Statement of Principles - January 1, 2012
The 550 Challenge - the world borderless by February 3, 2018 - promotes the expansion of Internet access to include everyone on earth by the 550th anniversary of Johannes Gutenberg's death. Gutenberg died on February 3, 1468 in relative obscurity before the printing press got credit for ending the Dark Age and setting in motion 200 years of accelerated progress in art, literature, and learning known as the Renaissance. The 550 Challenge seeks to realize the promise of the Internet as the basis for a new Communication Renaissance.
Replacing the Great Recession by Communication Renaissance makes the 550 Challenge an urgent matter for more than just the presently disconnected. The alternatives seem lacking given the magnitude of the economic problems and long term implications of unwinding debt. No one can know the implications of connecting the 7.5bn people on earth by 2018, but contrasting priorities and outcomes in the 1990's and 2000's offer a case study. Prosperity during the last decade of the 20th century reflected declining post Cold War military budgets, $1 per gallon gasoline, and the birth of the commercial Internet.
A dramatic expansion of communication seems likely to prove more affordable than infrastructure projects, energy related interventions, and war. The nature of communication technology tends to shape the course of human affairs, because communication represents a key input to the global economy. Half of all energy gets consumed by moving people from one place to another, so improving communication can help addresss global warming and geo-political tensions generated by energy consumption.
A telephone call does not require a Green Card or engage the TSA, so communication technologies can lessen the dislocations associated with immigration, emigration, and the arbitrary power of birthplace over opportunity. The Arab Spring illustrates the threat communication poses to tyranny and utility for linking people across lines of conflict. Risks exist with any technology just as roads benefit people seeking to rob banks as well as the general public. The 550 Challenge merely asserts connecting everyone offers less downside risk than the disconnected status quo.
Connecting everyone on earth within six years seems ambitious, but it requires merely sustaining the existing pace of cell phone and Internet expansion. The process of connecting people may require first finding sources for food, water, and shelter as well as navigating dangerous conflict over borders, but the challenges nonetheless do not compare to the World War's of the 20th century both of which played out in less than six years.
Contributions to the 550 Challenge need not distinguish between Internet access, wireline telephones, or cell phones as all three will involve connections to an all-IP network by 2018. Connecting everyone to the Internet wins communication the same opportunity for continuous improvement driving growth of the information technology sector. Reductions in average-bit-cost trigger the same virtuous cycle as Moore's Law where expanding capacity grows the addressable market and demand.
The implications of civil society made borderless by ubiquitous Internet connections remains unknown. Borders associated with the 200 or so countries on earth reflect a continuum of coercion and competition over scarce resources tracing back to the period when humans occupied caves. Human nature may preclude utopia, but there must exist a path forward improving on the status quo. It remains early days for a world without proximity as a prerequisite for social connections, but people already seem to internalize Internet citizenship as an aspect of identity.
Abraham Maslow identifies fixed and universal human desires as a Hierarchy of Needs - Survival, Safety, Social, Success, Spiritual. The imperative of war to expand and defend borders as well as the general ills of society reflect the extent these needs get met at the level of the family through a global scale. As a result, the quality of life of the individual cannot escape influences leaking in from the experience of everyone else on earth. It does not seem prudent to test whether already existing pain and suffering combined with the unwinding of financial markets will prove enough to tip earth into a new dark age.
The ambition expressed by the 550 Challenge represents a sentiment precisely opposite the statement of principles arguing for coercion as the answer posted by the Project for a New American Century in 1997. The first decade of the 21st century offers plenty of evidence the coercion imperative still creates more problems than it solves. Connecting everyone on earth to the Internet by February 3, 2018 may not generate a Communication Renaissance, but neither do borders offer adequate protection from threats posed by leaving people disconnected.
Participants: (submit nominations to dan(at)danielberninger.com)
The 550 Challenge seeks to encourage, unify, and win visibility for people working to make the world borderless by the 550th anniversary of Johannes Gutenberg's death on February 3, 2018.