Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Making the Case for Chaos: The Untamed Nature of the Internet Is Exactly What Makes It So Versatile, Writes Becky Hogge

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Making the Case for Chaos: The Untamed Nature of the Internet Is Exactly What Makes It So Versatile, Writes Becky Hogge

Article excerpt

Noam Chomsky's concept of the "generative grammar"--the groundbreaking theory that has ensured his tenure at MIT for more than 50 years despite his dissident political views--is defined as a finite set of rules that combine to generate all the infinite possible sentences of any given language.

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When the cyberlaw expert Jonathan Zittrain published his paper "The Generative Internet" in the Harvard Law Review in 2006, he unknowingly borrowed Chomsky's terminology. Zittrain's "finite set of rules" is the general-purpose, programmable PC connected to a dumb, "neutral" network. Combined, and in concert with the wit and imagination of the world's population, they can generate a system as rich, as flexible and as surprising as any human language.

The destruction and rebirth of the music industry, the total reinvention of the news media, the rapid adoption of free international telephony in the wake of Skype--all this is down to the generative internet. And that is because the general-purpose PC, connected to a neutral net is--like language--a tool that belongs to the masses. The best online innovations have come not from well-funded megacorps, but from the edges of global society, from Iraqi bloggers, American teenagers and Estonian twentysomethings. These people did not need to ask permission to experiment with new ideas-they just wrote code and ran it.

But in his new book, The Future of the Internet: and How to Stop It (Allen Lane, the Penguin Press), Zittrain warms that the generative internet is under threat. …

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