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Imagining the next 50 years of digital life is a long standing project from the Pew Research Center and Elon University. Shared visions of the future of the Internet help us find the focus for the future questions important for Internet growth. Ms Kathleen Stansberrz (Assistant Professor at Elon University) presented results from the 2018 research.
The project consists of hundreds of video interviews and thousands of reports, asking experts to imagine the future of the Internet in order to introduce informed decisions around emerging issues.
Stansberrz explained that the research’s purpose is to have a historical record of our thoughts and struggles related to regulating the Internet.
According to data from 2018, around 4.1 billion people are connected to the Internet. People are the engine that powers the Internet. The year 2019 marks the 50th anniversary of the first host-to-host connection, and the Pew Institute research is trying to scope what lays in front of us in the next 50 years of digital life.
One of the major outcomes of the 2018 research is that the majority of people believe in change for the better. 72% of all participants believe that the Internet will impact us for the better (with certain reservations) and 25% think it will not.
Stansberrz presented compelling answers for both sides. On the ‘positive’ side, the first takeaway is that the age of an unregulated Internet is gone. More regulation will bring certainty to policies around hot issues. The overall feeling of participants in the research is that in the future, there will be no Internet to connect to, but rather, our entire surroundings will be online, all the time. Other ‘hopeful visions of Internet in 2069’ include that we are going to live longer, that AI will make our lives easier, resulting in less work and more leisure. Nevertheless, this can lead to a future of work that will be isolating for individuals.
Hopeful visions also include: Customised and improved user experience (tailored search and network results), global corporations providing power to the people allowing the most capable individuals to shine.
Worrisome visions for the Internet of 2069 include: (a) The widening of the digital divide with the question whether the Internet is truly open to and for everyone, (b) An Internet enabled oppression by the utilisation of the Internet to monitor and manipulate, (c) Lack of human relationships and interactions, and (d) Privacy - which might be outdated as a concept with new technologies like face recognition. Misallocated trust is also one of the worrisome visions examining the trust in Internet platforms (social media and others).
The most concerning vision was the idea that there is no planet B (as an alternative to Earth), and we need to drastically reduce environmental degradation in order to have a future on this very planet.
Interventions from the audience emphasised the need for more human interactions and to reduce the use of connected devices by the youngest population. The idea of self-regulation needs to move forward in both the use and restrains on the Internet. There is a fear of losing individuality.
By Arvin Kamberi