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The University of Southampton
Web Science Institute

'The dream of a global internet is edging towards destruction' by Kieron O'Hara and Wendy Hall

Published: 4 February 2020
image courtesy of Britt Spencer

WSI Director's Wendy Hall and Kieron O'Hara talk about five competing visions for the internet in a article featured in The Wired World in 2020.

The internet appears to be a persistent medium for work, leisure, friendships, news and shopping. It might disappear when the router goes down, or be impossibly slow at a conference where everyone is on Wi-Fi, but these are glitches, not existential crises.

Yet it is not a monolith, even a virtual one. It is a tangle of systems, protocols, standards, hardware and organisations, all of which have to be managed by different bodies – international, governmental, private sector, non-profits. And underpinning it are individuals, organisations and bots uploading and downloading content, and creating the links that give it form.

Somehow it all co-ordinates, offering the illusion of a monolith, but this might change in 2020 as internet governance will be at the centre of a number of ongoing debates coming to the fore. What values should the technology support? How should it deal with free speech and association? What about privacy? Safety from abuse? Social stability? Disruptive innovation? Until recently, these debates took place largely in western democracies, but as more nations enhance their internet presence, consensus, never easy, will be even harder to reach.

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