Why Internet should be Unowned

It is impossible to talk about standards and jurisdictions without talking about power. There is a word, a Swahili word, that I think about whenever I think about the power structures of the world, and it is “nguvu”. It’s a noun that loosely translates to “being uncontrolled” or “unowned” as Professor Jonathan Zittrains called it. Like our economic and political worlds, internet too is at risk of being defined by the principle of “nguvu”: how it works, who tells the users what they should access where and when, are really dependent on standards.

The question of internet jurisdiction is all about rules and power, should it be controlled? This takes us back to the history and evolution of internet. The internet developed as an open platform where people meet freely to talk, share and receive information. The wave of globalized usage has certainly generated a wave of new concerns such as privacy, freedom of expression, and security. These are genuine concerns that can’t be dealt with using the informal RFCs.

So, should the internet be owned at all? I had a misconception that the US (because it’s strong and powerful) owns the internet and operates it somewhere in California. It seems I am wrong. The dispute on the control of the internet is faced with user demand for privacy which is hard to ignore. The communication corporations such as google, Facebook, and twitter will have to response to geopolitics which control their operations across the globe. For instance, the European Court ruling on the “The Right to be forgotten” is pressing though laughable. The court should have considered the consequences it will forced on every stakeholder:

  1. Individual users will claim Right to “Imperfect Past”I listed to Obama’s remarks during the opening of Obama Foundation. He proudly admitted that he had a partly wasted youth, but lack of records served in his favor, he got elected. In the same way, every user would demand that their past should be inaccessible because it should not matter now. This is certainly against the ethnics of internet as a free platform and if the new standards allow, then it’s unfair and selfish. Some will be anonymous, but they can access information about others, a breach on the freedom of expression.
  1. Google and Facebooks will be held ransom by geopolitics. It’s possible for google to delete information as demanded in Europe, but that won’t ensure its accessibility in America. I looked up Mario Costeja Gonzalez, the man who sued Google, and what he wanted he sought immunity is still in Wikipedia. In reality, this rule may not be realistic because some sources will still have the deleted personal information. If Google and Facebook delink information on demand, then articles in newspapers may also be erased. Of course, we expect a lot of erasure and consequently journalism will be affected as information relevant to the public will be lost.
  1. Every country will seek to show its sovereignty. Assume every country share my assumption that US indeed controls the internet. With the Europe breakaway from that control, then even South Sudan will get an incentive to act powerful. This contagious effect will globalize and that will be the rise of chaos putting the future of internet in doubts. The ruling begs UN to act as referee by bringing its members together to work collaboratively in setting new standards or protect the freedom of internet over parallel restrictions.
  1. Who to trust. There is a serious public concern on who to trust yet we can look them up. Imagine if our past is filtered and cleaned on our specifications. This will present perfect us which is not possible at all. The risk of this ruling being adopted by many polities is high because politicians who should be scrutinized by electorates will rush to clean their past. This will invite criminals into politics because how will you know their email scandals, trials on past abuse of office, or sex assaults? One may argue that people can transform with time, but it’s not everyone who can turn a new leaf especial in maturity.
  1. Erosion of social norms and codes of conducts. The reason why people follow rules is because they fear consequences. If the internet is unowned then the users will act appropriately because what they do wrong might be used against them in the future. Take away that fear with the power of erasure and we will create an indiscipline society. Having to face an indecent past is trace compare to what we might face for granting the right to be forgotten. It’s Abraham Lincoln who once observed, “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power”. Let’s not give individuals power to act and erase in the coded world. 

While our discussion and presentation by Professor Zittrain focused on the past, I feel the “Right to be Forgotten” is a real threat to the internet as a free platform. It bears more harm than good. It might turn out to be a blunder as I fear,I hope not. I would love to hear your point of view in the comments. Oh wow, thanks to Professor Zittrain for such an amazing presentation. He solved a lot of lingering questions.

 

 

The Good Lies

I had heard discussions or television interviews on the extend of fake news and its effects on our societal values in South Sudan. But it’s not a big deal among South Sudanese probably because of sticky ignorance. They don’t know that Facebook was used to fuel the senseless civil war they fought in. I am not surprised how low Americans’ faith is in the main stream news sources. We are so skeptical about what they publish that most of us have stopped consuming the news or the opinions in general. This is worrying because if journalism can’t feed us, then where else do we get our news coverage? Everyone is or a potential reporter and publisher of news, what we think or hear. So, what changed?

We became monitors of news coverage. We want to hear what we like, and the rest is fake news. This sort of echo chamber is fueled by political identities. If one is left-leaning, anything that sounds like or favors the right is propaganda. We start questioning everything we read; is it true? Does it cover everything we want to hear? To the large extend, the politicians are responsible. They have generated a sense of extremism among the followers who create movements for defense. A sense of responsibility develops and individuals take it upon themselves to air their opinions as a way of civic participation. You see, politics is a way of life, and where there is a human community there is politics. We have taken this norm and institutionalized it online which provides a conducive platform for us to interact. Since it’s an open environment, we get to know and how to influence each other. The common man who is not motivated loses out, but the politicians get a free ride for strategic interests. For instance, Emmanuel Macron coined En Marche movement, targeting young French on social media and state televisions, and in less than 14 months it delivered him French Presidency. He made the traditional politics looks bad among the potential voters. This is what politics do, it shapes our identities and opinions on what to consider credible and dubious, and media is the channel through which it gets to us.

Freedom of expression became they only law. Nobody or institution has power to sanction what anyone says. This has given everybody power to share their opinion. What was limited to opinion sections in newspapers spread to other sections because publishers want to grow readership. They know what the readers want. On Comedy Central, Hilary Clinton “came back” this time as an author. She was promoting her recent book, What Happened. She decried how the media worked in favor of Trump. She said that the media houses later admitted to her (let’s believe her for now) that they gave Trump more airtime because his divisive and controversial ideas generated discussions which attract viewership. This vulnerability of news sources to echo chambers has weakened journalism and generates waves of fake news.

Money talks: it’s all that matters. I followed a senate hearing on potential Russia Election Interference. Senator Franken got pissed when the respondents tried to avoid his questions. They blatantly lied that they didn’t make revenue out of Russian political ads yet they were paid for. We understand how hard it is for Facebook, Twitter and google to handle data points, but lying is not at a good strategy to protect PR. Facebook could not even promise never to accept political ads from foreign firms. This behavior depicts how these companies care less about their customers. They would rather accumulate revenue at the expense of social norms. This growing wave of good lies may not end soon unless Congress formulate laws that can ensure individuals and firms take responsibility for the spread of fake news.

 

Digital Government: Avoiding Relative Backwardness

Been a tough week, but I have finally written down a few thoughts about digital government.

I love politics and government; therefore, I had looked forward to David Eaves’ discussion. He did well. It’s not surprising that the U.S government has not adopted e-citizenship to operate openly by sharing its data and projects with the public. This is not unique to U.S government. Governments are often slow in adopting any policy. We therefore need to consider why the federal government fails to do so, and if it were to take the leap; why should it?

Government is a representation of a majority. This makes it hard for leaders to make quick decisions. They often rely on advice and intelligence which take time. Imagine if Dean Smith has to consult every department in Engineering School before authorizing anything. This is how governance is. It’s sticky and full of blame games. The leaders are ever cautious and fear making mistakes because they will eventually get subjected to electoral process.

Bureaucracy and lobbying: this is another challenge. In every government, there is often a disguised body of elites who wants to be appeased by the leaders. They indirectly control crucial departments largely because they fund the candidates during campaigns, and want their businesses and contracts protected. This is an obstacle that they have to overcome. Therefore, for open government to become a reality, there is critical need for a change in how it works internally.

Security: governments have always been there, but technology is new and ever evolving. Adopting new technology is seen as a threat to government’s role. If all processes are digitalized, then it loses the power in censoring. If you can’t control anything then you have no power over it. Hence, the government sees digital advancement as threat to its role rather than a supplement. The advantage given to Estonia for its e-citizenship is its small relative population and digital advancement. If this is true, Rwanda would be providing the same services today. U.S is a collection of states. If they federal government thinks it can’t provide protection against external cyber-attack, then the individual states should run their own databases. If digital advancement is needed, then US is in a better position than any other country. It has Google, Facebook, Apple, Tessla, and many other tech giants within its borders. Estonia doesn’t have these. Its education system is not favorable for research, in fact, there are just 589 schools in Estonia. In a nutshell, Estonia has no advantage over US federal government.

We need to make a few recommendations for the federal government why it should consider e-citizenship seriously. Well, citizens are living online, therefore it would be weird for government to play catchup. It should act quicker to connect with them otherwise relative backwardness will be its main problem. Therefore, government should:

  1. nurture the rise of digital citizenship instead of holding back because the way we live, work, and interact is changing fast. We have become connected consumers, machine dependent employees. If it wants us to consume its services, they must be online. The expertise it needs for skilled work has gone digital too. As we connect 24/7 and integrate what the tech world provides, we compare government with business world which is moving along with us. Our expectations for a responsible government may turn into frustrations. But there are opportunities online for government to take advantage of: universal connectivity, smart governance, and it could deliver its services at less cost.
  2. poster public-private cyber partnerships. Smart cyber could benefit how government serves its citizens. The more we become connected online, the more vulnerable our businesses, privacy, and security. Therefore, the government should collaborate with private companies through information-sharing. This is the better option of securing cyber space. So, it should stop running away from going online.
  3. embrace digital governance and invest in cryptocurrency. This is often considered illegal but, if the federal goverment invest in it, it will make it legitimate. Probably call it CrytoDollar. It is secure and free of money laundering because the dealers will embrace it. It’s may be such an expensive affair but the rewards will be bountiful. It will also incentivise investors and local small start-ups which will add to the growth of the economy and ecourage innovation in tech world.

 

 

Intelligence Singularity; The Needed Disruption

More often than not, I tend to think artificial intelligence is a conspiracy theory by the scientists and the tech giants to prove how much they care for this universe. But for the last few weeks, I have been flipping web pages to convince myself otherwise. Surely, predicting the future is hard. But one thing I can’t deny is how quickly and significantly machines are getting smarter. In the last one year alone, self-driving cars have covered more distance on more complex roads, apple watches can monitor our heartbeats, iPhone X knows faces, and didn’t amazon deliver a parcel to its customer using a drawn. The leap is happening. What matters is how we quantify it. How much is artificial intelligence? If a machine can perceive its environment and maximizes its ingenuity at some goal, it should be considered smart.

A smarter machine (one that can learn, recognize its environment, and reason independently, but first in a super network. The internet of things should happen first before it can learn. A lot of information needs to be available for learning to take place and for mimicking of human attributes to be revolutionary.

But how will that happen? Well, as human beings(most) are already living online via our emails, social media, and online shopping. This affords the machines the necessary data to self-learn and replicate themselves. However, scientists and the tech world should not just keep predicting, they should also determine how artificial intelligence will affect the human race.

We had a lengthy sociological discussion in class on how A.I is going to affect us by hypothesizing on its potential relationship with human being. I think A.I will still treat us as superior because it won’t know its superiority. That’s confusing right. Let’s take it from a religious point of view, how sure are we the supernatural being that create us is smarter and greater? Just like some people who don’t believe in the existence of supernatural beings, that’s how A.I will deny our intelligence. I believe it will mostly see us as smarter and intelligent beings.

The truth is that, A.I is out there, and there’s no stopping its exponential evolution and its rise. We have always fixated themselves on improving life across every spectrum, and the use of technology has become the vehicle for doing just that. A.I. will also become smarter, faster, more fluid and human-like thanks to the inevitable rise of quantum computing. Quantum computers will not only solve all of life’s most complex problems and mysteries regarding the environment, aging, disease, war, poverty, famine, the origins of the universe and deep-space exploration, it’ll soon power all of our A.I. systems, acting as the brains of these super-human machines.

The most dramatic disruption could be experienced in technological, energy and manufacturing industries which require a lot of brain power. The world will rely on the governments and private sector to speed up attainment of artificial intelligence through direct investment, research and development, provision of scholarships to students to provide incentive to study A.I. While companies like Apple, Facebook and Tesla rollout ground-breaking technologies, such as Siri and Alexa, to improve how we interact with machine-learning technology, I think A.I is a long way from critical point of causing a global disruption.

 

 

 

Smart Things

It’s hot. The internet of thing is a hot topic in the business world and academic spheres. It’s discussed every day. You might have done so too while sipping hot things at Starbuck. You thought it’s another topic to prove how smart you are. Well, the internet of things is real. The broadband internet is spreading widely globally quicker than we could imagine. In 2015, mobile phone penetration in sub-Saharan Africa was estimated at 76%, and 99% of this is connected to the internet. Cost of connecting to the internet has considerably declined, therefore, connectivity is not limited to developed countries. Even the traditional developing countries are catching up, thanks to China, the master of cheaper and counterfeit devices.

For this connectivity to continue companies will have to produce devices with Wi-Fi capabilities and wireless-enabled via Bluetooth. I think all the devices should be wireless and self-charging. All machines should not have switching components. For a machine to be on the internet or getting it connected to the network today, it must have an on/off feature. This element will still make them human dependent just like today. This will enable individuals who are already connected today through the internet and social media to form a feedback relationship with their devices. Oh, this has been achieved. We speak to our Apple devices using Siri, our fingerprints are needed to unlock iPhone, and soon we will have to pay attention to iPhone X to unlock. Thus, the devices are constantly communicating with people.

We may wonder if we really need to connect to connect our devices to each other. I think we have seen this happening in our time. Remote controls are connected to television sets. We use Duo to approved logging in with HarvardKey. What we are yet to experience precisely is the ability of machines to operate independently of human influence. For this to happen, the machines should be programmed to meet the specifications of “Theory of the mind”. iPhone should “know” what the owner is thinking. If I forget to set an alarm to alert me for my early morning class, it should go off anyway based on my usual pattern.

Big tech companies are always faced with the protection of personal information. This will be harder than before as they will compete to produced more machines that can connect with human beings and to each other. These devices will collect more information demanding more “cloud” storage. This is a sticky responsibility for the companies. But the benefits of this internet will outweigh the downsides. Cars in a smart city will know shorter routes and how to avoid traffic jams. The washing machines will know how much of detergents one needs depending on laundry loads. We can have a personalized app which knows what one has a closet. The app should predict weather patterns and suggests what to wear. That’s efficiency generating convenience.

However, human life will be more miserable than today. Imagine a life where you do nothing. There is a servant machine that works tirelessly at your convenience and demand. One will have no reason to know because laptops will take notes in class. One gets to know theses of various things but misses out on details. Thus, students will not deliver in exams.

Anyway, the idea of internet of things is inevitable; it began with the spread of internet and mass production and penetration of smartphones and other machines that can connect human beings to the internet, it is happening by building a mutual interaction between users and machines, then cement with intelligent machines that can communicate without human interference and still work effectively. The world of interconnected smart things and dull humans is coming.

M-Pesa

Most people probably don’t think of Kenya as an innovation and technology hub, probably you didn’t know too or may never believe it, but in 2007 it became the launching pad for M-Pesa, a transformative mobile phone-based platform for money transfer and financial services. It has revolutionized how people do business. It has been successful due to explosive mobile phones penetration in Kenya which is approximated at 90% early this year. M-pesa works by making your carrier number as the account number. Therefore, your phone is your wallet and bank. You do not need an app or internet connection to make any transaction, all you need is a network. It’s secure as one’s phone and account are secured using passwords. With M-pesa you can remit money to anyone by dialing their phone numbers, make payment for goods and services using pay bill numbers.

M-pesa makes a profit through long tail business targeting. The idea might have been born through the inconvenience of having to go to an ATM or your bank to withdraw money or make check payments. It thus targets individuals who which to transfer little amounts of money. One can conveniently send or receive as low as Ksh10, an equivalent to $0.1. This has attracted every0ne who owns a mobile phone which doesn’t have to be smart. Today, about 96% of Kenyan households have M-pesa accounts. If we extrapolate that to the 48,000,000 people, then about 46,080,000 people in Kenya use M-pesa. Yes, that’s near monopoly. The rates of sending and withdrawing are very low, therefore it has mastered the art of attracting and retaining customers. It can afford to lower the rates to fight off potential competitors and it will still make profits through aggregate of numbers.The government and the traditional banking systems have

The government and the traditional banking systems have unsuccessfully tried to fight M-pesa because of the accumulative profits it accrues annually. Most banks are either closing indefinitely or they are laying off some of their employees because accountants and clerks are no longer needed as paperwork becomes obsolete. To hold only to their faithful customers, the banks cut deals with M-pesa to have their customers’ accounts linked to their banks, but most of the subscribers are not buying this because they are hooked to the efficacy and efficiency of mobile money transactions.In the Economist’s report, the value of transaction through M-pesa.

In the Economist’s report, the value of transaction through M-pesa accounts for 40% of Kenya’s GDP. This also translates to direct $400m in taxes and dividends for the government. It’s no wonder then the Parliament is reluctant in restricting on money transfer as a business. M-Pesa’s success is in part due to what economists call a “network effect”—its utility grows the greater the proportion of the population that uses it. Network effects tend to lead to monopolies, and that is more or less what has happened. M-Pesa accounts about 96% of the mobile money market in Kenya; and the popularity of the payments system has also helped Safaricom, the telecommunication company that owns rights for M-pesa, maintains its dominance in terms of calls and text messages.

Its financial impact is being felt at the grassroots. In 2007, the government reported that the average distance to the nearest bank was 9.8km. This meant that the risk of, making transactions were higher both at the rates charged and the distance traveled. A decade later, it’s less than 1.4km to the closest M-pesa agent as an alternative to choosing to transact on your phone if you have to. As a result, more people are banking virtually, saving at a high frequency, and a majority are stepping out of poverty levels.

This is the developing world we consider poor and has no smartphones. Long tail business targeting and strategy at work. Soon, the rest of the world might adopt this virtual banking and means of payment.

***pesa is a Swahili word for money, hence M-Pesa is mobile money.

Change

How things have changed since 1995. How we think (not really, how the computers think for us) and communicate. I suspect 1995 probably looks at 2017 and covers its mouth in fascination, envy or even horror. How did it happen, how we got here, and how we got hooked to the computers? The bearers of the original idea of networking and inter-networking might not have envisioned seeing men “living” in and by computers. The idea of using computers as a communication tool is dead, resource-sharing is no longer the thing. Having our goals and problems solved faster and by smarter computation is the ultimate goal.

Fascination: There is a lot to marvel at. The new iPhone are the climax of this fascination and amusement. The tech companies such as Apple and Samsung seem to be buying the political tool for control, that the way to gain power and influence people is my getting their attention and keeping them focused. This is what they have been doing for a decade now. They produce new gargets to inflate their sales and make them smarter to get customers’ and users’ attention. They are expensive, but we don’t care. We buy what is at our disposal because we are married to their charm of smartness and have our attention arrested. This market coercion is a sufficient explanation because it allows them more revenue, influence and control. The Face ID is an indirect way of Apple telling us we can’t no longer spent own daily lives without them. You can’t ignore Iphone X. You must look at it attentively for it to unlock. The computational way of life today even of the ordinary mundane things is fascinating. As computation and garget mimicry of human potential spreads from desktops to personal computers and now mobile phones, the more we fall in love with using computers and how life feels incomplete, “formless and desolate” unless we live inside the computers.

Envy: Think of children who are yet to master the art of walking. They want to hang on to their mother’s heels when they leave, they want to run and play with the older kids, but they can’t because they limbs are not yet reliable. I guess that child is 1995, looking at 2017 with envy. But we must appreciate the intellectuality of those days. The scientific community set the pace for the world of today. File transfer is as easy and efficient as it might get. We not only hear each other on phones, but also see each other in real time. Of course, no more telephone lines switching. It worth noticing how proud the founders of networking and internet should be. They have influenced and sponsored our faster, efficient and smarter tomorrow. Think of the 7.1 earth quake in Mexico. I younger girl caught under the rubbles and debris of her classroom sent a WhatsApp message asking for water. Well, this is sad and saddening that we can’t save ourselves from natural adversities with our advanced smartness, but WhatsApp might have created a lifesaving space for the young girl. I hope it did. 1995, be proud we can personalize emails and afford unlimited storage.

Horror: We consume and enjoy what the internet offers us daily, but to enjoy the goodies of internet and social platforms, we have sacrificed a lot of our privacy and we get misinformed. The problem of fake news is indeed a disaster. This fake news is believable and audience oriented. We should be horrified and afraid of where this is leading. I think 1995 would be horrified at how we do business online today. The companies have moved to online advertising where they can get and set target audience. This put into question the security of private information. The gatekeepers of personal information such as Google and Facebook are losing our trust. However, advantages of this transformation in the last 22 years outweigh disadvantages. Change is inevitable!

 

I Got Mailed

A day earlier, we discussed how the internet world had the dilemma of what to consider as norms and what to prohibit to preserve the openness in the internet. This reminded me of my grade seven teachers. Back in 2010, when Facebook was charmingly getting to everyone, two girls from my class created Facebook accounts despite receiving compassionate advice from our teachers against such a move. Of course, they were punished “according” for availing their personal information. They were deemed indiscipline and rebellious.

The fun side, I receive a Friend Request from one of those teachers a few days ago. He also followed me on Instagram, and when I didn’t respond, he texted me on messenger. I was honestly amused by the irony. Here was an adult who tried by all means and ways to protect young people from what he considered evil, now following to the same sword. This makes me reconnect with the members of the Message Group who could not stick to particular standards of electronic mails.

The GINGER command was never a good hack. Keeping the internet open was necessary for its growth. The only way to win the trust of other users and gainfully tap information from them is by engaging fully with them. Providing an avenue to encourage privacy would have been a fall back from achieving what everyone had been resourcing for. I guess the command made the other users believe that someone is hiding something. Thus, they strived to reach the hidden. This encouraged hacking, invasion of privacy, hence the birth of hackers we know today.

I am surprised that the Message Group could not agree on standards for mail handling software, instead they coined cyberbullying through “flaming”. The open criticism on social media and public spaces today may have persisted from 1970’s. As time goes by, I doubt we will achieve uniformity in the digital and technical world. I have a HUAWEI phone, a good one, but I can’t facetime with my friends on Apple platform. This is the mess we are in.

Oh wow, it’s amazing how we are enjoying the fruits of other people actions. We get e-mailed at alarming rates never imagined by the inventors. They and people like Steve Jobs may not be here to enjoy the performance of computers as extensions and supplements of human potential. I wonder for how long we will enjoy e-mailing or getting e-mailed before it being replaced by something intriguing and mind blowing.

 

Taylor and Networking

In the history of computer networking, I feel Taylor is not given as much credits as he deserves for his contributions in making computer networking a workable idea. His predecessors dedicated their time and government funding to developing time-sharing, graphics, and interractive computing.

From his first day in office, he made it clear that he didn’t like having to log on to three computers with different procedures. He found this irksome. He then realised that duplication was not the only obstacle in computer reliability—the researchers across the country were demanding expensive computers at their centres. This is what pushed Taylor to champion computer networking to cut the cost through resource-sharing.

The evolution of internet was not born out of interlectual curiosity. It resulted from Taylor’s desire for efficiency and eficacy. I wanted to be significant knowing that he was not going to be there for a long time. He employed his negotiating funding with ease. As a good manager, he knew how to get the right people to work for him. He knew Roberts was the best for ARPA, and he made sure he got him. All in all, Taylor was more of a manager than a technician, and he delivered.