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In memory of Ian Peter, internet pioneer and visionary thinker…

03 January 2022

Ian Peter

On 26 December 2021, Ian Peter passed away at home. We will miss him dearly. For us at Diplo, Ian was a great friend, colleague, lecturer, and inspiring thinker. He was, as Jovan once said, ‘the wisdom of last resort’. When you had a dilemma on internet governance, you would call Ian. He would easily put things into perspective and give you advice without any heavy prescriptions. Since Ian came from a family with a theological tradition, Jovan used to call his chats with Ian ‘digital confessions’. 

Ginger witnessed Ian’s commitment to effective civil society involvement in internet governance as they worked together as co-coordinators of the Internet Governance Caucus, fondly remembering their first meeting in person at the IGF 2008 in Hyderabad. For years, Ian was the conscience of emerging technologies in our Internet Technology and Policy course, with a particular concern about the ethics of Lethal Autonomous Weapons (LAWS) and AI, and his work on the emerging technologies, telecommunications and DNS modules of the course, co-lectured with Ginger and others until 2021.

Ian’s political wisdom and technical knowledge came with a youthful, almost childish curiosity and mental vibrancy.  A few years ago, Vlada invited Ian to help us ‘get it right’ when we reviewed different versions of internet history. As a starting place, ‘Ian Peters’s history of the Internet’ was an eye-opener on the multiplicity of the histories of the internet. But what was even more interesting was his didactical creativity to avoid just marshalling years and names as many writings on history tend to be. He asked our students to think contra-factually: What would happen if?  Ian’s course was a didactical masterpiece in addition to his knowledge of the subject of the history of the internet.

Ian’s views were always a unique mix of deep humanity, respect, and long life experience. He was one of the internet pioneers who carried the spirit of the early internet till his last days. For him, the internet has been a great enabler of humanity as it should be. This crystal clear conviction was never tainted by day-to-day financial or political interests.  Ian was one of those people with whom you could talk about almost any issue, from philosophy and religion to arts and politics. Every discussion with him was a special treat. 

In the best philosophical tradition of not only interpreting but also changing the world, he did not hesitate to jump into the sometimes muddy waters of internet governance and, in particular, civil society participation. Ian’s energy was the sustaining force behing the Civil Society Coordination Group’s efforts to unite civil society’s voice, a still-needed strategy. While firm in principles, Ian was flexible in finding ways forward in some of the endless debates on various IG e-lists. With utmost modesty and a non-assuming approach, he preserved the flame of the early internet as an enabler of people worldwide in social, political, and spiritual life. Now, with the risk that digital may turn into the opposite of what Ian and others believed in, Ian will continue to serve as inspiration to ensure that our AI-driven future remains deeply anchored in the core values of humanity from protecting human dignity to justice and advancement of all. 

Ian would also ask us to be practical. Thus, we propose a conference in honour of Ian with the provisional title: ‘What can we learn from the origins of the internet as we discuss our digital future?’  In addition, we may also call for essays on the history and values of the internet for an award in Ian’s honour. 

In the spirit of Ian’s approach, it does not matter who organises it but that we do it. Ginger has volunteered to help with connecting various dots, so if you are interested in partnering on the conference and/or supporting the essay competition, please drop us an email at ForIan@diplomacy.edu

Rest in peace our dear friend!

Students, lecturers, and colleagues from Diplo

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