The following text is copyright 1997 by Network World, permission is hearby given for reproduction, as long as attribution is given and this notice is included.
Responsibilities of the creators
Norbert Wiener was a little bit optimistic (or was that pessimistic?) when he wrote in his 1964 book God & Golem, Inc. "within from ten to twenty-five years, chess machines will have reached the master class, and then, if the efficient but somewhat machinelike methods of the Russian school have allowed chess to survive so long, it will cease to interest human players." It has taken thirty-three years from the publication of this very interesting little book, still available from MIT Press, and its mention of an IBM developed checkers playing program that "appears to learn from its experience" to the victory of IBM's latest game playing computer, Deep Blue, over the world chess champion.
While I rather doubt that chess will suddenly become uninteresting to humans, this event seems to be causing quite a bit of upset in some people. The vision of a malevolent, self aware computer such as HAL, whose birthday was just celebrated, seems to loom large in the minds of too many people. A creation turning against its creator. In light of some of the recent news, I expect that some of the creators of the Internet just might also harbor some worries along this line.
At the same time that Bob Kahn and Vint Cerf are to be awarded the National Medal of Technology and the FCC orders low cost Internet connections for schools and libraries, Germany is about to approve the establishment of Internet police whose task will be to look for things on the net that offend German law. The government of France is suing a web site because it does not have a French language version. The US Social Security Administration puts all of our employment records up for easy access on the net. The US government complains that European privacy protection laws are getting in the way of commerce and maintains that certificate authorities have to know your private key in order to function. The NSF inspector general recommends that the US government take over managing the International Internet namespace and make it a profit center. The purveyors of unsolicited email advertising everything from Ponzi schemes to on-line pornography publicly boast of their ability to push their garbage into everyone's face and claim that they have the constitutional right to do so. The spreaders of hate seize yet another vehicle to distribute their venom.
In this case it is not the creation which is at fault but instead those who would exploit it for their own gain at the expense of everyone else, those who fear its unfettered pathways, the clueless, and those who would use this tool as yet another weapon. In general, the creators of the Internet did not intend it to be a weapon against the individual or society, they intended it to support communication, which, on balance, is better to have than not have.
Wiener notes that "the Social Sciences are a bad proving ground for the ideas of cybernetics" but it is in these arenas that we now must strive to decrease the threat and increase the promise of what we are now creating.
disclaimer: Harvard's creations (graduates) are always promise and never threat so the above exhortation must be my own.