A brief survey and my nomination to the World Economic Forum – Future of the Internet council

This year, I was nominated to the global agenda on the future of the Internet by the World Economic Forum

While it is nice to be considered amongst the foremost thinkers in this space as per the WEF, it is quickly apparent how little we all know about the potential future impact of the Internet, especially as more people in emerging markets are connected.

Here is an example:

I attended the first World Economic Forum meeting in Dubai last week and I met a lady from the World bank who was working with villagers in Kathmandu to create a system that provided villagers in Nepal with an accurate picture of water supply. On first impressions, this is a simple task. But not so in practise .. Weather information and patterns are known but that data is not easily available to those who need it most. Even if were, is not in a uniform format. So, first the data has to be liberated from various agencies (think work of bodies like the sunlight foundation ), next it has to be massaged and scrubbed (a classic ETL operation) and then the insights have to be deployed (through mobile technologies) to the people. Somewhere in the midst of this, sensors are involved to capture real time weather and water patterns on the ground to be fed back to the system.

As she summarised it: We have Google Earth – but I wish we had Google Water!

I agree ..

Long before the OpenGardens blog became well known, I had been an advocate of better information as a road to progress for developing countries(and especially for Africa) . Thus, in my view, the future of the Internet lies in this kind of cross domain application that enriches the lives of ordinary people. It also needs collaboration from many people across their respective areas of expertise globally.

Hence, this blog comprises of two sections: Firstly, a brief survey on the future of the Internet which I seek your feedback on; and then a personal view on the Future of the Internet from my various discussions at the World Economic Forum council in Dubai.

Although I was a part of the future of the Internet council, I was also working closely with the groups on Cloud computing, Mobility and Government. Hence, many thanks to Joanna Gordon (Cloud computing), Dr Paul Jacobs (chairperson of the Mobile group) and Bruno Lanvin (INSEAD)and Don Tapscott (Future of Government council) who invited me to their respective groups.

Areas of interest for me which I hope to contribute towards at WEF are:

a) m-health

b) smartgrids

c) secure cloud and Cloud computing in general

d) Privacy and data protection

e) mcommerce

f) Emerging markets

g) Impact of mobility

Any comments/feedback/synergies in this space welcome

If you are interested in a paper I wrote as an example of some of the ideas I am interested in, see Smart grids – a need for collaboration


Try to complete this survey spontaneously within 10 mins – you can always elaborate but try and say what’s the first thing that comes to your mind. Thanks for your insights for the survey. In a recession year, I hope these findings can help in refining the thought process.

1) If you are asked: What will be the future of the Internet. What keywords come to mind?

2) The Internet is a platform. It is generative i.e. its uses are unpredictable since intelligence is at the edge of the network. What threats do you perceive to role of the Internet as a platform?

3) The Internet is extending to be a ‘Network of networks’. In which circumstances do we see that the IP protocol may NOT be applicable as it stands? (One example is Critical Infrastructure protection)

4) Mobile will be one of the key drivers of the Internet. The Internet incorporates any device connected via the IP protocol. In that sense, all mobile devices are a part of the Internet. However, if the Internet is viewed as a set services (and that is often the user’s perspective anyway), then the mobile device could be the primary mode of access to the Internet for a majority of the people in the world. Their experience of the Internet will be very different(social, connectivity, creation, richness etc). Which examples of innovation do you see coming from emerging mobile markets?

5) Sensors could be an important part of the future of the Internet, which are the examples of sensors in the short to medium term?

Many thanks for this.

My personal views on the future of the Internet at the world economic forum


In a nutshell, we have 20th century institutions and we are facing 21st century problems.

Going forward, with global problems and threats, we need new forms of collaboration which will comprise (at least) of: State to State; Cross domain multi stake holder collaboration (informal networks) and Sub national(between cities). Risk is the new ‘normal’ and as the asymmetry of information decreases and citizens globally become more aware, new models of collaboration are needed and in many cases, these will be driven by the Internet.

Here are my views and notes from attending the Future of the Internet council and also from discussions in Future of Mobile and Future of Government councils

Note that these are my personal views and notes.

The broad question we are addressing in the Future of the Internet council is: The Internet grew from the ethos of Open collaboration. As the Internet becomes mature and pervasive, there is a tendency from Government to ‘lock down/close/block’ the freedom and the ethos of the Internet on which it has thrived so far in response to a perceived systemic risk/threat

My personal views are as follows (and are based on the notes and ideas that resonated with me in these three sessions).

The characteristics of the Internet on Governance

a) The overall vision of the Internet going forward is to create a universal platform that works for the whole world

b) Traditional systems are based on scarcity and control. The Internet is based on abundance and access. It needs collaboration, co-ordination and co-operation

c) Social systems are resilient. Technological systems are more fragile. There is a tendency to regulate the technology by treating the technological system like a social system, but that will not work.

d) The Internet is a platform. And whatever it touches, it also converts into a platform. Thus, the tendency of the Internet is to make Government into a platform. If the Government became a platform, it would be based on services that are not anticipated in advance.

e) The Government no longer becomes a ‘broadcast medium’ since it starts to incorporate the views and feedback from a citizens (closed feedback loop)

f) The Internet has a faster rate of change than Government. This causes conflicts in regulations i.e. the Internet is ahead of the regulatory curve.

g) The Internet is based on the ‘coalition of the capable’. This ethos will spread across other domains.

h) Internet governance has been built without governments. It has transcended Governments.

i) The Internet is a fundamental right(like access to water)

Impact of the Internet on Governance

a) Areas where there is consensus are easier to regulate. However, the number of stakeholders are increasing and are becoming global. This means, Governments have to realize that decisions will be complex and multi-stake holder. Multi-stake holder collaboration will be the default rather than the exception

b) For a diverse set of opinions, it may be necessary to get views from people within a specific Government. The Web makes capturing such views possible

c) The Internet is a universal global platform that works because government is one voice among many and not the final arbiter. Governance of the Internet needs working with a complex socially technical system. There is a tendency to regulate based on what we know and a feeling that the G20 could do it themselves.

d) Would we create a more polarized society or a less polarized society?

e) The younger generation (which has grown up with Internet, social networking and Mobile technologies) brings with it to the workforce a different set of values. This will create a generational conflict.

f) Internet allows us to create bite sized innovation rather than big bang innovation

g) Emerging markets like Brazil and India will lead to innovation in different areas going forward

h) If the Internet mirrors the social networking, we are likely to see 10% contributors; 40% commentators. This will be a positive change

i) Sensors and Mobile devices are the key future drivers of the Internet. Hence, applications like Mobile Health and Smart Grids will be important

j) Transparency will be the currency of the Internet and will be important going forward

k) We have yet to see the privacy impact of issues like putting the individual’s whole genome online

l) Internet collaboration has many positive case studies ex Kiva micro banking which hit 100 million dollars four years after its founding and ofcourse Wikipedia


a) Mobile will be one of the key drivers of the Internet

b) The Internet incorporates any device connected via the IP protocol. In that sense, all mobile devices are a part of the Internet

c) However, if the Internet is viewed as a set services (and that is often the user’s perspective), then the mobile device could be the primary mode of access to the Internet for a majority of the people in the world. Their experience of the Internet will be very different(social, connectivity, creation, richness etc)

d) IP is fundamentally disruptive. It is not possible to charge for ‘interconnect charges’ across countries since packets flow freely across geography.


My recommendations would be (for which WEF could act as a catalyst)

a) The rate of change of the Internet is greater than that of the legal framework. Hence, there needs to be a place/forum where legislators can collaborate and share information. It could be called a ‘Pre law’ forum or as I called it once ‘A back channel for the Internet’

b) The Internet needs a ‘rapid response button’ – we already have a similar idea in social networks like Bebo as of a few weeks ago(http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2009/nov/18/social-networking-sites-criticised). That idea could be extended

c) The Internet needs an early warning system

d) We need ‘patterns and anti patterns’ that work i.e. templates (for the lack of a better word) which can be used to share best practice globally

Any comments feedback welcome.

If you blog/tweet about the survey, please let me know

Please email me your responses to survey at ajit.jaokar at futuretext.com

Some pics below



From left to right:

Ross Anderson University of Cambridge

Paul Twomey President and Chief Executive Officer (ICANN)

David L. Sifry Technorati Inc.

Mitchell Baker Mozilla Corporation

Jonathan Hsu 24/7 Real Media

Bruce Schneier Chief Security Technology Officer BT

Drew.Bartkiewicz The Hartford

Jun Murai Keio University

Ajit jaokar (me) :)

Alan Marcus – Senior Director, Head of IT and Telecom Industries – World Economic Forum

Dorothy Attwood AT&T Inc.

Wu Jianping CERNET

Jonathan Zittrain Professor of Law Harvard Law School who is the chairperson of the group is not in the pic and there are others who were not at Dubai

(thanks to Paul Twomey for the pics)