The Pew Research Center is commemorating the 25th anniversary of the creation of the World Wide Web by Sir Tim Berners-Lee by sponsoring a number of reports this year.
One of these, 15 Theses About the Digital Future resulted from a 2013 survey in which 12,000 people and 2,558 technology experts were posed the question, “Where will we be in 2025?” Co-authors, Janna Anderson, director of Elon University’s Imagining the Internet Project, Pew Research Internet Project Director Lee Raini and Research Assistant Maeve Duggan, identified the respondents through previous Internet research and technology groups.
According to the authors, while most of the respondents agreed about future technology changes, there was less agreement about the ramifications of those changes, which included the following:
(1) there will be a global computing environment enhanced with the continued expansion of linked devices such as smart sensors, cameras, software, databases, and huge data centers;
(2) there will be enhancements to the real world environment through portable or wearable technologies;
(3) disruption of business models will occur (entertainment, finance, publishing, and education); and
(4) we will see substantially increased levels of tagging, database usage, and intelligent mapping of the physical and social realms.
The overall predictions were grouped into 15 theses for the digital future — eight “hopeful,” six “concerned,” and one “neutral.” Among the theses classified as “more hopeful” were:
- Information sharing will be so woven into daily life that it will be invisible, flowing like electricity. “More and more, humans will be in a world in which decisions are being made by an active set of cooperating devices.”
- The spread of the Internet will enhance global connectivity that fosters more planetary relationships and less ignorance.
- The Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, and big data will make people more aware of their world and their own behavior. Patrick Tucker wrote, “When the cost of collecting information on virtually every interaction falls to zero, the insights that we gain from our activity, in context of the activity of others, will fundamentally change the way we relate to one another, to institutions, and with the future itself.”
- Augmented reality and wearable devices will be implemented to monitor and give quick feedback on daily life, especially tied to personal health.
- Political awareness and action will be facilitated and more peaceful change and uprisings like the Arab Spring will emerge. Ill-informed populations will be aware of opportunities missed through corrupt governments.
- 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.
- The Internet will become “the Internets” as access, systems, and principles are renegotiated. Separate channels will be formed with governed protocols for interfacing due to security problems and cyber policies.
- An Internet-enabled revolution in education will spread more opportunities, with less money spent on real estate and teachers. “The biggest impact will be universal access to all human knowledge.”
Among the less hopeful theses were:
- Dangerous divides between haves and have-nots may expand, resulting in resentment and possible violence.
- Abuses and abusers will “evolve and scale.” Human nature isn’t changing; there’s laziness, bullying, stalking, stupidity, pornography, dirty tricks, and crime and those who practice them have new capacity to make life miserable for others.
- Pressured by the changes, governments and corporations will try to assert power – and at times succeed – as they invoke security and cultural norms.
- People will continue – sometimes grudgingly – to make tradeoffs favoring convenience and perceived immediate gains over privacy, and privacy will be something that only the upscale will enjoy.
- Humans and their current organizations may not respond quickly enough to challenges presented by complex networks.
- Most people are not yet noticing the profound changes today’s communications networks are already bringing about, and these networks will be even more disruptive in the future.
Lastly, the more neutral recommendation was summarized as “Make good choices today.”
- Foresight and accurate predictions can make a difference; “The best way to predict the future is to invent it…The technology that promises to turn our world on its head is also the technology with which we can build our new world.”
As someone who leads an Internet-based university, I understand the disruption that has and will continue to occur in education. I also understand the continuing trend to include other devices in the “Internet of everything” that will increase the information available to all of us and make the Internet seamless. There are huge costs of implementing technology for early adopters, but there are more than likely much larger costs of waiting so long that the wave of adoption has bypassed you and consumers feel that you’re out of touch with their needs.
In addition to providing the general categories, the authors have quoted comments from some of the more prominent survey respondents. These comments are thought provoking and reason alone for anyone thinking about the impact of the Internet on their business or on society in general to read the report. I found the report so insightful that I bookmarked it as I intend to re-read it from time to time as I continue to think about the technology and knowledge innovations enabled by the Internet.