That’s according to a new report from the Pew Research Center and Elon University’s Imagining the Internet Center, based on a non-scientific canvassing of opinions from 530 technology pioneers, innovators, developers, business and policy leaders, researchers and activists
Among the group -- including everyone from Vint Cerf, co-inventor of the Internet Protocol, to Steve Crocker, co-initiator of many of the processes that gave birth to the internet -- 72% believe digital tools and technology with result in “change for the better.”
“The optimists expressed hope that in the next 50 years, digital advances will lead to longer life spans, greater leisure, more equitable distributions of wealth and power and other possibilities to enhance human well-being,” Lee Rainie, director of internet and technology research at Pew Research Center, notes in the new report.
At the same time, however, nearly every expert issued warnings about the negative consequences of greater surveillance and data-abuse practices, porous security for digitally connected systems, and the prospect of greater economic inequality and digital divides.
At least in part, many of the experts surveyed suggested policy and regulations will help to address such issues.
Among some of the wilder predictions, Leonard Kleinrock, the UCLA professor who networked the first computers in the ARPANET, expects the internet to evolve into a pervasive global nervous system.
“The internet will be everywhere, available on a continuous basis, and will be invisible in the sense that it will disappear into the infrastructure, just as electricity is, in many ways, invisible,” according to Kleinrock. “The Internet of Things will be an embedded world of the Internet of Invisible Things.”
Similarly, Susan Etlinger, an industry analyst for Altimeter Group, believes that, 50 years from now, what we know as the internet will be largely obsolete.
“Rather than organizing information in the form of URLs, apps and websites, our digital interactions will be conversational, haptic and embedded in the world we live in (even, to some extent, in ourselves),” Etlinger predicts. “As a result, the distinction between the physical and digital worlds will largely fall away.”
Among other areas, “Prosthetics, imaging, disease and pathogen detection, and brain science … will all see advances far beyond what we can imagine today,” Etlinger estimates.
Yet, according to Etlinger: “All of these innovations will mean little if the algorithms and technology used to develop them are not applied with the same attention to human consequences as they are to innovation.”