This talk is co-sponsored with the Woodrow Wilson School and LAPA.
The original Internet design combined technical, organizational, and cultural characteristics that decentralized power along diverse dimensions. Decentralized institutional, technical, and market power maximized freedom to operate and innovate at the expense of control. Market developments and the politics of security have introduced new points of control. Mobile and cloud computing, connected devices, fiber transition, big data, surveillance, and behavioral marketing introduce new control points and dimensions of power into the Internet as a social-cultural-economic platform. These all have affordances that could centralize or decentralize various kinds of power; and which of these affordances will be salient for life in networked society is up for grabs. The actors and battles are different than they were in the first decade and a half of the public Internet, and unlike in the Internet’s first generation, companies and governments are well aware of the significance of technical and institutional design choices and are jostling to acquire power over, and appropriate value from, networked activity. If we are to preserve the democratic and creative promise of the Internet, we must continuously diagnose control points as they emerge and devise mechanisms of recreating diversity of constraint and degrees of freedom in the network to work around these forms of reconcentrated power.
Yochai Benkler is the Berkman Professor of Entrepreneurial Legal Studies at Harvard Law School, and faculty co-director of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University. Since the 1990s he has played a role in characterizing the role of information commons and decentralized collaboration to innovation, information production, and freedom in the networked economy and society. His books include The Wealth of Networks: How social production transforms markets and freedom (Yale University Press 2006), which won academic awards from the American Political Science Association, the American Sociological Association, and the McGannon award for social and ethical relevance in communications. In 2012 he received a lifetime achievement award from Oxford University in recognition of his extraordinary contribution to the study and public understanding of the Internet and information goods. His work is socially engaged, winning him the Ford Foundation Visionaries Award in 2011, the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Pioneer Award for 2007, and the Public Knowledge IP3 Award in 2006. It is also anchored in the realities of markets, cited as “perhaps the best work yet about the fast moving, enthusiast-driven Internet” by the Financial Times and named best business book about the future in 2006 by Strategy and Business. Benkler has advised governments and international organizations on innovation policy and telecommunications, and serves on the boards or advisory boards of several nonprofits engaged in working towards an open society. His work can be freely accessed at http://www.benkler.org.