Nesson's Tour

The Conference

The most important reason to come to the conference is that something is really happening at Harvard.

An intellectual engine is starting. IT's power is being brought to bear on the problems of cyberspace. The wonderful thing, from my point of view, is that there's an ethos in cyberspace that we've become a part of, an ethos which is inclusive and non-proprietary. This conference is Harvard, but not Harvard exclusive; it's Harvard as a site, as a place to which other people and other institutions are invited. Our product is the fruit of this growing community.

Dean of Cyberspace

You're a renowned Harvard Law School professor and an expert on legal issues involving the Internet. You've been referred to as the "Dean of Cyberspace." How did you first become involved in cyberspace? Were there any assumptions you made which were challenged as you got deeper?

i spent the first several years of my involvement in cyberspace overwhelmed, in a sense, by the sheer dimension of the questions i was facing. The fundamental elements which had built my understanding of law and the way the world functions were up for grabs. Jurisdiction?—forget about it. IT's so fluid. Law's mode has been to control behavior with rule and sanction. But what if you can't catch someone? What if they're able to move someplace else?

i feel like i've always been interested in cyberspace. My interest—in my early education—was mathematics. Math is about abstractions: how they fit together, and how you can build things with them. Different premises produce different theorems.

The questions i've been asking about this new architecture have coalesced into a set of new understandings. Enterprise in cyberspace seems to respond to rules that are almost the opposite of the rules that govern the more traditional commercial development.

Conference Structure

As Conference Chair, how would you characterize the Conference? Will it be more passive, with people listening to, for example, Esther Dyson speak, and then gathering in groups to discuss the issues she addresses? Or do you see the conference as more of an interactive, even Socratic kind of experience?

We're looking for a variety of experience. So, sometimes a keynote speaker will give a speech and people will listen, and there will be demos on the screen, and cyber-appearances where the keynote speaker is on the screen. There will be two-person events during which an interviewer—perhaps myself—asks Lou Gerstner or Scott McNealy questions, to probe the issues more spontaneously and deeply than the typical keynote speech affords the opportunity to do.

All of this should take place in an environment with Web connection, Web opportunity, both before and after the conference. So we're looking for interaction on many different levels.

1996 Conference

What's unique about this Conference? How will it be different from the 1996 conference?

In 1996, the big push came from the Business School. Business issues still feature prominently in this conference, but it will be more balanced, more inclusive of the non-profit side of Internet possibility.

My personal belief is that, in many ways, the non-profit opportunities are more exciting than the business opportunities and may, in fact, turn out to lead business opportunity in creative development of cyberspace. Great as is the business opportunity in the .com domain, even greater commercial opportunity may appear in the wake of entrepreneurial, non-profit activity. That's what i see happening.


Do you have a scholarship program, for attendees from the nonprofit sector?

Yes, we do. We would like the world of non-profit to know that this is a conference that relates to them, that there's a place for them. Thank you, Wilson Sonsini. Thank you, Novartis.


Can you tell us more about this year's conference schedule, in terms of the issues that will be addressed?

This conference is more conceptually structured than the first conference. Our goal, with unified sessions and breakout sessions, is true interdisciplinary connection, along the themes we're examining.

The conference is about the Internet and Society. IT's focus is on the question whether the Net must inevitably drive a deeper wedge between rich and poor. Tuesday opens with the framing of the question, Wednesday is "Internet", Thursday "Society", Friday the call to action. What do we mean by "Internet"? The major themes of the day are the problems involved in building out and using the Internet: privacy, property, security, and quality. Those are big headings, but they capture where the concerns lie.

If Wednesday is the day to look from the viewpoint of the Net toward society, Thursday is the day to look from society's point of view toward the Net. We'll channel the excitement, for example, that a Bill Gates, Charles Ogletree, Cornel West, or Tony Appiah feels about the potential of the Internet to do what they've dreamed about doing, in terms of open access and changing attitudes regarding identity—cultural identity and racial identity—in ways that are positive.

Friday will be our effort to bring it all together, to integrate and bring the focus substantively on community. Community itself is the currency of cyberspace. With the fluidity of that space, the only thing you can truly own is the allegiance and trust of the community you're a part of. When it becomes ultimately fluid, your community can follow where you go.

Internet Security

One of the biggest issues at the conference will be security and the Internet. Do you have any concerns, or fears, involving cyberspace that you don't feel other people are aware of yet?

The biggest danger that i see for my country is that the U.S. is a leader in the development of the Internet. That's great for the country, absolutely wonderful. But it also means that we are increasingly integrating our own culture, and our economy, with the Internet.

The Internet is very vulnerable. If you want to do damage on the Internet, you can do it. When i listen to experts talk about how much damage they could do and how little time it would take—and for how little money—i'm impressed. And scared.

When i think of how easy it is to do damage and how mobile and fluid the terrorist can be, i'm struck that one way to guard the Net is to diminish the motivation of people to damage it. When i look to see what the motivations for terrorism are, revenge is at the top of the list. One reason folks are angry at us is because they think we have done dirt to them. To minimize Internet sabotage, open the Net to those you are afraid of. Give them an investment in it. Destroyers of the Net are most likely to be people who are not invested in it; it's unlikely to be the other way around.

A complementary strategy recognizes that security also has a technical side. How can you, be you individual, corporation, or country, be secure against the risk that your technical infrastructure can be penetrated and subverted, even commandeered by an enemy, if your system operates on closed code to which you do not have full access and understanding? How can a nation other than the U.S. feel secure if its vital tech infrastructures are built on closed code developed and supported by a US corporation? i believe there are deep security reasons for developing platforms based on open code.

Public Policy

How do you see public policy evolving in relation to Internet Issues?

The status of public policy right now, with respect to the Internet, is low-grade. There is no firm, clear-sighted leadership on issues of public policy, at least within the United States. And we are a leader.

The reason for this is that the questions are incredibly daunting. What's the role of property? What's the role of law? What's the role of government? What are the effects going to be? These are huge questions that people involved in elections, in running administrations and bureaucracies, have not yet had time to digest. There is no one who's come forward and said, "Here, we've got a clear vision; here is the answer."

But answers are now starting to crystallize; they're starting to emerge. There is an opportunity for real leadership in public policy. i would expect that public policy folk who come to the conference will leave knowing that they are considerably further ahead than when they arrived.

Keynote Speakers

What can we expect from the keynote speakers, in terms of their contribution and participation in the conference?

Esther Dyson's a good place to start; she has been one of the most insightful thinkers about the development of the Internet, right from the start. She has had more intelligent things to say about property in cyberspace than—i think—just about anyone.

She will be participating at the conference, i hope, in a variety of ways. That is, she'll be speaking; she'll be responding to questions; she'll be taking part in the virtual environment. She's a very important and well-informed voice in the space.

Lou Gerstner is extremely interesting to me because IBM is extremely interesting; the fact is, IBM is a giant company with huge potential. Gerstner has got its future in his hands.

Questions about how established capital deals with change, with the pace of change that the Internet represents, is a problem i think Lou Gerstner has confronted. He can teach us something about that.

Scott McNealy runs Sun. Sun is both the home of UNIX and JAVA and one of the foremost companies in expressing itself through the Internet...

McNealy espouses a basic philosophy of openness, of transferability—his is a voice i want represented at this conference, to answer questions about the power of open code and Sun's support of IT.

Steve Ballmer is an Executive Vice President for Microsoft. He's this wonderfully aggressive guy; i mean, he really will get in and mix it up with you. Questions about Microsoft are—they're the questions about the future of the Internet.

i'm completely certain that Larry Ellison will take the platform and he'll electrify people.

Kim Polese was a creator of JAVA, and now, through her company, Marimba, the architect of an educational initiative called DASHBOARD to connect parents with teachers, part of a broader effort to add substance to the wiring of schools. Wiring schools is a tech feat. The true challenge lies in using technology to support teachers. She begins to speak to that.

Steve Case and Ira Magaziner are coming to talk about governance. The challenge in Cyberspace is not only to build community, but also to build structures that allow the created community to govern itself. Are we capable of governing ourselves? This was the great question Lincoln posed at Gettysburg.

The Mission

What general perception do you want the Conference to leave? What would you like to have people saying about it as they depart on Friday?

i'd like them to say: "Boy, that was really fun." That would be number one. Number two, i'd like them to leave with their brains just spinning, just absolutely hot-buzzed at the potential out there.

From a lawyer's point of view, i would like people to leave wondering whether it might not really be possible to build this space almost entirely without law, by designing our structures with feedback loops that tend toward moderation simply built into the architecture.

i'd like people to go out thinking that the way we govern ourselves is inevitably going to be affected by the ability of this space to facilitate people forming opinions on subjects of interest to them, and being polled. Politics is sensitive to polls, and i think we've seen nothing yet. The Internet will be a huge political force—people expressing themselves, coherently and in ways to which people in political power will have to respond. That is right in front of us. i'd like people to go out thinking, "We can organize that power and use it to good ends."

i'd like people to go out with the feeling that there's money to be made. i'm not ashamed of the commercial value of this space. This is a development—a space to be developed in a variety of ways. The idea that you can state a noble mission, do a demo which shows it's possible, and then organize the contributions people are willing to make in order to make it happen—non-profit in the lead, commerce in its wake. That's an idea i think will take off. i'd like people to leave thinking that perhaps a Commons can be built, if people means, talent, and good will combine to make it happen.

Copyright 1998