Kimberly Claffy: Hi. I regret not being able to be there in per­son to receive this hon­or from the Internet Society, which has been received by many peo­ple I’ve admired for all my pro­fes­sion­al life. Many of them have humbly said in their accep­tance talks over the years that they were lucky to be in the right place at the right time, or lucky to work with so many amaz­ing peo­ple who seem more deserv­ing of the award. I cer­tain­ly share both of these feel­ings myself. 

I also admire ISOC for putting all these lit­tle bits of his­to­ry online. So here’s a bit of mine. I went to UC San Diego grad­u­ate school in 1989, think­ing I would study arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence dur­ing what I guess was its sec­ond wave. But UC San Diego host­ed one of the orig­i­nal NSF-funded super­com­put­er cen­ters due to the vision and intense ded­i­ca­tion of Sid Karin its found­ing direc­tor, and the vision­ary role of the National Science Foundation in fund­ing a rev­o­lu­tion,” which is what a National Academies report called the US gov­ern­men­t’s strate­gic sup­port for com­put­ing research in 80s and 90s. And so it did. 

It’s hard to find peo­ple out­side Internet his­to­ri­ans who know that the first Internet back­bones were cre­at­ed to con­nect sci­en­tif­ic researchers to high-performance com­put­ing facil­i­ties. I was delight­ed to see Steve Wolff induct­ed into this group in 2013. He described in his speech the exact moment that he and a physics call­ing dis­cov­ered the boon” that net­work­ing would be for sci­en­tif­ic research. Steve was the NSF pro­gram direc­tor who man­aged the also-visionary NSFNET back­bone project in the 80s and 90s, co-led by Hans-Werner Braun. Steve also fund­ed my PhD research, with Hans-Werner advis­ing me along with a ter­rif­ic set of fac­ul­ty from UC San Diego, includ­ing Sid Karin and my fac­ul­ty advis­er George Polyzos, who was him­self a second-generation stu­dent of anoth­er Hall of Fame inductee, Leonard Kleinrock. 

So with all of this sup­port, I was able to do the first, and I feared the last, sci­en­tif­ic study on a pub­lic Internet back­bone, rely­ing on traf­fic, topol­o­gy, and per­for­mance data that National Science Foundation man­dat­ed be col­lect­ed and shared pub­licly by the NSFNET project. 

Then the year I fin­ished grad­u­ate school was also the year that NSF decom­mis­sioned this back­bone, care­ful­ly imple­ment­ing it to pre­vent par­ti­tion­ing of the net­work. It was light­weight indus­tri­al pol­i­cy that stew­ard­ed a glob­al ecosys­tem into exis­tence. Boy was that a thing to watch in grad school. 

So many pre­vi­ous awardees have spo­ken of the mag­ic sauce of the Internet. The oppo­site of secret sauce, I guess, because they all use the word open.” Open stan­dards, open archi­tec­ture, open source. They said this open­ness is what made the Internet the Internet. Which sounds most­ly right, although not much like how we expe­ri­ence the Internet today. 

Paul Vixie, in his 2014 Hall of Fame accep­tance speech said he spent the first fif­teen years of his career mak­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tions eas­i­er across what he opti­misti­cal­ly imag­ined as human­i­ty’s dig­i­tal ner­vous sys­tem. The com­mer­cial­iza­tion of the Internet rep­re­sent­ed a bit of an inflec­tion point for his opti­mism, because he then said he spent the next fif­teen years try­ing to make com­mu­ni­ca­tions hard­er, or at least more selec­tive and secure, because of all of the mali­cious activ­i­ty con­tained in human­i­ty’s dig­i­tal ner­vous sys­tem. He’s still work­ing on that part, bless him. 

I also had a front-row seat for this incred­i­bly cap­ti­vat­ing his­tor­i­cal inflec­tion point at the begin­ning of my career. And I was lucky to spend decades study­ing the result­ing ecosys­tem from as many sci­en­tif­ic angles as the polit­i­cal econ­o­my would allow. But it’s also clear that anoth­er mas­sive inflec­tion point is com­ing, from laissez-faire back to gov­ern­ment involve­ment. Because while this tech­nol­o­gy is still ear­ly in the process of rev­o­lu­tion­iz­ing every oth­er ecosys­tem it touch­es, soci­ety is increas­ing­ly exposed to a range of harms seri­ous enough to cre­ate a pub­lic inter­est in mit­i­gat­ing them. This is scari­er than the first inflec­tion point, because the path to good reg­u­la­tion is not obvi­ous, and mis­takes by gov­ern­ments are more dan­ger­ous and take longer to undo than mis­takes by the pri­vate sec­tor. It’s not a space where move fast and break things” is a good idea. And yet, reg­u­la­tion often comes in a reac­tive mode, where the pri­or­i­ty is not deep thought about pos­si­ble ramifications. 

So, now is the time for Internet researchers, sci­en­tists, engi­neers, his­to­ri­ans, and schol­ars to think hard about what advice to give the gov­ern­ments of the world. And most impor­tant­ly, what sort of data can back up that advice, and how that data can be made avail­able so that mul­ti­ple stake­hold­ers can inde­pen­dent­ly and respon­si­bly ana­lyze it, so that we can have deep and pub­lic con­ver­sa­tions about the impli­ca­tions for pol­i­cy. Sustained mea­sure­ment, or com­pelling report­ing of data and its analy­sis gen­er­al­ly comes at con­sid­er­able effort and cost. So it must shed light on an impor­tant prob­lem. We need to be as pre­cise as we can about what those prob­lems are. 

This rea­son­ing is moti­vat­ed by recent col­lab­o­ra­tion with my favorite Hall of Fame inductee David Clark, with whom I’ve been hon­ored to work with for years. Hoping to con­tribute to just this con­ver­sa­tion, we attend­ed to tax­on­o­mize the range of harms that can arise in the Internet ecosys­tem. Our goal was to help efforts to mit­i­gate harms in a more sys­tem­at­ic way, as opposed to fight­ing an end­less defen­sive bat­tle against what­ev­er comes next. Which is sort of what the head­lines sug­gest is hap­pen­ing now. It’s only a draft, but it’s a start, and Dave should prob­a­bly present it at an IETF ple­nary soon. Anyway, one of the punch­lines is that get­ting to a bet­ter place will require, among oth­er noble endeav­ors, mea­sure­ment and data analysis. 

Thanks so much for this hon­or, which as soon as it’s pub­lic I’m gonna go tell my dream ream research group that it’s all their doing. They, and my cher­ished fam­i­ly that puts up with an idea-having me, are the wind beneath my wings. Thank you. 

Further Reference

Internet Hall of Fame pro­file