Arthur Bushkin is a writer, philanthropist and social activist whose principal cause is “harnessing the power of technology for social good.” He founded the Stargazer Foundation, which operated between 1999 and 2012, and provided free technology support to nonprofit organizations.
In the 1960s, he was present at the creation of what became the Internet, working with and consulting to the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) in the Defense Department. In the 1970s, he was the Director of U.S. President Jimmy Carter’s Privacy Initiative, where he was instrumental in passage of the Right to Financial Privacy Act of 1978 and served as the principal U.S. Delegate to the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) on Information, Computer & Communications Policy. In the 1990s, he was President of Bell Atlantic Video Services (now Verizon) and pioneered the creation of video-on-demand and other aspects of the Web.
He has both a Bachelor of Science and Master of Science degree from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and taught computer science at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Wellesley College.
CiviliNation: You have the rare distinction of being able to say you were present at the creation of what became the Internet. Tell us about that.
Arthur Bushkin: During the summer of 1967, I was the third person in the 3-person office of the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) in the Department of Defense. Then, for the next two years, I was a consultant. At that time, ARPA funded almost all of the research nationally in what was to become the ARPAnet, which then became the basis for the Internet. Besides helping to facilitate the creation of the ARPAnet itself, my primary responsibilities centered on helping to develop policies related to the use of the new, interconnected technologies. The best known example at that time was the development of national policies relating to the privacy and security of information, whether personal, corporate, or national security.
I was involved in many aspects of the Internet throughout my career, and in 1992 I was hired to become the President of the newly created Bell Atlantic (now Verizon) Video Services division. We had developed a server-based service that we called Video-on-Demand (after what we thought would be the lead application). We were the leader in this new service, and we were also developing various shopping and learning applications, besides movies, as well. The Worldwide Web had not yet become a term of art, primarily because the software that was to become the browser had not yet been standardized. In addition, the legal and regulatory structures were not yet in place for integration of what was to become the Web (e.g., cooperation between wireless and wireline carriers). Of course, nowadays, various distinctions are no longer relevant, and everything is just called the Internet, despite that the Web, for example, is technically a layer on top of the Internet.
“Chart the history and growth of information technology and you’ll find Arthur Bushkin at pivotal moments, starting with the birth of the Internet.” – MIT Technology Review
CiviliNation: At the time, did you anticipate how life-changing this technology would become?
Arthur Bushkin: I do not believe that anyone, regardless of the time period, was able to anticipate how life-changing this technology would become. This was true for the 1960s, the 1990s, and the current day. Yes, some people, whether technologists, business people, or entrepreneurs, foresaw some aspects of the possible future, but at no time in my 50-year career did I ever meet anyone who accurately foresaw the enormity of the impact.
CiviliNation: In the 1970s, you led President Carter’s Privacy Initiative and were the principal U.S. representative at the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development on information, computer, and communications policy. What were the main areas of concern back then and how do they differ from the main issues surrounding technology use today?
Arthur Bushkin: By the second half of the 1970s, issues related to the privacy and security of information dominated the public policy discussions of the impact of the networked technology. Of course, they still do, but now we have broader discussions of economic impact, education, democracy and freedom, and so on. Back then, the assumption was that government policy needed to address these issues, and that a solution was possible domestically and that differing national policies could be harmonized internationally. Now, there are many more interrelated issues, technologies, and actors, and simple solutions are simply not possible.
CiviliNation: You’re quite outspoken in your belief that the discourse between our political leaders needs to become more civil. Why are you so passionate about this?
Arthur Bushkin: I believe strongly that all public discourse needs to be more civil, not just between political leaders, but also among the general population. And, add to civility, the need for discourse to be informed. Now that everyone has the ability to publish an opinion on anything that does not make simple solutions more possible; it makes them less possible. And when our political leaders repeat simple slogans, responsible public policy is not possible.
CiviliNation: Do you believe that social networking and other websites have any social or ethical responsibilities to help stem privacy violations and online attacks?
Arthur Bushkin: As a general statement, whether desirable or not, there is a practical limit to the ability of any Web site or communications carrier to monitor its users. Yes, there are undoubtedly egregious behaviors that can be blocked or deleted when detected, and yes, organizations need to adhere to responsible policies, whether self-imposed or government-mandated. However, the users or citizens of any community must accept that they, too, have a responsibility to behave civilly and to identify the inappropriate behavior of others.
CiviliNation: What are three recommendations you can give people for making the Web a more positive and embracing environment for everyone?
Arthur Bushkin: First, be positive and tolerant yourself. Second, be informed and discerning on the issues and the behaviors of others. Third, expect the same of others, whether public officials or your connections on social media. We’re all in this together, and we all are part of the solution.