Introduction The Centre for Science and Policy (CSaP) in collaboration with the Cambridge Computer Laboratory, organised a Policy Workshop in support of the European Commission’s (EC) Next Generation Internet (NGI) initiative.
This report has been prepared by Makoto Takahashi, CSaP Policy Intern, and captures the views and ideas generated by the participants during the workshop.
Jackie Ouchikh (Head of Programmes)
Makoto Takahashi (Policy Intern)
Steven Wooding (Lead for Research & Analysis)
Background and purpose The EC’s NGI initiative, to be launched in 2018, will address both the technological and policy aspects of the future of the internet, in order to make it more "open" and "human". Preparation for this initiative is now underway, with an open online consultation and a series of workshops taking place across the EU. The range of issues to be explored is diverse, ranging from cybersecurity, artificial intelligence and the ‘Internet of Things’ to new decentralised approaches for data governance.
The purpose of the workshop was not to redesign the TCP/IP protocol. It was to brainstorm novel ideas and to have an open and multidisciplinary discussion of the approach the EC are taking in preparing for the launch. Topics for discussion included:
the process (open consultations, engagement between policy and research)
the type of topics (technology- / socially-driven)
The EC reflected that the workshop delivered on high expectations, providing a broad, complex and ambitious discussion over the course of the two days
As it works toward its vision of a human-centred internet, the EC will continue to engage with workshop participants; offering them a concrete opportunity to influence European policy
The EC would particularly welcome inputs such as papers or reports related to NGI, as well as blog posts or video messages for their webpage: https://ec.europa.eu/futurium/en/next-generation-internet.
The EC also stressed its willingness to collaborate with participants in delivering further workshops, which are a key component of the effort to build an NGI ‘movement’
Day 1 The NGI workshop was hosted at Wolfson College, Cambridge over the course of two days. The session on 1 March took the form of a roundtable discussion, which aimed to identify key issues for more concentrated deliberation on 2 March. As the debate developed, key themes and comments were recorded using post-its and arranged on the floor to form a mind map; images of which are available in appendix (see: Appendix I – X).
Programme 16:15 Welcome (Rob Doubleday)
16:20 Introduction and background (Jesus Villasante)
16:30 Workshop outline (Steven Wooding)
16:45 What are the key issues for the NGI over the next 2 – 10 years?
Each attendee to contribute 1-2 suggestions
Suggestions are recorded and added to a mind map of key issues
NGI aims to build a “human-centred internet” by shaping how new technologies (e.g. AI, Internet of things) are implemented in order to deliver tangible benefits to society.
To deliver on this vision, the EC seeks to attract and collaborate with bright early-career researchers and tech start-ups, who are at the cutting edge of digital technology.
Some participants questioned the utility of the term “next generation internet”, noting that it could be understood to suggest a shift from TCP/IP to new protocols.
We were informed that the TCP/IP protocols designed by Cerf in 1973 – 1974 were based on two principles: (i) no one would own the network; (ii) network would be agnostic about content. These principles are understood to have established a “platform for permissive innovation”.
It was asked if the NGI should affirm the internet’s founding principles or establish new ones; prompting a lively discussion about “European values”.
Not all participants saw the value of discussing TCP/IP’s founding principles. The architecture of the internet may be permissive, but as many sites (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.) and laws are not, our experience of the internet does not embody these values, it was argued.
It was concluded that it may be more meaningful to discuss how the EC could shape “digital society” rather than the “internet” itself. This language could help emphasise the human-centred nature of NGI, including the need to invest in education and skills.
Concentration of data and power
Participants criticised the idea that the internet is inherently libertarian and disruptive, offering Google and Facebook as examples of industrial consolidation.
Repeated references were made to Professor Tim Woo’s “The Master Switch”, which chronicles how the telephone, radio, cinema and television were hailed as vehicles of social disruption, before falling to corporate monopolisation.
Concern was voiced about the concentration of data on a few platforms (e.g. Facebook, Google, etc.), which will place them in pole position to make use of emerging AI technologies and further entrench their market dominance.
As machine learning advances, AI will play an increased role in daily life (e.g. self-driving cars, semi-automated justice systems).
The prominence of AI will pose new ethical questions, as well as creating a new and urgent demand to answer old ones. For example, self-driving cars will face the classic “trolley problem”, which involves choosing a course of action where every option leads to harm.
We heard that there is a need for AI to be transparent, so that citizens can understand how their personal data is being used.
But the complexity of systems where multiple AI interact will make it difficult to achieve meaningful transparency.
Participants provocatively proposed the idea of rights for AI; arguing that if AI were to be taxed, as Bill Gates’ had suggested, they could be afforded civil protections under the principle of “no taxation without representation”.
The proliferation of AI and the internet of things has the capacity to deliver enormous benefits to society, but will also create new risks.
Cyberphysical attacks and AI terrorism will be among the new threats that the state has to manage.
Making companies responsible for providing security updates over the long term could mitigate some of these risks. The example of a self-driving car, produced and purchased in a developed nation, before being sold second-hand to a developing nation was raised. It was argued that NGI could aim to ensure that security updates are provided for the entirety of the car’s use, not just its use by the initial purchaser.
Role and nature of the State
In the 1980s and 1990s, utopian thinkers claimed that states could not govern the internet (e.g. John Perry Barlow’s “Declaration of Independence of Cyberspace”).
Contrary to these claims, the internet is heavily regulated and subject to state influence (e.g. the NSA’s PRISM program, the Great Firewall of China, etc.).
Governments will continue to have an important role in regulating the internet and ensuring prosperity.
States are creating geographies of data through data localisation laws, which require companies to store customers’ and employees’ personal data locally.
NGI could develop new models of citizenship. Estonia’s electronic-ID system could be implemented across Europe, enabling free access to all state services, participants suggested; coining the term “à la carte citizenship”.
Technical innovation often progresses faster than the passage of new legislation, we heard.
Using AI to automate some of the legislative process could be one way of helping the law to match the rate of technological change.
Other participants questioned if accelerating the legislative process should be an NGI objective, pointing out that the internet is already heavily legislated. It may be more important to find new ways to enforce existing laws, they argued.
It was agreed that investing in hybrid teams of lawyers and technical experts will help ensure that legislation is relevant and implemented effectively.
We heard that the internet is “flattening” and “widening” our social architecture; meaning that we have a growing number of increasingly shallow interactions.
Using the language of the “social contract”, participants asked if innovators are responsible for the impacts of their products on social dynamics.
The potential for AI to provide free and accessible education should be promoted by NGI.
Preserving “free” choice in a system of complicated algorithms was raised as a future challenge.
The rise of “post truth” politics underscores the importance of access to reliable information. Participants debated the ethics and practicalities of “popping information bubbles” by regulating social media and targeted advertising, with reference to the principle of net neutrality.
It was agreed that any interventions that are made should be informed by research into human psychology, and recognise that we may have a bias toward preserving our bubble.