Jonathan Zittrain Profile

One of the world’s leading scholars and voices on the impact of digital technology – from the Internet of Things to Big Data, to artificial intelligence, cyber threats and security – Jonathan Zittrain employs decades of experience interrogating and influencing the legal, technological and world-shaping aspects of virtual terrains.

A highly regarded teacher, speaker and master moderator, Zittrain provides diverse audiences with an inside look at the future of work, and what to expect from recent advances in AI and digital platforms. Named a “100 Top Global Thinker” (Foreign Policy, 2012), he is a founding director of Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, where he anchors various disciplines throughout Harvard as professor of international law and director of the Harvard Law School Library, the largest private law library in the world; professor of computer science at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences; and professor at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. Prior to joining Harvard, he was Professor of Internet Governance and Regulation at Oxford University.

Zittrain has advised the U.S. government and also is a member of the boards of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and Intellectual Property Watch, with a unique perspective on how policymakers grapple with cutting-edge issues such as privacy and cybersecurity. His wide-ranging research projects at Harvard give him insight into a range of digital infrastructure issues, including censorship and filtering for content control, privacy and free speech. His book, “The Future of the Internet – And How to Stop It” (Yale University Press and Penguin UK, 2009), was, in the words of critics, an “essential” work, a “resounding wake-up call” to arms to protect the Internet’s openness by rescuing it from forces that wish to constrain or privatize it – forces gaining in momentum today.

Furthering this cause, Zittrain co-edited three ground-breaking studies that were the first to quantify Internet filtering by national governments, all published by MIT Press: “Access Denied” (2008), “Access Controlled” (2010), and “Access Contested” (2011). Among his other future-thinking digital initiatives are projects to produce simple, unobtrusive, and novel collaborative tools for university classrooms (H2O); to support open content by tracking legal threats to individual users (; to monitor Internet censorship in real time (, and to combat extensive link rot throughout the Web (

As a sought-after advisor to governments and organizations, Zittrain chaired the U.S. Federal Communication Commission’s Open Internet Advisory Committee. He has also served on the Board of Advisors for Scientific American and is a former Trustee of the Internet Society (ISOC). For more than 10 years, he has been a faculty fellow of the World Economic Forum, where he was named a Young Global Leader, chairing the Global Agenda Council on the future of the Internet. In 2017, Zittrain was elected as a member of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences.

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Jonathan Zittrain's Speech Descriptions

Restoring Trust in the Digital Age
The economy may be doing well, but trust in digital technology – and the companies devising it – is hard to find. The optimism associated with Silicon Valley, including about the prospects of its products bettering the world, has floundered amidst worries about privacy, misinformation and inclusion. What previously was seen as helping our autonomy and community – “Learn about any topic you want! Hail a car at any moment! Connect with long lost friends!” – now might appear to be confining them, in ways we can only barely discern, one scandal at a time. In this talk, Jonathan Zittrain will speak to what’s gone wrong; what parts of the trust deficit are specific to the technology and its makers, versus our societal institutions generally; and how we might get back on track.

Are You Ready For AI?

Artificial intelligence provokes both excitement and anxiety. Even as the world awaits the vast opportunities of AI, we are wary of the possible ways it can go wrong, and how it can undermine entire business models in the blink of an eye. Jonathan Zittrain, a scholar of the development of the internet, says that as AI becomes more advanced and more common, we must consider three questions:

  • How do we successfully embed AI in our technologies?
  • What AI breakthroughs are imminent and which ones are in the distant future?
  • What are the risks and benefits of deploying AI?

    In this presentation, which can be tailored to different audiences and focus on specific subsets of the broader theme, Zittrain explores ways in which AI is already reshaping the world and how it might change in the future. Companies need to develop a deeper understanding of which aspects of AI will be most transformative and how they can respond; what they should embrace and what is merely a passing fad; and the reputational and ethical risks inherent in the technology, and how they can create a framework for containing or addressing them.

    The Future of Work

    Concern for the displacement of human jobs by AI is pervasive in social, cultural and political discourse. A combination of artificial intelligence, the rise of digital platforms and the “gig” economy has caused companies to struggle both with disruptive technology and having to compete with rivals who are able to reap greater profits with little overhead, while governments scramble to devise a new framework for an economy that is prosperous for some and insecure for many. Internet pioneer and new technology expert Jonathan Zittrain draws upon both his own research and his experience participating in the digital economy to help companies understand AI, automation and the long-term prospects for human employment. Zittrain argues that the focus should not be on preserving traditional jobs but on creating the best possible framework for companies and individuals to reap the rewards of platforms, AI and automation. In doing so, we can channel freed-up human activity into creative, productive and self-fulfilling tasks. In the future, says Zittrain, humanity can increase productive creativity while outsourcing many routine functions to AI. But we do have to ensure in the present that this future of work will help rather than harm most people.

    How Tech Companies Can (And Should) Protect Our Privacy

    Over the past decade, our lives have been transformed by social media. Suddenly, we could connect, share information and network with others, all for free. Except it wasn’t free. Instead of paying money, we were exchanging our personal data – and compromising our own cybersecurity – for the ability to easily share online. This has been increasingly problematic as consumers realize – thanks to dramatic scandals and data breaches – how much their own privacy and security have been compromised.

    Companies which have access to our information, says Zittrain, should be held to the same standard as doctors, lawyers and other professionals to whom similarly sensitive details about our personal lives are available. Rather than tech companies changing (or being forced to change) their business models wholesale, they can instead embrace a “fiduciary” responsibility to their customers. As threats become more extensive and malicious, digital firms’ protection of our data will become a matter of basic cybersecurity in addition to one of personal privacy, and penalties for not guaranteeing safety will be severe. This presentation is geared toward companies who want to leave a legacy of having changed the world for the better and succeeded financially, as well as the policymakers who are weighing options to deal with those businesses who do not have the desire or ability to embrace change.

    Cyber Threats and Terrorism: Are We Secure?

    With massive data breaches commonplace and data integrity in doubt, cyber security continues to be a vital policy and legal issue. The challenges are real and plentiful: while the openness of PCs and the Internet has spawned an abundance of connectivity and creativity, it has also brought a growing scourge of spam, viruses, identity theft and cyber-terrorism. But in the face of such threats, the answer is not a move toward simpler, locked-down devices in exchange for security, Jonathan Zittrain argues. He discusses the false starts in understanding the simultaneously under-appreciated and overhyped fields of cybersecurity and cyber warfare, and offers a view on where the deepest problems lie – and how to address them. Should we be afraid? Are we prepared? In this presentation, Zittrain will explore:

  • Cyber Terrorism and Technology Infrastructure Protection: Why is the government so deeply concerned about it, while proposing only a “partnership” to deal with it?
  • Civil Liberties: Zittrain paints a picture of the surveillance society to come and highlights the ethical implications.
  • The Cantonized Internet: Get ready for filters left and right—ideological, mercenary, governmental, and ultimately our own, as the idea of a “generally accessible” web site available on “the” Internet recedes into the past.
  • Why the Internet of Things is making cybersecurity that much more difficult

  • What People are Saying about Seeing Jonathan Speak

    Rating Entries

    “Jonathan was superb. We have never had such a high quality series of executives sharing meaningful insights together in one room like that before in our 9+ year history of doing this. Definitely a format we intend to replicate in other events going forward.”

    —Michael Alcock, Microsoft>

    “These days, it’s hard to be surprised/amazed about new technologies or disruptions that might come true in the near future, but Jonathan’s speech gave me a whole perspective about things I wasn’t even aware of. It’s not only what he says – which is amazing and truly interesting, it’s how he communicates.”

    —Romulo Rejon, Telefonica

    “Thanks so much for your wonderful presentation today! Our members loved it and many told me it was THE best presentation they have heard in the 10 years of the Corporate Directors Group! Not only did we all learn a lot, but your skilled delivery, laced with great humor, was fun to hear.”

    —Clint Allen, Corporate Directors Group

    “The highlight was hearing a keynote from Jonathan Zittrain on “The Future of the Internet and How to Stop it.” He was so entertaining and informative. If you ever have a chance to hear him, take it. We shouldn’t believe that the Net will always be what we have now, plus more. Between aggressive government regulators, technology “advances,” cautious administrators and political pressure groups, we could end up with less, not more, in the future.”

    —Jim Calloway, about keynote at LTNY

    “Excellent topic – Professor Zittrain was outstanding – and a relevant topic, we should keep on our agenda.”

    —Foreign Policy, November 2012

    “Jonathan Zittrain is the ultimate law-tech-policy triple-threat. He teaches internet law at Harvard Law School and at the Kennedy School, is professor of computer science at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and faculty co-director of Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society. He’s done interesting work on the possibilities and implications of crowdsourcing, and wrote a cautionary tale about risks of internet capture and lockdown called “The Future of the Internet–and How to Stop It.” Technology advances quickly, and so do the legal frameworks we use to understand it. But Jonathan seems to be living in the future and explaining it to us in the present. Which is cool.”

    —Recognized by Fastcase 50, 2011

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    Books by Jonathan Zittrain:

    The Future of the Internet--And How to Stop It -Jonanthan Zittrain

    The Future of the Internet–And How to Stop It

    This extraordinary book explains the engine that has catapulted the Internet from backwater to ubiquity—and reveals that it is sputtering precisely because of its runaway success. With the unwitting help of its users, the generative Internet is on a path to a lockdown, ending its cycle of innovation—and facilitating unsettling new kinds of control.

    IPods, iPhones, Xboxes, and TiVos represent the first wave of Internet-centered products that can’t be easily modified by anyone except their vendors or selected partners. These “tethered appliances” have already been used in remarkable but little-known ways: car GPS systems have been reconfigured at the demand of law enforcement to eavesdrop on the occupants at all times, and digital video recorders have been ordered to self-destruct thanks to a lawsuit against the manufacturer thousands of miles away. New Web 2.0 platforms like Google mash-ups and Facebook are rightly touted—but their applications can be similarly monitored and eliminated from a central source. As tethered appliances and applications eclipse the PC, the very nature of the Internet—its “generativity,” or innovative character—is at risk.

    The Internet’s current trajectory is one of lost opportunity. Its salvation, Zittrain argues, lies in the hands of its millions of users. Drawing on generative technologies like Wikipedia that have so far survived their own successes, this book shows how to develop new technologies and social structures that allow users to work creatively and collaboratively, participate in solutions, and become true “netizens.”

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