Other than to point out that the Internet is having security problems, John Markoff’s article in the NYT was extremely annoying. He says: The Internet is at risk ->We could build a new internet that requires identity verification -> It’s impossible to verify identity. This logic leaves the reader in a vulnerable state – at loss, with nothing to do. It’s like telling someone, “hey, you may catch a pandemic soon, a vaccine would cure it, but making a vaccine is impossible. Ha, guess what? You’re gonna die!”
Markoff could have at least gone into more detail about exactly what the Stanford Clean Slate project is up to, or talked to some of the government officials who are trying to make a tighter network. Or at least give more realistic examples on why virus-ridden computers affect us. Did the institutes affected by malware eventually recover or not? What are the pros and cons of a “new” Internet? (It was also interesting that the structure of his article so strongly resembled Jonathan Zittrain’s Future of the Internet and How to Stop It but didn’t mention a peep of it. But then when it comes to Zittrain, I am subjective; perhaps Markoff didn’t read the book after all- in which case he should).
It’s true that the Internet has problems, but making a new one won’t solve the problem. The Internet is not a machine, it’s organic, built by people and run by people. Even the automated bots were made by people. I don’t want to sound like a pessimist, but as long as human beings are involved, there will always be problems, regardless of the architecture.
Also, it’s not just the Internet, but the digitalization of everything that poses problems. Now that everything is digitized, we see paradigm shifts in distribution, commerce, knowledge, arts… for instance, what happens if the Bank of America suddenly loses all of its computer records? Do I have a box in the bank that proves I have a certain amount of money? No. The same goes for everything else. Think of how lending a friend a CD is okay, but sharing an MP3 file isn’t. By digitizing everything, sometimes I think we are making ourselves more vulnerable to catastrophes. Yes, libraries can burn down and destroy millions of books, but it’s more difficult to burn down all the libraries in the world, whereas it is easier to do that with online libraries. Perhaps we should be thinking more about the problems our society face amidst complete digitization of content instead of blaming the carrier that delivers the content.
Update (2/18): Zittrain has posted his response to the Markoff article.