Numbers, Facts and Trends Shaping Your World

Experts Optimistic About the Next 50 Years of Digital Life

2. Internet pioneers imagine the next 50 years

People who have had the internet at their fingertips since birth can find it difficult to imagine a world in which information and communication are not readily available with a quick click or swipe or voice command to a phone. The following insights come from respected pioneers – many of them inductees to the Internet Hall of Fame – who were present during the birth and infancy of the internet.

‘Pervasive global nervous system’ comes from the ‘Internet of Invisible Things’

Leonard Kleinrock, Internet Hall of Fame member and co-director of the first host-to-host online connection and professor of computer science, University of California, Los Angeles, said, “I predict that the internet will 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. The Internet of Things will be an embedded world of the Internet of Invisible Things. We will be able to interact with its capabilities via human-friendly interfaces such as speech, gestures, haptics, holograms, displays and so on. No more will we be forced to interface with tiny, incompatible, awkward keyboards, icons and clumsy handheld and desktop devices. These interfaces will be highly customized to each individual and matched to their profile, preferences, privileges and specifications in an adaptable fashion. My hope is that life will calm down and provide a more balanced physical/digital presence. Screens will diminish considerably, bringing us back to enriched human-human interaction, notwithstanding that a significant fraction of our interaction will be enhanced with software agents, avatars and AI devices (robots, embedded devices, etc.). We will no longer be adjusting to the awkward software and hardware interfaces we currently endure, but the customization of these interfaces will be better matched to what we desire and expect as individuals. Such interactions will enable humans and AI devices to participate in a joint exchange far more easily than is the case today where it is either human or AI device, but not easily both.”

‘Beyond Mars and down to molecules’

Bob Metcalfe, Hall of Fame co-inventor of Ethernet, founder of 3Com and now a professor of innovation and entrepreneurship at the University of Texas, Austin, said, “In 50 years people will not have to type in IP numbers…. The internet is not merely a network of networks. It is a network of networks of networks. The ARPANET was a network. In 1973 at Stanford, Vint Cerf wanted to network ARPANETs around the world in a network of networks. Meanwhile, I wanted to use the ARPANET to network Ethernets inside buildings. Both of us were right, and we got a network of networks of networks. This simultaneous growing up and down will continue, beyond Mars and down to molecules, somehow.”

An international ‘law of the net’ treaty might be needed to solve challenges

Vint Cerf, Internet Hall of Fame member and vice president and chief internet evangelist at Google, wrote, “The 1969 date is ARPANET connection, not internet which doesn’t exist until designed in 1973 and turned on in 1983. Connectivity in the future will be ubiquitous. Much will be high-speed wireless. Optical fiber needed to link wireless termination points. IP address space might be replaced with something else in 50 years’ time or IP addresses may be reinterpreted as logical rather than physical addresses – just as telephone numbers have morphed as mobile communication and number portability have emerged as requirements to support. Endpoints will nominally filter incoming traffic (or go through firewalls) to block unwanted connections. I still see the computing and communication environment as positive and constructive but it does create avenues for remotely initiated harmful behaviors, amplification through botnets, etc. International agreements and mechanisms for traceability of actors in the network will be needed to respond to harmful behavior. A law of the net will likely have to be enacted (international treaty) to cope with these challenges. I continue to see these technologies as constructive and augmenting.”

‘Roads will be used for driverless transport of goods or pleasure’

Lawrence Roberts, designer and manager of ARPANET, the precursor to the internet, and Internet Hall of Fame member, commented, “Within 50 years we will have the technology for embedding internet transceivers into human brains. This could greatly speed up information transfer and allow great advances. However, the flood of advertising would need to be controlled and security would need to have improved greatly for anyone to take the risk. The internet has evolved little in the last 50 years except to grow bigger. With so much invested in the current design, it is hard to see the underlying transport changing fast. A great number of jobs will be able to be done totally over the internet. That could be from home or from the brain implant. Robots will do the majority of the physical jobs often with a remote person overseeing the activity, but largely managed with AI. Most commuting will cease, and roads will be used for driverless transport of goods or pleasure. AI will incorporate logic and rules to make it safe, not just deep learning neural networks.”

Centralization of personal data will be irreversible in an ‘information hegemony’

Paul Vixie, an Internet Hall of Fame member known for designing and implementing several Domain Name System protocol extensions and applications, wrote, “The most active force vectors in the humanity equation right now all relate to the acquisition and preservation of power. We will have passed peak-cloud in 50 years. Azure grows faster than Amazon Web Services, and billions of dollars are being invested in private data centers and private cloud. However, the centralization of retail transactions and personal information will be irreversible due to the extreme cost of creating a viable competitor in an information hegemony in which corporations, churches and foreign governments know more and have more influence than anything that can be understood by a democratically elected government.”

‘We will need a whole new social paradigm to deal with this’

Elizabeth Feinler, the original manager of the ARPANET Network Information Center and an Internet Hall of Fame member, said, “It will be interesting to see whether the internet and computers augment our intelligence and lives, or whether they replace them. Surely, many more things will be automated, which will mean that jobs will be lost and humans will be less involved in the daily performance of their lives. We will need a whole new social paradigm to deal with this. The internet is technically complex. It is also the underpinning for a great deal of American industry, business and finance, not to mention our democracy. More and more it controls our infrastructure. We cannot expect our elected lawmakers to understand all of this as they try to come up with reasonable laws affecting the internet. We need a multilateral body (or bodies) of internet/computer experts, elected among themselves, to serve as an independent authority to provide technical guidance and expertise to the government.

Watch the rise of multi-stakeholder organizations

Steve Crocker, CEO and co-founder of Shinkuro Inc., internet pioneer and Internet Hall of Fame member, responded, “It was evident at the very beginning of the ARPANET that network connections would become commonplace. Everyone would want their computer connected. With the creation of the internet and the opening to commercial connections in the 1990s, the pace of interconnection accelerated. Today, half or more of the world’s population is continuously connected. I think the internet will start to be built into devices and systems, more or less below the surface. People will stop referring to the internet and take it for granted, much as the developed world takes electric power for granted. This will take a fair amount of engineering, standards development and improved operational practices, of course, but that’s just a continuation of the path we’ve been on for 50 years. Laws and regulations will be under pressure to keep up. The existing boundaries between countries and between states in the U.S. will be hurdles. Cooperation across these jurisdictions will evolve, partly through multilateral agreements and partly through the increased use of multi-stakeholder organizations.”

Brain-computer interfaces will emerge, as will nightmares about privacy

Wendy Hall, professor of computer science at the University of Southampton, UK, and executive director of the Web Science Institute, said, “I really don’t think we will have an internet as we know it today in 2069. Think back to 1969 – most of the technologies we take for granted today (including a global information system such as the web) were just science fiction then. I believe the biggest factors that are leading to the fragmentation of the internet today are the geopolitical factors and the potential weaponization of the internet. So, its future is by no means certain. But the development of technology continues apace. I believe that by 2069 the brain-machine interface will be fully developed, and if we think the applications of AI might be terrifying for the future of humanity, then brain-computer interfaces are the stuff of nightmares if the legal and ethical frameworks under which they are used are not carefully considered from the outset. I am sure there will be other technologies, maybe developed by AI, that we don’t know about yet but will dominate the world in 2069 like the internet does in 2019.”

Smart prosthetics and other smart things will be common

Craig Partridge, chief scientist at Raytheon BBN Technologies for 35 years and Internet Hall of Famer, currently chair of the department of computer science at Colorado State University, wrote, “Here’s one example of things being better: I think we’re only just beginning to understand smart physical things. I’m thinking of better prosthetic limbs, load-bearing walls with embedded sensors and actuators that keep the building standing during an earthquake, and hiking-shoe soles that better grip uneven ground.”

The next phase of the internet will be ‘politically driven’

Teus Hagen, Netherlands internet pioneer, former chair and director of NLnet and member of the Internet Hall of Fame, commented, “The next 50 years? Over the past 50 years it was impossible to know what was next, and it is still impossible. The forces that drive technology in years further in the future may no longer be based in the ‘Western countries,’ and the concept of the internet being ‘free’ will go away. The leading companies like Google, Microsoft and Apple will become minor in importance. Individuals will not be able control their individual lives nor be able to tell who they are and what they want to be. The problem is not that there is one entity that controls information, but so many different people from so many cultures and jurisdictions. The internet has had a technology-driven evolution, but it will become politically driven if we keep on building the Towers of Babel.”

New developments will be extrapolations of the past

Arthur Bushkin, an IT pioneer who worked with the precursors to ARPANET and Verizon, wrote, “Having been present at the creation, along with many others, I’ve been struck by the extent to which many new developments were extrapolations of past developments. Two major ‘new’ qualitative developments were wireless and miniaturization. Widespread application of ‘artificial intelligence’ has the potential be another such ‘new’ qualitative development in the years ahead. Technological development always has the potential to impact human development. In the end, I am an optimist.”

In schools, ‘education politics’ have stifled new tech-based learning methods

Ed Lyell, longtime internet strategist and professor at Adams State University, responded, “I was one of the first to use ARAPNET as a graduate student at San Francisco State working with a Stanford professor. We received grants to test using terminal-based connections to tutor inner-city black youth in algebra and discovered that even the primitive terminal of ‘blue-screen’ DOS was a better tutor than the white female teacher or a black college student coming into the student’s home in the evening because the computer did not care how many mistakes were made but forced you to continue to work until you obtained that competency. I wrote a master’s thesis on the use of computer-assisted instruction in 1970 and predicted that they would transform learning in just a few years. Yet a lifetime later not much has changed. I remain optimistic, guided by some charter schools, DSST (credit-by-examination testing), and magnet schools using technology to more dramatically improve student learning. The politics of education (K-12 and higher education) shut down innovation. Thus, I could say that we might create the kind of learning that I wrote about in ‘Nickelodeon’ magazine back in 1985, wherein going to school would be 24/7 with a wristwatch computer on your wrist and the internet at your fingertips.”

There will be ‘less privacy, less democracy, less individual self-esteem’

[I believe things will be worse in future because I expect]

‘We had no idea where it would go’

An internet pioneer, company founder and president and 1970s manager of an AI center said, “I was one of the early internet builders. We had no idea where it would go. What became Google makes sense. Just build a huge catalog of data. Curating that is a delicate endeavor. Humans will disagree on that for eternity.”

Lives will improve

An Internet Hall of Fame member expert in network architecture wrote, “I anticipate that, on balance, innovations that make use of the internet will improve the lives of many people more than the negative impact that will be associated with some aspects of our increasingly digital lives. Better health care, real-time language translation and a host of other capabilities that can improve lives.”

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