Almost 51 years have passed since the first message was sent from a room at UCLA to a computer terminal at the Stanford Research Institute in Menlo Park, California, in 1969. The word sent in that message was Login, but halfway through the process the system that sent it broke down and the console only received the first two letters: Lo. It was the first step of the network that was the basis of the Internet: Arpanet. From then until now, the Internet has evolved enormously, transforming much of society, and even human existence itself.
Although the Internet has made great strides, it still has a long way to go, and many wonder what the Internet will be like in a few decades. In 50 years' time, for example. And how will the challenges we are facing now be solved: security, privacy, data protection, etc. How will they be solved? Will it be possible to solve these problems and others that will appear over time in a digital world that is in continuous change? The answer is not simple, although some experts are already trying to sketch out what the Internet will be like in 2070 and what solutions will be found to these problems and even some that have not even been considered yet.
Already a few months ago, in November last year, the Pew Research Center published a study on what a group of experts thought digital life would be like in the future. Lee Rainie, Director of Internet and Technology Research at Pew, and one of the authors of the study, notes that the answers to the questions asked of the experts about how our digital presence will come to define our existence even more in the future were very revealing.
The internet will become more integrated into our lives
Rainie notes that in their answers, the experts talked about how even "the definition of a human being would eventually look at the technology available to our bodies and brains". He also recalls that many of the experts he spoke to are convinced that today's internet-enabled devices will not exist, but will be pre-loaded into our consciousness.
This, according to these experts, will come sooner rather than later. In the next 25 years alone, the systems we currently use to search for or use the internet will be considered as little short of antediluvian. So thinks Judith Donath, Research Fellow at Harvard University's Berkman Klein Center. Donath points out that our digital presence will not be independent of the physical world either, but will be integrated into it. By then we will have forgotten about keyboards, mice and screens.
According to Toby Negrin, CPO of the Wikimedia Foundation, the Web of the future can be compared to electricity, as it will become "a ubiquitous supply, something we expect to be always available and all around us, intertwined with our daily lives".
The world around us in the future will be a mix of "conventional" reality and virtual reality. Moreover, it will sometimes be impossible to distinguish which is which. As Mike Liebhold, a researcher at the Institute for the Future who was part of Apple's Advanced Technology Lab in the 1980s, sees it, he says that in the very near future, everyone will be wearing augmented reality glasses and using them to interact with their environment. For him, information will be displayed everywhere, even floating on water. The web will appear in the real world, not just on screens.
Donath agrees, stressing that information will be present in everything and everyone we encounter. For example, it will be possible to identify strangers and obtain information about them. Moreover, in the same way that we subscribe to magazines today, in the future it will be possible to subscribe to different augmented realities.
New forms of communication
The very idea of a brain interface, which is very popular among experts, suggests that, if it happens, you just have to think and then the brain interface will do the task automatically, which is likely to make communication much easier. The experts involved in the Pew Center study agree that we are still evolving in terms of the ways we communicate. In the short term, written messages will disappear in favour of, among others, verbal communications and those established with assistants, such as Siri or Alexa. This will lead to not searching, but asking questions to assistants and devices, and the process will be more like a conversation.
For Donath, technological advances will adapt to this new era of voice communications. Thus, "headphones will be replaced by invisible implants that will modulate everything that is heard, sometimes shutting out the real ambient sound in favour of the virtual, and sometimes amplifying a nearby voice".
Both she and Jones have pointed out that predictive technologies, such as the ubiquitous autocorrect, will become more accurate, speeding up communications and requiring less thinking time. In addition, our ability to blend speech with augmented reality will open doors that allow us to understand and communicate with everyone. For Jillian York, EFF's International Freedom of Expression Director, "instead of learning new languages, we will install a translation app that will allow us to translate what we say in real time".
Beyond this, according to Donath, both small gestures and eye gaze will provide us with ways to communicate and interact with our environment more dynamically. This will also be the beginning of what is known as "neurointeraction", which he describes as technology developed initially for those who cannot communicate verbally and which will eventually be adopted by everyone. In his view it will be a mesh of connectivity between devices and human communication in which things will happen through sight and thoughts.
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