In the 1993 action/thriller film, Jurassic Park, scientists recreate dinosaurs using DNA extracted from prehistoric fossilized mosquitos. As the movie progresses, a series of accidents and mechanical malfunctions cause chaos on the remote island, as the dinosaurs are loosed from their pens and left free to roam and hunt anything they please – including the humans that brought them (back) to life.
The digital revolution we are experiencing today shares a similar trajectory as the film: the once inconspicuous and careful research work done at universities and in government facilities has been loosed upon the public in the form of digital cellular tech, social media, blogs, online shopping, movie streaming, and music streaming – to name only a few. With these technologies readily at hand to virtually anyone in the world, a sort of digital anarchy has ensued; akin, of course, to the anarchy that ensued on Jurassic Park once the dinosaurs were free from their cages.
When pondering the ways in which we can facilitate the best outcome for the current digital revolution, I am convinced the focus for governments and global partnerships needs to be around balancing both the openness and availability of the internet on the one hand, and the accountability of users and managers on the other. Regarding openness and availability, governments and global partnerships have little to do. Some well-placed regulations on the utilities and platform companies themselves can ensure that the private interest of a few tech giants does not sully digital freedom. However, when it comes to accountability, it seems a more comprehensive (or perhaps “heavy-handed”) approach may be necessary.
For just one example, I foresee the need for some sort of central registry for online users and managers. I imagine that this would be similar to a person’s Social Security Number in the United States: the person gets one and one only. In contrast to the SSN, however, the persons registration name (one can imagine this as either an email address, a username, or some such identification mechanism) could be changed or altered when requested; but, one would not be able to create multiple names in order to have multiple accounts across multiple platforms. This system would almost certainly require additional features and protections: i.e. to allow victims of stalking or identity theft to be sufficiently protected from irreparable harm.
Much like attempting to stop the massive prehistoric creatures in Jurassic Park without eradicating them, the path forward in the digital space is far from simple. Moving forward, wealthy private interests and malignant bureaucrats may very well create loopholes or centralized management structures that make online equity tough (or impossible) to maintain. As future engineers, technicians, and world leaders, I believe it is our responsibility to inform ourselves as to the nature and trends of this ongoing digital revolution. Equipped with this information, we can help shape a digital future that includes both freedom and accountability for users and managers alike.