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Three predictions for the future of the internet

March 17, 2014 • Opinion

It has been 25 years since Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web. Over the last two and a half decades, we have experienced tremendous changes in how we share, access and consume information across the world’s most powerful communication vehicle.

Nathaniel Borenstein, chief scientist at Mimecast (image: Mimecast)

Nathaniel Borenstein, chief scientist at Mimecast (image: Mimecast)

But, as Internet capabilities continue to grow, what do the next 25 years have in store? As it stands today, we are lacking in cooperative international efforts when it comes to Internet governance.  Such governance will be crucial, as the web continues to evolve, if we want to maximize its benefits and minimize its unwanted side effects, particularly in three key areas that greatly impact society:

1.       Healthcare: The ever-growing power of our computing devices will have profound implications for healthcare. For instance, we could see implantable networked devices become commonplace. These devices will offer great benefits, such as detecting and preventing diseases by alerting individuals and their medical professionals of vitamin deficiencies, irregular cell counts, degrading organ functions, or even early-stage cancer. These same devices, however, could do more harm than good – from revealing personal medical information to triggering a heart attack – if they fall under the control of malicious actors.

2.       Crime Prevention: Surveillance technology and its regulation are already a hot topic today. But we will have much more to contend with in another quarter century, as Internet capabilities continue to advance.  Continuing miniaturization will probably mean that we’ll have effectively invisible cameras nearly everywhere – even embedded in our clothing.  On the one hand, recording the daily actions of citizens worldwide may bring a major decrease in crime, as visible crime becomes less likely to succeed.  But on the other hand, uncontrolled surveillance may bring forth a rise in intrusive snooping from government agencies, corporations, and other entities. As such, we’ll need to continually and carefully consider how such surveillance technologies should be used, and to consider measures such as mandated transparency to allow us to “watch the watchers.”

3.       Technology’s Impact on Manufacturing: Technological advances over the next 25 years are likely to result in widespread adoption of 3D printing, allowing people to print things at home that would otherwise require whole industries. This could result in a boom for home invention, with things like new design innovations coming more quickly to light. It’s possible that the Internet will once again rewrite supply chains, likely to the detriment of traditional manufacturing. We could experience a further shift to an economy based not on the supply of physical objects, but digital ones.

The Internet and the World Wide Web have already transformed the world in many ways. Few would have predicted, 25 years ago, the progress we’ve already made.  We can predict much of the likely technological innovation in the next 25 years, but how these powerful technologies are used will depend critically on the decisions society makes – or chooses not to make.  While the possibilities seem endless, it is up to human beings to decide which changes are desirable, and which should be resisted.

Nathaniel Borenstein, chief scientist at Mimecast

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