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IEET > Life > Access > Contributors > James Felton Keith

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The Internet is a Human Right! Vinton G. Cerf is Mistaken


James Felton Keith
By James Felton Keith
Integrationalism

Posted: Jan 6, 2012

Wednesday on the Opinion Pages of The New York Times, the renowned Vinton Cerf - computer scientist, “father of the Internet”, Turing Award winner, and Google’s Vice President and Chief Internet Evangelist - published an article titled Internet Access Is Not A Human Right. It could be argued that the key word here is “access”, but before I address access again, I should start with the definition of the internet.

I engaged in this debate at Michigan State in October of 2010 with the philosopher Andrew Feenberg; here’s my opinion:

“Perhaps the internet requires much more definition, as the roots of the word can be confusing. Inter: situated within – Net: any network or reticulated system of filaments or the like. Its terminology is synonymous with the “web” or a web, which requires multiple linkages to points of initiation in order to exist well. If this is the internet that Feenberg is referring to then I’d think it accurate. However, the internet is not actually a web of ever connected points. Information destinations are not required.

The internet is analogous to space. Regardless of whether or not we access space, its potential exists – we can access or insert entities of sorts into the space regardless of, if another user were present to receive information of sorts from the distributed. Space is a dynamic system of expanding material potential as is the internet’s material potential. The potential of the internet expands as users (or rather, potential users) access to the internet expands – access could come in many forms including, user population(s) growth or by computing speed or by computing power… The internet, regardless of the constraints of the word, it cannot be identified as a specific technology.”
 
While visiting MSU, Feenberg uses a “ramp” as analogous with the internet, which was at the center of his mistake. I don’t mean to read gerontophobic, but based on the pervasive analysis that I’ve witnessed from Feenberg and Cerf’s generation; I’d have to accredit their perspective to the relatively similar changes in technology that they’ve seen during the 20th century. The difference in composition and utility of a technology (hardware, software, methodology) and that of the internet are synonymous with that of an air-craft and the expanding celestial matter beyond earth’s ionosphere (that’s a sufficient analogy).
 
Cerf wrote: “technology is an enabler of rights, not a right itself. There is a high bar for something to be
considered a human right.”


He is correct! The problem exists when he identifies the internet as a technology, which it cannot be (to be redundant). This is in fact a human rights issue. It is perhaps the most significant human rights issue of our time, because of the internet role in providing the potential for transparencies in the public and private sectors. The deterministic nature of our technologies is bridging the cultural, political, legal, and economic GAPS of all our societies today, and if we as individuals allow a few mistaken “leaders” or the interests of institutions to control our ability to access a space, because of their resume, then we are all doomed. The implications of the masses adopting Cerf and Feenberg’s view on space are tremendous in building an ethically sound environment for human development.

Regarding Cerf’s word “access”, it may provide him an out from his varied rhetoric in the article. Near the end he transitions to civil rights where he writes “the responsibility of technology creators themselves to support human and civil rights” suggesting the internet hold egalitarian virtues. I’m no egalitarian, as it just doesn’t prove feasible in a world of, even, hyper-connected individuals.

While the ability to access an open space should not be prohibited, the technologies of certain kinds could be. Reference weapons of sorts. I’m no advocate for government supplying all of their citizens with camera phone (although it would be great idea for the individual and institution), but I am against governmental and other agents making efforts to restrict the individual’s ability to populate space with their entities aside from the technologies that one would hold on his/her person.

When the United Nations declared the Internet as a Human Right(PDF), they weren’t necessarily evaluating its full potential, but they were stressing that individuals should have the ability to be transparent and review information of all kinds as they so pleased, catering to the collective knowledge of the species and everything it supports. The problem with this article are the future implications of its rhetoric, even as he means well.


 Tangent: Cerf having studied math, computer science, and IS for decades; knows as well as anyone that it is virtually (pun intended) impossible to prohibit internet expansion as small pockets of those educated in the knowledge community of development can find a way. Any computer (which would the blockage point) can be hacked its just a matter of time and will. I spent the last year consulting with Hewlett-Packard Global Info Security on multiple acquisitions of competitive companies and security tool providers, and as anyone in the IS/IT security industry can tell you, there are no solutions, only active management of incidents and problems.

This is why methodologies are as (if not more) value than hard/software in modern business transactions. So then why wouldn’t Cerf think more thoroughly about this before publishing in the NY Times? Could it be because he has an equity stake (as an employee of multiple firms) in a less open space (internet). Speculation aside, I’m in the business services industry, I studied “control” specifically. Business is about control, which is the value proposition in establishing institutions virtues as separate from those of the individual. We can only forecast and manage risks well in areas that we can define and control. Business itself doesn’t require an suppressive type of control to make good calls on risks. A more transparent world could tell us all (individuals and institutions alike) more about the types of decisions that benefit the most in a society.
 
In the future let’s make a conscious effort to keep spaces open and hope that the benefits incentivize philanthropists, entrepreneurs, and governments to provide technology to the masses at a rate that enhances the human condition.


James Felton Keith is a Principal at ModeEq, Editor-inChief of journals at the CIIPM, and the author of Integrationalism. He is a former faculty at Michigan State University in economic development and participates in many other for-profit and non-profit initiatives globally.
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COMMENTS


Cerf wrote: “technology is an enabler of rights, not a right itself. There is a high bar for something to be considered a human right.”

Technology IS an enabler of rights, and thus the internet is a “tool” for the expression of freedoms and to pursue equality and justice and progressive humanism and all of those ideals and hopes of equality for the future? The internet thus belongs to all humans and should not be subjective to any oppression by groups, governments or individuals and their political philosophies and agenda?

There is NO high bar for “something” to be considered a human right – breathing is a right, Consciousness, awareness, perception and by extension pursuit of knowledge is a right, simply “being” is a right, freedom is a right of passage for all men whom are created equal?

Food, clothing, shelter, freedom, justice and basic human rights however, are not FREE in this world as yet, and humans have to still “fight for them”, (due to lack of unity, unifying goals and diverse politics and expressions of individual Self-ishness?)

Technology is beyond definition as a “right” which is due and of ownership by birthright, it is more.. it is destiny? We have freedom of choice to deny technological enterprise through belief, (Amish), so the reverse must also be true? We have freedom of choice to embrace technology, THAT is the human right?

“This is in fact a human rights issue. It is perhaps the most significant human rights issue of our time, because of the internet role in providing the potential for transparencies in the public and private sectors… and if we as individuals allow a few mistaken “leaders” or the interests of institutions to control our ability to access a space, because of their resume, then we are all doomed. The implications of the masses adopting Cerf and Feenberg’s view on space are tremendous in building an ethically sound environment for human development. “

Indeed!

The rights for freedom of expression are under direct attack, because the political powers that be know that there exists potential through the “global collective consciousness” and internet to supplant the greedy status quo and pursue progressive humanism and equality?

It is the requirement of an “Informed democracy” to ensure that internet access is open to all conscious entities, world-wide, and not controlled by totalitarian or absolutist politics. It has not been susceptible thus far, yet may be under direct attack from emerging technological advancements in online surveillance and sousveillance.

These innovations in themselves are not a hindrance to the freedoms of peoples, and support transparency and justice and freedom. It is the machinations of machiavellian politics and powers that are attempting to manipulate and impose upon freedoms “now”, to attempt to consolidate their own futures and positions?

The early bird catches the worm?

Arguing as point of law through definition as to the meaning and existence of the “internet” is crucial. Yet it is mass awareness and participation and opinion, that will prevent obstruction to access and freedoms which ARE right of passage of humans and humanity?

Social networks are still a place where every individual has opportunity and freedom to express concern and argument in support of their own freedoms. Please voice your opinions and continue to do so, and at every occasion available, spread concern and scrutiny of these politics.

Note also, that the terminology “access” may be argued from the point of “free access” to the internet, and to support ISPs as service providers and thus in paying some premium? This point of definition may also be used to “enforce” the restriction to the internet and argue against any birthright? Should Africa and it’s peoples have FREE access to the internet? I believe they should, and this can easily be supported by some business case or enterprise?


“Could it be because he has an equity stake (as an employee of multiple firms) in a less open space (internet).”

“Business is about control, which is the value proposition in establishing institutions virtues as separate from those of the individual. We can only forecast and manage risks well in areas that we can define and control.”

Or.. he fears for his own position of status and political power? Political power supplants even wealth to express individual and personal political views and ideals on how the world should be? Give me wealth and it is still not yet enough? I have will to transform the world, to align with my own philosophy?

Google’s company motto “Don’t be evil”. Kind of a wide reaching and broad in statement, (and more profound than many others?) and yet still open to all kinds of abuse and subjective interpretation?

Google coroporate motto
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Don’t_be_evil

Google mission statement
“To make the world’s information universally accessible and useful”
http://www.samples-help.org.uk/mission-statements/google-mission-statement.htm

Google philosophy
http://www.google.com/about/corporate/company/tenthings.html


” In the future let’s make a conscious effort to keep spaces open and hope that the benefits incentivize philanthropists, entrepreneurs, and governments to provide technology to the masses at a rate that enhances the human condition.”

!!





Please excuse my delayed response. I wasn’t aware that I needed to log in, and that my responses weren’t published. grin

Regarding the use of the word “technology”, my argument in this article is not specifically about the technology and rights. It is about the definition of The Internet. From a functional and philosophical definition, it is illogical to define it (and therefore regulate or comment on it) as a technology. I provide some links of earlier articles where I made my first attempt to define The Internet as analogous to a Space.

Regarding Cerf’s former employer and the missions of Google (a for-profit institution), the slogan “don’t be evil” is formally a marketing strategy and not a rigid operational strategy. It cant be, as Evil is an abstraction that cannot be quantified by the incentives that businesses have to make decisions. Business (for-profit & non-profit) only have objectives to reach their growth or sustainability goals. This creates conservative incentives that compel the institution to shunt competitive efforts.





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