The critical Internet infrastructure is no longer a dry tech-geek topic.
It has drawn attention from the wider Internet community through discussions on Internet names and numbers (domain names such as .amazon, .wine), the Internet of Things (self-driving cars, drones affecting air traffic safety) and other current issues. DiploFoundation offers an interactive online course focusing on technology and core infrastructure issues in the context of public policy.
This course will be of interest to technical experts who are keen to learn more about digital policy; and to policy people who wish to learn more about Internet technology. The interplay between these two communities will add value to the course interaction.
By the end of the course, participants should be able to:
Technology has been the main driver of societal changes throughout history (fire, the wheel, tools, agriculture, the printing press, the telegraph) with particular acceleration over the last 200 years. Technology influences changes in the fabric, economy, and core values of our society.
Every phase in history has had a ‘defining technology’ (Bolter, 1984). Some of them, such as writing, are so integrated in our daily routines that we no longer recognise them as technologies. Other defining technologies have included, for example, the clock, the steam engine, and, more recently, electrical devices. Digital technology is the defining technology of our own era. Each new technology has reopened the question of the impact of technology on society, and this question is as relevant in the Internet era as it has been throughout the centuries. Thus, before zooming in on the digital era, let’s make a short overview of the evolution of thinking about the impact of technology on society.
Bolter JD (1984) Turing’s Man: Western Culture in the Computer Age. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.
Introduction to Internet technology and policy: this course addresses the interplay between technology and policy in the very important area of Internet technology development. As we enter an era of accelerated technological development, with the Internet of Things (IoT) and bio-informatics on the horizon, technological developments will reinforce existing, and open new ethical, legal, and policy issues. Thus, we aim to anchor the discussion on technology in the broader social context.
Internet protocols: this module focusses on the protocols that allow computers to communicate among themselves: the Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) and other related protocols known together as the ‘IP suite’. We look at the relationships between technology and policy, and analyse how the Internet protocols contribute to achievement of the core Internet principles.
Domain Name System (DNS): the domain name system (DNS) translates domain names into Internet protocol (IP) addresses. We tend to work with names translated to IP numbers, rather than directly with IP numbers, for a few reasons. First, human beings find it easier to remember names (such as diplomacy.edu) rather than remembering numbers (such as the IP address 188.8.131.52). This module gives an overview of how IP numbers work, why this is important, and reviews a few important current issues, such as the ongoing transition from IPv4 to IPv6.
Telecommunication infrastructure: understanding the basis for core infrastructures fosters better policy shaping, leading to the development of policies and principles that are compatible with underlying Internet architecture. Infrastructure and policy must be analysed together to enhance their functionality. Effective policy shaping requires a basic understanding of the telecommunications infrastructure as the medium through which the traffic flows: cables such as copper wires or optical fibres, or electromagnetic waves such as satellite and wireless links and mobile networks.
Cloud computing and applications: today’s Internet would not be possible without cloud computing. The cloud allows massive use and ensures the robustness of the Internet. This module on cloud computing starts with a survey of definitions, core concepts, and evolution. Next, it looks at a technological explanation of how cloud computing operates, leading to discussion of policy issues.
Encryption technology: this module examines encryption technology within the framework of Internet technology and policy, including implications for privacy and other rights, and government responses and actions in this area. For our purposes, encryption refers to the scrambling of electronic documents and communications into an unreadable format which can only be accessed through the use of encryption software. This module will also touch upon some of the intrinsic relationships between encryption, trust, and security.
Emerging technologies: digital technology is one of the most dynamic fields of innovation and development that affects the Internet. Almost every day, we hear news about new hardware and software devices, applications, and tools. We examine a few major emerging technologies, or those which are still evolving significantly, such as Big Data, blockchain, and augmented and virtual reality.
Summary: Policy challenges for infrastructure: this module echoes reflections from the course, and how to establish a balance among the different values and principles as we shape Internet policy. It reflects on the ways the core Internet principles apply to different technologies, keeping in mind that technology should benefit society. But history provides a mixed record of technology being a great enabler, as well as a contributor to major human tragedies, especially in the twentieth century. How can the Internet infrastructure and related policies support this idealism, while enabling practical innovation?