A large share of respondents predict enormous potential for improved quality of life over the next 50 years for most individuals thanks to internet connectivity, although many said the benefits of a wired world are not likely to be evenly distributed.

Andrew Tutt, an expert in law and author of “An FDA for Algorithms,” said, “We are still only about to enter the era of complex automation. It will revolutionize the world and lead to groundbreaking changes in transportation, industry, communication, education, energy, health care, communication, entertainment, government, warfare and even basic research. Self-driving cars, trains, semi-trucks, ships and airplanes will mean that goods and people can be transported farther, faster and with less energy and with massively fewer vehicles. Automated mining and manufacturing will further reduce the need for human workers to engage in rote work. Machine language translation will finally close the language barrier, while digital tutors, teachers and personal assistants with human qualities will make everything from learning new subjects to booking salon appointments faster and easier. For businesses, automated secretaries, salespeople, waiters, waitress, baristas and customer support personnel will lead to cost savings, efficiency gains and improved customer experiences. Socially, individuals will be able to find AI pets, friends and even therapists who can provide the love and emotional support that many people so desperately want. Entertainment will become far more interactive, as immersive AI experiences come to supplement traditional passive forms of media. Energy generation and health care will vastly improve with the addition of powerful AI tools that can take a systems-level view of operations and locate opportunities to gain efficiencies in design and operation. AI-driven robotics (e.g., drones) will revolutionize warfare. Finally, intelligent AI will contribute immensely to basic research and likely begin to create scientific discoveries of its own.”

Arthur Bushkin, an IT pioneer who worked with the precursors to ARPANET and Verizon, wrote, “Of course, the impact of the internet has been dramatic and largely positive. The devil is in the details and the distribution of the benefits.”

Mícheál Ó Foghlú, engineering director and DevOps Code Pillar at Google, Munich, said, “Despite the negatives I firmly believe that the main benefits have been positive, allowing economies and people to move up the value chain, ideally to more rewarding levels of endeavor.”

Perry Hewitt, a marketing, content and technology executive, wrote, “On an individual basis, we will think about our digital assets as much as our physical ones. Ideally, we will have more transparent control over our data, and the ability to understand where it resides and exchange it for value – negotiating with the platform companies that are now in a winner-take-all position. Some children born today are named with search engine-optimization in mind; we’ll be thinking more comprehensively about a set of rights and responsibilities of personal data that children are born with. Governments will have a higher level of regulation and protection of individual data. On an individual level, there will be greater integration of technology with our physical selves. For example, I can see devices that augment hearing and vision, and that enable greater access to data through our physical selves. Hard for me to picture what that looks like, but 50 years is a lot of time to figure it out. On a societal level, AI will have affected many jobs. Not only the truck drivers and the factory workers, but professions that have been largely unassailable – law, medicine – will have gone through a painful transformation. Overall I am bullish in our ingenuity to find a higher and better use for those humans, but it seems inevitable that we’ll struggle through a murky dip before we get there. By 2069, we’ll likely be out the other end. My biggest concern about the world 50 years out is the physical condition of the planet. It seems entirely reasonable that a great deal of our digital lives will be focused on habitable environments: identifying them, improving them, expanding them.”

David Cake, an active leader with Electronic Frontiers Australia and vice chair of the ICANN GNSO Council, wrote, “Significant, often highly communication and computation technologically driven, advances in day-to-day areas like health care, safety and human services, will continue to have a significant measurable improvement in many lives, often ‘invisible’ as an unnoticed reduction in bad outcomes, will continue to reduce the incidence of human-scale disasters. Advances in opportunities for self-actualisation through education, community and creative work will continue (though monetisation will continue to be problematic).”

Eugene H. Spafford, internet pioneer and professor of computing sciences at Purdue University, founder and executive director emeritus of the Center for Education and Research in Information Assurance and Security, commented, “New uses, information sources and paradigms will improve the lives of many. However, the abuses, dilution of privacy and crime will also make things worse.”

Jeff Jarvis, director of the Tow-Knight Center at City University of New York’s Craig Newmark School of Journalism, commented, “One need be fairly cynical about one’s fellow humans and somewhat hubristic about one’s own exceptional abilities to argue that most people will act against their own self-interest to adopt technologies that will be harmful to them. This is why I am driven nuts by the contentions that we have all become addicted to our devices against our will, that the internet has made us stupid in spite of our education, that social media has made us uncivil no matter our parenting, as if these technologies could, in a mere matter of a few years, change our very nature as human beings. Bull. This dystopian worldview gives people no credit for their agency, their good will, their common sense, their intelligence and their willingness to explore and experiment. We will figure out how to adopt technologies of benefit and reject technologies that harm. Of course, there will be exceptions to that rule – witness America’s inability to come to terms with an invention made a millennium ago: gunpowder. But much of the rest of the civilized world has figured that one out.”

Andrew Odlyzko, professor at the University of Minnesota and former head of its Digital Technology Center and the Minnesota Supercomputing Institute, said, “Assuming we avoid giant disasters, such as runaway climate change or huge pandemics, we should be able to overcome many of the problems that plague humanity, in health and freedom from physical wants, and from backbreaking or utterly boring jobs. This will bring in other problems, of course.”

Pedro U. Lima, an associate professor of computer science at Instituto Superior Técnico, Lisbon, Portugal, said, “Most of the focus on technology and particularly AI and machine learning developments these days is limited to virtual systems (e.g., apps for travel booking, social networks, search engines, games). I expect this to move, in the next 50 years, into networking people with machines, remotely operating in a myriad of environments, such as homes, hospitals, factories, sport arenas and so on. This will change work as we know it today, as it will change medicine (increasing remote surgery), travel (autonomous and remotely-guided cars, trains, planes), entertainment (games where real robots, instead of virtual agents, evolve in real scenarios). These are just a few ideas/scenarios. Many more, difficult to anticipate today, will appear. They will bring further challenges on privacy, security and safety, which everyone should be closely watching and monitoring. Beyond current discussions on privacy problems concerning ‘virtual world’ apps, we need to consider that ‘real world’ apps may enhance many of those problems, as they interact physically and/or in proximity with humans.”

Timothy Leffel, research scientist, National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, predicted, “Future historians will observe that, in many ways, the rise of the internet over the next few decades will have improved the world, but it hasn’t been without its costs that were sometimes severe and disruptive to entire industries and nations.”

Dave Gusto, co-director of the Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes at Arizona State University, commented, “Fifty years is a terrifically long time for forecasting. A lot might be riding on, for example, what happens with the current conflict around net neutrality and the way that public or private interests get to shape the net from now forward. But within either pathway – public-interest dominated or private-interest dominated – the ability of some actors to enjoy the highest-end benefits and many actors to use what they can access or can manage to learn is a likely contour to the overall system. I think that a vast diversity of uses will characterize the future system, focusing on experience, entertainment and education, enhanced by AR and VR.”

A representative for a Middle Eastern telecommunication directorate wrote that online life will continue to be a plus in most individuals’ lives, adding, “As far as technological history is concerned, there has been no single case that the advance of technology and innovation has worsened the lives of individuals. This is similarly valid for AI.”

Living longer and better lives is the shining promise of the digital age

Many respondents to this canvassing agreed that internet advancement is likely to lead to better human-health outcomes, although perhaps not for everyone. As the following comments show, experts foresee new cures for chronic illnesses, rapid advancement in biotechnology and expanded access to care thanks to the development of better telehealth systems.

Steve Crocker, CEO and co-founder of Shinkuro Inc., internet pioneer and Internet Hall of Fame member, responded, “Life will improve in multiple ways. One in particular I think worth mentioning will be improvements in health care in three distinct ways. One is significantly better medical technology related to cancer and other major diseases. The second is significantly reduced cost of health care. The third is much higher and broader availability of high-quality health care, thereby reducing the differences in outcomes between wealthy and poor citizens.”

Susan Etlinger, an industry analyst for Altimeter Group expert in data, analytics and digital strategy, commented, “Many of the technologies we see commercialized today began in government and university research labs. Fifty years ago, computers were the size of walk-in closets, and the notion of personal computers was laughable to most people. Today we’re facing another shift, from personal and mobile to ambient computing. We’re also seeing a huge amount of research in the areas of prosthetics, neuroscience and other technologies intended to translate brain activity into physical form. All discussion of transhumanism aside, there are very real current and future applications for technology ‘implants’ and prosthetics that will be able to aid mobility, memory, even intelligence, and other physical and neurological functions. And, as nearly always happens, the technology is far ahead of our understanding of the human implications. Will these technologies be available to all, or just to a privileged class? What happens to the data? Will it be protected during a person’s lifespan? What happens to it after death? Will it be ‘willed’ as a digital legacy to future generations? What are the ethical (and for some, religious and spiritual) implications of changing the human body with technology? In many ways, these are not new questions. We’ve used technology to augment the physical form since the first caveman picked up a walking stick. But the key here will be to focus as much (or more) on the way we use these technologies as we do on inventing them.”

Bernie Hogan, senior research fellow at Oxford Internet Institute, wrote, “Tech will make life better for individuals but not for societies. Life-saving drugs, genetic medicine, effective talk therapy, better recommender systems will all serve individuals in a satisfying way. I am concerned, however, that these will create increased dependency and passivity. We already have trends toward better-behaved, less-experimental and less-sexually-active youth. The increased sense that one’s entire life is marked from cradle to grave will create a safer and more productive life, but perhaps one that is a little less low-risk and constrained.”

Kenneth Grady, futurist and founding author of The Algorithmic Society blog, responded, “Fifty years from now today’s notions of privacy will feel as out of date as horse and buggy transportation feels to us. Our homes, transportation, appliances, communication devices and even our clothes will be constantly communicating as part of a digital network. We have enough pieces of this today that we can somewhat imagine what it will be like. Through our clothes, doctors can monitor in real time our vital signs, metabolic condition and markers relevant to specific diseases. Parents will have real-time information about young children. The difference in the future will be the constant sharing of information, data updates and responses of all these interconnected devices. The things we create will interact with us to protect us. Our notions of privacy and even liability will be redefined. Lowering the cost and increasing the effectiveness of health care will require sharing information about how our bodies are functioning. Those who opt out may have to accept palliative hospice care over active treatment. Not keeping track of children real-time may be considered a form of child neglect. Digital will do more than connect our things to each other – it will invade our bodies. Advances in prosthetics, replacement organs and implants will turn our bodies into digital devices. This will create a host of new issues, including defining ‘human’ and where the line exists between that human and the digital universe – if people are always connected, always on are humans now part of the internet?”

Martin Geddes, a consultant specializing in telecommunications strategies, said, “I am optimistic that we will find a new harmony with technology, having been in dissonance for a long time. This will not be due to newfound wisdom or virtue, but due to the collapse of longstanding cultures and structures that are psychopathic in nature, including today’s central banking systems and mass-surveillance systems. The digital and nano/biotech renaissance is only just beginning, and it will in particular transform health care. Our ‘satnav for live’ will help us navigate all daily choices that impact well-being.”

Danil Mikhailov, head of data and innovation for Wellcome Trust, responded, “My view is that the internet and related digital tech such as AI 50 years from now will have mostly positive effects, but only if we manage its development wisely. In health, the pervasiveness of powerful algorithms embedded in mobile tech doing things like monitoring our vitals and cross-referencing with our genetic information, will mean longer and healthier lives and the disappearance of many diseases. Similarly, AI embedded in devices or wearables can be applied to predict and ameliorate many mental health illnesses. However, there is potential for there to be huge inequalities in our societies in the ability of individuals to access such technologies, causing both social disruption and new causes for mental health diseases, such as depression and anxiety. On balance, I am an optimist about the ability of human beings to adjust and develop new ethical norms for dealing with such issues.”

Dan Robitzski, a reporter covering science and technology for Futurism.com, commented, “The powers that be are not the powers that should be. Surveillance technology, especially that powered by AI algorithms, is becoming more powerful and all-present than ever before. But to look at that and say that technology won’t help people is absurd. Medical technology, technology to help people with disabilities, technology that will increase our comfort and abilities as humans will continue to appear and develop.”

Emanuele Torti, a research professor in the computer science department at the University of Pavia, Italy, responded, “The digital revolution will bring benefits in particular for health, providing personalized monitoring through Internet of Things and wearable devices. The AI will analyze those data in order to provide personalized medicine solutions.”

João Pedro Taveira, embedded systems researcher and smart grids architect for INOV INESC Inovação, Portugal, wrote, “The most noticeable change for better in the next 50 years will be in health and average life expectancy. At this pace, and, taking into account the developments in digital technologies, I hope that several discoveries will reduce the risk of death, such as cancer or even death by road accident. New drugs could be developed, increasing the active work age and possibility maintaining the sustainability of countries’ social health care and retirement funds.”

José Estabil, director of entrepreneurship and innovation at MIT’s Skoltech Initiative, commented, “AI, like the electric engine, will affect society in ways that are not linearly forecastable. (For example, the unification of villages through electric engines in subways has created what we know as Paris, London, Moscow and Manhattan). Another area AI can have impact is in creating the framework within genomics, epigenomics and metabolomics can be used to keep people healthy and to intervene when we start to deviate from health. Indeed, with AI we may be able to hack the brain and other secreting cells so that we can auto-generate lifesaving medicines, block unwanted biological processes (e.g., cancer), and coupled to understanding the brain, be able to hack at neurological disorders.”

Jay Sanders, president and CEO of the Global Telemedicine Group, responded, “Haptics will afford the ability to touch/feel at a distance so that in the medical space a physician at one location will literally be able to examine a patient at a distance.”

A director of marketing for a major technology platform company commented, “I was an early user of ARPANET at Carnegie Mellon University, and even then we were able to utilize internet technology to solve human health problems to make citizens’ lives better and improve their access to care and services to improve their health outcomes. The benefits of the internet in the health care industry have continued to improve access to care and services, particularly for elderly, disabled or rural citizens. Digital tools will continue to be integrated into daily life to help the most vulnerable and isolated who need services, care and support. With laws supporting these groups, benefits in these areas will continue and expand to include behavioral health and resources for this group and for others. In the area of behavioral health in particular, digital tools will provide far-reaching benefits to citizens who need services but do not access them directly in person. Access to behavioral health will increase significantly in the next 50 years as a result of more enhanced and widely available digital tools made available to practitioners for delivering care to vulnerable populations, and by minimizing the stigma of accessing this type of care in person. It is a more affordable, personalized and continuous way of providing this type of care that is also more likely to attain adherence.”

The cyborg generation: Humans will partner more directly with technology

Many experts foresaw a future where the integration of technology and the human body would lead to a hybridization of humanity and technology.

Barry Chudakov, founder and principal of Sertain Research and author of “Metalifestream,” commented, “In 50 years the internet will not be a place to access through a device; it will be the all-surrounding ether of actions and intentions as machine intelligence and learning merge with human intelligence. This will be a natural evolution of adopting the logic of our tools and adjusting our lives accordingly. Pathways to digital life will be neural pathways inside our bodies and brains. We will eat our technology. What is now external mediated through devices will become neural, mediated through neural triggers along neural pathways. Having gone (and living) inside us, the merger with our tools and devices will continue to accelerate due to advances in machine learning. Human identity will morph into an open question, an ongoing discussion.”

Sam Lehman-Wilzig, associate professor and former chair of the School of Communication, Bar-Ilan University, Israel, wrote, “Given the huge (and completely unpredicted) changes of the ‘internet’ over the past 50 years, this question demands out-of-the-box thinking, which I will do here. Literally. In my estimation, within the next 50 years the internet will mainly become the platform for brain-to-brain communication, i.e., no keyboard, no voice, no screen, no text or pictures – merely ‘neuronic’ communication (thought transmission) at the speed of light, with internet speeds reaching terabytes per second, if not more than that. This also means that the main ‘content’ will be various forms of full-experience VR, fed directly to our brains by professional content providers – and perhaps (a bit science-fictiony at this stage) from our brains to other brains as well. The consequences of such a ‘hive mind’ communication are difficult (if not impossible) to predict, but certainly it will constitute a radical break with past human society.”

Joaquin Vanschoren, assistant professor of machine learning at Eindhoven University of Technology, Netherlands, responded, “We will be able to interact with each other and the world’s information more directly, without going through web interfaces, maybe using a brain-internet interface. A lot more content will be generated automatically, by AI systems that help us fill in the holes in our knowledge and make it more easily accessible.”

Frank Kaufmann, president of Filial Projects and founder and director of the Values in Knowledge Foundation, said, “Virtually nothing from today’s internet will be recognizable 50 years from now. Connectivity will become ever more ethereal and divorced from devices. Speeds will have exceeded what can any longer be sensed by the human organism. Storage will seem limitless, as it will exceed all possible need. Most connectivity will be integrated into the biological organism.… Tech will enable creative people to create more. It will enable good people to do more good. It will enable lazy people to be more lazy. It will enable bad people to do more bad. It will enable family and social people to be closer and more loving. It will enable lonely and isolated people to become more isolated. It will enable radical advances in all things people do – sports, arts, medicine, science, literature, nature exploration, etc.”

Karen Oates, director of workforce development for La Casea de Esperanza, commented, “At the rate at which technology is evolving, the internet as we currently know it and interact with it will have morphed into something very different. I can see people allowing implants in their bodies so they can connect to whatever the internet becomes – leveraging it as an auxiliary brain. This also, however, opens the door for manipulation and potential control of people. Like anything, technology can be used for good or evil. Much will be dependent on to what extent an individual is willing to sacrifice independence for comfort, security, etc.”

Several other respondents voiced concerns about this future. A law professor based at a U.S. university said, “The book ‘Re-Engineering Humanity’ provides a reasonable description of the slippery, sloped path we’re on and where we seem likely to be heading. The authors’ big concern is that humans will outsource so much of what matters about being human to supposedly smart technical systems that the humans will be little more than satiated automatons.”

David J. Krieger, co-director of the Institute for Communication & Leadership in Lucerne, Switzerland, wrote, “Everything will be ‘personalized’ but not individualized. The European Western paradigm of the free and autonomous individual will no longer be a major cultural force. Network collectivism will be the form in which human existence, now no longer ‘humanist’ will play itself out. There will be no other life than digital life and no one will really have the opportunity to live offline. And if so, then there will probably be a three-class society consisting of the cyborgs, the hybrids and the naturals. This will of course generate new forms of social inequality and conflict.”

Despite the likely drawbacks many respondents see the hybrid future as a strong possibility.

Mike Meyer, a futurist and administrator at Honolulu Community College, commented, “The world in 50 years is likely to be very difficult to imagine or understand in today’s language. The options available will be contingent on many layers of both technology and human adaption that will occur over the next 50 years. This will be true as the steady acceleration of the rate of change continues based loosely on Moore’s Law leading to true quantum computing. Genetic engineering combined with nano components that may also be bioelectronic in nature will allow planetary network communication with implants or, perhaps, full neural lace. The primary distinction will be between those people with full communication plus memory and sensor augmentation versus those who choose not to use artificial components in their bodies. Everyone will use a planetwide network for all communication and process activity whether through augmentation or very small headbands or other options that are not implanted.”

Ray Schroeder, an associate vice chancellor at the University of Illinois, Springfield, wrote, “Connected technologies and applications will become much more seamlessly integrated into people’s lives. Technologies are emerging, such as MIT’s AlterEgo, that point to practical telepathy in which human thought will directly connect with supercomputers – and through those computers with other people. This kind of thought-based communication will become ubiquitous through always-on, omnipresent networks. Personal devices will fade away as direct connectivity becomes ubiquitous. These advances will enable instant virtual ‘learning’ of new ideas and the whole range of literature. One will be able to ‘recall’ a novel or a treatise as if one had studied it for years. Such will be the state of augmented memory. There will be attempts to apply new rules/laws, but technological capability will most often trump artificial restrictions. This will further empower people, by the power of their purchases and choice-to-use to set standards of acceptability and preference.”

David Klann, consultant and software developer at Broadcast Tool & Die, responded, “Further integration of humans and machines is inevitable. More devices will be implanted in us, and more of our minds will be ‘implanted’ in devices. The inevitable ‘Singularity’ will result in changes to humans and will increase the rate of our evolution toward hybrid ‘machines.’ I also believe that new and modified materials will become ‘smart.’ For instance, new materials will be ‘self-aware’ and will be able to communicate problems in order to avoid failure. Ultimately, these materials will become ‘self-healing’ and will be able to harness raw materials to manufacture replacement parts in situ. All these materials, and the things built with them will participate in the connected world. We will see continued blurring of the line between ‘real’ and ‘virtual’ life.”

Anonymous respondents predicted:

  • “Artificial general intelligence and quantum computing available in a future version of the cloud connected to individual brain augmentation could make us augmented geniuses, inventing our daily lives in a self-actualization economy as the conscious-technology civilization evolves.”
  • “There is a probability of technological singularity. So far all the trends lead to it; it is hard to imagine a future in which this does not happen.”
  • “Connective symbiosis – human-human, machine-human, human-machine – will continue to thicken.”
  • “Implants in humans that continuously connect them to the web will lead to a loss of privacy and the potential for thought control, decline in autonomy.”

Everyone agrees that the world will be putting AI to work

The technology visionaries surveyed described a much different work environment from the current one. They say remote work arrangements are likely to be the rule, rather than the exception, and virtual assistants will handle many of the mundane and unpleasant tasks currently performed by humans.

Ed Lyell, longtime internet strategist and professor at Adams State University, wrote, “If we can change the governance of technology to focus on common good growth and not a division of winner/loser then we can see people having more control over their lives. Imagine that the tough, hard work, dangerous jobs are done by machines guided by computers and AI. We can see the prototype of these in how the U.S. is now fighting wars. The shooting is done by a drone guided by a smart guy/gal working a 9-to-5 job in an air-conditioned office in a nice town. Garbage could be picked up, sorted, recycled, all by robots with AI. Tedious surgery completed by robots and teaching via YouTube would leave the humans to the interesting and exciting cases, not the redoing of same lessons to yet more patients/students. Humans could live well on a 20-hour work week with many weeks of paid vacation. Having a job/career could become a positive, not just a necessity. With 24/7 learning and just-in-time capacity, people could change areas or careers many times with ease whenever they become bored. This positive outcome is possible if we collectively manage the creation and distribution of the tools and access to the use of new emerging tools.”

Jim Spohrer, director of the Cognitive OpenTech Group at IBM Research-Almaden, commented, “Everyone will have hundreds of digital workers working for them. Our cognitive mediators will know us in some ways better than we know ourselves. Better episodic memories and large numbers of digital workers will allow expanded entrepreneurship, lifelong learning and focus on transformation.”

Kyle Rose, principal architect, Akamai Technologies, wrote, “As telepresence and VR become more than research projects or toys, the already small world will shrink further as remote collaboration becomes the norm, resulting in major social changes, among them allowing the recent concentration of expertise in major cities to relax and reducing the relevance of national borders. Furthermore, deep learning and AI-assisted technologies for software development and verification, combined with more abstract primitives for executing software in the cloud, will enable even those not trained as software engineers to precisely describe and solve complex problems. I strongly suspect there will be other, unpredictable disruptive social changes analogous to the freer movement of capital enabled by cryptocurrencies in the last decade.”

David Schlangen, a professor of applied computational linguistics at Bielefeld University, Germany, said, “Physical presence will matter less, as high-bandwidth transmissions will make telepresence (in medicine, in the workplace, in in-person interactions) more viable.”

Ken Goldberg, distinguished chair in engineering, director of AUTOLAB and CITRIS at the University of California, Berkeley, said, “I believe the question we’re facing is not ‘When will machines surpass human intelligence?’ but instead ‘How can humans work together with machines in new ways?’ Rather than worrying about an impending Singularity, I propose the concept of Multiplicity: where diverse combinations of people and machines work together to solve problems and innovate. In analogy with the 1910 High School Movement that was spurred by advances in farm automation, I propose a ‘Multiplicity Movement’ to evolve the way we learn to emphasize the uniquely human skills that AI and robots cannot replicate: creativity, curiosity, imagination, empathy, human communication, diversity and innovation. AI systems can provide universal access to sophisticated adaptive testing and exercises to discover the unique strengths of each student and to help each student amplify his or her strengths. AI systems could support continuous learning for students of all ages and abilities. Rather than discouraging the human workers of the world with threats of an impending Singularity, let’s focus on Multiplicity where advances in AI and robots can inspire us to think deeply about the kind of work we really want to do, how we can change the way we learn and how we might embrace diversity to create myriad new partnerships.”

Kristin Jenkins, executive director of BioQUEST Curriculum Consortium, said, “Access to information is enormously powerful, and the internet has provided access to people in a way we have never before experienced. This means that people can learn new skills (how to patch your roof or make bread), assess situations and make informed decisions (learn about a political candidate’s voting record, plan a trip), and teach themselves whatever they want to know from knowledgeable sources. Information that was once accessed through print materials that were not available to everyone and often out of date is now much more readily available to many more people. Ensuring access is another huge issue with internet 2.0/AI. Access to these tools is not guaranteed even within the U.S. – presumably one of the best places in the world to be wired. In many cases, access to current technology in developing areas of the world allows populations to skip expensive intermediate steps and use tools in a way that improves their quality of life. Ensuring that people all over the world have access to tools that can improve their lives is an important social justice issue.”

Rich Ling, a professor of media technology at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, responded, “In the next 50 years there will be significant changes in the way that we work. The disruption of that will play through to the way people identify themselves and can also be turned into political movements. AI is on the point of eliminating a wide variety of jobs and professions (taxi driver, accountant, law clerk, etc.). At the same time a large portion of our identity often comes from an idealized sense of our work. Witness the notion of being a cowboy. This is a real job for a small number of people, but it is an identity for many. In the same way, there is an identity in being a truck driver, an insurance adjuster, etc. It often does not have the same panache as the idealized version of being a cowboy, but it’s nonetheless an identity. If that is taken away from people it can, in the worst case, lead to populist political movements. I answered that the general trend will be positive, but I expect that it is not a simple path to better lives through the application of IT. There are many social and eventually political issues that will be played out.”

Divina Frau-Meigs, professor of media sociology at Sorbonne Nouvelle University, France, and UNESCO chair for sustainable digital development, responded, “The most important trend to follow is the way game/play will become the new work. Convergence of virtual reality and immersive devices will modify the rules determining how we interact with each other and with knowledge and information in the future. These ‘alternative’ realities will enable more simulations of situations in real life and will be necessary in decision-making every step of our daily lives. We will need to be conscious of the distinction between game and play, to allow for leisure time away from rule-bound game-as-the-new-work. This will be particularly necessary for environmental issues to be solved creatively.”

Estee Beck, assistant professor at the University of Texas and author of “A Theory of Persuasive Computer Algorithms for Rhetorical Code Studies,” responded, “Society will shift toward educating the public on reading and writing code at an accelerated rate. Coding literacy will become part of K-12 curricula to prepare citizens for both STEM-related careers and consumer-oriented DIY solutions of tech problems. On the latter, because of the mass coding literacy spread in primary and secondary schooling, the ‘handyman’ will evolve into a tech tinkerer or handyman 2.0. Already acquainted with basic and intermediate home maintenance of basic lighting, plumbing and painting, the handyman 2.0 will fix code in home appliances, run software updates to modify and personalize processes in the home. The handyman 2.0 might run their own server and develop a self-contained smartphone and security system to protect against internet-related attacks. For those unable or uninterested in being a handyman 2.0, they can hire general and specialized contractors from a new industry of handymen 2.0. This industry – with public and private certifications – will employ hundreds of thousands of laborers and enjoy revenues in the billions.”

Hume Winzar, associate professor and director of the business analytics undergraduate program at Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia, wrote, “Working and study at a distance will be normalized, so lifestyle options will be wider. We won’t need to live/work/study in a major city to enjoy the best of what is available. Done right, it will expand opportunity for many, too.”

Barrack Otieno, general manager at the Africa Top-Level Internet Domains Organization, wrote, “I expect technology to enhance the work environment. The internet will mostly be used to enhance communication, coordination and collaboration.”

Benjamin Kuipers, a professor of computer science at the University of Michigan, wrote, “In the post-World War II era, many people believed that American society was essentially benevolent, providing opportunities for political, economic and social advancement for individuals and families over decades and generations. This was somewhat true for the majority, but dramatically untrue for many minorities. We may have the opportunity to provide this societal benevolence for everyone in our society. The technological, often digital, tools we are creating have the promise of greatly increasing the resources available in society. While it may be possible to automate some current jobs, people have an intrinsic need for meaningful work. If we can use these new resources to support them, many jobs can be created to provide meaningful work for many people, and to improve the environment for everyone in society. Some examples of such jobs are child and elder care, and creation and maintenance of green spaces ranging from urban parks to rural farms to wilderness environments and many others. A national service requirement for young people gets certain kinds of work done, but also provides training in practical skills and practical responsibility, and also exposes individuals to the diversity of our society. Technological change produces resources that allow new things to be done and reduces certain constraints on what can be done. But we need to learn which goals we should pursue.”

Lane Jennings, a recent retiree who served as managing editor for the World Future Review from 2009 to 2015, wrote, “Entire classes of humans (drivers, construction workers, editors, medical technicians, etc.) are likely to be replaced by AI systems within the next 50 years. Whether individual members of such groups feel their lives have been improved or made worse will vary depending on many factors. Suffice it to say that public support of some kind to give displaced workers the means to live in relative security and comfort is essential. Moreover, this support must be provided in a way that preserves self-respect and promotes optimism and ambition. A world of former workers who perceive themselves as having been prematurely retired while machines provide the goods and services they once supplied seems to me highly unstable. To be happy, or at least contented, people need a purpose beyond simply amusing themselves and passing time pleasantly. One of the major functions of the internet in 2069 may be to facilitate contact between people with skills who want to work and jobs that still need doing in spite of high-tech robots and ubiquitous AI.”

Mark Crowley, an assistant professor expert in machine learning and core member of the Institute for Complexity and Innovation at the University of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, wrote, “Technology affects people asymmetrically. Diseases will be cured with machine learning, profits will rise with automation and artists, engineers and scientists will be able to do more with less time and resources than ever before. However, many people will lose the only jobs they’ve ever known, and many others will feel alienated and left behind. Will society take steps to adapt its social standards? Will education adapt to prepare each generation for the reality ahead rather than focusing on the past? Will we allow people to live, with dignity, their own life, even if rapid technological changes leave them without a job that we would traditionally call ‘useful’ or productive? That depends on politics.”

Josh Calder, a partner at the Foresight Alliance, commented, “Changes will be for the better if the wealth generated by automation is spread equitably, and this will likely require significant changes to economic systems. If wealth concentration is accelerated by automation, the average person could be worse off.”

In 2069 the ‘new normal’ will be …

If the future is to change as dramatically and rapidly as many of the survey respondents believe, the world will see seismic shifts in norms and in what might be considered “normal” life.

Cliff Lynch, director of the Coalition for Networked Information, responded, “Over the next 20 to 30 years I expect to see enormous renegotiation of the social, cultural and political norms involving the digital environment.”

Alistair Nolan a senior policy analyst in the OECD Directorate for Science, Technology and Innovation, wrote, “I speculate that individuals’ interaction with digital technologies will become much more pervasive and intimate than it is already. Digital technology will be used to counter some of the stresses created by economic development and a digital culture. Digital avatars, for example, might provide intelligent company for the old and lonely, coaching those subject to psychological disorders, encouraging and guiding the sedentary to adopt healthier lifestyles, and so on. But changes and societal stresses brought by digital technologies may require a fundamental overhaul of the social contract. A new digital social contract will likely be needed, the specifics of which we cannot be sure now, but the contours of which we see suggested today in proposals ranging from universal basic income to institutionally mandated time free from digital distraction. The hope is that political processes allow our social arrangements to adjust at a pace commensurate with broader technological change, and that dysfunction in political processes is not aggravated by digital technologies. It has been commented that when humankind attempts to take astronauts to Mars the primary challenge will not be technological. Instead, it will be social: namely, the ability of unrelated individuals to live in close confinement for long periods of time. At the level of entire polities, in a similar way, our primary challenge may be living together in civil ways, attending to the full range of human needs, while the technology brings opportunities to carry us forward, or carry us off course.”

Greg Shannon, chief scientist for the CERT Division at Carnegie Mellon University’s Software Engineering Institute, said, “Pervasive/complete/competing memories – capture/network/storage tech will allow complete digital records of each life, with fast recall for discussion, disagreements and manipulation. What will it mean to not have to remember, that you can recall the video with higher fidelity than one could ever remember? This will disrupt social norms. Communities specified by degrees of anonymity and other variable social norms. With pervasive sensing/monitoring, communities can define and enforce norms. From everyone wears green on April 20 to verbal violence is OK (or not) to which laws are well-defined and must be followed 100% of the time (what does it mean to really stop at a stop sign?). AI and IT (information technology) can define, enforce and update norms at scale and quickly…. No one is perfect and social norms in communities will vary with AI/IT helping ensure/permit the varied norms. Non-locality of communities. We already see this today with the various groups – mailing lists, conference calls, website, hashtags, etc. – that define communities that can be very tight/loose, small/large local/global. This might impact happiness; if everyone physically around you is a stranger (not in one of your communities), what will that mean for the physiological aspects of happiness – touch, smell, tastes, complex sounds and sights? At a technical level, the RF (radio frequency) signature of [an] individual will become increasingly important as the wired last mile disappears. Social norms will include RF – peaceful or aggressive/harmful. And you won’t be able to hide it [any] more than you can hide walking down the street.”

Betsy Williams, a researcher at the Center for Digital Society and Data Studies at the University of Arizona, wrote, “Free internet-connected devices will be available to the poor in exchange for carrying around a sensor that records traffic speed, environmental quality, detailed usage logs, and video and audio recordings (depending on state law). There will be secure vote-by-internet capabilities, through credit card or passport verification, with other secure kiosks available at public facilities (police stations, libraries, fire stations and post offices, should those continue to exist in their current form). There will be a movement online to require real-name verification to comment on more reputable sites; however, this will skew participation tremendously toward men, and the requirements will be reversed after a woman is assaulted or killed based on what she typed in a public-interest discussion.”

Pamela Rutledge, director of the Media Psychology Center, responded, “Starting with Generation Z and going forward, internet and 24/7 real-time connectivity will no longer be viewed as a ‘thing’ independent from daily life, but integral, like electricity. This has profound psychological implications about what people assume as normal and establishes baseline expectations for access, response times and personalization of functions and information. Contrary to many concerns, as technology becomes more sophisticated, it will ultimately support the primary human drives of social connectedness and agency. As we have seen with social media, first adoption is noncritical – it is a shiny penny for exploration. Then people start making judgments about the value-add based on their own goals and technology companies adapt by designing for more value to the user – we see that now in privacy settings and the concerns about information quality…. Technology is going to change whether we like it or not – expecting it to be worse for individuals means that we look for what’s wrong. Expecting it to be better means we look for the strengths and what works and work toward that goal. Technology gives individuals more control – a fundamental human need and a prerequisite to participatory citizenship and collective agency. The danger is that we are so distracted by technology that we forget that digital life is an extension of the offline world and demands the same critical, moral and ethical thinking.”

Geoff Livingston, author and futurist, commented, “Technology will become a seamless experience for most people. Only the very poor who cannot afford technology and the very rich who can choose to separate themselves from it will be free from connectedness. When I consider the current AI conversation, I often think the real evolution of sentient beings will be a hybrid connectedness between human and machine. Our very existence and day-to-day experience will be through an augmented experience that features faster thinking and more ethereal pleasures. This brings a question of what is human? Since most of us will be living in a machine-enhanced world, the perspective of human reality will always be in doubt. Most will simply move through their existence without a thought, able to change and alter it with new software packages and algorithms, accepting their reality as the new normal. Indeed, perception will become reality. There will be those who decry the movement forward and wish for yesteryear’s unplugged mind. The counter movement against the internet of 2070 will be significant, and yet much like today’s Luddite, it will find itself in the deep minority. For though the cultural implications will be significant, the internet of 2070 offers the world a much more prosperous and easier life. Most will choose comfort over independence from devices.”

Meryl Alper, an assistant professor of communication at Northeastern University and a faculty associate at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society, wrote, “Parents will be inundated by non-intuitive, AI-sourced information about their children (e.g., their moods, their behaviors) through the data collected about them in their everyday lives. Parents will face a choice about knowing too much about every single aspect of what their child does and says (be it with them or without them) or not knowing all the details – while being aware that someone else (teachers, doctors, law enforcement) is compiling this information for later determinations of some kind about their child. Parents will ultimately be encouraged to automate this data-intensive parenting, but this itself will create more work for parents (and thus more work for parents to outsource).”

Uta Russmann, professor in the Department of Communication at FHWien der WKW University of Applied Sciences for Management & Communication, warned, “In 50 years every aspect of our life will be connected, organized and hence, partly controlled, as technology platform and applications businesses will take this opportunity. A few global players will dominate the business; smaller companies (startups) will mostly have a chance in the development sector. Many institutions, such as libraries, will disappear – there might be one or two libraries that function as museums to show how it used to be. People who experienced today’s world will definitely value the benefits and amenities they have through technology (human-machine/AI collaboration). If technology becomes part of every aspect of our lives we will have to give up some power and control. People thinking in today’s terms will lose a certain amount of freedom, independency and control over their lives. People born after 2030 will probably just think these technologies produced changes that are mostly for the better. It has always been like this – people have always thought/said ‘in the old days everything was better.’”

Danny Gillane, a netizen from Lafayette, Louisiana, commented, “The content owners will become the platform companies (Disney, Time Warner, etc.), and the platform companies will become the content owners (Comcast, Netflix, etc.). In the U.S., we will give up more privacy to gain more convenience. We will have to choose between paying with our wallets or paying with our personal information in order to keep up with the Joneses. Collaboration and communication will become less personal as more of it will be done through virtual reality and through our devices. The promise of worldwide connection will lessen as Europe places restrictions on tech companies to protect its citizens’ rights, but the U.S. will pass laws to protect shareholders even at the expense of its citizens’ rights. Unless the focus of technology innovation moves away from consumer entertainment and communication products (such as social networks) and more toward medical and scientific advances, we will see fewer people truly benefiting from the internet. The money that fuels America’s politics already fuels its legislative efforts, or lack of, with regard to technology. So, I actually don’t think we’ll see any actual change, unless one considers for-profit companies having an even larger presence in more parts of our lives more often and in more ways.”

Justin Reich, executive director of MIT Teaching Systems Lab and research scientist in the MIT Office of Digital Learning, responded, “The trends toward centralization and monopolization will persist. The free, open internet that represented a set of decentralized connections between idiosyncratic actors will be recognized as an aberration in the history of the internet. Today’s internet giants will probably be the internet giants of 50 years from now. In recent years, they’ve made substantial progress in curtailing innovation through acquisitions and copying. As the industry matures, they will add regulatory capture to their skill sets. For many people around the world, the internet will be a set of narrow portals where they exchange their data for a curtailed set of communication, information and consumer services.”

Michael R. Nelson, a technology policy expert for a leading network services provider who worked as a technology policy aide in the Clinton administration, commented, “We will see more change and disruption in the next 10 years than we have seen in the last 20. If governments and incumbents allow it, we could see twice as much. All we know about 2069 is that data storage, network capacity and tools to turn data into knowledge will be basically unlimited and cost almost nothing. But, we also know that the wisdom needed to use the power of technology will not be available to everyone. And we also know that political forces will try to create scarcity and favor some groups over others. Let us hope that the engineers innovate so fast that consumers have the tools and choices they need to overcome such constraints.”

Guy Levi, chief innovation officer for the Center for Educational Technology, based in Israel, wrote, “Digital tools will be part of our body inside and remotely, and will assist us in decision- making constantly, so it will become second nature. Nonetheless, physical feelings will still be exclusively ‘physical,’ i.e., there will be a significant difference between the ‘sensor-based feelings’ and real body feelings, so human beings will still have some advantages over technology. This, I believe, will last forever. Considering this, physical encounters among people will become more and more important and thus relationships, especially between couples, will prosper. It will be the return of LOVE.”

No need to give it orders – your digital assistant already knows what you want

Many of these experts expect that – despite some people’s worries over privacy issues – digital experiences will be far more personalized in 2069. One likely trend: Instead of having to directly communicate requests to a device, AI-enabled, database-fed digital technologies will anticipate individuals’ needs and provide customized solutions.

Michael Wollowski, associate professor of computer science and software engineering at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, expert in the Internet of Things, diagrammatic systems and artificial intelligence, wrote, “Much of our lives will be automated. Better yet, we will be in control of the degree of automation. Technology will assume the role of a polite personal assistant who will seamlessly bow in and out. Technology based on learned patterns of behavior will arrange many things in our lives and suggest additional options.”

Peter Reiner, professor and co-founder of the National Core for Neuroethics at the University of British Columbia, Canada, commented, “The internet will remain a conduit for information about us as well as a tool for us to access information about the world. Whilst many commentators rightly worry about the degree to which apps can know about us today, we are only at the early stages of corporate and governmental surveillance of our inner lives. In 50 years’ time, apps will be remarkably more sophisticated in terms of their knowledge about us as agents – our wants and desires, our objectives and goals. Using that information, they will be able make decisions that align with our personal goals much better than they can do today, and as this happens they will become bona fide extensions of our minds – digital (or as seems likely, quantum-based) information-processing interfaces that are always available and seamlessly integrate with the human cognitive toolkit. These cognitive prostheses will be so much a part of our everyday lives that we will barely notice their existence. Our reliance upon them will be both a strength and a weakness. Our cognitive prowess will substantially expand, but we will feel diminished in their absence.”

David Zubrow, associate director of empirical research at the Carnegie Mellon Software Engineering Institute, said, “Networked devices, data collection and information on demand will become even more ubiquitous. I would hope that better curation of information along with its provenance occurs. The trend of digital assistants that learn your preferences and habits from all the devices that you interact with will become integrated with each other and take on a persona. They may even act on your behalf with a degree of independence in the digital and physical worlds. As AI advances and becomes more independent and the internet becomes the world in which people live and work, laws for responsibility and accountability of the actions of AI will need to be made.”

Daniel Siewiorek, a professor with the Human-Computer Interaction Institute at Carnegie Mellon University, predicted, “We will all have virtual coaches that learn and grow with us. They will be in communication with the virtual coaches of others, allowing us to learn from the experience of others. For example, my grandfather could teach me how to swing a baseball bat through his virtual coach even though my grandfather passed away before I was born.”

Gary Kreps, distinguished professor of communication and director of the Center for Health and Risk Communication at George Mason University, wrote, “Future computing systems will be fully integrated into everyday life, easy to access and use, and adaptable to meeting individual preferences and needs. These devices will serve as integrated personal assistants that can intuitively provide users with relevant information and support. There will be no need for typing in requests, since systems will be voice- and perhaps even thought-activated. These systems will adapt to user communication styles and competencies, using familiar and easy to understand messages to users. These messages will be presented both verbally and visually, with the ability to incorporate vivid examples and relevant interesting stories for users. Information content will build upon user preferences, experiences and needs. These personal computing systems will learn about users and adapt to changing user needs, assisting users in accomplishing important tasks and making important decisions. These systems will also automatically network users to relevant personal and professional contacts to facilitate communication as desired by users. The systems will also help users control other forms of technology, such as transportation, communication, health care, educational, occupational, financial, recreational and commercial applications. Care must be taken to program these systems to be responsive to user preferences and needs, easy to use, adaptive to changing conditions and easy for users to control.”

Mike Meyer, futurist and administrator at Honolulu Community College, commented, “It is becoming clear that, as human numbers increase to 10 billion and beyond in the next 50 years, diversity will be more and more valuable. The very nature of the technology that will become part of our bodies … [It] will shape the very nature of our communities and the natural result will be homogenization of the species. The nature of [the] planet will become predominantly urban with constant instantaneous communication. We are already well on the way to a planetary culture based on current metropolitan areas. This is a tremendous benefit allowing the move to AI-based management following universally defined and expanded rights. The desire will be for change and difference, innovation and originality to counter the growing sameness. This may, finally, eliminate the problem of irrational bigotry, racism and xenophobia. But that will lead to personal augmentation and, probably, genetic engineering to regain diversity under our individual control. A major challenge that I see is the management of virtual worlds for people with specific ideas or ideals who wish to and could live in the world as they want it to be. How will this be handled physically (‘The Matrix’ model) and morally? Living as master of a slave plantation may be desired by some. Should that be an option with no ‘real’ people involved? Overall the tremendous expansion of options will be good. But more questions will arise from this and answers may be difficult.”

Ian Rumbles, a quality-assurance specialist at North Carolina State University, said, “Fifty years from now the internet will be available to us through us thinking, versus using a keyboard or speaking. The display of data will be visible only to the user and how that display is shown will be totally customized for that user. The ability to obtain answers to questions and look up information in a format that is defined by the user will greatly improve the lives of people.”

More leisure time expected in ‘real life’ and virtual worlds

Could it be true that technology will finally create more free time? Some respondents in this study expect that the evolution of digital technologies will allow for more leisure activities and less “work.” Some predict people may choose to live most of their lives in a virtual reality that lacks the messy authenticity of real life. They also predict that in the widening global media marketplace of the future individuals will have access to a wider range of entertainment options than ever before.

Dan Schultz, senior creative technologist at the Internet Archive, said, “The world is about to have a LOT more time on its hands, a culture-redefining level of newfound time. Governments will need to figure out how to ensure people are compensated for that time in ways that don’t correlate to capitalistic value, and people are going to need creative outlets for their free time. We’re going to need better mental health services; we’re going to need to finally redefine the public education system to shift away from the 19th century factory model. It will either be a golden age for invention, leisure, entertainment and civic involvement, or it will be a dystopia of boredom and unemployment.”

James Gannon, global head of e-compliance for emerging technology, cloud and cybersecurity at Novartis, responded, “In 50 years machine-to-machine communication will have reduced a lot of menial decision-making for the average person. Smart-home technology manages the basic functions of the household, negating the need for many manual labor roles such as cleaners and gardeners. Many services are now delivered remotely such as telehealth and digital therapeutics…. Technology and the internet have already dramatically increased the standard of living for billions of people; this trend will not cease.”

Chao-Lin Liu, a professor at National Chengchi University, Taiwan, commented, “If we can handle the income and work problems, lives will be easier for most due to automation.”

Paola Perez, vice president of the Internet Society chapter in Venezuela and chair of the LACNIC Public Policy Forum, responded, “Technology will make everything in our lives. We won’t drive, we won’t cook. Apps are going to be adapted to all our needs. From the moment we wake up we are going to have technology that cooks for us, drives for us, works for us and suggests ideas for our work. Problems are going to be solved. But all our data is going to be known by everybody, so we won’t have private lives.”

Alex Smith, partner relationship manager at Monster Worldwide, said, “Everything will be centered around saving us time – giving us back more time in our days.”

A professor of communications said, “Simple, mundane tasks will be taken care of by AI, allowing more time for creative thinking, arts, music and literature.”

David Wells, the chief financial officer at Netflix at the time of this canvassing, has an idea for how to fill all of that free time. He predicted, “Continued global connectedness with our entertainment, music and news will mean global popularity of some media with a backdrop of local flavor that may be regional and/or hyper local. 3D visual (virtual) rendering will evolve and become integrated into user interfaces, discovery interfaces along with AI assistants, and will heavily define learning and entertainment.”

Gabor Melli, senior director of engineering for AI and machine learning for Sony PlayStation, responded, “By 2070, most people will willingly spend most of their lives in an augmented virtual reality. The internet and digital life will be extraordinary and partially extraplanetary. Innovations that will dramatically amplify this trajectory are unsupervised machine learning, fusion power and the wildcard of quantum computing.”

Valarie Bell, a computational social scientist at the University of North Texas, commented, “While the gadgets and tools we may have in the future may result in more conveniences, like when ovens turned into microwaves, we find with technology that we trade quality and uniqueness for convenience and uniformity. What tastes better and provides a better experience? The homemade chocolate cake Grandma made from scratch with attention to great ingredients and to baking the cake until it’s perfectly moist OR the microwaved chocolate-cake-for-one? The microwave cake takes less than 10 minutes and you simply add water, but Grandma’s cake is not over-processed, and you taste the real butter, real vanilla, real chocolate instead of powdered butter flavoring and powdered chocolate substitute. Technology will bring us things faster, perhaps even cheaper, but not necessarily better.”

Michel Grossetti, a sociologist expert in systems and director of research at CNRS, the French national science research center, wrote, “The boundaries between private life and work or public life will continue to blur.”

Social connections, community and collaboration will be improved

Some experts expect that digital advances will lead to better communication among disparate groups, resulting in stronger interpersonal relationships and positive community development. A number of respondents said that physical barriers to communication and community building will mostly disappear over the next half century. They are hopeful that greater connectivity will lead to better collaboration in response to major world problems, more equitable distributions of wealth and power and easier access to information and resources.

Tomas Ohlin, longtime professor at Linköping and Stockholm universities in Sweden, predicted, “AI will exist everywhere. The internet will, after a few decades, be replaced by a more value-added surface on top of our present system. Its governing will be truly decentralized, with participation from many. Cultural differences will exist on this surface, with borders that will differ from the present. However, there will not be as many borders as today; this new information society is a society with flexible borders. Human beings are friendly, and the world we create reflects this. Communication and contact between everybody is a fundamental and positive resource that will lead to fewer conflicts.”

Bryan Alexander, futurist and president of Bryan Anderson Consulting, responded, “I’m convinced we’ll see individuals learn how to use technologies more effectively, and that collectively we’ll learn how to reduce harm.”

Charles Zheng, a researcher into machine learning and AI with the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health, commented, “Life will not qualitatively change much for people in the middle and upper classes of society. The biggest impact will be to the lower classes, and will mostly be positive. The increase in information gathering in all levels of society will also improve the efficiency of social welfare programs. Access to information becomes democratized as cities start offering free, basic Wi-Fi and the government hosts AI educational programs which can teach young people how to find jobs and access public resources. The increase in networking also makes … social nonprofits more effective at helping the disadvantaged. Government accountability is also improved now that people at all levels of society can leave reviews about government services online.”

Craig Mathias, principal at Farpoint Group, an advisory firm specializing in wireless networking and mobile computing, commented, “Civilization itself centers on and thus depends upon communication of all forms. The more we communicate, the better the opportunities for peace and prosperity on a global basis. It would be difficult to imagine communications without the internet, now and especially in the future.”

Gene Crick, director of the Metropolitan Austin Interactive Network and longtime U.S. community telecommunications expert, wrote, “Genuine universal technology access has become a vital issue for every community. AI/IT can make powerful tools, resources and opportunities available to anyone interested. To help rhetoric become reality, we could adopt and insist on a few fundamental principles, including standards for openness and accountability. How? Just a notion but perhaps a modernized version of the National Science Foundation internet administration transfer two decades ago. Though the outcome was far from pretty, those who participated felt we got the job done. Today’s improved communications tools could make possible a much simpler, more widespread ‘grassroots’ discussion and decision process.”

Jean-Daniel Fekete, researcher in information visualization, visual analytics and human-computer interaction at INRIA, France, said, “The connected world will become even more integrated in our life and appliances, as a virtual extension of our physical world. Physical location [will] become less important, blurring the notion of workplace, home, vacation, traveling. In that world, humans will have easy access to mostly all intellectual resources, but companies will be fighting for human attention. Advertising is already too efficient, diverting attention already. Mitigating these threats will become essential to maintain a healthy humanity.”

Liz Rykert, president at Meta Strategies, a consultancy that works with technology and complex organizational change, responded, “We will see more and more integration of tools that support accountability. An early example of this is the use of body cams by police. The internet will let us both monitor and share data and images about what is happening, whether it is a devastating impact of climate change or an eventful incident of racism. Continued access to tools of accountability and access to knowledge and collaborative opportunities will support people to be both bold and collaborative as they seek new solutions. The internet will be the base to support these efforts as well as the platform that will continue to serve as the means for how we will work together to respond to problems either urgent (like a flood or fire) or longer-term like solving problems like affordable housing.”

Matt Belge, founder and president of Vision & Logic, said, “Humanity has always strived to be connected to other humans, and writing, publishing, art and education were all efforts to serve this desire. This desire is so deeply seated, this desire for connection, that it will drive everything we do. Privacy will become less of a concern and transparency will become more of the norm in the next 50 years. Therefore, I expect technology to enable deeper and more personal connections with fewer secrets and greater openness. Specifically, AI will help people with like interests work together, form deeper relationships and collaborate on advancing our entire species. I believe humans are always striving for more and more connection with other humans and technology is evolving in ways to facilitated this.”

Sam Ladner, a former UX researcher for Amazon and Microsoft, now an adjunct professor at Ontario College of Art & Design, wrote, “We will continue to see a melding of digital and analog ‘selves,’ in which humans will now consider their digital experiences less and less divorced from their face-to-face experiences. Face-to-face social connections will become ever more precious, and ever more elusive. Having an ‘in real life’ relationship will be a commodity to be exploited and a challenge to keep. Physical experiences will increasingly be infused with digital ‘backchannel’ experiences, such as an ongoing digital conversation either in text, images or VR, while the physical event carries on. Likewise, IRL (in real-life) events will become even more exclusive, expensive and a source of cultural capital. Isolated people will fail to see their isolation before it reaches a desperate point, because collectively, we will fail to see physical connections as a key ingredient to ward off loneliness. Loneliness will take on a new meaning; digital friends will assist some isolated people, but loneliness will focus more on lack of human touch, and face-to-face eye contact. New medical disorders will emerge, based on this social withdrawal, and given the aging demographic, a public policy crisis will overwhelm nation-states’ budgets and capabilities. Lonely, aging, physically infirm people may find relief in online forums of all sorts, but we will be surprised to learn what a total absence of IRL interaction will yield.”

Peggy Lahammer, director of health/life sciences at Robins Kaplan LLP and legal market analyst, commented, “Historically access to natural resources, with limited intelligence on how to best use those resources, provided the means to survive and prosper. As we continue to become more specialized in our expertise and less skilled in many tasks required to survive, we are more dependent on others with specialized talents. I believe the internet and a connected world have fueled this transformation and will continue to do so in the next 50 years. The internet will continue to connect people around the globe and cause instability in areas where people have limited resources, information or specialized skills necessary to thrive.”

Bert Huang, an assistant professor in the Department of Computer Science at Virginia Tech focused on machine learning, wrote, “I believe the internet can meet the promise of helping people connect to all of humanity. The main concern I see with the internet is that it plays counter to human intuitions about scale. When humans see thousands of like-minded individuals on the internet, it is too easy to believe that those thousands of people represent all of humanity. One promise of the internet is that it would allow people to interact with, and learn from, individuals with widely different backgrounds, unifying the human species in way that was previously impossible. Unfortunately, the more recent effect has apparently been that people are further entrenched in their own narrow views because they are surrounded on the internet with inconceivably large numbers of people sharing their own views. These large numbers make it difficult for people to fathom that other valid views exist. I believe technology can and will help alleviate this problem.”

A technical information science professional commented, “The daily living ‘operations’ will change drastically from today – how we work, how we take care of family, how we ‘commute’ from place to place, how we entertain and so on. However, the fundamental of living, creating and maintaining meaningful relationships with others will be more dominant focus of our lives, and those concerns and efforts will not change.”

Several of the expert respondents who said they believe humanity will be better off in the future thanks to digital life said that in 50 years individuals will have greater autonomy and more control over their personal data.

Eileen Donahoe, executive director of the Global Digital Policy Incubator at Stanford University, commented, “I envision a dramatic change in terms of how we think about people’s ownership and control of their own data. People’s data will be seen as a valuable commodity and platforms will arise to facilitate data sovereignty for individuals. If we move toward development and deployment of platforms and systems that allow individuals autonomy to choose when and where they exchange their data for goods and services, this will constitute an important positive step toward wider distribution of the benefits of a data-driven society.”

Greg Lloyd, president and co-founder at Traction Software, responded, “The next 50 years will see performance of hardware, storage and bandwidth increase and cost decrease at a rate no less than the past 50 years. This means that the resources available to any person – at the cost of a current smartphone and network subscription – will be close to the resources supporting a Google regional center. This will turn the advertising supported and privacy invasive economic model of the current internet on its head, making it possible for anyone to afford dedicated, private and secure resources to support a Prospero and Ariel-like world of certified and secure services. That people agreed to grant access to their most private resources and actions to platform companies in order to support use of subsidized internet services will become as oddly amusing as the fact that people once earned their living as flagpole sitters. Your smartphone and its personal AI services will be exactly that: your property, which you pay for and use with confidence. When you use certified agents or services, you’ll have choices ranging from free (routine commerce, public library or government services) to fabulously expensive (the best legal minds, most famous pop stars, bespoke design and manufacturing of any artifacts, membership in the most exclusive ‘places’). In all cases your personal smartphone (or whatever it turns into) will help you negotiate enforceable contracts for these services, monitor performance and provide evidence any case of dispute. Think Apple with a smart lawyer, accountant, friend and adviser in your smartphone, not Facebook becoming Silicon Valley’s version of Terry Gilliam’s ‘Brazil.’”

James Scofield O’Rourke, a professor of management at the University of Notre Dame specializing in reputation management, commented, “I foresee two large applications of digital connections such as the internet over the next half century. First, I see access to information, processes and expertise that would either be delayed or inaccessible today. Second, I see a much larger degree of autonomy for the individual. This could mean everything from driverless trucks, automobiles and other vehicles to individual control over our immediate environment, our assets and possessions, and our ability to choose. In exchange, of course, the notion of privacy will virtually disappear.”

R “Ray” Wang, founder and principal analyst at Silicon Valley-based Constellation Research, said, “The new internet can also be a place where we decentralize human rights, enabling an individual to protect their data privacy and stay free. Keep in mind privacy is not dead. It’s up to us as a society to enforce these human rights.”

Susan Aaronson, a research professor of international affairs and cross-disciplinary fellow at George Washington University, responded, “I admit to being a techno optimist. I believe that true entrepreneurs ‘see’ areas/functions that need improvements and will utilize technologies in ways that make it easier for, as an example, the blind to see.”