March 11, 2014

Digital Life in 2025

The Final Thesis: Today’s Choices Matter

15) Foresight and accurate predictions can make a difference; ‘The best way to predict the future is to invent it.’

A number of the experts who participated in the survey said it is important to contemplate future possibilities and work today to aim for a better tomorrow. The statements made in favor of foresight by four of them are included below as a fitting conclusion to this collection of expert predictions about the likely future of the Internet.

Anonymously, a professor at a Big 10 research university in the US wrote, “The democratization of information, user-generated content, sharing of research especially in science and medicine, the rapid communication during times of crisis and social change: these are the ways in which the Internet will continue to play a positive role between now and 2025. We just have to be sure we have backup plans because we are all a little too trusting that the network, power, and so forth will always work. And we also have to find ways to get exercise, communicate face-to-face, and use the Internet as a tool for change, not just a place to watch cat videos.”

David Orban, CEO of Dotsub, wrote, “The most significant impacts by 2025 will be: extending human communication, building bridges of understanding that go across the language and cultural barriers of today; setting standards of excellence and opportunity for achievement that are globally visible and available as rich and varied role models for self-guided individuals and organizations; lowering the barriers to access of knowledge and tools, making actionable information available for local adaptation and experimentation; eliminating obsolete rules and regulations that shackle individuals and societies.”

Robert Cannon, Internet law and policy expert, wrote, “The greatest challenges, I think, will be labor and employment. The Internet, automation, and robotics will disrupt the economy as we know it. How will we provide for the humans who can no longer earn money through labor? The opportunities are simply tremendous. Information, the ability to understand that information, and the ability to act on that information will be available ubiquitously. Washer broken? Here are instructions on how to fix it and the diagrams for your 3D printer (and instructions for your house robot on how to do the work). Want to take care of normal household legal matters, wills, real estate, and so on? Automated. Want to travel? Advances in technology will make travel extremely affordable with new materials and fuels. Want to learn to dance? Here’s how to do it: a hologram will show you in 3D, and you can be connected to your local community that has the same interests. Or we could become a brave new world were the government (or corporate power) knows everything about everyone everywhere and every move can be foreseen, and society is taken over by the elite with control of the technology. The world that our children will grow up in and have families in will be entirely different than ours. We are teaching them how to grow up in our world and not preparing them for the future they are about to meet. Most of what we perceive will be disrupted — and we old folk will be obsolete. The good news is that the technology that promises to turn our world on its head is also the technology with which we can build our new world. It offers an unbridled ability to collaborate, share, and interact. ‘The best way to predict the future is to invent it.’ It is a very good time to start inventing the future.”

Sonigitu Asibong Ekpe, a consultant with the AgeCare Foundation, a non-profit organization, wrote, “The most significant impact of the Internet is getting us to imagine different paths that the future may take. These paths help us to be better prepared for long-term contingencies; by identifying key indicators, and amplifying signals of change, they help us ensure that our decisions along the way are flexible enough to accommodate change. Just as the architects of the ARPANET never anticipated the Internet of today, it is equally hard for us to predict the Internet’s evolution — its future and its impact. ­That billions more people are poised to come online in the emerging economies seems certain. Yet much remains uncertain: from who will have access, how, when, and at what price to the Internet’s role as an engine for innovation and the creation of commercial, social, and human value. As users, industry players, and policymakers, the interplay of decisions that we make today and in the near future will determine the evolution of the Internet and the shape it takes by 2025, in both intended and unintended ways. Regardless of how the future unfolds, the Internet will evolve in ways we can only begin to imagine. By allowing ourselves to explore and rehearse divergent and plausible futures for the Internet, not only do we and ourselves more prepared for any future, we can also help shape it for the better.”

John E. Savage, a research scientist at Brown University, argued that the best way to make better predictions would be deeper study of the Internet. He wrote, “The Internet needs to be studied as a medium. It deserves the kind of treatment that Marshall McLuhan gave to modern communications during its infancy. Nations around the world need to understand its potential and pitfalls so that we can collectively improve our cultures and economies will avoiding unnecessary disagreements and conflicts. For example, we are all very much aware that modernization is creating great stresses in nations that have lived by a religious code that is at odds with the prevailing cultures in other nations. These stresses need to be understood and, if possible, mediated so that nations can learn to respect differences in their cultures while not insisting that all adhere to one culture.”

Many of the experts who participated in answering this survey question said their expectation is an extension and continuation of what’s happening today. The say they expect a it will be a potentially uneven but fairly predictable evolution of the forms of human connection we already see in the current network of networks.

Jari Arkko, Internet expert for Ericsson and chair of the Internet Engineering Task Force, wrote, “The loss of distance and place continues to accelerate, as Internet integrates even more deeply into our lives, from everyday objects to everywhere, all-the-time, real-time communication and media. The world becomes smaller, and physical borders have less significance. Those with ideas and platforms to connect people will continue to grow in importance (in good and bad).”

The Internet has essentially allowed information to be distributed without restriction. The impact has been a greater level of social equity and the empowerment of individuals, including those marginalized and in the minority. If we look toward the next 10 years, we will likely see the same, but more pronounced in different parts of the world.Bambi Francisco, CEO and entrepreneur with Vator

Jon Lebkowsky, advocacy web developer at Consumers Union, argued, “The Internet’s already woven into the fabric of everyday reality for individuals and companies worldwide, and there’s a powerful, world-changing channeling of information that has many upsides. The downside is that all data leaves a trail and all users can be tracked; we’re building surveillance into the infrastructure, and surveillance is subject to abuse.”

Anonymously, the CEO of a technology company wrote, “The most significant overall impacts will be in national security challenges, cyber attacks, and theft. On the other hand, more people will have the opportunity to connect, share, collaborate, and create economic growth. The greatest impact will be in teleworking, increased productivity, education and information access, transportation, healthcare, and housing advancements.”

Caroline Haythornthwaite, director and professor at The iSchool at The University of British Columbia, wrote, “The most significant impact will be on the ability to maintain work, socialize, family connections across distances. Open access will also be an impact, with continued reshuffling of publication and dissemination practices (scholarly communication, music, film, news.) There will also be a re-juggling of economic infrastructure — i.e., news business as a key example, but higher education coming right behind. Big data — its generation, management, use, and consequences — will also be a point of contention. Participatory culture will also hold influence.”

Alison Alexander, a professor at the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia, wrote, “There will be increased and ever-changing threats to privacy and security; increased ability to isolate self from personal interaction; threats to employment; shifts in power structures with unforeseeable consequences. Globally, there will be better access to information and entertainment, as well as the killer apps that will emerge; merged devices; an emerging global economy with potential smoothing of differences in affluence; improved governmental and corporate efficiency; and advances in research due to collaboration and sharing of information.”

Anonymously, the owner of a start-up related to mobile technology wrote, “In countries with a diverse civil society and strong legal tradition, the Internet will, on balance, remain a positive. In countries without those traditions, it will continue to be a lever of control.”

A number of respondents said by 2025 the Internet will be more of the same but it will extend to reach more people. Anonymously, an associate professor of communications wrote, “It will bring: more Arab Springs, more cyber attacks, more privacy issues, more creativity and collaboration, more copyright infringements, more cyber warfare, and online education.”

Anonymously, a science and technology policy analyst wrote, “Between now and 2025, the biggest change will be the greater engagement of more people in the developing world. That diminution of the global digital divide will translate into a wide range of social, economic, creative, and political phenomena. Processes we have begun to see (positive and negative) will continue to play out.”

And the final word comes from gaming researcher and teacher Marc Prensky: “The biggest impact will come from something we don’t currently foresee. Stay alert!”