OII SDP 2007 (II): The View From 50,000 Feet: The Future of the Net

Lead: Jonathan Zittrain

The Internet of tomorrow will not much resemble the Internet of today. What are the changes sweeping over the Net, and who stands to gain and lose by them?

The big change the personal computer brought in — compared to big mainframes — was that one solution — the PC — fitted many problems/questions. It was a multipurpose machine that let the customer use it for whatever he could imagine (or almost). And software was the tool to be used to accomplish any purpose.

The “Hourglass” architecture follows a similar purpose: let’s get anyone connected, but let anyone get connected the way the want and exchange whatever they want. Just some standards are of consensus to make thinks work. Reference: The Internet’s Coming of Age (2001).

With the “hourglass” architecture, one layer can develop and know anything about any other layer (provided you respect the standards that make layers communicate one to each other). Same happens with Internet Science… or not. It depends on what you’re planning to accomplish. Nevertheless, it is clear that you have to have a general awareness on how the other layers work to get deep into your personal research field/layer.

Generativity: third parties can contribute and second parties can benefit from the improvements. i.e. one plugin for WordPress

You get generativity on the four layers:

  • social: i.e. CouchSurfing
  • content: i.e. Wikipedia
  • logical
  • physical

Limits, Lockdown

  • Captcha: a generative solution to a generative problem… which can be tricked by means of generativity.
  • Certificates
  • Web code is highly generative, thus easy to hack to do whatever evil

Is this (these threats) the end of the generative computer? of the actual systems design? are tethered appliances/devices the future/present (and the death of generativity)?

My reflections

While most of these threats to generativity might be true, isn’t the pendulum of “threats” getting overridden by:

  • Free software and the way it’s changed politics?
  • Open access and the way it’s changing science and knowledge building?
  • The changes that Law (Intellectual Property, Privacy, etc.) is suffering (and will be) in the most recent years?

Jonathan’s just answered Rachel Cobcroft‘s question and, indirectly, commented my reflections: it is not an apocalypse he’s depicting — the end of generativity — but a warning: if we focus too much in our layer, we could have the freest Internet ever but the end point can be caught under control for lack of our “surveillance”, because we just forgot. And most important (as an answer to Chintan Vaishnav), the question is if generativity will become a thing for geeks, or it is supposed to remain for everyone.


Zittrain, J. (2007). The Future of the Internet – and How to Stop It (Chapter 6). [forthcoming]. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Benkler, Y. (2006). The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom (Chapter 3). New Haven: Yale University Press.
Zittrain, J. (2006). “The Generative Internet”. In Harvard Law Review, May 2006, 119(7), 1974-2040. Cambridge: Harvard University. Retrieved July 16, 2007 from http://www.harvardlawreview.org/issues/119/may06/zittrain.shtml [extra reading]

More info

SDP 2007 related posts (2007)

If you need to cite this article in a formal way (i.e. for bibliographical purposes) I dare suggest:

Peña-López, I. (2007) “OII SDP 2007 (II): The View From 50,000 Feet: The Future of the Net” In ICTlogy, #46, July 2007. Barcelona: ICTlogy.
Retrieved month dd, yyyy from http://ictlogy.net/review/?p=567

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