In just one decade, the Internet will be a “seamless part of how we live our everyday lives,” according to a new report from the Pew Research Internet Project.
Or it could be the means to a “very dystopian world that is also profoundly inegalitarian.”
The possible scenarios were based on the prognostications of thousands of experts on science and the Web, including Joe Touch, director of the University of Southern California’s Information Sciences Institute.
“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,” he said.
But another perspective comes from John Markoff, senior writer for the Science section of the New York Times.
“What happens the first time you answer the phone and hear from your mother or a close friend, but it’s actually not, and instead, it’s a piece of malware that is designed to social engineer you?” he asked.
“What kind of a world will we have crossed over into? I basically began as an Internet utopian (think John Perry Barlow), but I have since realized that the technical and social forces that have been unleashed by the microprocessor hold out the potential of a very dystopian world that is also profoundly inegalitarian. I often find myself thinking, ‘Who said it would get better?,’” said Markoff.
The report by Janna Anderson and Lee Rainie was done in conjunction with Elon University’s Imagining the Internet Center. It canvassed hundreds of experts about the future “of such things as privacy, cybersecurity, the ‘Internet of Things’ and net neutrality.”
“In this case we asked experts to make their own predictions about the state of digital life by the year 2025,” the authors said.
Striking patterns were found in the responses of nearly 2,600 experts and technology builders, they wrote.
“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.’”
The experts 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.”
The report cited Dan Lynch, founder of Interop and former director of computing facilities at SRI International, writing “the most useful impact is the ability to connect people.”
“From that, everything flows,” Lynch writes.
Business models for finance, entertainment, publishing and education will be destroyed and rebuilt, and the “physical and social realms” will be mapped, the report said.
“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 experts 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,” the report said.
The responses grouped themselves into several categories, including eight that were “hopeful” and several that were thought to be “concerned.”
“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,” said David Clark, a senior research scientist at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab. “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.”
Several strongly hinted at increasing globalism.
“It will be a world more integrated than ever before. We will see more planetary friendships, rivalries, romances, work teams, study groups and collaborations,” wrote Bryan Alexander, senior fellow at the National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education.
More information, including details, will be handy, and that will result in a new view on life, said Judith Donath, a fellow at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society.
“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,” she said.
Data layers will be what filters a view of the world, said Daren Brabham, of the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at USC. “This will change a lot of social practices, such as dating, job interviewing and professional networking, and gaming, as well as policing and espionage.”
More uprisings, too, will develop because more people will be aware of what others have regarding health care, water, education, food and human rights, said Nicole Ellison of the School of Information at Michigan.
Borders will disappear because they simply won’t matter.
The report said more than 7 billion “humans on this planet will sooner or later be ‘connected’ to each other and fixed destinations, via the Uber (not Inter) net.”
“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,” said David Hughes, an Internet pioneer.
Networks will network with networks, and Hal Varian, chief economist for Google, said there will be universal access to all human knowledge.
But Llewellyn Kriel, CEO of TopEditor International Media Services, noted that access to knowledge and information isn’t always good.
“Everything – every thing – will be available online with price tags attached. Cyber-terrorism will become commonplace. Privacy and confidentiality of any and all personal will become a thing of the past. Online ‘diseases’ – mental, physical, social, addictions (psycho-cyber drugs) – will affect families and communities and spread willy-nilly across borders. The digital divide will grow and worsen beyond the control of nations or global organizations such as the U.N. This will increasingly polarize the planet between haves and have-nots. Global companies will exploit this polarization. Digital criminal networks will become realities of the new frontiers. Terrorism, both by organizations and individuals, will be daily realities. The world will become less and less safe, and only personal skills and insights will protect individuals,” he said.
Big Brother can’t be far behind then.
“Governments will become much more effective in using the Internet as an instrument of political and social control. That is, filters will be increasingly valuable and important, and effective and useful filters will be able to charge for their services. People will be more than happy to trade the free-wheeling aspect common to many Internet sites for more structured and regulated environments,” suggested Paul Babbitt, an associate professor at Southern Arkansas University.
Eventually, it will push some people beyond the boundaries of reality, said Bob Briscoe, chief researcher in networking for British Telecom.
“More people will lose their grounding in the realities of life and work, instead considering those aspects of the world amenable to expression as information as if they were the whole world,” he said. “Given there is strong evidence that people are much more willing to commit petty crimes against people and organizations when they have no face-to-face interaction, the increasing proportion of human interactions mediated by the Internet will continue the trend toward less respect and less integrity in our relations.”
Marc Rotenberg, of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, said: “I hope there will be greater openness, more democratic participation, less centralized control, and greater freedom. But there is nothing predetermined about that outcome. Economic and political forces in the United States are pulling in the opposite direction. So, we are left with a central challenge: will the Internet of 2025 be – a network of freedom and opportunity or the infrastructure of social control?”