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00:00:09
I want to tell a story. I want to tell a story of the Internet, its initial promise and how it broke bad. I want to tell a story of how tech became water and how that water got poisoned. This is a story by me, Bruce Schneier, technologist and security expert, speaking to technologists So once upon a time, there was a small group of men and they were almost all men. White American men, to be exact. And that's important. It'll be relevant later. And they can be more in more than one place at the same time.
00:00:39
Physically, they were separate, often very far away from each other, but they were also together talking and joking and arguing. Thanks to the magic of a new technology that bound them together. That technology was the Internet access on computers that look more like mini fridges and laptops and phones. These people were techies. I was and am one of them. We were in academia, in business, in government. I was in government at the time.
00:01:06
And what we wanted was to be able to share information faster than anyone ever had before. To reduce the distance between people to nothing to make data easy to find. To share memes. Yeah. There were means in those days we gave you catch on the internet. You are welcome. And to do all the other trivial and powerful and wonderful stuff that we do on the internet today. What we really wanted was freedom. Freedom to keep building, to play with our tech toys.
00:01:34
However, we wanted to use our technology in our way. Yes, there was an elitist to that. These technologies, these toys were for us And most people didn't know how to use them or what to do with them. Now, this wasn't true for absolutely all of us. We were, after all, individuals different backgrounds, different ideas, different attitudes. We weren't all white American men. But as a group, as a culture, we had an identity.
00:02:01
And that identity, like most of us was white, male, American, and vaguely libertarian. That's how the Internet got personified in those early days. Again, this wasn't everyone If you gathered all of us to talk about those early days, the women, the people of color, they would tell different stories. But it was most of us. And in our broader techie culture, we didn't believe in authority for its own sake. We had no hierarchies. If you want to influence you made something new,
00:02:30
then you made something else new. If someone else wanted to adapt what you made, there was no one to tell them not to. And we thought no one should tell them not to. We were distributing power and not hoarding it. So one of the things we liked about the new tech, our new tech was that it was a powerful tool that traditional power didn't understand. And in many cases, they didn't even know about it. So we were free to do with it what we wanted, whether it was creating
00:02:58
a form of currency beyond the reach of governments and banks. Or finding new ways to trade Pez dispensers. That is how eBay got started. And my wife was one of those early pest collectors. We knew that sooner or later somebody would want to take our new tech and use it for ends that we couldn't agree with. We even know who our enemies would be. Criminals certainly who would use the freedom and privacy and power of the Internet for illegal purposes.
00:03:25
But the real enemy would be government, the bastion of traditional power. Old power. Dark suits. Heavy badges. They'd want to use our tech to invade our privacy, not just when we were using the technology itself, but whenever they could. Any time. All the time. And we were right. In the early 1990s, we saw the first crypto war
00:03:50
when we, the techies, fought back against the FBI and the NSA, who wanted secret access back doors into encrypted phones. It's exactly what we didn't want for our tech. But we had been afraid it would be used for we fought them in tech reports. We fought them in the press. We fought them everywhere. It took three years for the government to give up on the Clipper chip. But they did. We won.
00:04:16
The lessons we took for this were straightforward. We had been right. The enemy would come from outside our group. It would be the government trying to use our tech against us, against everyone. We could defend our tech from them and the tech. By moving and changing faster than government could keep up. Could protect itself. We knew what the future battles were going to look like. And we knew how to win them.
00:04:42
We were arrogant and we were wrong. But we didn't know that. And we kept on as we had before. Building new tools, new toys, all outside the control of old power. And we wanted to share them because why create something powerful and beautiful? Something that was meant to be democratic and popular. If you can't share it. And people took to it. Of course they did. Why wouldn't you take the something as powerful as the Internet? How could you not?
00:05:11
The tech was suddenly everywhere. None of what the techniques were doing was free. It costs money to develop tech and to support it, especially as more people started using it and techies started making money. Sometimes a lot of it, sometimes more than you could imagine. But it looked more or less as if the assumptions that those original techies were right, that our values were intact, that tech was freeing information and putting power in the hands of people.
00:05:41
And if we were looking for validation and let's be honest, we were. Who isn't? Nothing could have confirm the righteousness of our faith or the rightness of our cause. More than the Arab Spring in the early 20 tens of millions of people using tech that the old power couldn't control and barely understood to defy authority and seize control of their own national destinies. The tech dream was for all the world to see coming true.
00:06:09
But even then, if those of us who watched tech and thought about tech and had been part of those early days of tech had been honest with ourselves, we would have told you that the dream of freedom through technology was already starting to go bad. We came to that realization at different times. Some of us still aren't there. But even in the years leading up to the Arab Spring, as tech was breaking out of hierarchies and closing of the people,
00:06:35
it became increasingly clear that we had also made a terrible mistake. We had fought the enemy who would want to use our tech against ordinary people would be outsiders like the government, the dark suits, the heavy badges. We did not think the threat would come from the inside, that it would look and sound like us. And when I say look and sound like us, I mean exactly that. The people who turn tech into an enemy of freedom looked and sounded
00:07:02
like the people who had made tech to be a tool of freedom. White American vaguely libertarian men. They validated ideas. They funded our projects. And that's why we didn't see it coming. The original promise of the Internet is that it will exist outside of old power that would break down the structures and restrictions and census rules of old power and put that power in the hands of ordinary people. But money is its own kind of power.
00:07:30
And when corporations start to dominate the Internet, they became de-facto governments. Slowly but surely, the tech companies began to act like old power. They use the magic of tech to consolidate their own power, using money to increase their influence, blocking the redistribution of power from the entrenched elites to ordinary people. The first examples of this were small. Some of you may remember a social network called MySpace. It's barely around anymore.
00:07:58
It was replaced by Facebook. One of the ways Facebook dethroned it was by creating a tool that would let people move their profiles, their post, their information from MySpace straight into Facebook. What could be easier? And MySpace let them because the point of tech was to give freedom to users. If MySpace was going to beat Facebook, it was going to do it by making things harder for its users. But the first thing Facebook did as soon as it toppled MySpace was to change
00:08:27
both its tech and its legal position to prevent its users from moving their information to yet another social network. Facebook took advantage of tech's tradition of openness, but as soon as it got what it wanted, it closed its platform off. Like I said, this is a small example, but it's exactly how old power users money and influence taken hold and that it consolidate. It's the opposite of what we originally envisioned And the government didn't give up either.
00:08:57
The Clipper chip wasn't the end of NSA surveillance after the terrorist attacks of September 11th. It piggybacked on the corporate surveillance that became the business model of the Internet. And in 2013, Edward Snowden showed us all just how far a government would go to subvert the Internet for surveillance and control. Other examples are everywhere. Google using its power as a search engine to prioritize its own shopping service companies using software copyright law to prevent others
00:09:26
from modifying or extending their products. And you can draw a direct line from those stories to the recent election and the politics of today, the social media spreading disinformation and stalking divisiveness to China and its network of social capital to surveillance capitalism run amok. Private tech companies have greater power to influence, censor and control the lives of ordinary people than any government on earth.
00:09:55
And they use that power for their own financial gain. And at the demand of the governments, they're beholden to techies everywhere. It is in everything we do. It has become essential to society. Tech is water. And because it is so essential because it started off so prominently, because it is so powerful, we let tech do things we would never consent to a government doing.
00:10:21
We let it track our information and faces, monitor what we say to our loved ones in the privacy of our own home. Know where we are at every moment of every day. We let it control what we see and what we don't. We've built a world where we're ceding power to the already powerful tech is water and the water is poisoned. We, the techies, should have seen this coming and done something about it. But we didn't. I didn't.
00:10:49
And I'm sorry It doesn't have to be this way, though. We still have a choice. And by we, I mean the broader, more inclusive way that technologists have become. Because as influential and as wealthy as these new tech companies are, when they start to behave like old power, when they sided with old power, they took on the limits of old power as well. Power, especially old power that depends on gates and gatekeepers,
00:11:20
needs people It needs actual, ordinary people to accept its authority and to protect that authority. At a minimum, in order to survive it needs people to believe that wherever, whether or not they like what's happening to them, they are powerless to do powerless to do anything about it. And as long as that's the case, we are less free than we were before. The invention of the microchip
00:11:48
There's a lot that needs to be done to fix this. We need to reduce monopoly power in tech. Their ability to lock users in and play products and services against each other is essential to their hold on power. We need to put limits on surveillance capitalism. We need tech that supports the fullness of human experience and not just the market. And metrics of success that aren't market driven. Like, what would a Facebook look like if it were designed for society and not for consumers?
00:12:17
But none of this will happen with the old power in charge. We need a new power, and it needs to be us. We are engineers and scientists but we are also citizens. Technology and society are inexorably intertwined. All the major policy issues of our generation are deeply technological. Tech isn't a bunch of toys. It's tools to create a world. We all know this is true, and we need to start acting like it.
00:12:48
We need technology in the public interest. I have three concrete things we technologists can do to rebalance power One Build something new. In the early days of tech, it was building something. I got you power. I think it can still be that way. Stephanie Singer built a platform that helps monitor lectures of the United States vote. Visualizer highlights anomalies
00:13:15
that can indicate either malfunctions or malfeasance. Code for America's local brigades are responsible for lots of useful technologies for civic participation. But today, building is more than creating toys. It's diverse, deliberate, deliberative. It's international and interdisciplinary. It's about design and user experience. And understanding how tech affects the broader society. It's about ensuring that tech is inclusive.
00:13:44
I'm part of Tim Berners-Lee solid initiative It's an attempt to give us all control of our own data and allow us to use it in ways we see fit. It's computer code, yes, but it's also a technical standard and a community and a new way of thinking about our relationship with data. I actually don't want to focus too much on developers or say that more tech is the answer to bad tech. We can't hackathon our way out of social ills. But I do want to raise the voices that are already saying
00:14:13
that more inclusive tech is one answer We could all participate in shaping the technology we use, not just as passive consumers, but as active members of society to distribute power I'm on the board of several tech advocacy organizations, but that kind of role isn't for everyone and doesn't need to me. Shannon Turner built a volunteer program to teach women Python. In the course of a few years, she's created 3000 new programmers, changing countless lives.
00:14:44
And Hear Me codes curricula are online for others to use. I also teach cybersecurity policy at the Harvard Kennedy School. My goal isn't to turn public policy students into security experts My goal is to give them an understanding of the policy issues and a respect for technical experts. I want them to court you when they get into office. Get appointments in federal state agencies, or work at public policy organizations.
00:15:10
Now, this is the panacea. Either power naturally consolidates anything we do here will be resisted by existing power. But distributing power creates a thicker level of civil society. And that's essential to resisting old power. So look around you. Who is your community? What can you give them? What can you do together as a people? Wellston said. We all do better. When we all do better three inhabit government.
00:15:38
Seeing government as the enemy smacks of the old power. Using technology to fight government is also old power technology. Government has been the enemy, but it's also an important part of the solution. We need to fundamentally rebalance the relationship between tech and government. We need to inhabit government. Now, this is already happening. Despite the notoriously crappy pay and lack of perks,
00:16:05
the desire to help to inhabit our government is there. There are three programs that bring cutting edge technologies into the US government, ATF, U.S. Digital Service, and the Presidential Innovation Fellowship. They receive thousands of applications every year for a handful of positions The U.S. Digital Response is a collective of volunteer techies to help government combat COVID. It's grown to tens of thousands in just a few months. The EU has similar programs.
00:16:35
I don't want to minimize the contributions of these people over the years, but they are all exceptions and they're all exceptional. Go read the story of Audrey Tang, Taiwan's digital minister, and the work she did around tech and Cobit. It's fantastic. We need to elevate existing efforts to bring tech workers into government either full time, part time, or corporate sabbaticals. The US of Technologists is trying to bring 10,000 workers into government. Clarice Chan is building a civic leave program for tech companies
00:17:06
and workers who are already in government need to be valued. They need upgrade equipment, working conditions and the ability to innovate. In less than three years, a full third of the federal workforce will be eligible for retirement. We have to get the best tech talent into government and keep it there. We need to build a world where there's a viable career path for public interest technologists. And there's more if we conceive of governance more broadly.
00:17:35
Organizations like the ACLU and EFF are critical to bringing tech expertize into policy. The mark up is using data and other analytic technologies in the service of journalism, told Power to Account and technologist and organizations like the G20 and the World Economic Forum are working to integrate tech and policy. So that's my to do list for us technologists. Build something new. Distribute power. Inhabit government. One more request.
00:18:03
Approach all of this with humility. The history of tech is filled with arrogance. And we can't have that anymore. We really don't know what it will take to fix tech, and techies certainly can't be the sole source of any solution. I am continually looking at myself and how I could learn from others, especially those in other disciplines. Be humble. Bring in other voices. This is a process, not a product.
00:18:32
Big changes are coming. Artificial Intelligence. Internet of Things. 5G Communications. Big Data. Robotics. Biotech. Computers are increasingly making autonomous decisions and affecting the world in a direct physical manner, and they will change many aspects of society work. Family. The economy. Personal. National security. Liberty. Freedom. Democracy.
00:18:58
And we can create these systems. Prioritize different goals. We can prioritize short term corporate profits, of course. What? Government control. But we can also prioritize autonomy. Privacy, human rights and liberty. Freedom, democracy. All of these are possible goals. We can choose I want us to explicitly decide which future we will collectively create.
00:19:27
Build something new, distribute power, inhabit government, My vision here is an international community led by its people, inclusive of all its people. Understanding technology, building the future. We want to have it and being the new power. We can win this. The current powers are not invincible, nor is the status quo inevitable. We are the new power. Let's start acting like it. Thank you.
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