The world is moving rapidly towards ubiquitous connectivity that will further change how and where people associate, gather and share information, and consume media. A canvassing of 2,558 experts and technology builders about where we will stand by the year 2025 finds striking patterns in their predictions. The invited respondents were identified inprevious research about the future of the Internet, from those identified by the Pew Research Center’s Internet Project, and solicited through major technology-oriented listservs. They registered their answers online between November 25, 2013 and January 13, 2014.
In their responses, these experts foresee an ambient information environment where accessing the Internet will be effortless and most people will tap into it so easily it will flow through their lives “like electricity.” They predict mobile, wearable, and embedded computing will be tied together in the Internet of Things, allowing people and their surroundings to tap into artificial intelligence-enhanced cloud-based information storage and sharing. As Dan Lynch, founder of Interop and former director of computing facilities at SRI International, wrote, “The most useful impact is the ability to connect people. From that, everything flows.”
To a notable extent, the experts agree on the technology change that lies ahead, even as they disagree about its ramifications. Most believe there will be:
- A global, immersive, invisible, ambient networked computing environment built through the continued proliferation of smart sensors, cameras, software, databases, and massive data centers in a world-spanning information fabric known as the Internet of Things.
- “Augmented reality” enhancements to the real-world input that people perceive through the use of portable/wearable/implantable technologies.
- Disruption of business models established in the 20th century (most notably impacting finance, entertainment, publishers of all sorts, and education).
- Tagging, databasing, and intelligent analytical mapping of the physical and social realms.
These experts expect existing positive and negative trends to extend and expand in the next decade, revolutionizing most human interaction, especially affecting health, education, work, politics, economics, and entertainment. Most say they believe the results of that connectivity will be primarily positive. However, when asked to describe the good and bad aspects of the future they foresee, many of the experts can also clearly identify areas of concern, some of them extremely threatening. Heightened concerns over interpersonal ethics, surveillance, terror, and crime, may lead societies to question how best to establish security and trust while retaining civil liberties.
Overall, these expert predictions can be grouped into 15 identifiable theses about our digital future – eight of which we characterize as being hopeful, six as concerned, and another as a kind of neutral, sensible piece of advice that the choices that are made now will shape the future. Many involve similar views of the ways technology will change, but differ in their sense of the impact of those technical advances. They are listed below, numbered for the sake of convenience to readers navigating this document, not in a rank ordering.
1) Information sharing over the Internet will be so effortlessly interwoven into daily life that it will become invisible, flowing like electricity, often through machine intermediaries.
David Clark, a senior research scientist at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, noted, “Devices will more and more have their own patterns of communication, their own ‘social networks,’ which they use to share and aggregate information, and undertake automatic control and activation. More and more, humans will be in a world in which decisions are being made by an active set of cooperating devices. The Internet (and computer-mediated communication in general) will become more pervasive but less explicit and visible. It will, to some extent, blend into the background of all we do.”
Joe Touch, director at the University of Southern California’s Information Sciences Institute, predicted, “The Internet will shift from the place we find cat videos to a background capability that will be a seamless part of how we live our everyday lives. We won’t think about ‘going online’ or ‘looking on the Internet’ for something — we’ll just be online, and just look.”
2) The spread of the Internet will enhance global connectivity that fosters
more planetary relationships and less ignorance.
Bryan Alexander, senior fellow at the National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education, wrote, “It will be a world more integrated than ever before. We will see more planetary friendships, rivalries, romances, work teams, study groups, and collaborations.”
Paul Jones, a professor at the University of North Carolina and founder of ibiblio.org, responded, “Television let us see the Global Village, but the Internet let us be actual Villagers.”
Tim Bray, an active participant in the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) and technology industry veteran, noted, “I expect the miasma of myth and ignorance and conspiracy theory to recede to dark corners of the discourse of civilization, where nice people don’t go. The change in the emotional landscape conferred by people being able to communicate very cheaply irrespective of geography is still only dimly understood.”
3) The Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, and big data will make people more aware of their world and their own behavior.
Patrick Tucker, author of The Naked Future: What Happens In a World That Anticipates Your Every Move?, wrote, “When the cost of collecting information on virtually every interaction falls to zero, the insights that we gain from our activity, in the context of the activity of others, will fundamentally change the way we relate to one another, to institutions, and with the future itself. We will become far more knowledgeable about the consequences of our actions; we will edit our behavior more quickly and intelligently.”
Judith Donath, a fellow at Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, responded, “We’ll have a picture of how someone has spent their time, the depth of their commitment to their hobbies, causes, friends, and family. This will change how we think about people, how we establish trust, how we negotiate change, failure, and success.”
4) Augmented reality and wearable devices will be implemented to monitor and give quick feedback on daily life, especially tied to personal health.
Daren C. Brabham, a professor at the Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism, University of Southern California, predicted, “We will grow accustomed to seeing the world through multiple data layers. This will change a lot of social practices, such as dating, job interviewing and professional networking, and gaming, as well as policing and espionage.”
Aron Roberts, software developer at the University of California-Berkeley, said, “We may well see wearable devices and/or home and workplace sensors that can help us make ongoing lifestyle changes and provide early detection for disease risks, not just disease. We may literally be able to adjust both medications and lifestyle changes on a day-by-day basis or even an hour-by-hour basis, thus enormously magnifying the effectiveness of an ever more understaffed medical delivery system.”
5) Political awareness and action will be facilitated and more peaceful changeand public uprisings like the Arab Spring will emerge.
Rui Correia, director of Netday Namibia, a non-profit supporting innovations in information technology for education and development, wrote, “With mobile technologies and information-sharing apps becoming ubiquitous, we can expect some significant improvement in the awareness of otherwise illiterate and ill-informed rural populations to opportunities missed out by manipulative and corrupt governments. Like the Arab Spring, we can expect more and more uprisings to take place as people become more informed and able to communicate their concerns.”
Nicole Ellison, an associate professor in the School of Information at the University of Michigan, predicted, “As more of the global population comes online, there will be increased awareness of the massive disparities in access to health care, clear water, education, food, and human rights.”
6) The spread of the ‘Ubernet’ will diminish the meaning of borders, and new ‘nations’ of those with shared interests may emerge and exist beyond the capacity of current nation-states to control.
David Hughes, an Internet pioneer, who from 1972 worked in individual to/from digital telecommunications, responded, “All 7-plus billion humans on this planet will sooner or later be ‘connected’ to each other and fixed destinations, via the Uber(not Inter)net. Thatcan lead to the diminished power over people’s lives within nation-states. When every person on this planet can reach, and communicate two-way, with every other person on this planet, the power of nation-states to control every human inside its geographic boundaries may start to diminish.”
JP Rangaswami, chief scientist for Salesforce.com, observed, “The problems that humanity now faces are problems that can’t be contained by political borders or economic systems. Traditional structures of government and governance are therefore ill-equipped to create the sensors, the flows, the ability to recognize patterns, the ability to identify root causes, the ability to act on the insights gained, the ability to do any or all of this at speed, while working collaboratively across borders and time zones and sociopolitical systems and cultures. From climate change to disease control, from water conservation to nutrition, from the resolution of immune-system-weakness conditions to solving the growing obesity problem, the answer lies in what the Internet will be in decades to come. By 2025, we will have a good idea of its foundations.”
7) The Internet will become ‘the Internets’ as access, systems, and principles are renegotiated
David Brin, author and futurist, responded, “There will be many Internets. Mesh networks will self-form and we’ll deputize sub-selves to dwell in many places.”
Sean Mead, senior director of strategy and analytics for Interbrand, predicted, “The Internet will generate several new related networks. Some will require verified identification to access, while others will promise increased privacy.”
Ian Peter, pioneer Internet activist and Internet rights advocate, wrote, “The Internet will fragment. Global connectivity will continue to exist, but through a series of separate channels controlled by a series of separate protocols. Our use of separate channels for separate applications will be necessitated by security problems, cyber policy of nations and corporations, and our continued attempts to find better ways to do things.”
8) An Internet-enabled revolution in education will spread more opportunities, with less money spent on real estate and teachers.
The biggest impact on the world will be universal access to all human knowledge. The smartest person in the world currently could well be stuck behind a plow in India or China. Enabling that person — and the millions like him or her — will have a profound impact on the development of the human race. Cheap mobile devices will be available worldwide, and educational tools like the Khan Academy will be available to everyone. This will have a huge impact on literacy and numeracy and will lead to a more informed and more educated world population. — Hal Varian, chief economist for Google
A generally hopeful summary comes from Doc Searls, journalist and director of ProjectVRM at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, observed, “Of course, there will be bad acting by some, taking advantage of organizational vulnerabilities and gaming systems in other ways. Organizations in the meantime will continue rationalizing negative externalities, such as we see today with pollution of the Internet’s pathways by boundless wasted advertising messages, and bots working to game the same business. But … civilization deals with bad acting through development of manners, norms, laws and regulations. Expect all of those to emerge and evolve over the coming years. But don’t expect the Internet to go away … Will the Internet make it possible for our entire civilization to collapse together, in one big awful heap? Possibly. But the Internet has already made it possible for us to use one of our unique graces — the ability to share knowledge — for good, and to a degree never before possible.”
9) Dangerous divides between haves and have-nots may expand, resulting in resentment and possible violence.
READ MORE HERE: http://www.pewinternet.org/2014/03/11/15-theses-about-the-digital-future/