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David Bray, Executive Director of People-Centered Internet

4/9/11

By Peter High, published on Forbes

Late last year, David Bray became the first Executive Director of the People-Centered Internet (PCI), an organization that has a vision of creating projects that help improve people’s lives using the Internet. Vint Cerf, the co-creator of the Internet, is a co-founder of PCI.

Bray has a remarkable career in government prior to PCI. He began his career in government as a 15-year-old working at the Energy Department in the Continuous Electron Beam Accelerator Facility. Since then his experiences have included stints as an IT Chief for the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response program, where he led the program’s technology response to 9/11 and the 2001 anthrax attacks, and as a Senior Strategist at the Institute for Defence Analysis (IDA) and a Defense Researcher at the Science and Technology Policy Institute (STPI), where he deployed to Afghanistan to help “think differently” on military and humanitarian issues. Bray spent the past several years at the Federal Communications Commission.

As he embarks on an entrepreneurial journey of sorts, I was curious how Bray’s government experience has helped prepare him for this role. He indicated that there are two advantages to government experience for an entrepreneur: first, it teaches one how to operate with resource constraints, and second, it provides experience in navigating across multiple constituencies.

Bray was once the most social CIO in the world, with hundreds of thousands of Twitter followers. A new path forward, a growing family, and a perception of a lower returns on the investment in social media have him curtailing his efforts in that realm. His vision for the future of the Internet is as ambitious as ever.

Peter High: You recently joined the People-Centered Internet (PCI) as Executive Director. Can you talk about the mission of PCI and your role there?

David Bray: The People-Centered Internet is a coalition founded by Vint Cerf, one of the co-creators of the Internet, and Mei Lin Fung, who we say is the mother of Customer Relationship Management (CRM). The two of them came together with a vision of creating measurable demonstration projects that help improve people’s lives using the Internet. The idea is that if we are not careful, we may lose the hope and the enthusiasm the Internet had in the 1990s.

According to Pew, 20-somethings are less optimistic about the Internet than they used to be. They still say they cannot live without it, but they do not necessarily see it as a source of hope and freedom or as the uplifting force of people’s lives that we saw it as in the early ‘90s. If we can provide demonstration projects that measurably improve people’s lives using the Internet, these will serve as change agent case examples that local communities can then adopt, or policymakers can use. Even private corporations might be able to use these as a model going forward. It is easy to say, “This is not working,” or “This is bad,” and do the negative stories. The positive stories are harder, but we want to beat that and provide the support and expertise.

There is also the hope that we can espouse Doug Engelbart’s original vision. Doug Engelbart, who was the inventor of the mouse and graphical user interface [GUI], had the vision that technology was a way of bringing people together. If we think about our current lives, how many of us think the Internet is bringing people together versus polarizing and being divisive?

High: The emphasis on people is interesting because often when people think of the Internet they often leap to the technology behind it.

Bray: It is. Consider that just one presidential cycle ago, back in 2008, most people still had flip phones, not smartphones. Back in 2001, less than 2% of all households – meaning one family member in the household – had access to a mobile phone. Now, 98% of all households in the world have at least one family member with access to a mobile phone. That is a dramatic change in less than two decades. Not only is the pace of technology accelerating, but the adoption curves are shrinking. In some respects that is good because if something’s out there that can help uplift people and bring communities together, that is great.

However, there is also a challenge because technology is not neutral. It depends on how we use it, and it can be used for good or for bad. Vint and I often talk about how programmers and engineers rarely think about the second, third, and fourth order implications. In fact, it is not part of their training. Their expertise is making sure that devices do what they are supposed to do. Understanding the implications is another skill set, and it is partly a combination of vision, of artist, of sociology, and awareness of human history. We need to consider the unintended consequences that may occur.

To read the full interview, please visit Forbes

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