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ICYMI: Why it’s time to reset the internet

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Post-event report

Frank McCourt speaks at Georgetown University about technology policy, the potential of new tech models, and why it’s time to reset the internet

On Monday, April 4, the Georgetown Technology Policy Initiative (GTPI) hosted Frank McCourt, Chairman & CEO of McCourt Global and founder of Project Liberty, for a conversation on “Past, Present, and Future: Why It’s Time To Reset The Internet.” This event took place at the McCourt School of Public Policy at Georgetown University and was moderated by GTPI President Jordan Miller, a Master of Policy Management candidate at the McCourt School.

The event featured an hour-long conversation between Frank McCourt, Jordan Miller, and members of the audience, which included McCourt School staff, faculty, and graduate students pursuing degrees in public policy. Following the event, Frank McCourt engaged with students to answer addition questions about the impact of ethical technology on the future of the internet and different policy areas.

Photography by Atsuhiro Oguri

A new tech era is coming & new models are needed

The discussion opened with questions for the audience about their current perceptions of “Web3” and thoughts about the oncoming wave of innovation, much of which is enabled by blockchain technology. Jordan invited Frank to provide an overview of Project Liberty, a groundbreaking initiative launched in 2021 that leverages new technology to transform the way the internet works and establish a new civic infrastructure for the digital world. As Frank noted, Project Liberty has three key pillars: the technology supporting it, the governance initiative that will guide it, and the movement necessary for wide acceptance and migration.

To date, Project Liberty’s work has included the development of a groundbreaking open-source protocol called the Decentralized Social Networking Protocol (DSNP) and the launch of the McCourt Institute alongside founding partners Georgetown University and Sciences Po. The project’s efforts are informed and strengthened by the work of Unfinished and the dozens of organizations that make up its network of partners.

Throughout the conversation, Frank noted that while Web3 has quickly ascended to the mainstream tech conversation, new technology must be thoughtfully developed and shaped to avoid the pitfalls created during the early dot-com era. Project Liberty strives to avoid the central mistakes of the Web2 era by ensuring that its technology is created with appropriate governance structures that reflect ethical principles and social values.

“We need to build in the ideals and principles that we want and that will support democracy, not just build the tech and see what happens,” said Frank. “Tech is agnostic to democracy…we need people to shape it.”

Tech’s intersectional impacts

As attendees joined in the conversation, the discussion expanded to include technology’s impact on other topic areas, including national security, voting rights and access, economic opportunity, the modernization of Congress, privacy and ethics, and democracy at-large.

Throughout the exchanges, Frank raised concerns about the power and negative impacts of tech’s current surveillance architecture that incentivizes companies and governments to collect, sell, and weaponize data at a huge scale. There was broad agreement that technology and the internet are integral parts of everyday life in 2022 and play major roles in every policy area and political arena. Frank noted that those currently in control of data have no significant legal requirement and few incentives to transition to user-focused models, which means that creating healthier digital ecosystems will require a global movement to new, inclusive technology models that are rooted in ethical technology.  

Move fast and fix things

As the event progressed, the conversation turned to key drivers of change and how legislators, policy experts, and both public and private leaders can respond to the moment. While Frank recognized that legacy institutions like universities, government agencies, and Congress have accomplished great things, they currently lack the capacity and agility needed to make changes that meet the rapid pace of our tech environment.

“Our systems are designed to be rigid and favor gradual change over quick responses,” noted Frank. “That was not the case for the major Web2 players, which stuck true to both halves of the ‘Move Fast and Break Things’ mantra as they grew in size and influence. Regulation cannot keep up with technology, and our society and democracy pay the price for slow policy changes which are often exacerbated by a highly polarized political environment.”

“We need to move fast, because the tech is moving fast, but we need to be thoughtful and deliberate and decide what we want it to be for and build in values and principles,” continued Frank. “We want tech to serve and reinforce and sustain.”

Frank concluded the event by reassuring the audience of aspiring leaders that he sees the problems with the current tech infrastructure as fixable, while underscoring his view that we need to focus energy on changing the system entirely rather than simply working to tweak the current model.

“What we really need to do is figure out a way we can move forward. We’re saying Project Liberty is a way, if people get involved.”