The Future of the Internet

The Future of the Internet

It’s 50 years ago, almost to the day, that the Internet’s heart began to beat. At first it was a barely detectable flutter, registering – of all places – in Teddington.
In 1967 the UK’s National Physical Laboratory in Teddington conducted a revolutionary experiment in packet switching – the transmission and re-transmission of data around the nodes of an embyronic computer network.

That network became fully operational in 1969, the same year that Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon. Then, in 1973, it began to grow, reaching out across the Atlantic and linking up with a network developed by the US Department of Defence.

Interconnections multiplied exponentially as more networks merged. Knowledge was shared, pooled then hyperlinked. The first protocols were laid down.

In 1982 the science fiction novelist William Gibson coined the term “cyberspace”, referring to a distant future made real, just seven years later, with Tim Berners-Lee’s invention of the world wide web.

Then, in the early 90s, in one of the most far-sighted and far-reaching decisions of the 20th century, the backbone of the Internet – hitherto used exclusively by government and universities – was opened up to commercial traffic.

At this point we can say the internet as we know it was born.

It was ten years ago that we first developed the concept of a national Internet forum, modelled on the global Internet Governance Forum – the UN IGF which was created by the World Summit on the Information Society in 2005 – and we have since seen the UK Internet Governance Forum become a model for over a hundred similar national and regional Internet fora worldwide.

Today I want to talk about the future of the internet. About the extraordinary impact it’s had, and about what we need to do to harness its exponential power, while preventing harm and abuse, so that it serves humanity, spreads human ingenuity and enhances human freedom.

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