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IGF-USA Teaser. Laura DeNardis: The Internet in Everything

The Internet in Everything
Freedom and Security in a World with No Off Switch
Laura DeNardis (Yale University Press)

Dr. Laura DeNardis, Professor and Interim Dean of the School of Communication at American University and a Faculty Director of the Internet Governance Lab, is a featured panelist at this week’s IGF-USA conference.1 In advance of the event, I would like to draw attention to her sixth book: The Internet in Everything. Freedom and Security in a World with no Off Switch2 This treatise is one of those “should/must-reads” that come along from time-to-time as it focuses on a critical issue that is overlooked by either design or neglect: how digital infrastructure determines policy. The book is a provocation both to “see” digital infrastructure as it is and to understand and reimagine the politics embedded within it.

The Internet is no longer a communication system that connects people and information. It has become the Internet of Things (IoT), where cyber physical-systems, with the help of Artificial Intelligence (AI), connect people and the multitude of devices in their homes, public, spaces, and workplaces. In the process, the boundaries between the material and virtual worlds become blurred and often invisible, and in many cases, humans have become a “Thing” on the Internet of Things. Machines that communicate with each other already represent the majority of Internet “users” that employ a significant proportion of available digital capacity, making them important stakeholders that factor in cyberspace governance. This transformation has even more significance than the transition from an industrial society to a digital information society.

Dr. DeNardis lays down the facts and figures and makes connections to provoke us to think harder and deeper about the role digital infrastructure plays in our lives. Most importantly, she challenges the reader to think about how we can govern a system as it appears to be governing us. She observes that “The most consequential global policy concerns of the present era are arising in debates over the architecture and governance of cyber-physical systems. Technology policy has to be conceptualized to account for the expansion of digital technologies from Communication and information exchange to material sensing and control. How technical, legal, and institutional structures evolve will have sweeping implications for civil liberties and Innovation for a generation.”

After laying out the landscape of the cyberspace of physical systems, she tackles the global politics surrounding them, including privacy, security, and interoperability issues. She then moves on to rethinking Internet freedom and governance and challenges various conceptions of what Internet freedom means while offering thoughts on the future of Internet Governance that go far beyond current debates.

This book is a skillful provocation to see the Internet from the perspective of its infrastructure. Dr. DeNardis successfully brings together what is often seen as separate: technologies, values and human rights. Anybody who is seriously thinking about Internet Governance and the future of humanity should read this book. I am looking forward to hearing Dr. DeNardis speak at the IGF-USA and expect her insights to provoke many to think anew.

By Klaus Stoll, Digital Citizen

Klaus has over 30 years’ practical experience in Internet governance and implementing ICTs for development and capacity building globally. He is a regular organizer and speaker at events, advisor to private, governmental and civil society organizations, lecturer, blogger and author of publications centering empowered digital citizenship, digital dignity and integrity.

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