Internet's future in 2020 debated
The internet will be a thriving, low-cost network of billions of devices by 2020, says a major survey of leading technology thinkers.

The Pew report on the future internet surveyed 742 experts in the fields of computing, politics and business.

More than half of respondents had a positive vision of the net's future but 46% had serious reservations.

Almost 60% said that a counter culture of Luddites would emerge, some resorting to violence.

The Pew Internet and American Life report canvassed opinions from the experts on seven broad scenarios about the future internet, based on developments in the technology in recent years.

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Written responses

The correspondents were also able to qualify their answers with written responses giving more detail.

"Key builders of the next generation of internet often agree on the direction technology will change, but there is much less agreement about the social and political impact those changes will have," said Janna Quitney Anderson, lead author of the report The Future of the Internet II.

She added: "One of their big concerns is: Who controls the internet architecture they have created?"

My opinion is it will be done on an ad-hoc basis which will develop in much the same way as it has so far. The Net itself has provided enough transparency and efficiency and education to make this possible. The global communications system will grow organically and build its own controls. There will be a mix of freedoms and barriers just as there are in the systems of the human body. There will be standards and protocols and standards of behaviour which will be related to levels of privilege that apply to global systems and to subsystems. If any subsystem threatens the global system by inadequate self-regulation, society will cause the global system to develop defenses. Where diplomacy fails, immunisation will be developed. There can be failures and disasters. And there must be emergency provisions to guard against any infection or attack that uses the unity of the internet as its fatal weakness. The human race survives because the death of an individual by disease will not bring about the death of humanity for two reasons: we are physically separate and dispersed in space-time, and we are genetically diverse as well. Just as it is a mistake to see the unity of e.g. the Christian Church as desirable, so the failure to achieve universal IT standards represents a strenght as well as a weakness of the global whole. In a dynamic, evolving world that is essential. TCP/IP as a universal protocol obviously takes access standards to a new level, beyond the Net as we think of it, so the risks must be taken seriously.

Bob Metcalfe, founder of 3Com and the inventor of ethernet, predicted the net would be a global connection of different devices.

"The internet will have gone beyond personal communications," by 2020 he wrote.

'Embedded micros'         

"Many more of today's 10 billion new embedded micros per year will be on the internet."

OK, time to read
eECE 751: Embedded Computing Systems by Mike Schult

Louis Nauges, president of Microcost, a French information technology firm, saw mobile devices at the forefront of the net.

"Mobile internet will be dominant," he explained. "By 2020, most mobile networks will provide one-gigabit-per-second-minimum speed, anywhere, anytime.

"Dominant access tools will be mobile, with powerful infrastructure characteristics. All applications will come from the net."

But not everyone felt a "networked nirvana" would be possible by 2020.

Concerns over interoperability (different formats working together), government regulation and commercial interests were seen as key barriers to a universal internet.

Ian Peter, Australian leader of the Internet Mark II Project, wrote: "The problem of the digital divide is too complex and the power of legacy telco regulatory regimes too powerful to achieve this utopian dream globally within 15 years."

Thank goodness for that. Even seeking to achieve Utopia is folly. We need to evolve. Trial and error and serendipity, action and reaction etc...

'Real interoperability'

Author and social commentator Douglas Rushkoff agreed with Mr Peter.

The less one is powerful, the more transparent his or her life. The powerful will remain much less transparent
NetLab founder Barry Wellman on issues of privacy versus transparancy

Barry Wellman is wrong.  Perhaps he is thinking of certain examples within the ICT context. But the world is much more complex than that. Most manifestations of power bring great transparency, exposure and vulnerability. The powerless, even totally frustrated individual may remain completely unknown - this is the case of the suicide bomber. There are those who wield some power who try to protect themselves of course and do it in secret, but they are nothing like as obscure as the relatively powerless.

He wrote: "Real interoperability will be contingent on replacing our bias for competition with one for collaboration.

"Until then, economics do not permit universal networking capability."

This is a rather naive, obvious comment. The physical limits in nature are what permit its function and, may one add, purpose/

Many of the surveyed experts predicted isolated and small-scale violent attacks to try and thwart technology's march.

"Today's eco-terrorists are the harbingers of this likely trend," wrote Ed Lyell, an expert on the internet and education.

"Every age has a small percentage that cling to an overrated past of low technology, low energy, lifestyle."

er... low energy is desirable unless you want to go for a vastly reduced human population. The equation will be achieved; the aim is to be part of the solution, not part of the.problem. If there are too many luddites, we are getting it wrong.  Human disease is mainly due to wrong diet; the same goes for society and its diet of technological aids.

"Of course there will be more Unabombers," wrote Cory Doctorow of blog BoingBoing.

Some commentators felt that the violence would either be tied to the effects of technology, rather than the technology itself, or possibly civil action around issues such as privacy.

"The interesting question is whether these acts will be considered terrorism or civil disobedience," wrote Marc Rotenberg or the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

More than half of respondents disagreed that English would become the lingua franca of the internet by 2020 and that there would be dangers associated with letting machines take over some net tasks such as surveillance and security.

My thoughts:
English will be the  main lingua franca but will not cause the demise of other languages or a diminution in their use.  Other spoken, even local minority languages ike Irish or Welsh, are already becoming a political asset to all those who keep them but also develop knowledge of a lingua franca. They present a marvellous way to indulge in reverse discrimination by national governments who are interested in supporting their nationals for whom they bear social responsibility, or cultures they wish to preserve, or by private organisations or secret societies. Written language used as such is in a different position. Deprived of inflexion and exposed to computerised analysis and translation, the internet has put some much needed demands on literary expression. So well established languages with a wide vocabulary and appropriate grammar will thrive on the net, and those which are not much use without gesticulation or audible inflexion will not be so widely used.

Machines cannot take over surveillance and security. They can be used as tools and save a lot of time and work in intelligent hands of those who understand their limitations. They can of course respond quickly and automatically in emergencies by shutting down access, but all capabilities can be in turn exploited. No need to burn down a property if the sprinkler system triggered by a small fire destroys its valuable contents

Internet Society Board chairman Fred Baker wrote: "We will certainly have some interesting technologies.

He added: "Until someone finds a way for a computer to prevent anyone from pulling its power plug, however, it will never be completely out of control."

I agree. The danger is more of plugs pulled malevolently or accidentally, unless we are stupid enough to ignore the obvious caveats

The repondents were split over the whether the impact of people's lives becoming increasingly online, resulting in both less privacy but more transparency, would be a positive outcome.

They are right to be split. It does not depend on the technology but on the different reaction and use by individuals.

'Access information'

Tiffany Shlain, founder of the Webby awards, said such transparancy would be a benefit to society.

"Giving all people access to our information and a context to understand it will lead to an advancement in our civilisation."

But NetLab founder Barry Wellman disagreed: "The less one is powerful, the more transparent his or her life. The powerful will remain much less transparent."
(already dealt with him)

Mr Doctorow wrote: "Transparency and privacy aren't antithetical.

"We're perfectly capable of formulating widely honored social contracts that prohibit pointing telescopes through your neighbours' windows.

"We can likewise have social contracts about sniffing your neighbours' network traffic."

By 2020 an increasing number of people will be living and working within "virtual worlds" being more productive online than offline, the majority of the respondents said.

Ben Detenber, an associate professor at Nanyang Technological University, responded: "Virtual reality (VR) will only increase productivity for some people. For most, it will make no difference in productivity (i.e., how much output); VR will only change what type of work people do and how it is done."

Glenn Ricart, a board member at the Internet Society, warned also of potential dangers.

He envisaged "an entire generation opting-out of the real world and a paradoxical decrease in productivity as the people who provide the motive economic power no longer are in touch with the realities of the real world".
No, not a generation, some in a generation in some places, depending entirely on need, chance or necessity. Some may be very grateful to escape from relaities of their particular 'real world'.


Agree Disagree No response
A global, low-cost network thrives 56% 43% 1%
English displaces other languages 42% 57% 1%
Autonomous technology is a problem 42% 54% 4%
Transparency builds better world, even at the expense of privacy 46% 49% 5%
Virtual reality is a drain for some 56% 39% 5%
The internet opens worldwide access to success 52% 44% 5%
Some Luddites/Refuseniks will commit terror acts 58% 35% 7%
Source: Pew Center