We're going to be living in a world where cyberspace has been released from the screen in front of you, into our physical environment by means of embedded technology, in our walls, in our cars, in our fingernails, in our eyeglasses. Internet enablement will be everywhere you go. The devices you carry around will be far more sophisticated than the smart phones now, because they'll be interacting with the environment, they'll be taking note of the physical location, suck[ing] things out of the network.
What are your privacy concerns?
I'm very relaxed about privacy because there is none left. John Perry Barlow, a former lyricist with the Grateful Dead, was one of the founders of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. His life is public. He says that's the only way to have privacy -- expose it all and you have nothing to hide.
What about the Internet's downside?
Kids have retreated out of the physical world into the cyber world. It gives them a larger reach, [but] they're not getting out in the sun, playing with other kids and looking in their eyes and watching their body language as much as they used to, which I think is a shame and can create a kind of indifference in the way in which you deal with your peers. Excesses include things like notifying your significant other [by computer] that you're no longer significant to them.
What might you have done different all those years ago?
What we should have done is basically provide for strong user authentication and strong file authentication, so that I know that if you sent me a document, what I receive hasn't been altered along the way. Had we introduced that, the first thing we should have done with it is turn it off. We needed open access to allow [the Internet] to grow. We trusted everybody on the Internet. I knew them all. So we didn't feel a need to install those protections. Now when we need it, we could have turned it on to protect against some of the dark-side issues.
Do you feel like Pandora sometimes?
Absolutely. There's so much that we've released -- there's no pulling it back. Even if we have the ability to turn off the Internet, there's no way we can. Users today expect to be able to see a video, chat with their friends, do shopping, exchange information -- you can't ever pull that back. Nobody controls this thing.
How significant a risk is sabotage?
People trying to protect us against that are always one step behind. They have to see the attack before they can do much with it. Identity theft, fraud -- it's been outrageous. But the thing that really scares me are these botnets, machines taking over. It becomes a zombie -- hidden software that can be enabled anytime the owner chooses to. They've infected so many thousands of machines. There's been a lot of work on it, but everyone's ended up in a blind alley. It is really hard. If you consider what the dark side of the Internet is, it's some unpleasant person sitting in their basement in front of a computer with a high-speed line, who can reach out to millions of people quickly, easily, anonymously. That was the formula we used in the early days of the Internet -- open, accessible, easy, free -- that enabled the Internet to get started. Now it's causing this other problem.
Its strengths are its vulnerabilities.
Do you have any Internet guilty pleasures?
I will play a game of Sudoku on my cellphone when I'm waiting to fall asleep. I've never been addicted to solitaire or EBay. That's part of the reason I won't do Twitter or Facebook: I don't want to have another source of demands on my time that I feel guilty if I don't react to.
Does your wife ever tell you to shut that thing off and come to bed?
All the time. She's a Luddite. She finally agreed to have an e-mail account about six months ago, but she never reads it. I'm her filter for e-mail. People send me e-mails to deliver to her.
This interview was edited and excerpted from a taped and transcribed conversation. An archive of the conversations is online at latimes.com/pattasks.