Let’s make the internet more humane
Finland was connected to the internet in November 1988. This is just 30 years ago. A little-known fact is that, once connected, the first thing we did was to try to hack into the information systems of the US Department of Energy. As a consequence, Finland and the whole Nordic network was banned from the internet for a few weeks. We were the online bad guys in the beginning.
Since then we have contributed to the internet in the form of security, stability and connectivity. The most popular server operating system, Linux, was born here, as was the most used remote login and secure file transfer protocol, SSH. Our engineers have been active in the creation of secure wireless connectivity in the form of GSM, 3G, 4G and 5G. In fact, GSM was first deployed in Finland in December 1991. We focused on technology and became one of the good guys.
In 30 years the internet has gone from being a simple messaging network to a vast collection of digital services providing online banking, shopping, mobile apps, gaming and connectivity, and it has transformed our way of living. As it has evolved, the idealism which once foresaw technology and the internet leading to ever-increasing democracy has died. And if the idealism that envisaged an increase in freedom of speech and truth, accessible for all through blogs, Wikipedia and social media, has not died then it has suffered a huge hit at the hands of government-led propaganda, censorship, bots and fake news.
As a society we are at a crossroads. We want growth, innovation and a more comfortable and longer life, along with all the benefits that technological development can bring. But we also want to be safe, maintain our privacy and trust in others and to build a future based on our values. How can we strike a balance between our desires without sounding nostalgic about the past, appearing to be anti-globalisation or just plain scared? I personally want to embrace the future and new technology but focusing on technology alone will not solve the problems it causes.
Reflection is the key, I believe. Let’s reflect on what the first 30 years of the internet and connectivity has brought us. How has it changed our lives and is everything it has brought us really what we wanted? Do we let technology, or, even worse, another country lead our lives?
At Sitra we have reflected and have decided to act assertively. We believe that our values and ethics should lead the way in all sectors of society, including the internet. Humane means being benevolent and compassionate. How great would it be if those words described the internet? We want individuals to take control of their online lives in the same way they have in the physical world. It is actually the only way to make a real change to the foundation of the internet and the online services we consume. The human-driven data economy project is our tool for making that happen. The challenge is huge but so is the reward – a better life for all of us in the future. And we Finns have done it before. We have contributed enormously to internet technology. Now let’s contribute once again to make it more humane.