Just one day before the World Wide Web celebrates its 25th anniversary, the Pew Research Center has published an in-depth report on how the internet is set to evolve over the next ten years.
The report, which is based on surveys of almost 1,500 web and technology experts, reveals a number of promising trends that will see information and entertainment over the web become much more widely available. Even so, the internet is set to continue disrupting the entertainment industry’s business model, whilst concerns were raised over the potential loss of privacy and the rise of crime and bullying that takes place over the web.
Most of the experts surveyed agreed that with the statement that the web is set to evolve into “a global, immersible, invisible, ambient networked computing environment” by 2025. In addition, the consensus is that the so-called Internet of Things is going to rapidly expand as sensors are plugged into more and more everyday objects, overflowing massive data centers with a wealth of information, while new “tagging, databasing and intelligent” technologies will help us to build an extensive map of our physical and social worlds.
The rise of wearable tech & the Internet of Things
One new trend that’s set to emerge is the rise of mobile, wearable and soon, even implantable technologies that’ll help make it possible for us to experience “augmented realities” on a daily basis.
These developments have a lot of potential to transform our lives, and will speed up the disruption caused by the internet. Most notably, they’ll have a big impact on the traditional business models found in the entertainment, publishing, finance and education industries.
“A modern adage is that change isn’t best measured when a small number of people try a new thing; the biggest disruption comes when adoption is ubiquitous,” said Lee Rainie of the Pew Research Center and a co-author of the report.
However, the authors of the study noted that there was a lot of disagreement about the impact that these new technology trends will have on people and society in general.
“It is striking how much consensus there is among these experts on what will change, and equally striking how varied their answers are when they are asked how those changes will impact and influence users in good and bad ways,” said Janna Anderson, a professor at Elon University and a primary author of the report. “This is the sixth ‘Future of the Internet’ survey we have conducted since 2004, and for the first time most people are seeing and vividly describing as many potential negatives as they are identifying positives. They worry about interpersonal industry try to adjust.”
Altogether, the report noted eight positive trends for the future of the web, including the idea that “the spread of the Internet will enhance global connectivity, fostering more positive relationships among societies,” and that “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”.
Another of these trends predicts that “the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence and big data will make people more aware of their world and their own behavior,” while “augmented reality and wearable devices will be implemented to monitor and give quick feedback on daily life, especially in regard to personal health.”
These trends will likely cause problems for oppressive governments around the world, as they’ll promote greater “political awareness and action” as well as “peaceful change, and more public uprisings like the Arab Spring.”
Privacy perils, bullying & cybercrime
The future of the web won’t be an entirely rosy one however, as numerous experts caution that the evolving web will create new opportunities for “bullying, stalking, stupidity, pornography, dirty tricks, [and] crime,” whilst taking away opportunities from others. Stalking, abuse and bullying will continue to move from the physical world to the digital one. And, perhaps most importantly, the increasingly digital economy could create even deeper structural unemployment for low-skilled workers.
Privacy concerns will also increase, as governments and corporations take advantage of expanding networks to reach deeper into people’s private lives. Several experts admitted they were worried that privacy could be eroded so far that it becomes a luxury that “only the upscale will enjoy.”
Pew Research’s report is just one of a series of studies titled “Digital Life in 2025”, which in turn is part of a larger push by the center to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the creation of the web on on March 12, 1989. Numerous prominent figures in the tech world contributed their thoughts and opinions, including Hal Varian (chief economist at Google), Vint Cerf (one of the “the fathers of the Internet”), Jonathan Grudin (Microsoft Research’s principal researcher) and Dave Clark (from MIT).
Predicting the future is always a tricky business, but the Pew Report should give Internet watchers plenty to chew over. Check out the full report on Pew’s website.