Topics in Internet & Society Interdisciplinary Studies

Topics in Internet & Society Interdisciplinary Studies

Politecnico di Torino, Doctoral School

11, 12, 15, and 16 June 2015

Link for PoliTO students:

Dr. Philippe Aigrain Prof. Maurizio Borghi Dott. Luca De Biase Prof. Brett Frischmann
Prof. Jean-Claude Guédon Prof. Angelo Raffaele Meo Prof. Maria Chiara Pievatolo Dott. Stefano Quintarelli
Prof. Araba Sey Dott. Bruce Sterling Dott. Jasmina Tešanovic

How to apply

The course (3 credits) is open to students from all PhD programmes, and to any scholar interested (all backgrounds of study are welcome).

PoliTO PhD students have to insert the course in their career plan ("carico didattico"), see info on the course code here.

External participants are kindly asked to register at

Course description

It is commonly understood that the Internet now affects almost every aspect of society– from knowledge sharing to economic interactions – and of personal life (digital divide permitting). Understanding the relationship between Internet and society is a complex matter, since its shape and its evolution are not an immutable technological law, but instead the consequence of specific choices, both private and public, that could – at least in principle – very well change over time.

This course – addressed to students of all Doctoral Programmes – is aimed at providing an interdisciplinary overview of a selection of Internet & Society topics currently addressed by scholars at global level, all of which have tangible implications in many domains, and may very well suggest new lines of reasoning to ongoing research of PhD candidates.

These topics include, but are not limited to:

  • knowledge creation and sharing in the digital environment, applied, e.g., to scientific publications, addressing legal and social aspects of Open Access publishing, and to software, discussing the principles and applications of Free Software;
  • the role of the Internet in the evolution of journalism, civic hacking, and civic engagement;
  • the evolution of the Internet architecture and protocols with respect
    to entrepreneurial models, and the economic environment;
  • the future of Internet & Society research, also taking into account ongoing technological innovations such as the Internet of things, discussing their opportunities and risks.

All topics will be addressed from a interdisciplinary point of view (i.e., considering at least two disciplines) and making a broad use of examples.

Schedule in brief

  • Thursday 11 June, 9:30 - 17:30, room 4C (morning) and room 9I (afternoon)
  • Friday 12 June, 9:30 - 17:30, room 10C
  • Monday 15 June, 9:30 - 17:30, room 2M
  • Tuesday 16 June, 9:30 - 11:00, room 2M.

Programme of the lectures

Thursday 11 June

9:30 - 13:00 [room 4C] Infrastructure and knowledge commons, Brett Frischmann, Yeshiva University

[Frischmann- slides 1, slides 2]

Professor Frischmann will present his interdisciplinary research on commons. Commons are resource management/governance institutions that enable sustainable shared use of certain resources within a community. Frischmann will draw on two recent books, Infrastructure: The Social Value of Shared Resources (OUP 2012) and Governing Knowledge Commons (OUP 2014). First, he will discuss the economic and social case for managing infrastructural resources as commons. Next, he will apply the theory of infrastructural resources to a series of examples, some of which he discussed in his book but many of which he had not (e.g., big data, the BBC, and open science commons). Finally, he will discuss complex commons governance issues that vary across different contexts and communities. If time permits, he will work with students to apply the ideas to their own areas of interest.

14:00 - 15:30 [room 9I] Being Human in the 21st Century, Brett Frischmann, Yeshiva University

[Frischmann - slides 3]

Many privacy scholars are concerned with data collection and use, the absence of informed consent, the sorts of inferences that can be made about them and others, the discriminatory uses of information, the “black boxes” that hide decision making processes, and other related privacy issues. These are incredibly important issues and deserve the attention they are receiving. In Being Human in the 21st Century, Professor Frischmann will examine how these developments enable techno-social engineering of humans and when such engineering is dehumanizing. Techno-social engineering of humans exists on an unprecedented scale and scope, and it is only growing more pervasive as we embed networked sensors in our public and private spaces, our devices, our clothing and ourselves. This session will be run as a workshop.

16:00 - 17:30 [room 9I] The Internet of people: can there be such a thing as a machine for the public use of reason?, Maria Chiara Pievatolo, Università degli Studi di Pisa

[Pievatolo - slides]

In their "New Clues" ( D. Searls and D. Weinberger challenge us not to see the Internet as a medium but as a conversation made by the people: "We, the People of the Net, cannot fathom how much we can do together because we are far from finished inventing how to be together." In the age of printing the Enlightenment thinkers did elaborate a kind of balance among imperium (political sovereignty), dominium (ownership) and a public sphere populated by citizens whose rights and properties were meant to guarantee their freedom. In other words, an environment built to be beyond the "mechanism" of imperium and dominium allowed people to experience their being "more than a machine" as members of "a world civil society" (I. Kant, Answer to the question: What is Enlightenment?, While making us easier to share our data and ourselves within a wider, all-pervading "public" sphere, the Internet "is now often experienced as a superhuman phenomenon that towers above individuals" (J.Lanier, You are not a gadget, New York, A.A. Knopf, 2010, ch.1) - as a knowledge machine that is "more than a human being". Such a circumstance makes the "New Clues" challenge both thrilling and difficult to answer, especially of we try to do it in a semantically and pragmatically consistent way. In the small world of professional users of reason, the open access movement, with its troubles in finding a way to use old and new machines without becoming just one of theirs gears, can be analyzed both as a specimen and as an inspiration for a possible, yet tentative, answer.

Friday 12 June

9:30 - 11:00 [room 10C] Rights and competition in the Internet domain, Stefano Quintarelli, Entrepreneur and Italian MP

The Internet represents the immaterial dimension of existence, which complements and acts in continuity with the material dimension rather than being an alternative to it. Immaterial relationships are mediated by the on-line platforms that have developed rapidly and with little control largely because the European e-Commerce Directive of 2000 exempted them from liability. On-line platforms are now determining factors in the use of the Internet, and become not only the principal means of interacting with the immaterial dimension, but also the most important interfaces for the material dimension. However, they are not neutral: as a matter of fact, the ways in which on-line platforms are conceived and user experiences are shaped are capable of orienting and modifying user behaviours. And that is not all because the platforms are designed to produce the effects of lock-in (which make it very difficult for users to abandon an adopted service) and the absence of interoperability, as the laws governing intellectual property rights are used to assure their closure in various ways. The widely deregulated and rapid immaterial dimension is often characterised by increasing returns that tend to give rise to global monopolies and oligopolies which, in a few years, have created (and are still creating) positions of dominance in intermediating the services of the material dimension without any of the guarantees or restrictions foreseen for their predecessors. They are replacing local intermediaries operating in the material dimension with multinational intermediaries operating in the immaterial dimension: in other words, allowing the presence of gatekeepers in the immaterial dimension is leading to a loss of governance of a large part of the material dimension. In order to defend the market (and, with it, public rights), the present gatekeepers should be subject to specific pro-competitive regulation and the entry of the new gatekeepers wanted by those (who would like to eliminate the neutrality the Internet) should be prevented. It is therefore to be hoped that ex ante provisions are introduced in order to protect the rights of consumers and economic operators who are currently only protected ex post. Europe, in its dimension as a market of consumers, should decide whether to accept the status quo or intervene in order to ensure a different future.

11:30 - 13:00 [room 10C] Free software and hardware, Angelo Raffaele Meo, Politecnico di Torino

[Meo - slides]

The lecture will provide insights on te history of free software and free hardware, also discussing the most important licenses and the most known products, as well as practical applications, including new models of technological evolution that are not based on intellectual property.

14:00 - 15:30 [room 10C] Homo Pluralis: the human being in the technological era, Luca De Biase, Nòva24 - IlSole24ore

From financial markets to social networks, almost every domain is currently characterized by a seamless (and intrusive) flow of information, and by an increased autonomy of machines from human intervention. Online platforms impose on users their algorithms and (implicit or explicit) filters, while they gather and analyze huge amounts of data that make them able to map human behavior. This evolution arguably requires a drastic cultural adaptation. In his lecture, Luca De Biase will propose an approach to overcome the dichotomy between 'tecnophile optimism' and 'Neo-Luddite alarmism', recognizing the necessity for the human being to become a conscious citizen of this new digital environment, also imposing her creativity, intelligence, and ethics, to achieve a more authentic dimension.

16:00 - 17:30 [room 10C] Internet regulation from the back door?, Maurizio Borghi, Bournemouth University

[Borghi - slides]

The lesson critically reviews some recent decisions of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) on copyright and related rights, and discusses their impact on crucial elements of the internet architecture such as hyperlinking and web crawling. It will be argued that, by its judicial activism, the CJEU is filling the gaps left by the European legislator, and that a comprehensive regulation of the digital single market cannot be delayed. Recommended readings: Case C-466/12 (Svensson v Retriever), Case C-30/14 (Ryanair v PR Aviation) .

Monday 15 June

9:30 - 11:00 [room 2M] The conditions of human cultural development in the digital world, Philippe Aigrain, Computer scientist and author

In 2012, Julie Cohen published her book "Configuring the Networked Self: Law, Code, and the Play of Everyday Practice", whose last part was titled "Human Flourishing in a Networked World". Building on her approach and my own work on cultural development in the digital world, the lecture will address the question of its structural conditions at various levels : the architecture of tools and services, the legal and economic environment of cultural practices and the relationship between the physical body and its digital extensions.

11:30 - 13:00 [room 2M] Open Access in the digital age: Quo Vadis?, Jean-Claude Guédon, University of Montreal

[Guédon - slides ]

Prof. Guédon will illustrate the topic of Open Access applied to scientific research, presenting its fundamentals and potential impact, highlighting challenges and opportunities, and discussing the complex relationship dynamics that exist between researchers, publishers and university libraries. In particular, Prof. Guédon will present examples of new types of alliances and strategies between these actors, also discussing incentives and expectations of each of them.

14:00 - 15:30 [room 2M] Thoughts on the Internet of Things, Bruce Sterling, Science-fiction writer

[Sterling - slides ]

If the hype is to be believed then the next big thing is the Internet of Things. But is it what you think it is? Because the Internet of Things is not about things on the Internet. A world in which all our household gadgets can communicate with each other may sound vaguely useful, but it’s not really for us consumers. The Internet of Things serves the interests of the technology giants, in their epic wrangles with each other. And it is they who will turn the jargon of “smart cities” and “smart homes” into a self-fulfilling prophesy.

16:00 - 17:30 [room 2M] The "Casa Jasmina" project with Officine Arduino, Jasmina Tešanovic , Activist and writer

[Tešanovic - slides ]

"Casa Jasmina" is a two-year pilot project in the business space of domestic electronic networking, or, "the Internet of Things in the Home." Our goal is to integrate traditional Italian skills in furniture and interior design with emergent skills in Italian open-source electronics. The project is a showplace inside the large industrial building already shared by Toolbox Co-Working, Fablab Torino and Officine Arduino. Casa Jasmina showplace has three main functions: a real-world testbed for hacks, experiments and innovative IoT and digital fabrication projects; a curated space for public exposure of excellent artifacts and best practices; a guest-house for occasional visitors to Toolbox, Officine Arduino and Fablab Torino. We are building Casa Jasmina in order to encourage industries that will create tomorrow's living spaces. Casa Jasmina is an incubator, and its purpose is industry-boosting in the Torino and Piemonte IoT space. The successors of the Casa Jasmina project will be real homes with real, innovative products inside.

Tuesday 16 June

9:30 - 11:00 [room 2M] ICTs and the Development Agenda, Araba Sey, University of Washington

[Sey - slides ]

The 2015 Global Information Technology Report acknowledges both an ongoing ICT-driven transformation of societies as well as continuing, if not widening, digital and economic divides within countries. Why do these inequities persist, despite decades of government, donor and industry-led initiatives to broaden utilization of these technologies? Araba Sey will present some of her recent research on the impacts of public access to ICTs, reflecting on the challenges of trying to extract identifiable development outcomes from the use of ICTs in low and middle-income countries.


Politecnico di Torino, see rooms above.

Requirements to pass the course

Politecnico di Torino will grant 3 credits for this course. Requirements to pass the course: attending all lectures and pass the exam of 29 June


info AT nexa DOT polito DOT it