CFP'92 - Public Policy for the 21st Century
Friday, March 20th
Chair: Mara Liasson, National Public Radio
Panel: Peter Denning, George Mason University
Mitch Kapor, Electronic Frontier Foundation
Simon Davies, Privacy International
Roland Homet, Executive Ink
Esther Dyson, EDventure Holding
LIASSON: Thank you very much. I am probably the only person here who has absolutely no background in technology. Anyway, I am the only one who does not understand what the panelists are going to be talking about (laughter), and although they have already told me that they do not appreciate people who think that that's a great quality and look down on people who are technical, and I certainly do not, I will reserve the right to insist that they all talk in terms that people like me can understand, since there is more of me out there than you, although not in this room today. (laughter) What we are going to do is introduce each panelist, and each one will make a short three- to five-minute presentation. Then my instructions say that we are going to have a McLaughlin Group discussion, which I guess means lots of yelling and screaming and talking at once. (laughter) After that's over, about 4:10, we'll open up the panel for questions from the audience.
To my left is Peter Denning, who is Chairman of the Computer Science Department at George Mason University and also the associate dean for computing. He is the program chair of this conference, has also served as the president of ACM, and he is currently the editor of Communications.
Next, to my left, is Mitch Kapor, who, according to my notes, needs no introduction (laughter), although I am going to give him one anyway. He's the co-founder of the Lotus Development Corporation, and he also founded the Electronic Frontier Foundation. That is an organization that Mitch established to help civilize Cyberspace, and I will certainly ask him to explain what that means. And he is well known for his collection of blue suits. (laughter)
Simon Davies, to my right, also wears blue suits, but you can tell him from Mitch, because he wears a white hat. (laughter) He is from Sydney, Australia, and is the Director General of Privacy International, which is an international network of privacy advocates. He is also an author, a journalist, and radio commentator.
To his right is Roland Homet. He is an information policy writer and thinker who recently opened his own public policy writing firm here in Washington -- it's called Executive Ink, not Inc., as it is written in your programs, so you can scratch that out.
Esther Dyson, at the end of the panel, is among the most respected commentators on developing technology trends in the personal computer business. She publishes two newsletters, Release 1.0 and Rel-EAST. She has also been one of the driving forces promoting East-West relations through computer networks. She is a board member of the Electronic Frontier Foundation as well.
I'll ask Peter to start.
P. DENNING: Thank you. Starting around 1850, people of many countries looked to their governments to regulate commerce, erase inequities, and build societies of better human beings. For over a hundred years, many people, from peasants to intellectuals, had faith that strong governments would bring them a better life. This faith was part of the clearing in which Communist governments flourished; although the United States took an anti-Communist stand, the same faith fostered a strong government that promised salvation by great national programs including Social Security, welfare, food stamps, the War on Poverty, and the Great Society. This faith is now shattered. People no longer trust that powerful government can deliver a better life.
The dramatic collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union illustrates this, as does the growing disillusionment of the American people for federal, state, and local governments. The poor track record of government is not the only reason for the shift. Information technology has accelerated the process. Communications that took weeks in the last century now take fractions of a second. Business success depends on what happens around the globe, not only on local conditions. Radio, TV, fax, and now E-mail are common worldwide, so much so that not even a powerful government can control what information its citizens have. Because the space of opportunity for people to engage in transactions with each other has been so enormously enlarged during the past decade, faith in marketplace democracies is on the rise worldwide; correspondingly faith in central management mechanisms is on the decline. This shift has brought with it a shift of the power of institutions. Government institutions tend to try to hold onto their power by regulatory coercion to enforce the old ways. This can produce big tensions and even promote breakage.
Nowhere can this be seen more clearly than in the cryptographic area which we have just been talking about in the previous hour. This technology, cryptography, produces mechanisms for digital signatures, authentication, electronic money, certificates, and private communication -- all offering a way for standard business practices now based on paper to be shifted into the electronic media. The success of worldwide enterprises depends on this shift being completed rapidly and effectively. As more people realize this, the momentum for incorporating cryptographic technology into the information infrastructure is accelerating.
In this country, the National Security Agency has long been given the authority to regulate cryptography. This authority was granted in another time when the success of the country depended upon the ability of its government to gather intelligence and communicate in secret. These premises made sense in a world where most of the power resided in governments, but the world is changing. Much economic power is now accumulating in large apolitical transnational corporations. These corporations place their own concerns and strategies ahead of those of governments of the countries in which they do business. Like governments, they are interested in gathering intelligence about competitors and in conducting business in private. Unlike governments, they want open access to the technologies of authentication, electronic money, digital signatures, and certificates that will allow them to conduct business transactions across the network. So it is no longer true that national power and national security are increased when government has the sole right to gather intelligence and encipher communications. Now the strength of a country depends not only on its government, but also on its corporations. The old premises have fallen away in the new reality, but the old policy remains. It's time to rethink the policy, before tensions between a threatened government and corporations produce significant social tension and perhaps breakage.
Information technology is producing a clearing in which individuals and corporations are key players, besides the government. Any attempt by government to control the flow of information over networks will be ignored, or met with outright hostility. There is no practical way the government can control information, except information directly involved in the business of governing. It should not try. (Applause)
KAPOR: Well, let's see if I can do this in five minutes. I have to ask you to use your imagination. Imagine the year is 1420, and we are all, you and I, serfs, standing around a medieval courtyard somewhere. I'm asked to give my vision in five minutes of the next century and the coming centuries, and I tell you we're all going to learn to read, and you go, "Why would we want to read?" I tell you someday you are all going to vote, and you say, "What's voting?" And I say, we are going to come to view ourselves as individuals possessing certain inalienable rights as individuals granted to us by our Creator, and you say, "Don't be absurd." (laughter)
Well, digital media -- computer-based communications -- are the printing press of the 21st century, and as the printing press transformed society, created the modern individual, gave rise to the basis of the democratic state and to the notion of individual rights, I suspect that we will see a similar, radical transformation of the very constitution of global society in the next century, facilitated by this enabling technology. I would be the last person to try to sketch out the details, or tell you what the issues are going to be, but I want to share with you some feelings about what is really going to matter, as we go about this -- and I'll start with something about myself.
You see a guy wearing a suit; most of you know I have a lot of money -- I'm a successful businessman. God knows what images propagate around the media and settle in people's minds, but I've always seen myself, and felt myself to the core of my being, as an outsider, every bit as much as a self-proclaimed outsider, as Tom Jennings -- who spoke so eloquently about this at the Pioneer awards* yesterday -- was. *The Electronic Freedom Foundation presented its first awards at a related, adjacent reception which was not formally a part of the conference.
I think we are all outsiders; we are all different, all unique. We're not the same. We share an underlying common humanity, but we should not be asked to subjugate ourselves to some form of mass society that causes us each to become indistinguishable from one another. I believe that computer- based communications technology is an enabling technology to liberate individuals and to free us from the oppressive influence of large institutions, whether those are public or private. And I am talking about an economic restructuring that results in a much more decentralized society, and social restructuring in an affirmation of the simple right to be left alone. I think Cyberspace is good for individuals, and I think that's important. I also think that the flip side of the coin, the creation of community, which we so sorely lack in this country today, can be facilitated through these technologies.
I have experienced that for myself, as many of you have on your various computer networks on conferencing systems like the WELL. It is enormously liberating to overcome the artificial boundaries of space and time. We are prisoners of geography in the physical world, and our communities are largely a product of who we can see face to face each day, even though our real comrades and colleagues may be scattered all over the world and our interests -- whether they are hobbies or political interests or religious interests, whatever they might be -- can be facilitated if we are able to get in touch with, to form bonds with, to exchange views and ideas with other kindred spirits. And I believe this technology is an enabling technology for the formation of community. My hope is that we will have the wisdom to create policies which enable individuals to flourish free from the chains of mass society, and which enable voluntary communities of people, individuals, groups who come together to be with each other and to work together. I hope both of those become possible.
I could give you a list of some salient characteristics of the kind of society I'd like to see, and therefore the kinds of public policy principles embedded in technology of openness, freedom, inclusiveness, and decentralization. It is a very Jeffersonian view transplanted into the 21st century. If I had time, I could give you an arbitrarily long list of the public policy issues in which these values are at stake, from the future of common carriage to the possibilities of inclusiveness versus exclusiveness, information haves and have-nots, and on and on and on. I hope that we will have the chance to talk about that, but the individual issues are much less important than the types of values that we all believe are important, and our willingness to take our own lives, attention, and energy and do something to insure that the world we create for ourselves, our children, and our grandchildren, is one which we would be pleased with. Thank you. (applause)
DAVIES: I feel very warmed by the various visions of the future that have come out of this conference, but I am a cynic, and cynicism is good, because it adds fiber. (laughter) How nice the world would be if everyone was like Mitch, but they're not, because the future is in the hands of ruthless, greedy little men.
I want to paint the vision of the future that I have, and I hope it's not too depressing because there is a future, a good future... possibly. I agree, as many of you do, that the future is going to be like some giant informational Yggdrasil* *Reference from Old Norse mythology -- the Yggdrasil was a giant ash tree whose roots held together the universe.. We'll all be part of interconnectivity, the likes of which we can scarcely imagine right now. I imagine it will be like an organism where we're independent and interdependent, and so it's like a two-edged sword. That's all very nice, and we can see that we form part of that new community. But, I see a world with 15 billion beings scrambling for life, where four-fifths of the world lives on half a liter of water a day, where people grow up to see their children dying, where new political frontiers are destroying freedoms and the democracy that we have developed over the last two centuries. I see a world where there is very little hope for nearly everybody on the planet, except for the elite -- that's us -- except for those of us who are plugged into the informational Yggdrasil.
What I see is that 14 of those 15 billion people are a lot of pissed-off people who have their eyes set on what they see, not as a wonderful informational community, but as the beast. And they see that that is where the resources are, and that's where the opportunities are, and that's where the political power is. I can't see a future for us in a world where ultimately the great demon becomes information. It might be good for us, but for the disaffected four-fifths of the world, information is going to be something which, frankly, we can do without, because in a world with almost no resources left, surely information is selfishness.
Now there is a future and the future is that we recognize the apocalypse now. We start working with the people, with the greedy little men, with the greedy little governments and the people who are controlling the agenda for their own purposes. At some point the information technologists and the elite like ourselves have to recognize that in all probability, our children, if they want to participate in the informational community, are going to have to live like outlaws, because like the airspace that was once the great sort of silicon frontier for the Kingsford Smiths and the Earharts, that's now overregulated to the point that there is no more pioneering going on. And I see that with the information age. That really is a very sad vision -- I really see hope only if we get really cynical and we start to see that, hey, we're dying. This may very well be the very best it ever gets in terms of our freedom. (applause)
HOMET: Thank you. I'm grateful to the organizers for including me in these proceedings -- they are reminiscent for me of some information policy conferences that I organized 15 to 20 years ago for the Aspen Institute. The particulars have certainly changed, but the dynamics remain much the same. For me, these are well-represented by Peter Denning's image of a changeable clearing in the woods. At any given time, as I see it, the clearing is an acceptable standoff between the forces of modernization and of traditional culture, between freedom and discipline, between structure and spontaneity. Now we voice these as opposites, but in fact, they need each other. It is the creative tension between technological innovation and established order that allows society to hold together and progress to take place. Take away freedom and order will be overthrown -- witness the Soviet Union. Take away tradition, and modernization will be crushed -- witness Iran. The clearing must be respected and it must move. Just as Benjamin Cardozo of the U.S. Supreme Court said 65 years ago, the genius of the American system is its penchant for ordered liberty. When both halves of the equation work against each other and together in Hegelian terms, the clearing that they produce is, at any given time, a prevailing hypothesis, which is challenged by a new antithesis. Together they can produce a fresh synthesis. And all that is very familiar. What is new and trying is the sweep and pace of innovation today, plus -- and this is what we sometimes forget -- the political volatility of the value systems that this can induce. If you doubt that, consider the Buchanan campaign and what's been going on with the Endowment for the Arts and public broadcasting. These are signs of people running scared, and they can cause damage.
So the answer for the 21st century is to proceed under power, but with restraint, to practice what Mitch Kapor in another connection called toleration for opposing forces and perspectives. We need each other to keep the enterprise together and on course. For computer practitioners represented in this room, this means restraint from provoking unnecessary and damaging social backlash. A good example might be New York telcos offering free per-call and per-line blocking with this caller identification service. For regulators and law enforcers, restraint means asking, "Do you know enough to freeze emerging conduct in a particular form or pattern?" I was very taken by the role reversal exercise organized by Michael Gibbons on Wednesday night. It led me to wonder what might have happened to the government's wiretapping and encryption proposals had they been subjected to a comparable advanced exercise before introduction.
Sixteen years ago in Aspen, Colorado, I convened a gathering of federal policymakers and invited them to consider a suggested matrix of policy values and processes in the information society. The first two of those values -- it will not surprise you to know -- were freedom of discourse and individual privacy. But there were more: freedom of economic choice is one; the general welfare another; popular sovereignty, worth pausing on, I described as avoiding concentrations of economic and political power in any sector of industry or government that impinge unduly on the freedoms or welfare of the citizenry. And then there is progress, social progress, the fostering, I said, of market incentives and opportunities for technological and service innovations and for widened consumer choice among technologies and services. Now obviously if you give just a moment's thought to it, you will recognize, as I think we have in this conference, that these values can collide with each other at key points, and therefore accommodations must be made. For that we need processes of accommodation. I also suggested some of those. After you identify the relevant values and goals, you then should ask yourself about the necessity and the appropriateness of having government make any decision on the matter. And this has to do with such things like the adequacy of decision-making standards, the availability of adequate information, and the adequacy of personnel resources to deal with it. Then you get into dividing up the possible roles of the various elements of government -- the regulatory agencies, the Executive Branch, the Judiciary, and the Congress. It doesn't stop there, because you need to ask about international implications, which we have done some of here. And federal/state implications -- very often allowing the state to make a stab at social ordering in the first instance is, as Justice Brandeis often said, the best way, through the social laboratory technique, to try out what is the right answer, without endangering the whole society. And as we have heard today, we need also to think about the availability of non-coercive instruments of accommodation, like a federal data protection board.
Now each of you must apply these observations to particular causes and processes with which you are identified. Ask yourselves how you can maximize their prospects by modulating your voices. Perhaps together we can explore some specifics in the discussion period. (applause)
DYSON: I want to just say one thing about this business of crypto technology -- it is a very simple sentence, and everyone seems to slip slightly by it; that is, if you outlaw guns, only outlaws will have guns. Crypto technology is fundamentally a defensive weapon. It may protect murderers and thieves, but it is not a weapon that murders, kills, does anything bad; and so it is a very different kettle of fish from any other kind of weapon. The whole point is that information is powerful, and that the free flow of information, privacy-protected, empowers the powerless and is dangerous to the powerful -- and that's why we need our privacy protected.
Now let me just talk a wee bit about the future. A couple of days ago, a reporter called me and asked what the EFF stood for. I kind of floundered around and said, "Well, we want privacy, we want good hackers to be protected and bad crackers to be punished. We want people to understand the difference, and we want all these good things, but we really don't want to grab power." The guy kept on not quite getting it. The real answers were pro choice. We don't want someone else to make all these decisions for anybody. We don't even want the majority to rule. In every way that is possible, we want the minorities to control their own conditions in their own lives. There are very few things that are the province of government, but way too many things nowadays are being given to the government carelessly, fearfully, whatever. In my terms -- and I happen to be a right-wing person in terms of the economy and private freedoms -- I want more markets and fewer governments. Markets give choices to individuals. They let people trade what they don't want for what they do want. Again, to the extent possible, they want people to make individual choices.
What worries me is large concentrations of power, making choices for people. Big business, big government, even big media. The media until now have mostly been our protectors, because they go out and produce information, they use anonymous sources where necessary, and they make that information free. What protected global networking is going to do is give more and more of that power to individuals, and help reduce the power of big institutions of any kind. We are going to have small businesses flourishing, because it is easier for them to collect resources. You don't need to have a giant monolithic corporation to be efficient any more, and so a lot of marketplace economies of scale will even disappear, as we have better networking, better coordination. We have markets like the American Information Exchange, and if you don't know what that is, come and see me, or Hugh Daniel, or a couple of other people.
On the social side, I think 20 years ago... when you mentioned 15 years ago, I thought, Yes, that must have been about 1940. Then I realized... Anyway, some time ago there was all this talk about the global village. We're going to have mass broadcasting, we're going to have mass E-mail, we're going to have this global village. We don't. What we have is a lot of global villages, but as Mitch said, they're no longer geographical, physical villages. They're small, geographical villages of people with like interests. The big question becomes, How do we avert tribalism? It might not be nation against nation any more, but it certainly will be rich against poor, and franchised versus disenfranchised.
There is a fourth person that Bruce Sterling didn't mention and I would have liked to have seen up there, and that is probably a mother with three kids. Someone would have had to pay her a lot of money to come to this thing, because she's not interested at all. She's not interested in the networks. Her kids are doing fine -- she makes them watch TV so they don't bother her. Her idea of liberty is not having to pay attention to all this stuff -- this stuff about technology, this stuff about government. She doesn't really want to vote, she just wants to be left alone to live her life in peace. Now is she a social misfit that we ought to educate? Is she the person whose liberty we try to protect? I don't really know, but we do have to recognize that we, too, are a minority. I don't know what the implications of that are, but this is a very special different group from the rest of the world. Maybe they don't want to be educated. Maybe we've got to protect their freedom anyway, but we have to be careful about how we go about doing it, and remember that we are an elite. (applause)
LIASSON: Thank you all very much. Now we can all try to stir up the pot a little bit. Somewhere between Mitch's paradise and the Simon's apocalypse is probably what's really going to happen. I want to just jump off from what Esther said about you all being in a minority and what kind of responsibility you owe to the rest of the world. We're in the midst of a presidential election and not one single candidate has said anything about Cyberspace. I am wondering if you think they should, and what are the kinds of extremely important issues that you think should be discussed? Should they be discussed in a kind of mass, political forum? Or should they be left to an elite like you to discuss and decide, and not really spend a whole lot of energy trying to translate or disseminate them to the great masses of people? I guess what I am wondering is, if you were an advisor to one of the presidential candidates, or a candidate yourself, how would you go about interjecting these things? Or wouldn't you bother at all?
DYSON: Does he want to get elected, or does he want to make a point?
LIASSON: I think he wants to make a point. If he wants to get elected, I think the discussion would stop right now.
DYSON: We need to figure out a way to buy votes anonymously. (laughter)
HOMET: It would be dangerous for politics as practiced on our stumps these days to get into the delicate balances that we have been discussing here. Chances are that the heavy foot would step into the wrong part of the plan and do a lot of damage. But I would very much like to see the candidates address the values that are at stake in the choices that we have before us. I suggested with no affect whatever, one or two elections ago, that a presidential candidate should champion the right to be different, and even the right to be wrong. It didn't seem to get picked up very much. (laughter)
DYSON: Let me just try a serious answer. I think what a candidate could say is, "I'm no longer going to protect the textile industry, the peanut butter interests, the sugar guys, the antediluvian steel mills. If I'm going to have an industrial policy and help anyone, it's going to be new technology. I'm going to focus on investment in R&D. I am going to create a national infrastructure for telecommunications, just the way we created a highway system years ago. I'm going to put people to work doing these things." I think that would go over reasonably well. I think it's something most of us would agree on. (laughter) We have an industrial policy -- we might as well acknowledge it, and we might as well have it be forward-looking.
KAPOR: Now there is something about the question as to whether this is presidential material that I think is ironic, given that most people really want to vote for "none of the above." We know in our hearts that we have come to a particular period in history in which the presidential spectacle seems to be particularly irrelevant to whatever set of problems we have on our minds. As a great believer in democracy, I think this is incredibly lamentable. We need to do something about this, because there are a lot of issues, but Cyberspace is not ready for prime time. It would be trivialized -- I have seen what Geraldo did to hackers, and I don't need to see any more.
It seems to me that the presidential candidates are really not the leaders that they ought to be, but are always putting their finger to the wind to see if they can detect some current of values or beliefs that can help get them elected. And I think that -- I'm not espousing utopian vision -- there needs to be an utopian vision out there, so people have something to give them some inspiration. But values are a lot more important than technology. There are some values in this community -- and I'm not sure if it's an elite or a minority or both -- but it's really in the propagation of a sense of values about openness and tolerance, acting on that basis and living one's life, and saving capitalism from itself and things like that where we can make a difference. If some of the expressions are technological, that's fine. We are living in an era where people like buttons, and so on. If we do that well, the presidential candidates are going to be coming to us.
LIASSON: You talk about Cyberspace not being ready for prime time -- I still want a definition of Cyberspace in 25 words or less -- but I think you want to transform prime time to a certain extent.
KAPOR: I think prime time is an artifact of the late industrial era which is horrible and ugly and wants to die. (applause) That's a personal opinion. Cyberspace, as I have learned from John Barlow, who is really the philosopher of Cyberspace -- is the place where two people are when they are talking on the telephone. It's the place your money is right now, besides what you have in your back pocket or purse. It strikes me that in an era in which you could make a technological argument based on bandwidth scarcity -- that we can only have a few television channels -- that the result of least common denominator programming was inevitable. Technologically, we don't have to have that. We can now have 1,000 channels, or 10,000 channels. Very readily, practically. This is not utopia -- this is something we could do within the next decade if we wanted to. And the big question is, What are we going to put on those ten thousand channels? (laughter) In Queens, Time Warner has figured out that the best use for their 300-channel cable system is to start pay-per-view movies every 15 minutes. So you can get "Robocop 2" the instant you want it. (laughter)
I think there is another vision of more diversity, more pluralism -- one in which we are not simply consumers, but we are producers, in which every person's freedom of the press applies to production. Desktop video means that everyone can be a producer of their own material, and I think that's terrific. I think that we need to wrest the control of the means of production of information away from corporate elite and let everybody who wants to have the chance to get up on their virtual soap box. It would mean the death of prime time, and I say, the sooner, the better! (applause)
DYSON: Mostly I agree with this, but the press does have two roles: one is collecting information and uncovering things, and the other is setting the agenda. If 12,000 voices are crying out, who's going to listen to them? Who's going to notice when they do discover that the President did something wrong? Again, it's a check and balance sort of thing, but there is a certain community that is created by collective media.
KAPOR: Esther, what makes you believe that in Cyberspace Mara won't have two hours a day of her own that everyone listens to. (laughter) She might get more time than she gets today, because people trust her.
LIASSON: I'm voting for him. (laughter)
DYSON: But then she becomes prime time.
LIASSON: But you said before that instead of one global village, we have a lot of little global villages. I'm wondering if instead, we won't have millions of little huts. I mean individual huts. There are just so many different choices.
KAPOR: You mean sort of a virtual "Wayne's World?" (laughter)
LIASSON: What I'm wondering is, if everybody becomes their own producer, publisher, what does that mean for the future?
KAPOR: I think we'll get a much more fluid, self-organizing state. I don't think in practice everybody is going to be what we think of today as a broadcast publisher. I just want things to be able to sort themselves out in a much more equitable fashion. We have this enormous, artificial scarcity today over the means of communication, because the government awards licenses which self-perpetuate. They are about to do the same thing, and give every broadcast television station another license for HDTV. So if you've got a license today, you get a second one; if you don't have one, you get nothing. That is going to be our policy about HDTV. I think it would be a lot better if we had more markets, more choices, and better values. I don't know how to do better values, but we know how to do more choices. So the point is, we'll wind up with some new regime which I don't think that we can particularly predict. I don't think that it is going to be chaotic or anarchic. I think there is something about people as social animals or creatures -- we will create some new forms of social organization. There will be information middlemen; there will be the equivalent of editors and packagers. There will be trusted intermediaries who help organize these new media. If you open it up and equalize things so that everybody can participate, you will get more diversity of points of view, you will get less homogenization. One of the reasons that tons of people have just dropped out, or are in terminal couch-potato-dom is that the sets of choices and the values that come across the tube are not ones that stir the human heart. And people know that. They can't figure out what to do about that, so they sort of fuzz out on drugs and alcohol. I say let's edit TV, which is the electronic drug. Let's do something about that.
DAVIES: I like your idea, Mitch. I think it's sweet. (laughter) The problem is that I really worry that the ultimate test of the future is going to be the outcome of the quest, the battle between those who are looking for the sort of vision you've got of the right of the individual, the individual being the producer. And that, probably, is the way we solve our problems on this planet. But there is the other side, and that's the planetary managers. Planetary management is the path of the least resistance. You know all the powermongers go for the planetary management model, because they all think they can clamber over the bodies to get to the top. Ultimately the test is going to be who comes out on the top, the individual rightist or the planetary managers. Unfortunately, I'm not a betting man, but at the moment I'd like to bet on the planetary managers.
DYSON: Part of this issue is reducing the value of incumbency, whether it's incumbency in prime time live, or incumbency in the government. There is much more fluidity of movement; you can't accumulate power because the unorganized forces have more power than you do.
P. DENNING: I feel a little strange being on the left end of the stage, because most people think of me as being on the far right sometimes, but right now I'd like to comment on something that is halfway between what Mitch is saying, and what Simon is saying. The way I hear what Simon is saying, is that there is a disease of today which I will call inward- centeredness. We are very worried about ourselves and our organizations. We find in that orientation a lot of instability of things and technologies that change rapidly. In order to achieve the world that Mitch is talking about, we need to cure the disease, and instead come from an orientation that we could call outward-centeredness, instead of inward-centeredness. The question is the shift from, How do we accumulate power? to, How do we help others accumulate power? How do we go from looking for stability in things to looking for stability in relationships? In watching my own children grow up, I am convinced that they know more about this than I do. In listening to some of the younger people here, I'm more convinced that they know more about this than I do. They know something about the outward-centeredness that I have yet to learn. Observing this among children and among students gives me a lot of optimism, as a matter of fact, against the apocalypse that Simon talks about, because Simon is talking about the world that would be created if we continued "us," and I think that the world that is being created by our children with their outward-centeredness is going to be the kind of world that Mitch is pointing towards. And I am much more optimistic about that than Simon is.
LIASSON: Roland, I wonder if we can interject you into this discussion a little bit. You have been a policymaker. What can be done to make sure that Simon's vision doesn't come true, and something a little closer to what Esther and Mitch describe does happen?
HOMET: I think we probably need both doom seers and paradise seekers. We'll always have them, and we should have them. It's between the swing of those two views that things happen. I think that this notion of replacing the gatekeepers and letting everybody perform his own dance, to the amusement of those who chose to tune in, is one that many of us were promoting 20 years ago. That's not 1940 -- that's 1970 (laughter), and we were quite convinced that was likely to happen by the end of that decade. Now it's 12 years beyond the end of that decade, and we're nowhere near having that happening. We just have newly-named controversies, and so, as you heard me say in my little short remark, I think that our objective ought to be more modest, and that is to keep the questions open, not let them be foreclosed -- certainly not prematurely, and not on the basis of inadequate evidence. I would say something about the apocalyptic view, which is, I think there is a difference between information policy questions and welfare questions. The poor we have always with us, as somebody once said, and whether information, Cyberspace -- whatever you want to call it -- is promoted or not, that is true. It may become more glaringly true in an advanced information society, in which case, more may be done about it. So I wouldn't despair about that, and I wouldn't hold back on the development of instruments of interconnection simply because we can see that there is and will remain an underclass. Perhaps if we do the one, we'll be better equipped to do the other.
LIASSON: In just a minute or two, we're going to open this up to your questions, but I want to try to end maybe with a discussion of something quite specific, which is, Who should own the new infrastructure and information systems? Should they be publicly owned? There are lots of conflicts even within the vision that you lay out.
KAPOR: The first point I'd make is let's not make the unnecessary mistake of betting on a single infrastructure. Technologically, we don't need to do that. In the 1930s, pre-digital, the old Bell system was the social contract. You get a monopoly, you have an obligation to provide universal service. We've learned a few things about how to do things with interoperable standards and how to interconnect multiple, independent providers and carriers. One of the fathers of the Internet, Vint Cerf, is sitting here in the front row, and he deserves an enormous amount of credit for insisting on this vision and promulgating it. A lot of the risks that come with private ownership of infrastructure go away when it's no longer a monopoly. The abusive problems that are sometimes experienced with local phone service and cable companies -- both of which are private sector monopolies -- I would say come more from not their private sector character, but from their monopoly character. If it is possible for there to be competition, that serves as the most effective check that we know of in this society against abuse. So I would opt for private infrastructure, but lots of it. Government has to make sure that everybody stays interconnected -- it's the referee that keeps the playing field level, doesn't let people cheat, and sort of bangs a few heads together when people get a little too greedy, or a little too selfish. If we do that, that will provide for the most choice and the most diversity.
LIASSON: Are we all in agreement on that?
HOMET: Not entirely. I think the question is less who should own infrastructure than how it should be classified. There may be a role for government in, for example, extending communication pipes to rural America for at least a period, as with the TVA. We have always had that question. There has always been a mixed economy with government doing some things and private sector others. It's a debate and should be a debate about who does what best. It should be revised from time to time, but the important question is, If we get a significant distribution system like cable television, how should we classify it? I speak here from the heart, because 20 years ago, I was trying to fasten onto, or gain the recognition for, cable as a broadband distribution system which was only trivially in the program production and publishing business, but was very much in the distribution business and ought to have been treated as a common carrier open to all information suppliers. Had that happened, we would have been very much further along in the vision that some of us had 20 years ago. (applause) It tends to support what I said about not going in for premature freezing or characterization of how things look. It was decided, because the broadcasters felt threatened, to treat cable as a species of broadcasting. That's the greatest frittering away of resources in my lifetime, and perhaps in the lifetime of the United States of America. Let's not make that mistake again. Let's be clear-eyed and ask the broad-scale questions about public use and benefit. Thank you.
LIASSON: Let's open it up to the audience. If you have any questions ... oh my God, wrestle your way to the microphone!
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Let us not forget the history of the commons in which a wealthy society creates in its overflowing abundance structures on which all people can participate. This was originally, back in medieval society, the structure that was created for the support of the poor. In the abundance of the land in which the overpopulation was not a question, and there was much agriculture to go around, and the poor were supported out of the commonly-owned things that were jointly owned by all society. That's all I have to say.
JOHN GERMAN: John German from Non-Profit Computing. I think if nothing else has been accomplished in the last three days, I can feel a marvelous sense of community having developed right here, and I'd like to include that in a challenge to the panel as a kind of social experiment, as I believe was alluded to by Justice Cardozo. I think that we have here a safe setting to do it, and I'd like to try it. Now the challenge would be the ringing call challenge -- and that is that you have suddenly and magically been invested with the power to issue a ringing call. Now your ringing call will induce in all the hearers here the behavior that you want them to have. They have many settings in which they are active outside this community. I can think of three; you may feel free to add more: (1) As individuals; (2) As employees, or some other substitute for that, business owners, or whatever; (3) As someone said -- if you know a person, look to what that person does when she or he is not getting paid, and include the voluntary sector -- that is what people do when they are not getting paid, their nonprofit volunteer lives, which I have a great interest in. The challenge is the ringing call. You now have the power to issue a ringing call -- what do you want each of the people in this room to do in each of those areas when he or she leaves here? Those areas again are: as individuals, as employees, as members of whatever nonprofit associations, or whatever groups they're in, whether user groups, professional, society, PTAs, and then, (4) in this community itself. Thank you. (applause)
LIASSON: Who wants to start?
DAVIES: Sticking to my apocalyptic vision just for the moment, because that's how I'm characterized, what I would like to see, just as my own social experiment, if you like, is for the various groups that this room represents and groups that you are all involved in, is to actually set up the apocalyptic vision, and then see how you as part of the information technology community can utilize it, stop it, or reverse it. It's only when you see the vision and see your own part in it that we are actually going to set up solutions. I mean, that is a straight, outright homework assignment, and I think would be a great benefit for everybody. Then go on and publish them through the E-mail, or the Internet, whatever.
DYSON: Something along the lines of go find the most influential person you know well enough to influence, who you do not agree with -- assuming that you all agree with me, of course -- and attempt to win that person over to your point of view. In other words, don't stick to your own community. Don't just talk to the people who only agree with you. Go out and evangelize or proselytize to people who don't understand what this stuff is about. Do it in such a way that you are not superior or offputting; don't try to be right; try to win and expand this community, not in terms of pressure or rightness, but in terms of understanding what we are about. The biggest problem is ganging up on some of these politicians and having them think that this stuff is not cute, or weird, or colorful, or irrelevant, but incredibly important. Make the rest of the world know about us.
KAPOR: Ringing call. Well, it is incredibly unfashionable for me to say what I am going to say, coming from a person who was brought up as a secular humanist, an elitist intellectual and now as a recovering liberal (laughter), but it has nothing to do with technology. The only way of avoiding the apocalyptic scenario is if individuals make their own internal, irrevocable commitment of a spiritual nature towards integrity, self-scrutiny, and a traditional set of values that have characterized the great philosophical traditions that underlie all the religions of world culture. I've never said anything like this in public, but if we don't do something like that, all this technical stuff doesn't mean a thing. My call is for people to look within themselves for something like that. (applause)
HOMET: I would like to second that motion. The story is told that when a beautiful woman comes out on a street in Paris, every man within eyeshot becomes in that instant much more intensively himself. (laughter) What I would suggest to you, if you are energized by this subject, is to be yourself. To thine own self be true, and perhaps to add to that the biblical admonition to the apostles -- if I remember it correctly -- and this picks up what Esther was saying -- to be wise as snakes, and cunning as foxes. Go out there to persuade.
P. DENNING: I'd like to add to that. It is not only within yourself that you have to look, it's within others. Don't assume that you know the answers, but go talk to people. Don't just talk to us, because we already know what "us" has to say, but go to talk to people that we haven't talked to and find out what concerns them.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Hi, my name is Lou Woleneck. I'm from the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas. I'm a graduate student. I have a question, a general policy question, about how we should go about providing the information resources to the have-nots that the information elites have access to now. What sort of strategy that you all would have for that?
KAPOR: A 30-second or less answer, which is to set a national policy that updates a universal service for the 21st century that says everybody needs to have basic minimal access to a digital platform that reaches into every home, into every office and school in the country. We should focus our attention on how to put in place the least expensive amount of infrastructure that will produce that. What we find is, if we do that, then the overwhelming majority of American families will find it already within their budget to be able to do that, because it will be priced like basic phone service. To the extent that we need to continue or even slightly expand the kinds of lifeline programs that subsidize today's basic voice telephone service for a small percentage of the population, we should be prepared to renew that commitment. We don't need to bankrupt ourselves to give everybody access to a digital platform.
JIM WARREN: My name is Jim Warren. Two quick observations: there were several cynical comments during the last several days about a number of IRS people being here. It turns out, because they never had a platform to say this, that the whole crowd from the IRS who are here, as I understand it, are from the IRS privacy project, intent on developing policies to assure privacy protection for taxpayer information. So let us not be so cynical about their being here; otherwise, remember that they are simply doing what they are told to do by our representatives. (laughter and hisses) I was also bothered by both Simon's, and (my God!) Esther's comments on those evil little men, and the men in politics, etc. Gee, this is a modern age, let's say "men and women," for evil deeds, as well as good deeds.
DYSON: There aren't enough women in politics for there to be any evil ones.
WARREN: Well, I am sure that I can find some evil ones for you. (laughter) Anyway, to the main points: I would say that we are not so much elite, in that we are open to anyone who takes the initiative to join us, and many of us are active mentors in trying to get others to join us. I would say simply that we are a minority, and it occurs to me that revolution has always been a minority activity. It was not millions of Russians who opposed the attempted coup several months ago. It was ten, twenty, or thirty thousand in Moscow, with the aid of communications. It was not a massive movement, a populist movement, in America that resisted the Crown, two centuries ago. It was a small minority of activists and we are the activists here -- we are the revolutionaries. Freedom has always been a do-it-yourself activity, but the key syllable in that word activity is act. Let us reaffirm freedom of speech, press, assembly, security against undue search and seizure -- the basic constitutional freedoms and privileges. Let us demand that our politicians and our political candidates do the same in explicit formal commitments to act in behalf of protecting electronic civil liberties, just as they validate and speak favorably for traditional civil liberties. We can write our politicians, write our candidates and say, "Take a position in favor of civil liberties, regardless of the technology of the moment." Thank you.
GLENN TENNEY: Thank you for the introduction, Jim.
LIASSON: Are you from the IRS?
TENNEY: No. (laughter) My name is Glenn Tenney, and I have a question for you, Mara. I think that I have enough supporters on the panel. I'm not too curious about their views, but they are welcome to them. You questioned if the presidential election and race is ready for Cyberspace. What about Congress? I'm running for Congress -- is it ready for me?
LIASSON: I don't know enough about you to answer that question. (laughter)
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Ms. Liasson, I believe that you have opened a can of worms called politics for this little hacker community. You certainly have with me in your comment about asking for comments for the Cyberspace era from presidential candidates. I have very strong reactions to that. I think that I am going to try to express them, as a pure statement, or maybe an actual story. Several years ago, I was discussing with a friend of mine the current presidential, the then-current presidential election. He was asking me why I wasn't rabidly supporting Jesse Jackson. I thought about it, and my first response was, "Well, let's talk about the other candidates for a second. What about -- and I'll take a random name -- Michael Dukakis?" And my friend looked at me and said, "Michael Dukakis, he's just an administrator, he's not a visionary." I thought about it, and I said, "Hold on, I'm an American, I'm not someone who's a slave of the Queen of England, or something like that. I'm my own visionary, I decide where I am going." I don't want the politicians walking around telling me that I am going to have an expressway system that's going to pave over all my favorite swamps to play in. I don't want the politicians walking around defining what I'm going to do in my life. I want to elect politicians to manage government for me, to provide the barest minimum necessities to keep us smoothly greased as individuals in living together, and I want those politicians to be of the people, and I don't want them to tell me what my opinions should be. Finally, I want to cap that off with when we have government deciding how our systems work for us, we can then end up with situations where we can say, "Oh yeah, that IRS guy or that government net guy, he was just doing his job when he banned cryptography," or something like that. That's not the sort of world that I want to live in. I want to live in a world, where each of us defines our little space in it. Thank you all.
LIASSON: I think we have time for just two more and then we'll have to wrap it up.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Hi, to the apocalypse types. I'd like to say just one thing that somebody said: The truth will make you free. In that this technology is a vehicle of communication, I believe that it is a vehicle of the truth, and as long as we keep it free, the truth will be heard that much more. Now I have kind of a question with a bit of a statement. I am a learning-disabled college student. I didn't ever finish high school. I had a freshmen education in high school, because of educational problems, and adjustment problems, I never really got too far beyond that. I write probably a fifth of the speed of anyone in this room and I have a real hard time doing math without a calculator. That's part of the reason why I wasn't able to do well in school. I read very well, fortunately, so I was able to go in when I was eighteen and take my GED just flat out without studying for it. I'm not dumb, or uneducated by any standards, but what has allowed me to get an associate's degree in college, and what has allowed me to approach graduation and get a bachelor's degree in college is the kind of technology that we are dealing with. I have never had easy access to that technology. The barriers that I have faced have been ones of order, regimentation, and where people try and say, "Oh well, you don't fit in, you're not a CS student, you don't need those resources." I'm good with computers, I do a lot with them, I spend a lot of time with them. I hack, I don't do anything illegal, but I took a hacksaw to the frame of my nasty little 8088 about two years ago to cram some RAM into it, because that was the only way I could get it to fit and I needed it. Now I'm in a little bit better shape. I'm approaching the point where I would like to see ISDN real soon, because I need that kind of connectivity. You know, I'm doing interesting things that I find absolutely wonderful, but the idea that the kind of technology that is available to us, that is just there for the using, could be limited and unavailable to people, or that people would have to go through some of the things that I have had to go through, not being able to do well on tests, because I had no word processor available to me. That type of thing, even though they are all over the place, elsewhere. It was just that that wasn't an acceptable solution. That type of policy planning, that type of government, that type of order scares me. And I have to ask, what is your answer to that?
DAVIES: The apocalyptic vision of a world in grief and individual rights in crisis has nothing to do with a Luddite mentality, and it would be very dangerous for the people in this room to link the two together. I, for one, believe in technology. I am very grateful for it, and I think the world is a better place for it. I have great faith in the future, but technology's not a silver lining for the future. It's not an El Dorado, it's more like plutonium. The very great thing that technology does for all of us can also be used by the people who would repress our freedoms and all I am saying is be aware of that. Let's not marginalize people like me, who are saying, Hey look, we are going to have 15 billion people on the planet. We are going to have a political inversion, you know, that is going to create massive tensions that are going to repress our rights, or at least create a tension that we have never known before. Don't marginalize me -- don't shoot the messenger. I believe in technology, so please don't equate the apocalypse with Ludditism -- the two do not match.
LIASSON: We're about out of time. I'm going to turn this over to Lance.
HOFFMAN: Thank you, Mara. I'm really unhappy that we are out of time, but I feel that we have a contract to those who want to leave in a moment or two. Those who want to stay, can stay up here, are welcome to continue, until the hotel throws us out. Since Lu Kleppinger is in the room at the moment, I don't know when that will be, but we can probably have it for a little while. I just want to make a couple of comments before I formally close this meeting.
We have seen an awful lot happen in these last three days and there has been building, and indeed we will be continuing to some extent the work that Jim Warren started at CFP-1 -- a sense of community. It has been increased by the participation of various diverse groups. My one hope is that you do not stop that here. When each and every one of you goes home, contact -- I don't care whether it's by letter, or electronic mail, or even telephone, if you must -- three people that you have met here that you didn't know, or didn't know very well before, or perhaps only knew electronically, and now you know them in person, and continue talking with them and to their friends and colleagues. If you do that, this will be a success.
The other comment that I want to make is that Bruce Koball is going to need a lot of help for CFP-3. Please talk to him -- he is listed in the roster. Or better yet, don't do that, talk to him here, and then give him a month to chill out in Berkeley before he has to start working real hard. Check the message board, there are some messages that have not been picked up. You have your evaluation forms. If you haven't filled them out and you would like to, please do and turn them in. I have nothing else, except to thank you all for being such a good group and, hopefully, we'll see you next year in California. Thank you very much.
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