2025 could bring internet everywhere, privacy nowhere

Digital technologies have the potential to make the near future both better and worse in dramatic ways, according to a survey conducted by Elon University and the Pew Internet Project.

“Digital Life in 2025” is based on responses from nearly 1500 internet experts and “highly engaged netizens.” Among the changes they expect to see:

  • Accessing the internet will be so easy that it will flow through people’s lives “like electricity”;
  • The business models of the 20th century will be greatly disrupted, especially in areas like finance, entertainment, publishing and education;
  • The spread of the “Ubernet” will diminish the meaning of national borders and reduce the power of nation-states;
  • The gap between “haves” and “have-nots” could expand, leading to resentment and the potential for violence;
  • Privacy will eventually become something “only the upscale” will enjoy.

Overall, survey respondents “expect existing positive and negative trends to extend and expand in the next decade, revolutionizing most human interaction, especially affecting health, education, work, politics, economics, and entertainment,” the report states. “Most say they believe the results of that connectivity will be primarily positive. However, when asked to describe the good and bad aspects of the future they foresee, many of the experts can also clearly identify areas of concern, some of them extremely threatening. Heightened concerns over interpersonal ethics, surveillance, terror, and crime, may lead societies to question how best to establish security and trust while retaining civil liberties.”

“The most significant impact of the internet is that, by making so much activity visible, it exposes the gap between the way we think people behave, the way we think they ought to behave, the laws and regulations and policies and processes and conventions we have developed to guide behavior — and the way they really behave,” commented Jonathan Grudin, principal researcher for Microsoft Research. “This is happening in families, in organizations, in communities, and in society more broadly. Adjusting to this will be an unending, difficult task.”

“What happens the first time you answer the phone and hear from your mother or a close friend, but it’s actually not, and instead, it’s a piece of malware that is designed to social engineer you,” asks John Markoff, senior writer for the science section of The New York Times. “What kind of a world will we have crossed over into? I basically began as an internet utopian (think John Perry Barlow), but I have since realized that the technical and social forces that have been unleashed by the microprocessor hold out the potential of a very dystopian world that is also profoundly inegalitarian. I often find myself thinking, ‘Who said it would get better?’ ”

“The problems that humanity now faces are problems that can’t be contained by political borders or economic systems,” said J.P. Rangaswami, chief scientist for Salesforce.com. “Traditional structures of government and governance are therefore 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, 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.”


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