The time has arrived. Finishing at the end of December, 2018, I will be concluding my work as a “digital guy.” That’s right—I will be turning the page to begin the next chapter of this extraordinary life I have been so fortunate to experience.
Lawyer, entrepreneur, researcher, diplomat, organizer, writer and, perhaps most cherished, teacher—so many unexpected adventures. I have given my final lecture at Oxford and have now finished marking the final assignments. I have turned in the grades for my final cohort at Johns Hopkins. I have unsubscribed from the many relevant news feeds and notified my publisher that I will not be completing the planned books. My physical paper files have been purged and my library of books has been donated. I am done.
There is no pressing health issue or family matter that demands my full attention. To the contrary, there is absolutely no obstacle to continuing to teach, to explore the future, to write, or to preach the gospel of digital trust. Certainly, the curiosity about formulating and answering tough questions remains vibrant, and I am blessed that there are still audiences that have remained interested in the answers I propose. But the time is now to bring this long chapter—after nearly 40 years as a working professional—to a close. I am making the decision voluntarily, fully content that it is the right choice. Here is why.
In early November, concurrent with the Paris Peace Forum led by President Macron, the 13th Internet Governance Forum also convened in Paris, devoted to the theme of an “Internet of Trust.” President Macron opened the event, announcing the Paris Call for Trust and Security, a bold declaration and commitment to which dozens of nations and global technology companies have immediately subscribed (but to which the United States, Russia, and China have declined to do so). Three full days of seminars, workshops, panels, and lectures, across eight simultaneous tracks, then unfolded.
At first, there was a moment of discomfort at not being there. After all, I did write the book Achieving Digital Trust! However, a different reaction quickly embraced me—a profound sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. In some small way, perhaps my persistent advocacy to shift the global dialogue to focus on building and sustaining digital trust has helped shape the momentum for that Forum to be convened. Indeed, I concluded, that has been my role, and I have done my job as best as I possibly could. My purpose has been to help start the work that lays ahead, not finish the work.
How could I feel discomfort at not being in one conference when, in truth, I have been in countless rooms and at so many podiums, tables, and whiteboards advocating, fighting, teaching, negotiating, drafting and re-drafting, enabling the good ideas and resisting the bad ones, imagining and re-imagining how the rule of law, for which I care so passionately, will evolve with new evolutions in technology.
In every venue, few, if any, will dispute that my voice has always been strong (and often far stronger than they might have desired!), always true (sometimes against ruthless opposition), and always invested in moving toward securing a future in which the brilliant technologies we are creating enable, rather than destroy, our potential to be civil, humane, and to live in peace as a global community.
Sometimes the rooms have been overflowing; often there were empty chairs left unoccupied by those who sought more convenient or profitable truths. On many satisfying occasions, the audience has only been one person—a student, a peer, a legal adversary, or a young associate willing to listen and perhaps learn. But I am satisfied that, time and again, I found the strength to ask the good questions, speak truth, and preach the enduring value of trust.
It is satisfying to know how far those sermons have travelled. Students I have been able to teach now work in Ireland, Russia, Singapore, Brazil, Palestine, Germany, China, Malaysia, England, Scotland, Japan, France, Italy, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Nigeria, and in so many places in the United States. I was privileged to testify to the US Congress on the future of digital money (in 1994!) and see the UN come to my hometown, Columbus, Ohio, to learn how information technology could transform global trade.
But to move forward, advance the dialogues, and build functional, digital systems that can be trusted requires the energy and the passion of new voices, new advocates, and new revolutionaries. Some of those will be professionals whom it has been my privilege to mentor, to train, to teach, to provoke to achieve more, and to go discover and exceed their own potential.
Already, some of them have become leading voices in the world where I can say with satisfaction, “I knew them when . . .” Others will emerge who have never heard my name or know my work; others will learn from those I have trained, taught, and provoked, without realizing that I might have played some part in inspiring their mentors to do the same. All of this is as it should be. None of them should be encumbered by the stories of aging warriors pontificating on how the battles should be fought. The agenda ahead must not be constrained by the protocols of the past—indeed my career is an object lesson in rejecting such protocols and prevailing.
I remain boundless in my enthusiasm that humankind can survive and that the machines will never execute our destruction, as foretold by science fiction. I am firm in my resolve that we will discover peace and trust through our mastery of technologies that enable us to communicate, to connect, share our stories, and build common ground. I look forward to experiencing our global progress toward those ends as long as this life continues. And I will surely still voice my grievances when we falter in doing so.
Yet the time has come to step away. And, to those of you surely asking yourself the question: Yes, I will be riding my bike a lot, laughing with joy as the wind smacks my face, and growling my resolve as I push the pedals to crawl up a mountain road, only to fly down the other side with abandon. Enjoying old friends, meeting new friends, celebrating life with family, and smiling on occasion with the thought, “Yes, you did your job. Well done.”