March 11, 2014

Digital Life in 2025

The More-Hopeful Theses

This report reflects the responses to the sixth Future of the Internet survey, a canvassing of experts about their attitudes on the likely future impacts of evolving communications networks. Experts’ remarks in the previous five surveys generally expressed enthusiasm about the potential benefits of technological evolution. In this, the 2014 survey, their optimistic responses are more often accompanied by their concerns over the potential negatives that go hand-in-hand with the connectivity.

One striking pattern is that these experts agree to a large extent on the trends that will shape digital technology in the next decade. Among those expected to extend through 2025 are:

  • 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.
  • A continuing evolution of artificial intelligence-equipped tools allowing anyone to connect to a globe-spanning information network nearly anywhere, anytime.
  • 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.

Following are responses selected from nearly 1,867 survey participants who answered this question. Some responses are edited. The experts’ statements are grouped under headings that indicate the major themes emerging from the overall set of responses. The headings reflect the predominant opinions found in respondents’ replies; they are the same as those described in brief in the opening pages of this report.

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.

A significant number of respondents noted that people will come to take the Internet for granted in 2025. Many drew comparisons to the casual use of electricity in most developed areas of the world and people’s expectation that it will be readily available anywhere anytime at an extremely low cost.

For instance, Joe Touch, director of the USC/ISI Postel Center, responded, “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. Author William Gibson was wrong — there’s no cyberspace; it’s all just ‘space.’ …We don’t ask people how electricity or the internal combustion engine will change their lives a decade from now — they’re ubiquitous, seamless parts of everyday life. Arthur Clarke said that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, but that’s just during the start of its adoption. Ultimately, any sufficiently useful technology fades into the background if it’s done right.”

Anonymously, a database configuration specialist and risk assessment analyst wrote, “By 2025 use of the Internet will be as routine as breathing. It will change from something you decide to use to something you simply use.”

Connectivity will be anywhere and anytime. People will choose it for free and with different levels of choices.Isaac Mao, chief architect of Sharism Lab

Riel Miller, the head of foresight for UNESCO, based in Paris, wrote, “Like laws, markets, libraries, behavioral norms — all attributes of living in a community — the Net will just be part of daily life.”

Jim Kennedy, senior vice president for strategy for the Associated Press, responded, “Never being without a direct, immediate connection to information and other human beings will be the great boon of the advanced Internet age. Every sensory or intellectual experience that we know today could be extended to some degree. The great risk is that we will fail to harness that power in ways that are more useful than useless and more beneficial to our world than harmful. Enabling the flow of information to be constant and contextual at the same time will unleash opportunity in almost every realm of our experience.”

Dave Rusin, a digital entrepreneur and global corporate executive, wrote, “We are on information overload; people want peace in their lives, predictability, media truth and delivered/accessed/trust, they want to go back to basics, family, simplicity, and a sense of tangible community.”

When people come to depend on such a system, things grind to a halt when it is not available. Several survey respondents pointed this out. Anonymously, a minority rights advocate and media analyst, teacher, and journalist wrote, “Disruptions in access to the Internet will be one of the most remarkable features of the next 15 years; people will realize they need back-up systems. It will be important to know how to live in the Net, repair the Net, escape the Net, and live outside the Net.”

Maurice Vergeer, researcher in communication science at Radboud University in the Netherlands, said, “Concerning the bad things that can be done with the Internet and big data, it’s a rat race between those with good and bad intentions in terms of setting up security and hacking that same security. The problem is that increasingly more people are dependent in it. So, any damage that’ll be done will affect more and more people. Whereas we’ve seen an increase of people and organisations get connected, maybe in the future we will see a trend towards more disconnected niches. In terms of communities of interests this would result in extreme cyber-balkanization.”

Because it will be so ubiquitous and essential, some respondents foresee Internet access becoming a right and the development of technology skills as the next big literacy challenge.

Pamela Rutledge from the Media Psychology Research Center, argued, “By 2025, Internet access will be considered a ‘right’ and will replace the ‘universal access’ currently reserved for phone lines.  Increased access and greater capabilities will change the digital divide from access to quality of tools and the skills required for digital participation.”

Survey participants also acknowledged the fact that global dependence on one particular system makes it a prime target for a devastating attack.

Robert E. McGrath, a retired software engineer who participated in critical developments of the World Wide Web, wrote, “The odds are 50/50 that the Internet will be effectively destroyed by cyberattacks by 2025. If the Net goes down, there will be terrible costs as we reboot the economy.”

There were also concerns expressed about how the exchange of information on the Internet might be controlled.

Anonymously, an intelligence analyst for a medical publisher wrote, “The Internet will be integral to everything we do, and it will be used to monitor, change, and measure social, economic, and political policies, processes, and goals. The danger is that it can be misused, and disinformation is in play to make such changes. The benefit is that with an open Internet, this can be crowd-controlled and that there are non-traditional sources of information that balance such gaming of systems.”

Anonymously, a technology developer/administrator employed by a large cable company responded, “Instead of being ‘a thing you do,’ it becomes second nature, to the point that it is invisible unless it goes missing. Governments will still attempt to control that free exchange of information, with varying degrees of success.”

Some respondents pointed out that the number of humans online is surpassed by the number of machines, and networked communication in 2025 will be human to human, human to machine, and machine to machine.

David Clark, a senior research scientist at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, noted, “One important trend is the use of networks to hook devices together that communicate without the active participation of people. What is called machine-to-machine, or M2M, is a natural consequence of the increasing computerization of all the devices around us. Today, most of the interactions on the Internet still involve an active person, whether using the Web, using Facebook, or sending message or mail. 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. Another important trend will be the increasingly diverse character of the Internet experience in different regions of the world. While the Internet is a force for globalization, it will become increasingly localized.”

Brian Behlendorf, Internet pioneer and board member of several non-profits and for-profits, predicted that people will feel the information network has become a “new sense.” He wrote, “By 2025, it will become more apparent that personal digital devices have become the uncredited third lobe of our brain, and network connections more like an extension of our own nervous system, a new sense, like seeing and hearing. Questions about our rights over our own devices and connections will treat them more like parts of our bodies and beings than some third-party thing that is a privilege to own or something we merely rent. It will force us to redefine what being human means — and what personhood means, in terms of the law, representative government, and every other issue.”

2) The spread of the Internet will enhance global connectivity that fosters more planetary relationships and less ignorance.

There was considerable commentary about how augmented connectivity drives economic, social, and political change. Many human tools that have come before the Internet have made a difference: transportation networks and the printing press, for instance, have played starring roles in the evolution of human interaction. The Internet trumps all previous technological breakthroughs in its capabilities for connectivity.

Mike Roberts, Internet pioneer and longtime leader with ICANN and the Internet Society, wrote, “The two biggest impacts are creating instantaneous global marketplaces that have materially improved daily lives and creating global social interaction mechanisms that are reaching across cultural, political, and religious barriers to improve human relations.”

Tim Bray, an active participant in the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) and technology industry veteran, wrote, “There will be greater access to information in general, in particular Wikipedia, and lower friction in human communication. The cultural impact of Wikipedia is underestimated. Everyone now has instant free access to a huge repository of basic factual information about everything. 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

Geoff Arnold, a Cisco principal engineer, predicted, “Over the next 11 years, the major political and social changes will be the result of macroeconomic developments. The Internet will affect the ‘how’ of these changes but will only play a minor role in the ‘what.’”

Fred Hapgood, a self-employed science and technology writer, wrote, “One significant impact of the Internet will be in allowing the global economy to become a lot more efficient. Some people think that our economies will not grow much in the future, either because we are unlikely to discover technologies with the leveraging power of electricity and networking and the internal combustion engine, or because we not going to find new increases in labor factors like the disemployment and education of agricultural workers and the jump in female participation.  In many countries, the working population will actually decline. But it seems obvious that the global economy operates at a tiny fraction of its potential efficiency. Over the next twenty years, the Internet will allow this potential to be tapped, and that will lead to real increases in wealth, regardless of what happens with technology. An example might be crowdfunding or crowdinvesting. These Internet-based innovations make it much cheaper for startups to raise their investment capital. But there are a million examples.”

Bill Woodcock, executive director for the Packet Clearing House, responded, “By far the largest impact of the Internet is the ability it gives people to inform themselves. In that sense, the most important service on the Internet is Wikipedia, followed by things like eBay and TradeMe, and even Amazon, not for the ability they give people to buy things in low-friction ways (which is also important), but for the ability they give people to see what things cost, and what people think about them. People complain about the Internet making scams possible, but those scams have always been possible; what wasn’t easy before was for people to educate themselves, take advantage of the accumulation of the world’s knowledge, to protect themselves against scams, duplicitous middlemen, bad actors, and faulty products. It’s also important that the Internet facilitates communities of interest, rather than communities of coincidental geographic proximity. People who would in prior generations have assumed themselves to be abnormal now find themselves at the centers of thriving communities.”

Anonymously, an attorney responded, “The most significant impact of the Internet will be on our economy on a macro level. On a micro level, the most significant impact is in our communication. In terms of the economy, we are drawing to a point where money is no longer a tangible thing. No longer based on a system of gold, money is merely based on faith… Since currency is a faith-based system, alternative currencies like Bitcoin will crop up. These alternative currencies will not respect geo-political borders. It will be interesting to see if the entire world goes the way of the Euro and embraces a universal monetary system because of the Internet. In addition, as we monetize content, we are shifting from a production-based economy to an information economy. It will be interesting to see if this is a threat to democracy, or a boon. Information is necessary to a democracy where the people must make the decisions, and they are hopefully informed ones. However, if information is solely available in a monetized form, then only those who have money have information. And information is power.

Bryan Alexander, senior fellow at the National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education, wrote, “It will be a golden age of learning. It will be the best time in history for those who want to study. We will have more access to more material, more teachers, and more peers in more ways than ever before. It will bring a new age of work, as we face growing underemployment and unemployment due to automation. We will need to be rethinking what old models mean, like careers, meaningful work, and avocations. It will be a world more integrated than ever before. We will see more planetary friendships, rivalries, romances, work teams, study groups, and collaborations.”

Ali Carr-Chellman, head of learning and performance systems at Pennsylvania State University, said online games can help reduce violence. “We will continue to utilize gaming for social betterment,” he predicted. “Gaming will be a way that we see significant improvements in human conditions through competition and even through functional shedding of violent tendencies.”

There were a few respondents who said perceptions of the positive potential are overblown. Henning Schulzrinne, a technology developer and professor at Columbia University observed, “Generally, I see the Internet as a 10% solution — i.e., it can make things (very roughly) 10% more efficient or less costly. This is quite helpful in many situations, but is unlikely to reduce income inequality significantly, fundamentally change access to education or reduce carbon dioxide levels dramatically. The largest beneficial impact of networks, not just the Internet, may be in reducing traffic accidents, just as simple aircraft-to-aircraft communications has dramatically reduced the occurrence of mid-air collisions.”

3) The Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, and big data will make people more aware of their world and their own behavior.

Computation capabilities have been growing exponentially. More research and development of ubiquitous computing and human-like artificial intelligence are expected by many experts to pay dividends over the next decade. Many survey respondents said the biggest impact by 2025 will be generated by the billions of smart sensors and devices carried or embedded in networked networks spread across the world — the “Internet of Things.”

Anonymously, the publisher of an Internet-futures-oriented publication wrote, “The Internet will be everywhere, embedded in all of our technologies. It will be so pervasive that it will define how the world works. The Internet of Things is the next frontier. Adoption will be driven by the prospect for improved efficiency, productivity, and the opportunity to create new high-value applications.”

Anonymously, an information consultant/developer responded, “The Internet and humanity will be one, for better or worse. The Internet of Things will be the most useful innovation, and the one that will catch most people unawares. In the same way that the Web caught on in the 1990s and then so quickly became just what every business used to communicate by the mid- to late-2000s, the Internet of Things will cause a sea change in the way people relate to products and the world around them.”

Katie Derthick, a PhD candidate in human-centered design and engineering at the University of Washington, responded, “Ubiquitous computing will help relieve the burden created by the current app-centric form of technological innovation and solution on our ability to manage our time, health, relationships, social skills, spirituality, presence, attention, and cultural and class divides. A social backlash is coming; it’s already building. The most powerful effect embedded/wearable devices and the Internet of Things will have is to free us from technology, while allowing us to continue to benefit from it to the same and an even greater degree… It will bring scientific advancement through international collaboration; increased constituent voice in political discourse; and a freedom from technology devices that will allow our attention to return to more subtle and fundamental aspects of living.”

Anonymously, a professor of biology wrote, “The big impact will be the rise of autonomous and distributed AIs. Intelligence is perhaps an emergent property of complex interconnections between relatively non-intelligent entities.”

Anonymously, a retired university professor and well-known science fiction writer predicted, “There may be AI collaboration and teaming between humans and the Internet at all scales of size, speed, and locality. The Internet of Things warfare can trump all possibilities. Imagine World War I as fought with year-2000 weapons of mass destruction. Such an outcome needs no monsters, just accidents and deadly foolish policies.”

Anonymously, an executive at a top-level domain name operator wrote, “Given continued advances in computing power, storage and AI, it seems likely we’ll see a major shift in how we interact via the Internet. This could be as meaningful as distance learning and telemedicine, or as mundane as consumption of adult content.”

Anonymously, an executive for national news organization wrote, “Artificial intelligence will be much more ubiquitous and will revolutionize how we travel, manufacture products, and communicate.”

The evolution of software tools to gather and analyze large sets of information gleaned from the collection and assessment of inputs from networked people and devices — a concept that has been dubbed with the shorthand label “big data” — is expected by many to have significant influence.

Kalev Leetaru, a Yahoo Fellow at Georgetown University, wrote, “The greatest impacts will come from the use of all of the data exhaust of people’s daily lives, as they become more intertwined with the digital heartbeat as a way of rendering society increasingly computable.”

Anonymously, a PhD candidate in educational technology predicted, “Personal/big data will be an increasing concern as large datasets about each person will be easier and easier to generate, track, and maintain. Furthermore, keeping this data secure will be perhaps the most important issue in technology and society in general.”

Hong Xue, director of the Institute for Internet Policy of Law at Beijing Normal University, wrote, “People will be living in a 1984-like, transparent world.”

Judith Donath, a fellow at Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, responded, “Enormous amounts of information about people will be available online. Not necessarily publicly, but within broad circles of connection. We will expect to see a detailed data history: years of photographs, comments, postings, assessments by others, etc. 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.”

Deborah Lupton, a research professor on the faculty at the University of Canberra, Australia, responded, “Big data and predictive analytics will continue to have a major role in structuring people’s knowledge about themselves and others’ knowledge of them. While big data offer some benefits in terms of producing certain types of information about individuals and populations, there are major concerns about the use of predictive analytics to restrict the access of some individuals to social services, opportunities to travel to different countries, access insurance, gain entry to certain universities and to fields of employment, and so on. The potential for exacerbating discrimination and marginalisation of already disadvantaged groups is great. We need to continue to cast a critical eye on the practices and claims of big data. Not only do we need more data scientists, as some are contending, we need more social scientists and philosophers and even artists to challenge and provoke big data claims and practices. As the dominance of the use of big data increases, we need to expose its weaknesses and biases.”

Computation, big data, analytics, and the Internet of Things might possibly alter expectations in regard to human performance.

Andrew K. Przybylski, a University of Oxford research fellow, wrote, “I am hopeful that augmented intelligences may also help people to fact-check for everyday issues and challenges. This would really empower people in general.”

Anonymously, an information science professional responded, “We will live a land of data — from our home appliances to stores to our own health. Slogging through and not being overwhelmed by the data will be the trick to keeping sane and healthy in all aspects.”

Anonymously, a digital technology educator predicts that 2025 will see the world, “Finally achieving the goal of everyone being connected all the time to everyone else and to data sources of all kinds. The same goods/bads will apply as they do now, around issues like efficiency, access to knowledge, convenience and activism vs. social control, privacy intrusions, and signal-to-noise ratio.”

4) Augmented reality and wearable devices will be implemented to monitor and give quick feedback on daily life, especially tied to personal health.

Augmented reality is a descriptive used to explain the ways in which information layers added by networked devices can inform people in ways that were not possible before the wireless Internet.

Tom Standage, digital editor for The Economist, wrote, “We will see augmented reality as the new interface for information. Overlaying it on the real world will come to be seen as an enormous shift; historically, there will be a period before and after the advent of the ‘aug,’ as some sci-fi writers call it. In retrospect, telephony and smartphones and social media and Wikipedia will be seen as mere steps towards this larger goal.”

The most significant impacts of the Internet on people’s lives by 2025 will involve augmented reality applications. Augmented reality tools such as AR mobile browsers (like Layar) or wearables (like Google Glass) will become affordable and widespread, and 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.Daren C. Brabham, assistant professor at the Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism, University of Southern California

Anonymously, a senior systems administrator at a US university wrote, “Privacy issues will be outweighed by the perceived benefits of being online and interacting with others all the time. I see wearable, or even embedded, technology managing even the most mundane aspects of our daily lives, from what we need at the grocery store to when it’s time to change A/C filters to scheduling routine medical appointments and tests.”

A large number of survey respondents predicted the enhancement of health will have the most global impact by 2025, often citing the ability to practice a healthy lifestyle and detect, monitor, diagnose, and get advice or treatment for ailments remotely thanks to mobile or implanted networked devices.

Sunil Gunderia, a mobile strategist, responded, “Healthcare will significantly change as nanotech-based, real-time monitoring and predictive analytics will increase average lifespans.”

Stephen Abram, a prominent library blogger, said, “The greatest impact will be on world health.  Unfortunately I don’t foresee the same impacts on the biggest causes of sadness – education, poverty, nutrition, etc. I pray that the political and global will will be there to solve the big problems and not just the digital ones — global warming, war, under-employment, etc.”

Aron Roberts, software developer at the University of California-Berkeley, said, “The most significant impacts of the Internet will likely come in the life sciences domain, including medicine and public health. Computing and communications — not just the Internet, per se, are starting to have transformational impacts in that domain, both in research findings and in day-to-day health care. Not only are we likely to benefit from personalized, rather than mass, medical treatment, we also 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.”

Brad Berens, a research fellow at the USC Annenberg Center for the Digital Future, predicted, “Barring a catastrophic event, by 2025, we’ll see a new commitment to personal, social, commercial, and political balance, both enabled by and in reaction to the Internet. The Internet’s greatest strength is its ability to remove friction of all sorts, both negative business friction but also positive interpersonal friction. (Just think about your first slow dance.) Today, we have families ignoring each other at the dinner table as each member looks at his or her own screen, but at the same time a growing concern for our health has led to a rapid decrease in smoking, drinking soda, eating junk food and an increase in exercise. By 2025 we’ll start to see more commitment to intellectual, digital and interpersonal wellness.”

Anonymously, an advisor to a state government library wrote, “The greatest impact will be medical — due to wearable devices and ‘telemedicine’ — and more devices will be implanted. It will happen due to fewer doctors, more bandwidth (for those in cities or better off financially) and demand by the public and the interest of younger physicians. The data of the Internet of Things can be beneficial for individuals, especially when our own bodies start telling us things before we have symptoms.”

Beth Bush, senior vice president for a major healthcare professionals association, responded, “Baby Boomers will continue to change and drive society. This means healthcare, longevity, and humanity will drive the economic and intellectual investments.”

Wearable devices, such as Google Glass and various companies’ smart watches and health and fitness-oriented wristbands, are beginning to make waves and raise questions.

Anonymously, an advisor to a state government library wrote, “Personal wearable devices will have faster acceptance if different manufacturers products ‘talk’ to one another. At which company or organization will it all reside? Will individuals have direct access to their own information and the big data that it will generate in union with others’ data?”

There were those said health care should already have progressed much further than it has to this point.

Anonymously, a tenure-track professor at a private research university responded, “Transformation of healthcare… should be happening at a much faster pace than it is; the fact that healthcare industries have been so slow to change suggests to me that they are ripe for a major transformation, and that should yield radical improvements in patient care and coordination/information sharing among medical specialists.”

Some survey respondents said the quantified life can be just too much.

Anonymously, a strategic intelligence analyst on digital, tech and telecom issues wrote, “We will need to wear devices to keep us from walking out into the street or off piers, etc. There will be increased cluelessness, shorter attention spans, and reduced literacy and critical thinking skills among the masses due to reliance on computing devices.”

Melissa Wyers, president of Breakthrough Strategies, said, “Healthcare will become cheaper and more self-administered. We will be able to ‘know’ everything very early in our lives but struggle to understand how to make our lives. Tech perfection will make human imperfection harder to bear. We will be expected to optimize every aspect of life every second of life. It will exhaust us. Instant will be the norm.”

5) Political awareness and action will be facilitated and more peaceful change and public uprisings like the Arab Spring will emerge.

When survey respondents wrote about the use of the Internet to leverage political strength from the grassroots, they often referred to the Arab Spring as representative of people power magnified by the ability to instantly communicate without censorship. Several experts said new tools are making it easier to identify problems and negative trends, to take action themselves, and to follow up by holding leaders accountable to take action.

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. I am hopeful that those of us in developed countries that have resources to spare will use them for good via new tools and technologies designed to help those in need. This may be via increased awareness and political action; it may be through micro-loans and other innovative economic mechanisms; it may be through crowd-sourced tutoring and educational practices; it may be via a mechanism that hasn’t been invented yet. But I am hopeful the power of connectivity will result in increased awareness and empathy leading to real and necessary action.”

Some people boldly predicted that by 2025 current political hierarchies will be forced to be more open to public participation in government processes.

Jeremy Epstein, senior computer scientist at SRI International, currently working with the National Science Foundation as lead program director for Secure and Trustworthy Cyberspace, responded, “Combined with mass media, the Internet will increase the impact of English worldwide, and by doing so, increase Westernization. At the same time, it will increase pushback against perceptions of Westernization, and will make it easier for groups opposed to homogenization to communicate. The influence of the Internet in the Arab Spring (although ultimately unsuccessful) is the harbinger of the future. Countries that cut themselves off (e.g., Cuba, North Korea) or significantly limit speech (e.g., China) will risk putting themselves at significant economic disadvantage.  On the other hand, necessity is the mother of invention, and such countries will find significant innovation among their populations to getting around controls. If that innovation can be harnessed, it may help them in the long run.”

Anonymously, a federal government employee responded, “The Internet has the potential to significantly change how the government operates, to include greater citizen involvement in the process of making rules and laws. It can change how government services are delivered.”

Anonymously, a professor of communication and author of studies of Internet culture said he thinks new tools and approaches may possibly empower more effective public uprisings. “We will see more and more examples where grassroots networks will seek to challenge, reform, or overturn established authorities in their countries, similar to what we’ve seen with the Arab Spring, with Turkey and Brazil this past year, and with the Dreamers and Occupy movements in the United States,” he wrote. “The issue of how responsive elite groups will be to these challenges will come to a head as we develop more sophisticated models for turning voice into influence and for disrupting established institutions.”

There are those who expect progress to be made, but not everywhere. Olivier Crepin-Leblond, managing director of Global Information Highway Ltd. in London, UK, wrote, “The biggest impact of the Internet will be on freedom. In some countries, it will enable freedom. In others, it will kill it by being used as a tool to brainwash populations.”

6) The spread of the ‘Ubernet’ will diminish the meaning of borders, and new ‘nations’ of those with shared interests may emerge online and exist beyond the capacity of current nation-states to control.

Since the first years of its popularization, the Internet has been seen as a tool that is capable of removing people’s geographic location from the equation of successful information exchange. Many survey respondents predict this idea to extend by 2025 to a change in how people see where they “live.”

Anonymously, a research scientist based in California wrote, “The Internet will facilitate the formation of a global culture, with elements of all the world’s cultures participating.”

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.  That can 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. Being replaced — over another 50 or more years — by self-organizing, trans-border people-groups. Nations will still have military and police forces, but increasingly these will become less capable of controlling populations. This assumes, of course, that no entity will detonate large nuclear devices capable of destroying large populations or cause global deadly irradiation.”

Anonymously, a leading editor of communication technology textbooks wrote, “There will be widespread grassroots warfare with social control institutions. Advances in technology will make this resistance more effective. As control organizations improve their methods, ways around them will continue to be developed by the activist segment of the population.”

JP Rangaswami, chief scientist for, 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 recognise 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. Society as a whole, in government, in the public sector, in the private sector, in the voluntary sector, in academia, in NGOs, and as the common man and woman, will come to recognise that behind the Internet is a connected world of people. People who route round obstacles to solve problems in ways that people could not before. With that realisation, we will see people elect to solve problems that have hitherto been the domain of interminable conferences and committees who, for no fault of their own bar their very architecture, could not make any real impact.”

Manuel Landa, CEO of Urban360, a Mexican startup, responded, “By 2025, people will not think about political borders or cultural differences as we do now. The Internet would have erased those concepts by then.”

Anonymously, a designer, writer, and Web developer wrote, “Countries with borders will be less important or may cease to exist as anything more than infrastructure providers.”

Anonymously, an information science professional wrote, “Borders could fall; more people will be able to be engaged and contribute to the world.”

Frank Feather, CEO and chief trend tracker for, wrote, “The biggest impact will be full digitization of every aspect of our lives, of society, of commerce, and of politics and geo-politics… Digitization will permit democratization across boundaries and cultures and political systems in very significant ways. It is inevitable because digitization is a force in motion that cannot be stopped, and its benefits will daily become more manifest, leading to a rapid speed up.”

Anonymously, a panelist on the futurism project called Survey 2050 predicted, “The future will be virtual reality. When new battlegrounds emerge, old borders lose significance. We may be united where we were divided, and divided where we were one.”

7) The Internet will become ‘the Internets,’ as access, systems, and principles are renegotiated.

Some big thinkers’ visions of 2025 expand beyond the status quo in regard to the systems and principles of human interaction.

Glenn Grossman, a consultant to a software provider, said, “In 2025, we may not even call it the Internet. The idea of data sharing via other mediums will be likely. We still use the IP-based model for the Internet. This might not be the case in 2025. So, we will see more interconnected elements, and people will just assume it. Convergence of information and every nation will feel a bit closer. So, our economies will be more tied together, and thus, we can see big political changes. It will continue to improve the lives of people via sharing information, commerce, and education.”

Anonymously, the executive director of a futures coalition responded, “Even the most willing participants in technology may not comprehend the full meaning and scope of a shift as it is occurring. Our inability to grasp the significance of these developments hampers our abilities through policy and practice to mitigate the worst effects of disruption while missing the true opportunities for human development and social betterment that may be aided by these shifts… the hybrid information commons/commercial zone that is the Internet is not sustainable as we know it, and therefore destined to change. Whether it’s towards a more locked-down corporate/security panopticon or an asymmetric ecosystem, where digital freedoms depend on where the user is based, remains to be seen.”

Anonymously, a technical consultant for local and wide area networking wrote, “Rather than phone companies, cable companies, satellite companies, and such providing access to the Internet, the Internet will be the infrastructure that current ‘providers’ will hang onto.”

Anonymously, an information science professional wrote, “We have a golden opportunity to increase our capabilities to be creative, develop our natural personal capabilities, and enhance human relationships. Any improvement should genuinely increase these without detriment to person-to-person contact and our ability to communicate our thoughts.”

Steffen Schilke, a research scientist who works for a government in Europe, predicted, “There will be no Internet anymore as we know it as of today — it will be woven right into everything, like the air and the gravity surrounding us, not distinguishable from the environment — always there and always on if you want it to be there… As I said, there will be no more Internet; it will be more like a Borg conglomerate on a voluntary and (hopefully) free basis.”

Jim Leonick, director of new product development for Ipsos, responded, “Technology will inevitably be integrated into the human body/mind in ways we cannot fathom today.”

Rex Troumbley, a researcher at the Hawaii Research Center for Futures Studies, wrote, “Attention should be focused on what comes after the Internet rather than projecting the current iteration (even if slightly improved) into the future. The greatest impact of the Internet between now and 2025 will be its displacement, either by new technologies or by new policies, and its dispersion into multiple Internets.”

8) An Internet-enabled revolution in education will spread more opportunities, with less money spent on real estate and teachers.

The ability to access and share knowledge in many forms with billions of people globally is at the top of the list for many survey respondents. Some experts expect the evolution of online tools to expand the ways in which a formal education can be delivered, disrupting the status quo.

Adrian Schofield, manager of applied research for the Johannesburg Centre for Software Engineering, wrote, “The Internet will be the core means of creating, analysing, storing, and sharing information in any form that can be digitised… Learning will no longer be dependent on the quality of parents and teachers in person. Scholars and students will have access to the best materials and content available globally.”

Anonymously, an executive for national news organization wrote, “Artificial intelligence will be much more ubiquitous… Higher education will be transformed, with virtual classrooms becoming much more common and replacing some in-classroom instruction. This technology — along with demographic and economic trends — will result in a significant number of private universities collapsing and will lead to historic changes in the business model of public higher education.”

Alex Halavais, an associate professor of social and behavioral sciences at Arizona State University, predicted, “I suspect we will start to see some really extraordinary changes in the way people learn over the next decade that will continue beyond that. Especially in higher education, the current institutional structures are at a breaking point. The Internet is both a large part of the problem and a part of the solution. Already, it is possible to learn in new ways using network resources, and this will continue. The larger change will be in the ways in which this learning is measured and communicated. As the diploma (high school and college) is joined by other forms of accepted credentials, traditional institutions of education will be joined by a range of alternatives. Like other institutions, the degree to which they can support and interact with these new alternatives, rather than compete with them, will determine their success.”

All public education will be by master teachers who connect through the Internet to all students across the country — local teachers will become tutors only.Anonymous (U.S. based)

Tapio Varis, chair in global e-learning for UNESCO, wrote, “The future will bring a creation of global knowledge centres for the benefit of global development and regional and local services in education, healthcare and business. There will be an implementation of a global university system, utilizing broadband Internet and creating global knowledge centres for multiple services.”

Anonymously, an information resources worker for a small private college wrote, “More and more students will do their lessons and work asynchronously. Those who are unable to self-discipline will be left behind, unfortunately. Hopefully, the lesson types will also diversify to embrace all kinds of learning (kinetic, visual, etc.).”

Peter S. Vogel, Internet law expert and blogger at Gardere Wynne Sewell LLP, noted, “The greatest social change between now and 2025 will be to raise the educational standards for people regardless of their locale.  The Internet has already proven to be a great educational tool, and such wonderful bodies information such as Wikipedia allows individuals to share their collective wisdom with other people.  Also the increased use of Massive Open Online Courses will allow brilliant educators to share their messages to global audiences.”

Anonymously, a usability engineer responded, “There will be an investment in technology that will eventually reduce costs and improve public education. There will be less money spent on real estate and teacher salaries. This advance in online education will also hopefully reduce the education gaps based on income levels.”

Brough Turner, founder and CTO of netBlazr Inc., wrote, “It seems clear education is ripe for revolution and the Internet makes that possible, even inevitable. Giving 7-plus billion people access to information and education on any and all possible topics will trigger the biggest revolution since the Renaissance.”

Anonymously, one expert predicted that while literacy rates will be raised by bringing more people Internet access it is possible that some will primarily learn through only the visual resources available online.

Karen Besprovan, research and analytics director for Omnicommedia Group, predicted, “The big evolution will be in the overall impact of real-time, the immediacy of everything, the reality show of everything, the biggest library of everything. It will be the central point, for either construction, evolution of life, or destruction, as you can learn what you need from there… E-learning will be important, and the Internet will close the gap between rich and poor through access to education and knowledge. There may be no more need for some people to know how to write and read. Through YouTube and the video culture, everybody will have the opportunity to learn.”

There was an expression of frustration with the slow evolution of education in the United States by a few survey respondents.

Celia Pearce, an associate professor of digital media at the Georgia Institute of Technology, wrote, “The government will spy on us while failing to protect us from corporations. Cyber bullying and hate speech will continue to grow unfettered. The US education system will continue to decline; as a result, we will continue to see a poor match in labor demands and labor pool, along with a continued growth of economic disparity in this country, as well as outsourcing to tech-related jobs abroad.”

Joan Neslund, an information resources professional, agreed, writing, “Education will totally change with global classrooms. The United States will no longer rule the world; we will have a difficult time keeping our heads above water. Corporate greed has killed us. Students won’t think about the technology behind what they do; they will focus on the methods and collaboration that will happen. The United States will take a backseat to other countries. Poor education models, poverty, and corporate greed have knocked us back, and it will take three generations or so to come back if at all.”

One survey respondent disagreed with those most enthusiastic about advances in education by 2025. Justin Reich, a fellow at Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society, predicted, “The transformation of the educational sector will prove far, far overblown. Especially in the K-12 system, schools in 2025 will look an awful lot like schools in 2013.”