no CEO of the internet that you'd have to talk to to get your thing online. And I think that was a very powerful and important vision. I think when you hear from those who are actually building up the internet, the Comcasts and Charters of the world or of the nation, they'll say, yeah, but there's still the issue of how do we get the bandwidth wide enough for everything? And how do we make tradeoffs when it can't?
ZITTRAINThe internet's default mode there is to, as they say, fail gracefully. This is a part of the so-called best efforts networking, otherwise known as send it and pray or every packet an adventure. And if you want to be able to turn on your TV and have Netflix land on your eyeballs with the same kind of reliability that broadcaster cable television could traditionally bring, there's some real problems to solve on how to make that happen.
ZITTRAINBut I completely agree that an end to state in which the underlying transport mechanism somehow has power to say what you can and can't see and is going to get in the middle between you and somebody that you want to exchange bits with. That's not a great end point.
PAGEYou know, the send-it-and-pray theory of the internet I was experiencing yesterday because my company migrated to a new system. And I had a lot of trouble with the migration process and found it incredibly upsetting yesterday when I couldn't get email on any of my devices. And I just felt quite disconnected. And I wonder, Lee Rainie, if that is in fact kind of an unhealthy instinct that because I couldn't be connected to the internet for a period of a day that I found it really discombobulating.
RAINIEWell, the processes we're describing here make it harder not to be on the internet. You know, your sources depended on availability of you. You wanted your outbound stuff to be returned, people that answered your questions about the story you were preparing yesterday. And so there's this deep sense that in the past 25 years of the web and 40 years of the internet it has become an essential utility in people's lives that they dare not turn off or dare not be off the grid lest important things happen that they miss.
RAINIESo it's one of the tensions in a lot of lives now. It's notable that Mark Zuckerberg's sister has written a book about how to have a right relationship with these forces, and not necessarily have them take over your lives. But that's the kind of cultural conversation we're now having about them.
PAGELet me ask our panel, are any of you ever offline? Jaron Lanier, is there ever a period where for more than not, like when you're actually dead asleep, that you're not keeping it on?
LANIEROh we're working on that dream interface. No, we got -- no. I -- you know, one thing you didn't mention to your listeners is that I'm known for starting virtuality field. And what I've always said about virtuality in the old days was that the very best thing about it was coming out of experiencing virtuality and perceiving the new world -- the real world because the real world has just such remarkable qualities that you perceive afresh.
LANIERAnd that's exactly how I feel about the online world today, that getting off it and just perceiving people directly without the intermediation of any of the digital stuff is such an amazing experience these days. I feel it's actually that experience of coming off it and seeing the world afresh might be the most valuable thing from a personal perspective that we've gotten from the internet. So, you know, definitely experiment with going offline. Don't allow yourself to become an addict. It only makes the internet more valuable not less valuable.
PAGEWell, do you follow that practice yourself?
LANIEROh yeah, absolutely.
PAGESo what do you do?
LANIERWell, I think one thing that's really helpful is to be in charge of your online life and not immediately sign up for everything. So for instance, my cat decided to sign up for some social networking services and I encouraged her in that. But personally I haven't used them and I like that. I like minimizing the amount of time I have to be responsive to the online world, which can be extremely demanding. There's this constant gnawing at you demanding your reactions and your attention. And at a certain point that can become a new kind of rat race.
LANIERBut I'm not saying -- I'm saying this with love and support for the internet. I mean, it's fantastic but the thing is, the more in control of it you are, the more you learn how to react to it with moderation and the more you learn to be in control the better it is and the more useful it is.
PAGELee, you were nodding your head.
RAINIEWell, it's the reality that attention is now the scarcest resource of all. And people who are strategically managing it well are light years ahead of people who get lost in the virtual world or can't turn off their systems or can't figure out how to get a little Sabbath from their experiences. And it's sort of a new reality that shrewd people know when to engage in the flow of information shrewdly, when to withdraw and concentrate on things they need to do and when just to take a break. But it's a harder and harder mechanism to turn off.
PAGESo Jonathan Zittrain, let me just ask you to finish up the -- around the panel. Are there times when you completely disconnect from the internet?
ZITTRAINThere are and I go through withdrawal. And then after a little while I come to appreciate the isolation and only have a vague dread of what awaits me piled up when I get back. But I should day that the problem is really quite textured because I'm at a university. I teach. I teach first year torts, a very kind of meat and potatoes welcome to the law school kind of class. And I van laptops and other digital devices there.
ZITTRAINAnd the reason is that for any one person to make the decision to disconnect, unplug and really pay attention, what that person finds may be not all that rich because no one else has unplugged. And so you get into kind of a feedback loop where the more people who unplug -- I don't know if anybody's ever been on a conference call where so many people are distracted during the call that actually the conversation just sort of grinds to a halt and there's silence on the call until somebody realizes somebody needs to say something.
ZITTRAINThat's a problem that I don't know that we figured out yet. And as more and more television tries to importune us to, don't just watch The Walking Dead, why not tune in on your laptop and, I don't know, watch it on your laptop at the same time? There's sort of tie-ins. It'll get harder and harder I think unless you really are in the Grand Canyon and trying to appreciate it, to understand the different between online and offline.
PAGEI'm Susan Page and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Well, Jaron, you noted that you are known as a father of virtual reality. We actually have a question from Jeremy who's listening to us in Detroit. He says, "It would seem that in very short order, maybe five years, the adoption and continuing evolution of virtual reality devices such as Oculus Rift will call for a whole new reckoning in this space. These data-hungry devices will demand a lot of bandwidth and whole new regimes of legislation, regulation to create and guarantee public spaces for virtual citizenship." What do you think about what Jeremy is saying?
LANIERYeah, well, you know, in Silicon Valley a lot of people would react and say, oh no, not the government. Keep them out. But I think there's a substance to what he's saying. I think that both virtuality devices and devices embedded in anything, what was mentioned as the internet of things earlier, and wearables, medical monitoring devices and self-driving vehicles and a whole host of other technologies are going to really change the texture of life. And it does become confusing.
LANIERPersonally I found the easiest way to sort of unravel the many issues is to think about the locus of control, who gets the power or the money as a symbol of power. If you follow the money, if you follow who's really getting the influence than you can kind of sort out how it's working out. And that's a little easier than these abstract ideas about what is privacy, which nobody can answer.
LANIERSo, I mean, as long as the people who use the devices are in control and understand how they're able to benefit or be harmed by them, then we'll be find. If that sense of control travels elsewhere to somebody with a remote giant computer, then will not be fine. I mean, it's really that simple at core.
PAGELee, what do you think?
RAINIEIn one of the earlier versions of the survey that we did of experts, we talked about virtual reality and some of the attractiveness of it. And the majority of experts that we talked to anticipated that there will soon be worlds that are media worlds and are virtual reality spaces that are somewhat more compelling than real life.
RAINIEThe three of us have a colleague named Jane McGonigal who wrote a wonderful book called "Reality is Broken." And she's a gamer and a game philosopher -- gaming philosopher and talked about how there are ways that virtual spaces are more compelling, more immersive, more attractive. You can shape your identity in ways that you can't in real life. And so this is a real challenge that the current experts would also raise as a big issue. But it's also going to be a circumstance in the future where virtual life and real life are so merged together that people won't think of them as separate domains.
PAGEBut if people think that virtual reality is in some ways more appealing than real life, I mean, is that -- that carries some possible repercussions for human-to-human interaction.
RAINIEAbsolutely. John's written some wonderful powerful thoughts about how you lose your humanity under certain circumstances, especially if the wrong people are in charge.
PAGEWe're going to have to take a short break. When we come we'll go to Jonathan Zittrain and ask him what he thinks about what might be lost. And we'll take your questions and comments. You can send us an email at email@example.com. Stay with us.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. With me in the studio, Lee Rainie from the Pew Internet and American Life Project. Joining us from San Francisco, Jaron Lanier, author of "Who Owns the Future?" And from Harvard University, Jonathan Zittrain who's the cofounder of the Berkman Center for the Internet and Society.
PAGEJonathan, here's an emailer, I think I'd like to direct this question to you. This is an email from Julian who writes, "My main concern with the internet has to do with the consequences way down the line. How is this going to affect our evolution as a species? There's a major addiction problem with the internet. Sure, we're getting connected with people around the world, but we're getting disconnected from the people closest to us." What do you think?
ZITTRAINWell, whenever I hear an email coming in on a topic about the internet from Julian, I do wonder if it's coming from the Ecuadorian embassy in the UK. But either way it's a good question. And I should say that I think our day to day experiences really are evolving. We've already talked a little bit about privacy. There's an interesting flipside to that which privacy is in some ways the worry that information about us will be out of control and on our permanent record. There's also the ephemerality of things that information you thought was somewhere you can't find again.
ZITTRAINYou can't be given a guarantee that what you see now is what was there at a given link before. And maybe what you see isn't what others will see thanks to blockages and filtering around the world because there's such an awareness that who we are and what we're thinking can be shaped by what we see, as Jaron pointed out. So thinking about ways to build permanence where it to ought to be, to build repositories of the sorts that libraries used to be and still are, is a really challenge.
ZITTRAINAnd all of that is part of a larger enterprise of taking up the internets and the webs invitation to build upon it, that what is there still anybody is capable of putting up a new website on Monday that turns out to be all the rage on Wednesday. And that's a form of actualization that I think helps us stay in touch with our humanity. And many of those services are ones that try to connect people with other people in new and unusual ways. And I think that could affect the way that dissidents connect to one another, whether they're political dissidents or social dissidents, that those on the margin have an opportunity to connect with one another. And that's sort of a pro humanity sort of thing.
PAGEJaron, here's an emailer who's using a phrase I believe you've used. This person has written, "The internet is a bit like the Wild West, while great for innovation, it's terrible for use in life. The internet's not ready for many of the things we use it for. Once it crashes into something, someone realizes, oh, maybe we need brakes, a steering wheel and airbags. How can we get these controls in place?" Jaron, what do you think?
LANIERYes, the Wild West metaphor. It was -- it's been prominent. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, for instance, uses it. To a degree it was brought into the internet thought world by my friend John Perry Barlow who's from Wyoming and something of a Western guy. And it -- I think a lot -- it's a great metaphor in a way. The Wild West has a romance to it. One imagines the sort of freedom of it, but in fact it was controlled by gangs, criminals, railroad barons, monopolists, you know. I mean, it's not the way we think of it. It was something very different.
LANIERA great movie about the transition is "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance," where you see this -- the difficulty and the awkwardness of moving from this regime of anarchy which seems like it's great, but actually isn't, to the compromises necessary for a civilization that's overall pretty good. Yeah, we have to get there. It's not going to be easy, especially because we're talking about an international process and a technical one. Those two aspects make it trickier than previous challenges. I'm totally confident we'll get there. Don't expect it tomorrow.
PAGEAll right. Let's go to Savannah calling us from Johnson City, Tenn. Savannah, hi, you're on the air.
SAVANNAHHowdy. Thanks for taking my call. I love "The Diane Rehm Show." So I just have a quick question. Y'all compared the internet to electricity and that we're going to be using it sort of on the present in our life. But electricity uses a lot of resources, and I think it's becoming a problem that we use it so much and we're not conscious of it. And I was just wondering what resources does the internet use that we're not conscious of. And not only the internet, but all of our devices that we're continually using and buying new ones. Like, what resources does this take from the environment that maybe we will start becoming conscious of the more we use it?
PAGESavannah, thanks so much for your call. Lee Rainie.
RAINIETwo things to say in response. The first is enormous amounts of resources go into this. The biggest companies that run server farms that operate the cloud that we all live in consume a lot of energy. And companies that didn't start as energy companies, like Google and Facebook, now are very much energy companies. The other way that the environment is implicated in all of this is our devices themselves wear out or the next new rage comes along and we get rid of them. There are substantial environmental problems connected to the disposal of lots of these high tech devices that people are using.
PAGEWe've got several emailers who are interested in issues that go really to current events. Here's an email we got from Lou. He writes, "I read that Russia disabled Ukraine's army computers through the internet. How can we be optimistic in the face of that?" I wonder, can anyone on our panel talk about how this -- is it true that this happened? And if so, how?
ZITTRAINWell, this is Jonathan. I don't know specifically about the Russia/Ukraine sort of thing. I wouldn't be surprised to hear it. In some ways that fact that things developed sort of one step at a time with a central plan, that the hobbyist PC for which the defining feature was that it would run code it was handed pretty much from any source without question, that was great. That's how -- thinking back to Vince, beginning of this program with the web browser from Marc Andreessen, that he could write the web browser and I could choose to download it and run it and nobody get in the middle.
ZITTRAINIt's that fundamental characteristic that makes it really easy for a generative PC on a neutral internet to also be compromised and suddenly running code from a source that it shouldn't be, and figuring out how to reconcile the playfulness, the experimentation, the fun of using devices that can surprise us with the need for reliability. When we're watching a television, we don't want to be told you went to the wrong channel that infected your TV with a virus and you'll need a new television set or several hours on the phone with customer service. Reconciling these two sort of modalities is to me one of the biggest puzzles of getting forward.
ZITTRAINNow, when it's country to country, they ought to be able to work it out diplomatically, or the ways that countries have disputes. It's sort of a government to government sort of thing. I just worry that often rank and file citizens get caught in the crossfire. And the idea that your computer could be disabled or spied upon at any moment from any source is not a heartwarming thought.
PAGEJaron, what do you think?
LANIERYeah, it's a devilish problem. I've been exploring what most people consider to be fairly radical approaches to solving these problems. And just in a nutshell, you know, when Tim Berners-Lee came up with the World Wide Web design, one of the features of his design that allowed it to grow so quickly is that if one thing on the internet referred to something else, that thing that was referred to didn't know it was being referred to, so that's what we call a one-way link. And the world of one-way links is what's led to the possibility that anyone can use any information, things are very easy to set up.
LANIERIt spreads very quickly. But on the other hand, it does lead to a situation in which nobody really knows what's going on. And, in fact, the reason we need companies like Google and Facebook is to sort of sort out who's interested in what and who's interested in who, to sort of go through the whole thing and organize it after the fact. I have a feeling we eventually kind of need to mature the design so that from the beginning we know who's pointed at who so that we don't have this sort of anonymous drive by kind of linkage.
LANIERIt was great for getting it to happen quickly, but in the long-term I think it leads to too many problems. And I even go a step further, I think that that would create a way for people to be paid for what they do online, which might create a new stronger middle class and various other things. But even leaving that aside, we do have a -- we designed our technology to spread rapidly, to be very creative, to move rapidly, but not to incorporate accountability and responsibility at its core and its essence, and I think we might need to reconsider that.
PAGELee, do you agree?
RAINIEWell, one of the most powerful markers of the importance of the internet is that now governments use it a lot and are subject to all sorts of cyber-attacks and terrorism. And maybe this happened in Ukraine or not, but it speaks to how fundamentally important these tools are to governments. The other thing is that Americans themselves recognize this problem. When the Pew Research Center asked about, what are the most significant national security concerns that average Americans think about? Cyber security and cyber-attacks ranked as number one on the list. So people know that these vulnerabilities exist out there, and they're hoping somebody's going to fix it.
PAGELet's go to Shelly. She's calling us from Antrim, N.H. I hope I'm saying that right, Shelly. You're on the air.
SHELLYYeah, you are. Yeah, good morning.
SHELLYI was just enamored of that woman was saying about the use of electricity and all the things that go into the manufacturing of all these devices. And up here, speaking of electricity, I mean, it makes me somewhat nervous when we have an ice storm and people -- it's culture shock for people, because, you know, all their devices go out, and people are so dependent it's scary. A lot of people, they do -- they don't know how to survive simple environmental assaults of which there are more and more.
PAGEAnd, Shelly, how about you? Did you feel -- do you feel dependent on your devices?
SHELLYWhat devices do I have? I have a landline with no answering machine. I don't have a TV. I don't have a computer. I don't have a microwave oven. I...
ZITTRAINWe're glad you have a radio.
SHELLYI have a radio and I love NPR, so...
PAGEShelly, thank you so much for your call. You know, here's an interesting email we got referring to our previous conversation about the Wild West metaphor. And emailer writes, "In the new Wild West, who are the Indians, that is what cultures, wisdom, languages and lives are being destroyed?" Jaron, let me go back to you on that.
LANIERWell, this is an interesting tale. Back in the '80s and '90s I was one of the idealists. We had -- actually we did all of our work with very pure hearts who really believed that opening up information, even if it would undo the old system of copyright and that sort of thing would create more opportunities for people. And in a sense it works out and that it creates more opportunities for people to get their stuff out there, but economically it's been a disaster.
LANIERWe try to live with an illusion that it'll still work out economically, but the data is really coming in that musicians, journalists, photographers, these kinds of people are being transferred into what you might call an informal economy, an economy of barter and sharing and reputation, which has its own beauties. There are attractive aspects of it. It's attractive to just base your life on trusting other people and so forth. But it is the economy of the slum. And the formal economy, the one where you actually get paid and earn wealth, is the one that lets you raise kids, and if we're to get sick once in a while and all that. And that's what we're not giving all of those sort of creative people.
LANIERAnd what really scares me is that that same process is eventually going to overtake every single other industry. Eventually when the cars are driving themselves there won't be -- there won't be teamsters, there won't be truckers or delivery guys and so forth. You know, and it won't happen instantly, but in the course of this century we'll kind of be able to automate a lot of things. But the key thing to notice about that is that we still need those people. This is not like the old buggy whip thing where we really don't need buggy whips, and so it's proper to let the buggy whip industry die.
LANIERWe still need the people to be creative, to provide the information to the system so that's it's valuable. It's just that we're not valuing them anymore. All the wealth is accruing to whoever has the biggest computer that does the routing and the analysis and all that. And that process is definitely unsustainable. It has a cruelty to it, and it was unintended, and we must find a way to correct for it.
PAGEI'm Susan Page and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Well, Jonathan, is there a way to address that concern? How do you feel about it?
ZITTRAINI confess, I don't share Jaron's pessimism about the state of affairs for the creative industries. I think that the baseline for the creative industries in America was not nearly as great. It is not something to be nostalgic about. There was already a lot of imbalance there. And the average or median artist was not working out so well under the old system.
ZITTRAINAnd I think there's a lot of promise with the new of being able even -- you know, it's a right question to say, well, what's the right level of music? Like, what's the right -- how much should there be? If we want more, there are ways to do it through a patron model, through collective support for the arts, rather than thinking it ought to be done through a purely cash and carry sort of system. So I'm actually much more sanguine about it as I think about where it's going.
PAGELet's get another caller in. Ryan from...
LANIERCan I just...
PAGEYes, please, go ahead.
LANIERI just want to respond quickly. I actually -- I think we'd find agreement on that particular point. The problem is more if the same process overtakes all the other industries too, you can't have patronage for the whole society, then you can't have democracy anymore. And it's that eventuality that concerns me. If we really knew that it was only the musicians and journalists, I completely agree, we could come up with ways of dealing with that.
PAGEWe should definitely be on the side of the journalists. I would just like to say that.
LANIERWhy would you say that?
PAGEJonathan, did you have something you wanted to add?
ZITTRAINI was just going to say I think that's fair, but the real point was about the arts and about that ineffable side of things that we want to be in touch with, Rather than other industries that might be displaced for which, you know, it may be a little bit more like the buggy whip. And the real question just is, thanks to the efficiencies of the movement of information, thanks to the internet, does it mean that there won't be stovepipes of culture, subcultures and areas that then can blend together in interesting ways later? Are we all sort of tuning in to the same viral video? That might lead to a sort of monoculture of culture that isn't so great.
PAGELee Rainie, we're here celebrating the 25th birthday of the World Wide Web. Look 25 years ahead. I mean, 25 years ago it would've been hard to imagine what had happened -- what has happened in that interval. So looking ahead, what do you see? And how different could it be in a similar interval of time ahead?
RAINIEIt's probably going to be amazing and mystifying 25 years from now as the people who would've been asked this question 25 years ago we'd be talking about today. So more stuff is going to be connected. There's going to be more devices already now are connected than are human beings. There will be an environment that describes itself and is in some ways networked and understands itself in different ways and humans will begin to understand that process better. We will be quantifying lots more elements of our lives and, you know, living with the consequences of that.
RAINIEOne of the most interesting predictions in our survey was maybe people are going to be shocked by what they discover they really do. They imagine themselves in one way in their head and they think they believe certain things or act certain ways. And when they see their data, they are shocked to find that they actually don't live the life that they think they're living. So I think there will be new ways that we reckon with these devices and new ways that new institutions will be built around them.
PAGELee Rainie, Jonathan Zittrain and Jaron Lanier, thank you so much for being with us on this very interesting hour of "The Diane Rehm Show."
LANIERThanks so much for having us.
ZITTRAINThanks very much.
PAGEI'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. Thanks for listening.
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