Are we missing one big thing?
20 years ago, what is now regarded as one of the major threats facing the developed world was then confined to sci-fi movies.
In a fascinating recent talk on the evolution of the internet, Dr Bob Pepper of Facebook produced some slides from a presentation he gave in 1997, when he was at the FCC. It’s almost embarrassing to recall a world in which 128 kbps was considered “high speed internet”, the largest quoted company in the world was General Electric (it’s now 13th), the dotcom bubble still had three years to reach bursting and Apple was 10 years away from launching the iPhone. Phrases like “the internet is looming” were the equivalent of today’s discussion about AI, machine learning and IoT. What was most striking, however, was how many of the issues facing the evolution and regulation of the internet were both predicted then and relevant now. Bandwidth demands, governance, privacy, safety, universal access, taxation, the search for new business models, even streaming services, were all in the melting pot. (Netflix was launched in 1997, using the US postal service to deliver its product).
Dr Pepper noted that there was one thing missing from his list, and it was a big one – security. Could we have predicted the emergence of cyberwarfare on a literally industrial scale? We can leave that as rhetorical question, and note simply that what is now regarded as one of the major threats facing the developed world was then confined to sci-fi movies. Which begs the question, if we missed such a big thing then, what might we be missing now? Answers please, and I’ll come back to you in 20 years’ time.
Andrea Millwood Hargrave,
Director General, International Institute of Communications
- Tuesday, 12 December 2017