Internet Evolution: Where Hyperconnectivity and Ambient Intimacy Take Us
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Internet Evolution: Where Hyperconnectivity and Ambient Intimacy Take Us

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Imagine the implications of the future that most technology experts foresee: Wireless devices are embedded in everything—including us; cameras record activity in all public spaces; databases ...

Imagine the implications of the future that most technology experts foresee: Wireless devices are embedded in everything—including us; cameras record activity in all public spaces; databases catalogue our online moves; massive data centers allow our information to be sorted and understood in new ways; the physical environment changes as “the Internet of things” and “everywhere” applications are widespread; projection of digital material is possible on all kinds of surfaces; immersive, invisible, ambient networked computing makes us available to more people in more ways; software exhibits humanlike thinking; and a direct brain-to-computer interface is possible. These are just some of the future scenarios predicted by experts, as documented by Pew Internet & American Life Project surveys and other current research. These advances can be expected to generate both positive and negative effects and lead to considerable social change.

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  • One of the inspirations behind our research has been the foresight reports shared by futurists and scientists online and at major events, including the Computer Science and Telecommunications Board’s anniversary seminar and the inaugural conference for the Metaverse Roadmap Project, led by futurist John Smart. The summary from a full day of top-notch CSTB presentations in a nutshell: Technological development will lead us to astounding efficiency increases and the emergence of highly effective and largely invisible wearable and ubiquitous computing, sensing, effecting and communication systems and they will be an influential force in coming decades. Tomorrow's Geoweb, telepresence systems, mirror worlds, social networks and AI developments will combine with expected breakthroughs in neuroscience and bioinformatics. It is challenging and exciting to imagine where we are headed.
  • The Metaverse Roadmap is a look at the emerging nexus of our physical and virtual worlds. Inputs for the 2006 report were solicited in four topic areas : Industry Conditions, Forecasts, Issues and Questions, and Problems and Indicators. Each was divided into 19 categories and each of these was divided into three subcategories : Technology and Science, Business and Economics, or Social, Legal and Other domains. (This is an adaptation of the Foresight Framework Model of Dr. Peter Bishop, chair of the futures studies masters program at the University of Houston.) All of the details are available online at www.metaverseroadmap.org
  • As noted in the roadmap report, the emergence of a robust Metaverse will shape the development of all realms. In manufacturing, 3D environments offer ideal design spaces for rapid-prototyping and customized and decentralized production. In logistics and transportation, spatially-aware tags and real-time world modeling are inspiring new efficiencies, insights, and markets. In artificial intelligence, virtual worlds offer low-risk, transparent platforms for the development and testing of autonomous machine behaviors, many of which may be also used in the physical world. This is just a sampling of coming developments based on early stage Metaverse technologies. In developing the Metaverse Roadmap, Smart’s group selected two continua likely to be reflective of the way it all unfolds – the spectrum of technologies and apps ranging from augmentation to simulation and the human-based spectrum ranging from intimate (identity-focused) to external (world-focused). They identified as the key components of the Metaverse future the technology sets grouped as “augmented reality,” “lifelogging,” “mirror worlds” and “virtual worlds.” Today we see the most rapid metaverse development in the use of Google Earth and similar world-mirroring tools and the mainstreaming of augmented reality due to the appearance of more GPS-based applications for smartphones. Lifelogging and virtual worlds are abundant in early form in online social networks and cyberspace places like Second Life and World of Warcraft. The research I do with Lee often involves asking people how the technologies being developed along the augmentation-to-simulation continuum are influencing them along the intimate-to-external continuum
  • The Future of the Internet surveys are part of a larger project, www.imaginingtheinternet.org, a futures site that offers a history and forecast of the internet. It showcases 2004, ’06, ’08 and ’10 Future of the Internet surveys Additional elements include early 1990s predictions, hundreds of video interviews, lesson plans for teachers , a children's section, and a submission form you can use to share your own predictions about the future of the internet.
  • Lee and I have been doing all of the work of these surveys, with some assistance from his staff – Susannah Fox worked on the first report – and the Pew Internet Advisory Board. We issue our reports free and make the results available online, and the book-length versions of the reports are published in a series by Cambria Press. Imagining the Internet got its start as a 2003 research project in which we gathered 4,200 predictions made in an extensive cavassing of scholarly, government, and business documents and the technology press between 1990 nd 1995, identifying 1,000 Internet stakeholders with their minds on the future. These people and other experts are invited to participate in the Future of the Internet surveys, which are primarily aimed at eliciting focused observations on the likely impact and influence of the Internet – we pose multilayered, thought-provoking scenarios to inspire detailed elaborations – more voices making more predictions.
  • In the first survey – one of the 17 questions we posed asked people to rank which human endeavors are likely to be the most influenced by use of the internet – the top choice was news organizations and publishing. Of the scenarios we posed for an agree/disagree reaction we saw nearly 70 percent agreement that “At least one devastating attack will occur before 2014 on the networked information infrastructure or the country’s power grid.” When we asked respondents to discuss “Which internet impacts have been felt more quickly than you expected?” they noted the rise of the World Wide Web, they were in awe of the capabilities of search engines and they were amazed at the people-to-people connections found online. Some also shared deep concerns over digital divides and dismay over the lack of change seen in public and private education.
  • We scaled back to pose just eight scenarios for comment in the 2006 survey. The splits of agree and disagree were fairly even on the scenarios. The largest difference came on the scenario that proposed: “By the year 2020, virtual reality on the internet will come to allow more productivity from most people in technologically-savvy communities than working in the ‘real world.’ But the attractive nature of virtual-reality worlds will also lead to serious.” Here, 56 percent agreed and 39 percent disagreed. Another scenario in 2006 was: “As sensing, storage, and communication technologies get cheaper and better, individuals' public and private lives will become increasingly ‘transparent’ globally by the year 2020. The benefits will outweigh the costs.” 46 percent agreed and 49 percent disagreed. One responded, “Would you like to be in the ‘Minority Report’ world?”
  • In the 2008 survey: 77% agreed with a scenario proposing that mobile computing devices with more significant computing power will be 2020's primary global Internet-connection platform. 64% favored the idea that 2020 user interfaces will offer advanced touch, talk and typing options and some added a fourth "T" – think, predicting the development of neural networking. Three out of five respondents (60%) disagreed with the idea that legislatures, courts, the technology industry, and media companies will exercise effective intellectual property control by 2020. 56% agreed that in 2020 "few lines (will) divide professional from personal time, and that's OK.” 45% agreed and 44% disagreed with the notion that the greater transparency of people and institutions afforded by the Internet will heighten individual integrity and forgiveness.
  • Lee and I will present a quick look at the 2010 survey results right now, and then we’ll let Mike bring his expertise to bear on important present and future issues. There were nearly 900 respondents to the latest survey. If you are interested in participating in our next go-round, please note our contact information at the end of this set of slides and contact one of us, including your qualifications as a tech expert in that e-mail.
  • After setting up one-paragraph, agree-disagree scenarios for people to respond to in our first three surveys I proposed and Lee agreed to posit “tension pairs” in the 2010 survey. Leading tech activists, builders, and commentators were asked to compare thought-provoking pairs of one-sentence statements. Each of these "tension pairs" offered two different 2020 scenarios with a similar theme and opposite outcomes. Survey participants were asked to select the most-likely choice and elaborate on their decisions. The content of the tension pairs was built from common attitudes today about the likely evolution of the Internet. The study was designed to elicit focused observations about the potential future impact and influence of the Internet; as in our previous surveys, this was not a scientific sample, and the respondents' written elaborations - the qualitative results - are the most valuable data gathered by the study. While the numbers are the easiest indicators to share here you are strongly encouraged to read the rich data found in the people’s individual responses in the full report online – you are welcome to mine the data using your own methods and present new results spun from this work.
  • I’ll start our discussion of the 2010 set with our “future tools” question, posed because when Lee is out on the speaking circuit this is one of the most common questions he hears – What are the hot new gadgets and applications that are out there on the horizon? Most people in this survey said innovation will continue to take us by surprise.
  • A number of respondents said that if you had asked this question a decade ago, no one would have predicted the impact of the iPhone. They also noted that if experts could already predict the new apps and tools today, they really wouldn’t be “out of the blue” innovations. Some said there are basic trends evident now and some groundwork that has been in place for years that will yield innovation, noting especially that the Internet of things is being built and sensors will proliferate. Some said the environment of technology is still taking shape and the addition of more bandwidth and computing power at a lower cost than today will spur changes that cannot be foreseen now. Some trends are clear: Mobile connectivity and location-based services will grow in the next decade. Other hot items will include: bigger/thinner TVs, 3D displays, “consolidated,” all-purpose gadgets and apps, speech recognition. Among the other comments on this topic: “ Indwelling” technologies – those that become extensions of ourselves – are those most likely to be adopted the most quickly. Personal data clouds will emerge. Brain-linked interfaces are on the horizon. And health care is a field in which the new technologies will finally take hold and bring positive changes.
  • Some of the biggest mainstream media attention for the 2010 survey results we announced earlier this year were tied a tension pair we posed about the future of human intelligence – or, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” spun from the article by Nick Carr in the July 2008 issue of The Atlantic Monthly.
  • Nick Carr himself answered the survey by noting: “The Net's effect on our intellectual lives will not be measured simply by average IQ scores. What the Net does is shift the emphasis of our intelligence away from what might be called a meditative or contemplative intelligence and more toward what might be called a utilitarian intelligence. The price of zipping among lots of bits of information is a loss of depth in our thinking.” Google Research director Peter Norvig said:” Skimming and concentrating can and should coexist…Carr is of course right that Google thrives on understanding data. But making sense of data (both for Google internally and for its users) is not like building the same artifact over and over on an assembly line; rather it requires creativity, a mix of broad and deep knowledge, and a host of connections to other people. That is what Google is trying to facilitate.” Other trending answers included: Cognitive capacities will shift. New literacies will be required. Fourth “R” will be retrieval….There will be “Extreme Googlers.” Technology isn’t the problem here. It is people’s inherent character traits that drive them to be shallow or deep information seekers and generators. Performance of “information markets” is a big unknown, especially in the age of social media and junk information…. Respondents also noted that Google and other online tools will continue to improve.
  • A third, related question posed in the 2010 survey explored the Impact of the internet on reading, writing and the rendering of knowledge.
  • Of course the vast majority of respondents are technology enthusiasts of some sort, so it was no surprise to find that the majority responded that the internet enhances and improves the rendering of knowledge.
  • People are doing more reading and writing now and the act of making media in the Web 2.0 world – and beyond – generally increases people’s engagement with information. Some responded that reading and writing will be different in 10 years – they said our communication has always evolved to embrace new realities. They said there will be a new fluidity in media creation and visual representations and story telling will be important in new ways, and "screen literacy" will emerge. They said writing has become more “public” and the quality of the new material will get better over time, in part because social media creators will get feedback and learn. Some respondents noted that changes parallel other historic changes that occurred when new technologies came on the scene. They pointed out that links allow people to jump from text to text and explore material further and this is changing the nature of reading and argumentation. Additional comments: Collective intelligence produced by crowds – such as Wikipedia – is a new kind of way to produce and share knowledge that is challenging old models. A fourth “R” will be added to the basic literacies of “reading, ‘ritin, ;’rithmatic”: Retrieval… There’s value not only the ability to write smart search queries, but also in understanding how to mash up information in a database to create new information or to organize information into graphic visualizations.
  • Results on a fourth question found that ANONYMOUS online activity will be challenged, though a modest majority still think it will possible in 2020
  • The pressures to require a known ID of Internet users are growing and many are legitimate. New methods to accomplish this are being explored but it is not yet clear which ones will prevail in the marketplace. Some survey respondents said the law and new regulations will give people some privacy protections even though they are required to disclose more – that there will be a reasonable logic to sorting out what can be done anonymously and what requires identification online. “Pseudonymity” will be available to people and there will be ways for people to work online without being “known.” Some said confidentiality and autonomy will replace the yearning for anonymity. Others pointed out that the rise of social media and all the personal disclosures that go along with online contributions are as much a challenge to anonymity as particular security-based requirements. Some pointed out that anonymity has already disappeared to a certain extent because forensics trackers can hunt people if the circumstances warrant it. Respondents said some people want to disclose information about themselves in order to manage their reputations. They say a culture of “information responsibility” will emerge. There is some concern that users are not really tuned in enough to debates about privacy and anonymity and their indifference will allow others to set the policies
  • When we have asked about human-to-human relations and social tolerance in a more generalized and global way in previous surveys the response has been on the fence, with about a 50-50 breakdown on whether personal transparency and sharing will improve human relations, but when we made the question more personal in this 2010 survey the response was overwhelmingly positive – while recognizing that every technology has its positive and negative impacts, these people are mostly ecstatic about the positives the use of social Internet applications has had in their lives. Another point to note: While in previous "Future of the Internet" surveys, e-mail has most often been mentioned as a key social tool online. In this survey, social networks were mentioned far more often than e-mail. Other social applications noted by respondents included instant messaging, blogging, text messages and voice over IP.
  • Of course the vast majority of respondents are technology enthusiasts of some sort, so it was no surprise to find that the majority responded that the internet enhances and improves their social world.
  • E-mail, social networking tools and other apps allow people to maintain bigger social networks and learn more about those in their networks. Richer social relations emerge from this greater awareness. Another advantage that it is much easier now to build communities on the fly via personal broadcasts. All these trends will continue to hold strong over the next decade. Some respondents are concerned that people’s use of the Internet for social connection does not often foster deep relationships of value, and it can be detrimental. Internet use can be distracting at times, as much as it can be enriching. Some said both 2020 scenarios presented in the survey are accurate; new human connectivity through use of the Internet is a blessing and a curse. Some existing research shows that Internet use makes people more of what they already are: If they are extroverted or open, they can be more so with tech tools. If they are introverted or siloed, they can use tech tools to become more isolated. The context of people’s Internet use matters a lot: tech lifelines in one set of circumstances can turn into tech choke collars in different circumstances. Because use of the internet can remove constriants of geography, space and time, some of current social patterns in homelife and in workplaces will disappear or change by 2020 as technology reconfigures people’s sense of presence. Now Lee is going to take you through a few more of the 2010 survey results, and he’ll be followed by Mike’s take on things…

Internet Evolution: Where Hyperconnectivity and Ambient Intimacy Take Us Presentation Transcript