The overarching question imparting urgency to this exploration is: Can U.S.-Russian contention in cyberspace cause the two nuclear superpowers to stumble into war? In considering this question we were constantly reminded of recent comments by a prominent U.S. arms control expert: At least as dangerous as the risk of an actual cyberattack, he observed, is cyber operations’ “blurring of the line between peace and war.” Or, as Nye wrote, “in the cyber realm, the difference between a weapon and a non-weapon may come down to a single line of code, or simply the intent of a computer program’s user.”
Almost two-thirds of the world, and 90% of Americans, use the Internet for work, play, romance, education, and a slew of other social and informational activities. The World Wide Web has enjoyed nearly unfettered freedom from government intervention during its first three decades. As the hazards of the Internet become clearer – misinformation, radicalization, invasion of privacy, hacking, mental health issues – the public seems ready to regulate. Is it finally time? If so, what should the government safeguard and how?
To answer these questions, we must look ahead. The future is bound to see the rest of the globe join the digital club, and more intimate devices and smarter voice interfaces will become even more insinuated into our lives. Before long, digitally aware vehicles, robots, kitchen appliances, even toys and clothing will surround us, all of which will recognize us and conform their behavior (and messaging) to our personal preferences. In other words, we’ll be at the receiving end of “touchpoints” more aware of us than we are of them. Our lopsided intimacy with our devices needs to be fixed before advancement continues. Mr. Johnson believes empowering users to self-govern the Internet is the proper aim of government regulation. If this is the right charter, what regulatory model can pull it off?
Steve Johnson has been a technologist, entrepreneur, private investor, and philanthropist for thirty years, professionally specializing in building innovative technologies into successful enterprises, with a personal and philanthropic focus on education, climate change awareness, the arts, and gay rights equality.
Steve was born and raised in Los Angeles, earning a Bachelor of Arts in economics from University of Southern California in 1980 and an MPP from Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School in 1985. He left the Ph.D. program at Harvard in 1990 to start a technology company based upon his invention of a digital means of transmitting sound and images over telephone lines (now known as ‘streaming media’), which was integrated into America Online in 1993 and enabled the first availability of images, sound and video in an online service, a precursor to the Web which arrived in 1995. He has been a technology investor and entrepreneur (and avid marathoner and mountaineer) in the Boston area since 1999, founding companies in ad technology, Web personalization, and data automation.
From 2013-17, Steve served as chairman of the board of trustees of Harvard’s American Repertory Theater, a theater committed to broadening the impact of theater on community, ideas, and understanding. Since 2005, Steve has spearheaded efforts in New South Wales, Australia to honor and seek justice for hundreds of victims of gay hate crimes that ravaged the Australian gay community in the 1980s and 1990s, and took the lives of dozens of men, including Steve’s younger brother, Scott, in Sydney in 1988. This effort helped presage gay marriage legalization in December 2017. Long committed to education and the arts, the Johnson family helped found the first non-denominational independent high school in Orange County, California, Sage Hill High School, which opened in 2000 in Newport Beach, CA.