Our People-Centered Digital Future and Vital Questions on the Future of Pluralistic Co-Existence

David A. Bray
10 min readJan 2, 2019

On 10 December 2018, we held an event focused around discussing “Our People-Centered Digital Future” and what we each could do to ensure it is a more people-centered one vs. the alternatives. The event featured some several original pioneers of the Internet — Vint Cerf, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, Dame Wendy Hall, and many more — as well as contemporaries working towards a better future gather both in-person and online. We had video remarks delivered by Lord Tim Clement-Jones, Chair of the House of Lords Artificial Intelligence Select Committee. We were joined by Bob Gourley, Parry Aftab, Toomas Hendrik Ilves, Mei Lin Fung, Ray Wang, Marci Harris, Dr. Eric Rasmussen, Dr. Annie Sobel, Dr. Daniel Kraft, Don Codling, Doreen Bogdan-Martin of the ITU, Stephanie Wander, Konstantinos Karachalios of IEEE, Jane Coffin of the Internet Society, Deepa Prahalad, Tricia Wang, Doc Searls, Joy Searls, Radia Perlman, Phil Komarny, Krista Pawley, Bevon Moore, Steve Huter, Mariel Triggs, Lee Rainie of Pew Research Center, Dr. Karen Croxson, Scott Campbell, Richie Etwaru, John Taschek, Bitange Ndemo, and many more positive #ChangeAgents.

Eileen Clegg and Yolanda Youngblood of Visual Insight were kind enough to capture a visual storyboard of the event, parts of which I wanted to share here in addition to links to all the archived videos hosted by the Internet Society. A full set of storyboards as well as photos taken by Bill Daul are available via this link as well.

10 December 2018 was a moment in time coinciding with these milestones:

  • 50 percent of people in the world now officially connected to the Internet
  • The United Nations marks the 70th anniversary of the Declaration of Human Rights
  • 50 years since Dr. Douglas Engelbart created the “Mother of all Demos” showing the first computer mouse, hyperlinking, videoconferencing and other inventions that foreshadowed the era of personal computing.

Vital Questions on the Future of Pluralistic Co-Existence

“We’ve got this 50–50 moment,” declared Tim Berners-Lee, referring to the milestone declared by the ITU, the United Nations agency for information and communications technology — that 3.9 billion, half the people on the planet, are now connected to the Internet. “The Web can be there for humanity…It’s all about the individual,” said Berners-Lee, who created the Web Foundation in order to “make sure we get the Web we want.”

Mei Lin Fung talked about unleashing the power of technology for good, making the Internet beneficial in ways specific to individual and community needs.

Vint Cerf honored the memory of Doug Engelbart with the reminder that the famous December 9, 1968 Demo was inspired by a desire to improve people’s lives. He called on people to focus on the hope and the vision for the Internet, instead of their fears.

International Perspectives and Future of the Internet by Early Pioneers

Dame Wendy Hall called on the assemblage to focus on another 50–50 statistic. “Women are 50 percent of the Internet,” she said, emphasizing the need to include more women in decisions about the Internet — and the world — moving forward. She expressed hope and concern about a future with “social networks on steroids.” She expressed worry about children in an era where the Internet is being attacked and manipulated but hope for levelling the opportunity landscape. We are bringing the world to the table,” she said. She cautioned against relying too heavily on software to make decisions that should be made by humans.

Vint Cerf, Tim Berners-Lee, and Wendy Hall as a panel discussed what the future might hold. The group cautioned about upcoming complexity with the Internet of Things (“what if your fridge digitally attacks someone?”) and the need for people to control their own data.

Vital Questions on the Future of Pluralistic Co-Existence

The former president of Estonia, Toomas Hendrick Ilves, declared the biggest problem on the Internet today: digital interference in elections. He talked about a positive earlier governance event that was initiated by people rather than governments — the “Arab Spring” uprising of people against oppressive governments in 2011. Then political manipulation by Russia followed. He suggested looking to the EU’s approach to Internet governance emphasizing freedom and responsibility rather China’s repression or Silicon Valley’s laissez free-for-all.

Perspective from history came from Scott Campbell, Senior Human Rights Officer for the U.N.’s Office of the High Commissioner for Hunan Rights, who said that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights can be invoked today to help us deal with problems eerily similar to those that shook the world when the document was written in 1948: disinformation, hate speech, destruction and the Holocaust. How can we insure “never again”? Commitment to the fundamental conviction that “all people are born free and equal.”

The Internet and Reinforcing the Importance of Human Rights Globally

Distributed ledgers emerged as a proposed solution to guaranteeing what’s being called the 31st human right: The right to our own data. Richie Etwaru called on people to become “courage agents” supporting network agreements the enable people to own their data.

Then, members of the panel on the Internet & Human Rights raised a call for faster action if the Internet is to hold to the original hope as a place of connection, imagination and self-expression. Will technology interfere with those human rights or enhance them? The decisions we make today will be with us for a long time.”

Remedying Disinformation and Addressing Internet Growing Pains

Multiple panelists concluded that it’s up to all of us to grow a digital world where truth can survive.” Among the branches are:

  • New approaches — with good intentions, humility and government working together with industry
  • Safety — with user education, ways to rate the accuracy of information, and inclusion of children’s needs;
  • Attention to unfinished work — ethics, awareness that all information tends to persist
  • Identity — focus on privacy
  • Education — listening and making commitments/agreements to care about the next generation’s safety and well-being.

After different panelists discussed how we might remedy disinformation and help make the Internet more free from fear, I had a chance to moderate a panel of Toomas Ilves, Doreen Bogdan-Martin of the ITU, and Alex Gladstein from the Human Rights Foundation on the challenges that the Internet presents to societies and pluralistic co-existence, to include the need for guidelines for corporations.

Smarter Cities, Digital Heartlands, and the Importance of Digital Inclusion

This is the era of cities with 70 per cent of people living in urban areas, while rural areas are less connected and more vulnerable. Populations including Native Americans and countries including Africa are not being served by the Internet. Right now, it’s important to look for “cultural hotspots” where people aren’t connected.

This is where People Centered Internet can have real impact. We need to get the policies right — government must get involved — and stay focused on serving people regardless of their financial resources. It’s a problem that “when money gets involved, different people are served.”

“Think of the Internet as a basic utility.” That way, finances are not the determinant of who has access.

World of Artificial Intelligence and Shared Prosperity

Artificial Intelligence will bring a wave of challenges and opportunity. The emerging technologies should be considered ways to augment — not replace — human capacity. They can enhance the mundane with innovation, creativity and personalization. But we must balance the risk with how A.I. can meet our needs.

Inclusive growth requires real time data + better decisions + a clearer picture + peer-to-peer analysis.

I had the opportunity to participate in “fireside” chat that turned into an impromptu live audience interaction regarding the bargaining game with Salesforce’s John Taschek where we both emphasized a vision for technology-enhancing prosperity that requires we lead with empathy and scale our personal morals into social ethics. Most problems are a failure in communication.

The Internet and Whole Human Health as well as Questions of Open and Personal Data Sets

The People-Centered Internet starts with the individual, and the most basic need for the individual is health. Individual health can be enhanced by data in context.

“We are all digital beings now” and each of us could be a “data donor.” Via sensors, we can, if we want to, contribute information that enables research to deliver better healthcare.

Our health data — and all our data — can better serve us if we have a personal dashboard enabling us to access it. But we need to be cautious at a time when “the Internet knows more about me than I know about myself.”

The Future of Education and Community Resilience

“Technology was thrust on education.” While can continue to try experiments to make it work within the current educational structure in the U.S., there are barriers. “The only firewall bigger than China’s is public education.” Imagine a world where public education embraced the capacity of the Internet. “What if we could be more portable with our learning?” For students the potential is endless: “Technology connects us with the world.”

On the topic of Community Resilience, we heard a call to work from the ground up — using technology to create a local alert and multi-alert network. High definition cameras can help us anticipate disasters — seeing fires before they rage out of control. Instead of bouncing back — we can bounce forward.

Accessibility for All and and Safeguarding Digital Infrastructure

Mariel Triggs described how accessibility is occurring on tribal lands with new libraries and access to education. The engine that will run these networks is trust. “The DNA for the future needs to have trust at the core.”

Safeguarding digital infrastructure matters as we increasingly become dependent on the Internet.

Already we have proven models at the community level, but for partnerships to scale, we need government to focus on fostering — not simply regulating — partnerships. Developing trust is good business. Elements of trust are transparency and a long view of the future.

Digital Technologies and Human Lives, the Internet, and Corporate Responsibility

Artificial intelligence transforms our lives, yet panelists raised caution about aspects of human intelligence that might not be replicated, the potential for bias baked into the box, and the need for ethics. Joy Mountford raised a laugh from the crowd, then said, “hopefully you’ll see the humor in things the computer cannot.”

How can we motivate corporate responsibility? One idea was to have a seal for best practices. Moderators continually invoked another method — peer pressure, calling out companies who have had failures in responsibility, and praising those that demonstrated responsibility

The Future of Work and Social Impact

Looking at the future of work in the context of the Internet, panelists noted the biggest problem is that people do not feel safe online. If we are to achieve a truly people-centric Internet, the locus of control must move from corporations to individuals; individuals need protection. If these problems can be addressed and good decisions are made today, technology will augment rather than eliminate jobs. We are likely to have a new definition of work and new social contract that benefits workers.

The social impact of the Internet balances risk and freedom — a balance that can be hard to understand because there are so many variables we cannot predict.

Closing Hopes

The day closed with a reflection from Vint Cerf on the future ahead and a motivation for everyone to visit www.peoplecentered.net and sign-up both for the newsletter and to indicate what they can do as positive change agents in the world. In the seven decades that have passed since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, significant technological progress has occurred in the world. At the same time the lessons learned from the tragic lost of life globally in WWII are being forgotten and the institutions put in place to achieve greater global understand and preserve the value of human life and rights eroded. We also have come to appreciate the greater diversity of perspectives, experiences, and backgrounds that need to be present, beyond those originally there for the Universal Declaration.

My own personal hope is that with the start of 2019 and with follow-on activies from the 10 December event, we’ll focus on the unsolved challenges that need to be addressed to ensure digital technologies are a force for good. The last three decades have focused mainly at technologies that focus on individual productivity or organizational productivity, when now we also need to focus on technologies that encourage community empowerment, collaborations, and empathy if we are all to thrive in #OurDigitalFuture ahead.

Additional videos archived from the event are available online thanks to the Internet Society; onwards and upwards together!



David A. Bray

Championing People-Centered Ventures & #ChangeAgents. Reflecting on How Our World Is Changing. Leadership is Passion to Improve Our World.