This month the internet officially became a grown up – or should have. Turning thirty today is what twenty was decades ago. By this age, you’re expected to have become responsible – for yourself, and maybe others.
Is the internet responsible? Or is it still in the wild throes of youth refusing to become so?
Tim Berners-Lee, the designer of the net, marked its 30th birthday with a statement describing how it started, and what he thinks of it today. He said it was described as a vague, but exciting project.
Therein may lie the crux of the matter. It was exciting, yes – but vague. No one had any idea of the impact it would have on the world. The village it’s created of the world has accelerated our growth exponentially.
Except in countries where controls exist, it is still the land of the free, even though it isn’t all free, nor always for free. Its makers did not foresee social media and election tampering.
For these reasons, Berners-Lee has had cause for apprehension over what his child has become. However, like any parent, he’s optimistic that things will straighten out. Parents see the potential, the opportunities, and the necessities.
Though we might want to preserve our playing ground, we need to make sure it’s a safe place to be in, not strewn with broken glass and rusty nails (social media and fake news).
Concerns are that it’s no longer serving humanity
If it’s a power or a force, it is in the hands of those using it. Video chat app developers would probably not choose a gun touting gang as a model user, but the latter is still using it that way.
We can, of course, use technology to fight technology: to close, shut down, or spontaneously combust any site that seeks to do harm. To what extent, however, does that infringe on a person’s freedom, and do we really want blanket controls over content?
Speculation aside, Berners-Lee explained some of the concerns. After Brexit and the Trump elections, he thinks we all realised it was not serving humanity as it could have.
Net neutrality is no longer a given, which has left us questioning whether the internet is even supporting democracy anymore. Regulatory blocs are one reason for this, while the ramifications of privacy issues and the reoccurring disasters linked to leaks and sold data are yet to be contained.
Improving the net
The report has given us opportunities to rethink how we would like the landscape of the internet to be. Do we value privacy over safety? Is the destabilization of our democracies the result of neglect? By allowing privacy leaks and fake news to breed mistrust, we allow this destabilization to occur.
Research is ongoing exploring novel ways of stopping or flagging fake news. This sort of advancement could be on which Berners-Lee bases his optimism. There is a lot that can be done to prevent harmful sources from sewing discord among net users the world over.
The words Berners-Lee chose were ‘defeatist’ and ‘unimaginative’ to describe facing a future where the net got contained and controlled.
30 years from now, tech could be controlling tech safety, programmed by a generation of computational thinking graduates, whose abilities to find creative solutions to attacks on democracy were trained from childhood.
Collaboration and creativity must be the keywords to overcome disruptions caused by the ill-use of the internet. An example of how coming together to improve the net is possible is a new series by MIT. They aren’t alone in their desire to educate and inform the world on how the internet and AI can be of service to humanity, either.
Choosing creativity as a prevention
If we prioritize the exploration of creative solutions, instead of tighter controls, or regulatory blocs, we could have a better internet future. It all starts with education.
In businesses, training courses on security, the prevention of cyber fraud, and the encouragement of online learning by all staff can be run.
In schools, computation thinking skills and practice should start as early as possible to create conditions for creativity and problem-solving in line with not only the tech of the day but what is to come of the tech we currently have.
Incorporating the latest developments to prevent privacy leaks, online fraud, and the general tampering with truths and credibility on social media, across all platforms, could be the responsibility of the user of the tech, and the developer.
Responsibility and ethics should be taught alongside IT skills. Just because we can develop something potentially harmful doesn’t mean we should, but this line of thinking is naïve. We all know there are those that like to unleash terror for a cause, and simply for the sake of it.
Being prepared means being informed and taking steps to prevent being defrauded (don’t open that link), keeping up-to-date with anti-everything software, and sharing the latest tech developments when you learn of them.
30 years from now, the internet will have reached early retirement. Let’s hope it enjoys its job so much that – despite a wonderful pension plan – it still has a purpose, is respected, and enjoys being of service to humanity so much that it never has to see the inside of a regulatory bloc retirement home.