Urgent Optimism for our Internet futures

Hello future worlds! This is a blog about our futures. It’s also about the Internet’s future. I’m exploring topics around emerging technologies affecting people and the Internet through what’s known as ‘futuring:’ systematically sensing change and envisioning distinct outcomes. I’m doing so professionally through the lens of an entity positioned to safeguard this invaluable resource for all: Mozilla.

More specifically I’m a Foresight Strategist working for Mozilla in our Emerging Technologies (R&D) group. Mozilla’s mission is to ensure the Internet is a global public resource, open and accessible to all. An Internet that truly puts people first, where individuals can shape their own experience and are empowered, safe and independent. Over the coming months I’ll be exploring the intersections of this mission and emerging technology trends, the Pledge for at Healthy Internet and how my colleagues and I at Mozilla are interpreting it to create an inclusive innovation culture, and the process of human-centered foresight in the tech industry. How might we invite communities into mixed reality experiences together? What can open source learn from Aftrofuturism? What if a digital assistant could keep your data private to you?

The past few weeks Mozilla marked our our 20th Anniversary. Mozilla isn’t resting on our laurels, but readying to advance the fight for the user.

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We fight for the users, the developers, and other humans.

We’ve had tremendous successes in ingraining open source into the tech industry and flighting for user privacy. We’ve also learned some hard lessons on our journey about applying our principles to bring forth competitive products in a fast-paced market. We find ourselves faced with a challenging world in so many aspects of our lives, and the current moment is shedding bright light on the fact that the Internet as a powerful, society-reshaping technology is doing some harm along with the good for which it was created. Arguably the Internet is central deep breaks in democracies, and also maybe capitalism, and worst of all, human minds. It’s a lot to deal with every day, and we’ve spent a lot of time learning about it, from specific questions of how to squash trolling in comments in the Coral Project to understanding the bigger picture in the Internet Health Report.

This current state of complexity and pain sets the stage for our expanded Manifesto. From our Chairwoman Mitchell Baker on our anniversary:

We’re expanding our manifesto to include a Pledge for a Healthy Internet — or four commitments that will guide our work in these areas. We are committed:

1. To an internet that includes all the peoples of the earth — where a person’s demographic characteristics do not determine their online access, opportunities or quality of experience.

2. To an internet that promotes civil discourse, human dignity and individual expression.

3. To an internet that elevates critical thinking, reasoned argument, shared knowledge and verifiable facts.

4. To an internet that catalyzes collaboration among diverse communities working together for the common good.

The present reality of the Internet consumes me with urgency. Mozilla’s commitment to healthy futures for the Internet that put people first energizes me with optimism.

This is the fuel to win the long-term race to realize the human potential of emerging technologies. This kind of race requires more than reaction. You can’t win a race by looking behind you. It requires disciplined anticipation: sensing what comes ahead. Anticipation works for individuals and companies.

In a world focused on executing daily tasks, and in a business landscape shaped by quarterly earnings and wait-and-see approaches to regulation, futuring might feel strange to you at first. The concept of futuring is different than work of execution. It’s not linear. It’s transdiciplinary. Good futuring can often feel deeply uncomfortable, challenging our worldviews.

For instance, my colleague Chris Riley recently posted a good piece of futuring observing “a global shift in government focus away from celebrating and even expanding the internet’s openness, towards levying restrictions of all shapes and sizes on tech companies to limit the unwanted consequences of that openness.” This shift in collective zeitgeist challenges the already diverse worldviews within the tech industry in ways that are distinctly different from “regulation can’t keep up” trope, and closer to HG Wells 116 year old exhortation to consider the systemic consequences of emerging technologies.

I hope you’ll join me in answering Mitchell’s call:

“There is plenty to do going forward to build a healthier internet that has better human experiences. There’s no detailed map — we’ll build that together. We’ll go forwards, sideways, and in circles.”

Written by

director of strategic foresight at mozilla. investigating futures of the internet for humans. gamer. chaos muppet. easily distracted generalist.

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