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Development 3 December 2011

Rethinking Smart Growth- How should current policies towards ICT, RandD and skills development be revamped to deliver Europe’s smart growth objectives?

Address by Frédéric Donck, Director, European Regional Bureau
World Economic Forum, Brussels, 10 May 2010

Rethinking Smart Growth- How should current policies towards ICT, R&D and skills development be revamped to deliver Europe’s smart growth objectives?

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, it is a pleasure to be here today and I would like to thank the World Economic Forum for the opportunity to contribute to this important discussion.

First, a word or two about the organization I represent.

The Internet Society is an independent, international, nonprofit, cause-based organisation established in 1992 by two of the fathers of the Internet – Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn. We are dedicated to the stability, continuity, and advancement of the Internet for the benefit of all people. We work to advance critical Internet technologies and best practices, provide information, advice, and training programs, and promote national and international policies that support the growth and improvement of the Internet throughout the world.

We provide the organizational home for the groups responsible for Internet standards and protocols, including the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF).

The Society has more than 80 organisational and more than 28,000 individual members with over 90 chapters around the world. We are located in Washington, DC, and Geneva, Switzerland, with a distributed workforce in 12 countries including Regional Bureaus in Africa, Latin America, Asia, North America and of course Europe- which I have the pleasure to lead.

The program for this panel asks: “How should current policies towards ICT, R&D and skills development be revamped to deliver Europe’s smart growth objectives?”

I have carefully read the European Commission’s recent communication on “Europe 2020 strategy” and I have heard President Barroso’s strong call for a coordinated European response that would be driven a multi-stakeholders approach.

The bottom line is: there is a strong need for a vigorous plan based on revised objectives in economic, social, and environmental spheres and this would need to be driven by a collective effort, following a model of distributed responsibility.

In what may be a surprise to some, the Internet Society, the IETF, and the inventors of the Internet have always had this collective and coordinated responsibility in mind, and they saw the free flow of information as an enabler of increased wellbeing for individuals and for society as a whole.

The Internet Society’s mission is to promote the open development, evolution, and use of the Internet for the benefit of all people throughout the world. At the Internet Society’s creation in 1992, many people may have considered this mission more optimistic than prescient.

The Internet has enabled collaborative research across all disciplines (not only scientific and technical fields), allowing for an unprecedented sharing of information, cooperation, and collaboration that continues to build humanity’s knowledge and our awareness of ourselves and our environment.

The Internet has become central to societal and economic development at the level of the individual, as well as at national, regional, and global levels.

The IETF (which is by the way, 22 years old) also has a Mission statement, which includes the following:

The IETF community wants the Internet to succeed because we believe that the existence of the Internet, and its influence on economics, communication, and education, will help us to build a better human society.

Indeed, we all believe that by creating opportunities for people to communicate, cooperate, and collaborate, the Internet will play a key role in bringing about a more inclusive and sustainable future for all of us. Issues or interests that once were the purview of the few are now within the grasp of the many, and their voices can now be much more readily heard.

At the Internet Society we have been involved since our inception in capacity building, through Internet education and technical training around the globe. We have witnessed first hand how the availability of information and know-how enables great things. We recognize and understand that change is driven by empowered, involved individuals and communities – and we know that the Internet is a fundamental enabler of change, supporting individual‘s needs and the opportunities they see.

Today, the world is witness to an unprecedented groundswell of civic involvement in the future of society and the environment. Empowered and involved citizens and communities, collaborating and cooperating around the globe – and using the Internet as their communication medium – are bringing about a pervasive and global awareness of issues related to inequality, resource scarcity, sustainability, and opportunity. We need distributed concerted actions.

So, if we accept that the Internet is essential to a sustainable future, what can we do to ensure that this incredibly successful medium continues to evolve in a way that allows future users around the world to build upon, benefit from and use it to improve their lives and our world?

And how concretely could we contribute to the top line objectives of boosting Europe ICT, R&D and knowledge-based society as key drivers for growth and jobs?

The voices of those on the front line of Internet development tell us of the incredible value that the Internet, and its underlying principles, brings to them, from encouraging communication, to enhancing openness, supporting choice, enabling creativity, and empowering community.

The power of the Internet itself is now being harnessed to allow researchers and scientists to virtually extend their laboratories. Distributed computing techniques allow ordinary computers connected to the Internet to help solve extraordinary problems. Citizens with no academic training can play their part in tackling some of humanity’s biggest challenges by allowing their computers’ downtime to be put to productive use.

The Human Genome Project decoded the very essence of our being, using this approach.

Distributed computing projects are also underway to help us create more effective medicines, develop better understanding of epidemics, and build more sophisticated climate models.

These types of projects, which have such enormous potential for improving the lives of people everywhere, are only possible with open standards, open networks, and collaborative models of development. The Internet both arose from, and taught the world about, this way of working. There was nothing like it before, and there has never been a more important time in history to learn its lessons.

In the Internet community, we talk a lot about the open, collaborative Internet Model and it is worth spending a moment on it here, because the success and value of the Internet unequivocally lies in its development and management model.

The Internet is a network of tens of thousands of networks, drawing overall resilience from this distributed responsibility.

It works because of the collaborative engagement of many organizations and individuals from across the world. People and organizations from many backgrounds and with different expertise are involved: private sector, civil society, government officials, academics, and researchers.

The development of the Internet is based on open standards, mainly developed through the IETF. They are openly developed, and broadly and freely distributed.

Participation is based on knowledge, need, and interest, rather than formal membership.

And finally, the Internet Model is based on widely supported key principles, such as the “end-to-end principle,” which supports the global deployment of innovative, and often surprising applications. Those who create applications don’t need permission to deploy them on the Internet. And perhaps most importantly, users themselves choose which applications best meet their needs (hopefully with no intermediate filtering).

The openness and transparency of the Internet’s technical development, its associated policy development and management processes, are intrinsic to the success of the Internet itself, and to maintaining the global Internet.

As the Internet grows and continues to spur economic and social development around the world, the policies and practices of tomorrow must grow from the shared principles and the shared vision that gave us the Internet.

This global platform has enabled an unprecedented scale of human communications, revolutionized how we express ourselves and collaborate, and in so doing has already contributed unimaginably to the wellbeing of citizens around the world.

As we stand before those big European and global challenges, it is vital to preserve the conditions that sustain Internet development, and by so doing, that we preserve Internet decentralized nature if we want it to continue to be a platform for innovation and creativity.

Let me conclude by referring to some great thoughts-which are not mine, but which I feel extremely powerful and enlightening.

Last year, the Internet Society had the honour to share a panel at a European conference in Brussels with Jeremy Rifkin, who spoke of the future of the energy industries. He argued that the great economic revolutions occur when energy and communication revolutions coincide. The ICT revolution is with us now, characterized by distributed, organic, peer-to-peer collaborations.

According to Rifkin, the energy revolution is coming, and like the ICT revolution, it will break away from « top-down » models, to distributed, smart-grid based interconnections. The implication in his argument was that in a world where development is so often hampered by lack of access to energy resources, a move to a distributed, sustainable model literally empowers people and inevitably changes the relationships of political power and governance.

As communities of interest build around the knowledge systems and interconnections enabled by the Internet, those communities will themselves often evolve similar models of distributed responsibility and decision-making.

The value and successes of “soft” collaborative institutional structures – led by the examples within the Internet Ecosystem – must inevitably continue to spread to other realms.

There are many voices to be heard today, and many perspectives to explore, so I thank you for this opportunity and I’m very happy to further discuss those issues with you all.

Thank you.

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