From the Pew Research Center, and Elon University’s Imagining the Internet Center, more than 12,000 consumers yielded 2,551 respondents to answer the open ended question about the role of the Internet in people’s lives in 2025, and the impact it will have on social, economic and political processes. In this survey, most respondents easily identified downsides to a highly networked future, suggesting that analysts are much more experienced with, and aware of, the threats of connectivity today than they were a decade ago.
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
Overall, these expert predictions can be grouped into identifiable theses about our digital future – eight of which are characterized as being hopeful, six as concerned, and another as a 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.
Listed are excerpts of the salient expectations, numbered for 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… have their own patterns of communication… their own ‘social networks,’… to share and aggregate information, and undertake automatic control and activation… 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… “
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… more planetary friendships, rivalries, romances, work teams, study groups, and collaborations… ”
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… insights we gain from our activity… 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…”
4) Augmented reality and wearable devices will be implemented to monitor and give quick feedback on daily life, especially tied to personal health.
- Aron Roberts, software developer at the University of California-Berkeley, said, “ We (will) see wearable devices and/or home and workplace sensors that… make ongoing lifestyle changes and provide early detection for disease risks, not just disease… be able to adjust both medications and lifestyle changes on a day-by-day basis… or an hour-by-hour basis… enormously magnifying the effectiveness of an ever more understaffed medical delivery system…”
5) Political awareness and action will be facilitated and more peaceful change and public uprisings will emerge.
- 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.
- JP Rangaswami, chief scientist for Salesforce.com, observed, “… 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… 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… working collaboratively across borders and time zones… and sociopolitical systems and cultures…”
7) The Internet will become ‘the Internets’ as access, systems, and principles are renegotiated
- 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… separate protocols. Our use of separate channels for separate applications will be necessitated by security problems… cyber policy of nations and corporations… 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.
- Hal Varian, chief economist for Google, wrote, “… impact on the world will be universal access to all human knowledge… cheap mobile devices will be available worldwide… educational tools (like the Khan Academy) will be available to everyone… will have a huge impact on literacy and numeracy… will lead to a more informed and more educated world population…”
9) Most people are not yet noticing the profound changes today’s communications networks are already bringing about; these networks will be even more disruptive in the future.
- Nishant Shah, visiting professor at the Centre for Digital Cultures at Leuphana University, Germany, observed, “… going to systemically change our understandings of being human, being social, and being political… not merely a tool of enforcing existing systems; it is a structural change in the systems that we are used to… we are truly going through a paradigm shift… celebratory for what it brings, but it also produces great precariousness because existing structures lose meaning and valence… hence, a new world order needs to be produced in order to accommodate for these new modes of being and operation… “
About 84% of respondents identified themselves as being based in North America; the others hail from all corners of the world. When asked about their “primary area of Internet interest,” 19% identified themselves as research scientists; 9% said they were entrepreneurs or business leaders; 10% as authors, editors or journalists; 8% as technology developers or administrators; 8% as advocates or activist users; 7% said they were futurists or consultants; 2% as legislators, politicians or lawyers; 2% as pioneers or originators; and 33% specified their primary area of interest as “other.”
Among the experts who contributed to this project were some of the most prominent Internet analysts of our generation. The report highlights the predictions of some of the people most deeply involved in shaping our digital present. The following are additional highlights from some of the predictions that had a summary quality to them or added new thoughts to the mix that extended beyond the theses or used especially vivid language:
http://www.elon.edu/e-web/imagining/surveys/2014_survey/2025_Internet_Impact.xhtml http://www.elon.edu/e-web/imagining/surveys/2014_survey/2025_Internet_Impact_credit.xhtml http://www.elon.edu/e-web/imagining/surveys/2014_survey/2025_Internet_Impact_anon.xhtml
And, please visit PEW here for the report in a PDF file.