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Why the Internet is the way it is (and why it will be very different in ten years)

28 Apr 2006

The Internet has now been around long enough that it is easy to take it as given, rather than question why it is the way it is. In fact, the Internet was invented only about 30 years ago by some designers exploring a very different way of conceiving what a communication network should be.

It was very much a clean-slate design, and while the Internet has been wildly successful, there is no reason to think we got it exactly right on the first try. In fact, it is pretty clear that we did not get it right in all respects. Now there are some very powerful forces trying to change it, and shape the future in different ways: not the forces of technical innovation as much as economics and industry structure, social and regulatory concerns, and local values and globalization.

This talk lays out the basic design principles of the Internet, and then uses some examples of present and future issues, including pervasive computing and better security, to discuss how (and why) the Internet might be different in the future, and what this might mean for society. This is not a technology talk; the future is not being defined by the technologists. This talk is intended to invite a broader conversation about what the Internet is and what society would like it to be in 10 or 20 years.

This event was held in collaboration with the MIT Program on Emerging
Technologies (PoET), the e-Horizons Institute and Lady Margaret Hall, University of

Program on Emerging Technologies (PoET)


Dr David Clark

Senior Research Scientist, MIT Laboratory for Computer Science

David Clark is one of the original inventors of the Internet, starting in the mid-1970s. From 1981-1989 he acted as Chief Protocol Architect of the Internet. More recent activities include technical innovations to the Internet to support telephone traffic, pricing and related economic issues, and policy issues surrounding the Internet, such as broadband local loop deployment. His current research looks at re-definition of the architectural underpinnings of the Internet, and the relation of technology and architecture to economic, societal and policy considerations. Dr Clark is a Senior Research Scientist at the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, where he has worked since receiving his PhD there in 1973. Dr Clark is past chairman of the Computer Science and Telecommunications Board of the US National Academies, and has contributed to a number of studies on the societal and policy impact of computer communications. He is co-director of the MIT Communications Futures Program, an academic / industry partnership to look at the future of the telecommunications industry.

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