Tomorrow, the World Wide Web turns 25. To mark the occasion, the Pew Research Center asked a range of entrepreneurs, researchers, writers and developers, among others, for their predictions about what the it will look like in 10 years.
Their responses, unsurprisingly, run the gamut from hopeful and excited to darkly pessimistic. Depending on the person, the web will make the world a fairer, more connected and knowledgeable place or transform it into a fragmented cesspool of greed where terrorism is a daily reality.
However, most experts do agree that as it ages, the World Wide Web will become more pervasive as well as seamlessly accessible. Emerging technologies, including wearable and embedded computing, will enable us to easily connect (or perhaps never disconnect) from a cloud of sophisticated, intelligent and cheap (maybe even free) processing power.
Here are a range of predictions for what the web will look like at 35.
More integrated. “The Internet will shift from the place we find cat videos to a background capability that will be a seamless part of how we live our everyday lives. We won’t think about ‘going online’ or ‘looking on the Internet’ for something — we’ll just be online, and just look.” -- Joe Touch, director at the University of Southern California’s Information Sciences Institute
Cheaper and more insightful. “When the cost of collecting information on virtually every interaction falls to zero, the insights that we gain from our activity, in the context of the activity of others, 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.” -- Patrick Tucker, author of The Naked Future: What Happens In a World That Anticipates Your Every Move?
“We will grow accustomed to seeing the world through multiple data layers. This will change a lot of social practices, such as dating, job interviewing and professional networking, and gaming, as well as policing and espionage.” -- Daren C. Brabham, a professor at the Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism, University of Southern California
A more detailed recorder of daily life.“We’ll have a picture of how someone has spent their time, the depth of their commitment to their hobbies, causes, friends, and family. This will change how we think about people, how we establish trust, how we negotiate change, failure, and success.” -- Judith Donath, a fellow at Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society
Fragmented. “The Internet will generate several new related networks. Some will require verified identification to access, while others will promise increased privacy.” -- Sean Mead, senior director of strategy and analytics for Interbrand
“The Internet will fragment. Global connectivity will continue to exist, but through a series of separate channels controlled by a series of separate protocols. Our use of separate channels for separate applications will be necessitated by security problems, cyber policy of nations and corporations, and our continued attempts to find better ways to do things.” -- Ian Peter, pioneer Internet activist and Internet rights advocate
Dark and hierarchical. “Everything — every thing — will be available online with price tags attached. Cyber-terrorism will become commonplace. Privacy and confidentiality of any and all personal will become a thing of the past. Online ‘diseases’ — mental, physical, social, addictions (psycho-cyber drugs) — will affect families and communities and spread willy-nilly across borders. The digital divide will grow and worsen beyond the control of nations or global organizations such as the UN. This will increasingly polarize the planet between haves and have-nots. Global companies will exploit this polarization. Digital criminal networks will become realities of the new frontiers. Terrorism, both by organizations and individuals, will be daily realities. The world will become less and less safe, and only personal skills and insights will protect individuals.” -- Llewellyn Kriel, CEO and editor in chief of TopEditor International Media Services
“Yes, the information we want will increasingly find its way to us, as networks learn to accurately predict our interests and weaknesses. But that will also tempt us to stop seeking out knowledge, narrowing our horizons, even as we delve evermore deep. The privacy premium may also be a factor: only the relatively well-off (and well-educated) will know how to preserve their privacy in 2025.” -- An anonymous respondent