This report is the first of two to come in 2021 that will share results from the 12th “Future of the Internet” canvassing by the Pew Research Center and Elon University’s Imagining the Internet Center. Experts were asked to respond to several questions via a web-based instrument that was open to them from June 30-July 27, 2020. The first report illuminates the insights 915 respondents shared about the potential “new normal” for people and technology by 2025 in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. More than 10,000 experts and members of the interested public were invited to share their views. The results published here come from a nonscientific, nonrandom, opt-in sample and are not projectable to any other population other than the individuals expressing their points of view in this sample.
Respondent answers were solicited though the following prompts:
Life in 2025: There have been significant debates since the emergence of COVID-19 about its potential impact on global society. Much of the conversation has centered on the transformation of people’s social interactions, their physical and mental health, economic and social divisions, the nature of work and jobs, local, national and global politics, climate change and the globalization of goods and services. Of course, the evolution of people and technology could play a major role across some aspects of the “new normal” in years to come.
The question: Consider the changes that are being set in motion by the COVID-19 outbreak and the way societies are responding. Do you predict these changes will lead to life in 2025 that is…
Mostly BETTER for most people than life was at the time the pandemic began
Mostly WORSE for most people than life was at the time the pandemic began
Not much different from the way things would have turned out if there had been no pandemic
Follow-up question: If you expect change, what do you think the “new normal” will be for the average person in 2025? What will have changed most? What will not change much at all? We are particularly interested in what you think will happen to the way people use and think about technology. Please describe what you think the “new normal” will look like with regard to the use of digital technologies in individuals’ personal and professional lives, their daily routines, their well-being, their privacy, their employment and economic security.
Follow-ups about digital technology in everyday life in 2025:
What hopes do you have for tech-related changes that might make life better in coming years?
What worries you about the role of technology and technology companies in individuals’ lives in 2025?
Results for the quantitative question regarding how life in 2025 will compare to life in 2020:
- 47% said life will be mostly WORSE for most people in 2025 than it was at the time the pandemic began.
- 39% said life will be mostly BETTER for most people in 2025 than it was at the time the pandemic began.
- 14% said life in 2025 will not be much different from the way things would have turned out if there had been no pandemic.
The web-based instrument was first sent directly to an international set of experts (primarily U.S.-based) identified and accumulated by Pew Research Center and Elon University during previous “Future of the Internet” studies, as well as those identified in a 2003 study of people who made predictions about the likely future of the internet between 1990 and 1995. Additional experts with proven interest in digital health, artificial intelligence ethics and other aspects of these particular research topics were also added to the list. We invited a large number of professionals and policy people from government bodies and technology businesses, think tanks and interest networks (for instance, those that include professionals and academics in law, ethics, medicine, political science, economics, social and civic innovation, sociology, psychology and communications); globally located people working with communications technologies in government positions; technologists and innovators; top universities’ engineering/computer science, political science, sociology/anthropology and business/entrepreneurship faculty, graduate students and postgraduate researchers; plus some who are active in civil society organizations that focus on digital life; and those affiliated with newly emerging nonprofits and other research units examining the impacts of digital life.
Among those invited were researchers, developers and business leaders from leading global organizations, including Oxford, Cambridge, MIT, Stanford and Carnegie Mellon universities; Google, Microsoft, Akamai, IBM and Cloudflare; leaders active in the advancement of and innovation in global communications networks and technology policy, such as the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), Internet Society (ISOC), International Telecommunications Union (ITU), Association of Internet Researchers (AoIR) and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Invitees were encouraged to share the survey link with others they believed would have an interest in participating, thus there may have been somewhat of a “snowball” effect as some invitees invited others to weigh in.
The respondents’ remarks reflect their personal positions and are not the positions of their employers; the descriptions of their leadership roles help identify their background and the locus of their expertise.
A large number of the expert respondents elected to remain anonymous. Because people’s level of expertise is an important element of their participation in the conversation, anonymous respondents were given the opportunity to share a description of their internet expertise or background, and this was noted, when available, in this report.
In this canvassing, 65% of respondents answered at least one of the demographic questions. Seven-in-ten (70%) of these 591 people identified as male and 30% as female. Some 77% identified themselves as being based in North America, while 23% are located in other parts of the world. When asked about their “primary area of interest,” 37% identified themselves as professor/teacher; 14% as research scientists; 13% as futurists or consultants; 9% as technology developers or administrators; 7% as advocates or activist users; 8% as entrepreneurs or business leaders; 3% as pioneers or originators; and 10% specified their primary area of interest as “other.”
Following is a list noting a selection of key respondents who took credit for their responses on at least one of the overall topics in this canvassing. Workplaces are included to show expertise; they reflect the respondents’ job titles and locations at the time of this canvassing.
Sam Adams, 24-year veteran of IBM now senior research scientist in artificial intelligence for RTI International; Vincent Alcazar, a retired U.S. military strategist experienced in global intelligence; Micah Altman, a social and information scientist at MIT; Morgan G. Ames, associate director of the University of California, Berkeley’s Center for Science, Technology & Society; Stuart Armstrong, a futurist and research fellow at a major UK university’s futures think tank; Joel Arthur Barker, futurist, lecturer and author; Robert D. Atkinson, president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation; David Barnhizer, professor of law emeritus and co-author of “The Artificial Intelligence Contagion: Can Democracy Withstand the Imminent Transformation of Work, Wealth and the Social Order?”; Marjory S. Blumenthal, director of the science, technology and policy program at RAND Corporation; Gary A. Bolles, chair for the future of work at Singularity University; danah boyd, principal researcher, Microsoft Research, and founder of Data and Society; Stowe Boyd, consulting futurist expert in technological evolution and the future of work; Henry E. Brady, dean of the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley; Tim Bray, technology leader who has worked for Amazon, Google and Sun Microsystems; David Brin, physicist, futures thinker and author of the science fiction novels “Earth” and “Existence”; Chris Caine, president and founder of Mercator XXI, previously with IBM for 25 years; Nigel Cameron, president emeritus, Center for Policy on Emerging Technologies; Kathleen M. Carley, director, Center for Computational Analysis of Social and Organizational Systems, Carnegie Mellon University; Jamais Cascio, distinguished fellow at the Institute for the Future; Vint Cerf, Internet Hall of Fame member and vice president and chief internet evangelist at Google; Georges Chapouthier, neuroscientist, philosopher and writer, an emeritus professor at Sorbonne University, France; Mary Chayko, author of “Superconnected”; Barry Chudakov, founder and principal at Sertain Research; David Clark, Internet Hall of Fame member and senior research scientist at the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory; Adam Clayton Powell III, senior fellow, USC Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership and Policy; Christina J. Colclough, an expert on the future of work and the politics of technology and ethics in AI; Susan Crawford, a professor at Harvard Law School and former special assistant in the Obama White House for science, technology and innovation policy; Kenneth Cukier, senior editor at The Economist and coauthor of “Big Data”; Neil Davies, co-founder of Predictable Network Solutions and a pioneer of the committee that oversaw the UK’s initial networking developments; Rosalie Day, policy leader and consultancy owner specializing in system approaches to data ethics, compliance and trust; Abigail De Kosnik, director of the Center for New Media, University of California, Berkeley; Amali De Silva-Mitchell, futurist and consultant participating in global internet governance processes; Jeanne Dietsch, New Hampshire senator and former CEO of MobileRobots Inc.; Stephen Downes, senior research officer for digital technologies, National Research Council of Canada; Bill Dutton, professor of media and information policy at Michigan State University, former director of the Oxford Internet Institute; Esther Dyson, internet pioneer, journalist, entrepreneur and executive founder of Way to Wellville; David Eaves, public policy entrepreneur expert in information technology and government at Harvard’s Kennedy School; Peter Eckart, co-director of Data Across Sectors for Health (DASH) at Illinois Public Health Institute; Glenn Edens, professor at Thunderbird School of Global Management, Arizona State University, previously a vice president at PARC; June Anne English-Lueck, professor of anthropology at San Jose State University and a distinguished fellow at the Institute for the Future; Susan Etlinger, industry analyst for Altimeter Group; Daniel Farber, author, historian and professor of law at the University of California, Berkeley; Marcel Fafchamps, professor of economics and senior fellow at the Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law at Stanford University; Seth Finkelstein, consulting programmer and Electronic Frontier Foundation Pioneer Award winner; Charlie Firestone, executive director and vice president, Aspen Institute Communications and Society program; Rob Frieden, professor of telecommunications law at Penn State, previously worked with Motorola and held senior U.S. policy positions at the FCC and National Telecommunications and Information Administration; Edward A. Friedman, professor emeritus of technology management at Stevens Institute of Technology; Michael Froomkin, professor of law at University of Miami Law School, expert in legal and policy issues relating to new technologies; Arnaud Gahimbare, network administrator at the East African Court of Justice; Jerome C. Glenn, co-founder and CEO of the futures-research organization The Millennium Project; Valentine Goddard, the founder and executive director of the AI Impact Alliance; Mike Godwin, former general counsel for the Wikimedia Foundation and author of Godwin’s Law; Kenneth Grady, futurist, founding author of The Algorithmic Society blog; Erhardt Graeff, researcher expert in the design and use of technology for civic and political engagement, Olin College of Engineering; Benjamin Grosof, chief scientist at Kyndi, a Silicon Valley AI startup; Glenn Grossman, a consultant of banking analytics at FICO; Wendy M. Grossman, a UK-based science writer, author of “net.wars” and founder of the magazine The Skeptic; Jonathan Grudin, principal researcher, Microsoft; John Harlow, smart-city research specialist at the Engagement Lab at Emerson College; Brian Harvey, emeritus professor of computer science at the University of California, Berkeley; Su Sonia Herring, a Turkish-American internet policy researcher with Global Internet Policy Digital Watch; Mirielle Hildebrandt, expert in cultural anthropology and the law and editor of “Law, Human Agency and Autonomic Computing”; Bernie Hogan, senior research fellow, Oxford Internet Institute; Terri Horton, workforce futurist with FuturePath LLC; Gus Hosein, executive director of Privacy International; G. Philip Hughes, senior director for the White House Writers Group and veteran of many senior foreign policy posts in the White House and the U.S. departments of State, Commerce and Defense; Stephan G. Humer, lecturer expert in digital life at Hochschule Fresenius University of Applied Sciences in Berlin; Alan Inouye, senior director for public policy and government, American Library Association; Larry Irving, Internet Hall of Fame member and former head of the National Telecommunications & Information Administration; Shel Israel, Forbes columnist and author of many books on disruptive technologies; Maggie Jackson, former Boston Globe columnist and author of “Distracted: Reclaiming Our Focus in a World of Lost Attention”; Mark Jamison, professor at the University of Florida and visiting scholar at American Enterprise Institute, previously manager of regulatory policy at Sprint; Jeff Jarvis, director, Tow-Knight Center, City University of New York; Jeff Johnson, professor of computer science, University of San Francisco, previously worked at Xerox, HP Labs and Sun Microsystems; Paul Jones, professor emeritus of information science at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; Anthony Judge, editor of the Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential; David Karger, professor at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory; Frank Kaufmann, president of the Twelve Gates Foundation; Michael Kleeman, senior fellow, University of California, San Diego, and board member, Institute for the Future; Alexander Klimburg, director of the Global Commission on the Stability of Cyberspace Initiative; Eric Knorr, pioneering technology journalist and editor in chief of IDG; Jonathan Kolber, a member of the TechCast Global panel of forecasters and author of a book about the threats of automation; Gary L. Kreps, director of the Center for Health and Risk Communication at George Mason University; David Krieger, director of the Institute for Communication and Leadership, based in Switzerland; Benjamin Kuipers, professor of computer science and engineering at the University of Michigan; Patrick Larvie, global lead for the workplace user-experience team at one of the world’s largest technology companies; Jon Lebkowsky, CEO, founder and digital strategist, Polycot Associates; Sam Lehman-Wilzig, professor and former chair of communication at Bar-Ilan University, Israel; Mark Lemley, director of Stanford University’s Program in Law, Science and Technology; Peter Levine, professor of citizenship and public affairs at Tufts University; Rich Ling, professor at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore; Frederico Links, a journalist, governance researcher, trainer, activist and editor of Insight Namibia; Stanley Maloy, associate vice president for research and innovation and professor of biology at San Diego State University; J. Scott Marcus, an economist, political scientist and engineer who works as a telecommunications consultant; Nathalie Maréchal, senior research analyst at Ranking Digital Rights; Alice E. Marwick, assistant professor of communication at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and adviser for the Media Manipulation project at the Data & Society Research Institute; Thornton May, futurist and co-founder of The Digital Value Institute; Katie McAuliffe, executive director for Digital Liberty; Pamela McCorduck, writer, consultant and author of several books, including “Machines Who Think”; Melissa Michelson, professor of political science, Menlo College; Steven Miller, vice provost and professor of information systems, Singapore Management University; Mario Morino, chairman, Morino Institute, and co-founder, Venture Philanthropy Partners; James Morris, professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon; Sean Munson, professor of human-centered design and engineering at the University of Washington; David Mussington, senior fellow at CIGI and director at the Center for Public Policy and Private Enterprise at the University of Maryland; Alan Mutter, consultant and former Silicon Valley CEO; Philip M. Neches, lead mentor at Enterprise Roundtable Accelerator and longtime trustee at California Institute of Technology; Beth Noveck, director, New York University Governance Lab; Concepcion Olavarrieta, foresight and economic consultant and president of the Mexico node of the Millennium Project; Peter Padbury, chief futurist at Policy Horizons Canada; Fabrice Popineau, an expert on AI, computer intelligence and knowledge engineering based in France; Oksana Prykhodko, director of the European Media Platform, an international NGO; Calton Pu, professor and chair in the School of Computer Science at Georgia Tech; Irina Raicu, a member of the Partnership on AI’s working group on Fair, Transparent and Accountable AI; Glynn Rogers, retired, previously senior principal engineer and a founding member at the CSIRO Centre for Complex Systems Science; Larry D. Rosen, a professor emeritus known as an international expert on the psychology of technology; Douglas Rushkoff, writer, documentarian and professor of media, City University of New York; Paul Saffo, chair for futures studies and forecasting at Singularity University and visiting scholar at Stanford MediaX; Rich Salz, senior architect, Akamai Technologies; Jean Seaton, director of the Orwell Foundation and professor of media history at the University of Westminster; Greg Sherwin, vice president for engineering and information technology at Singularity University; Henning Schulzrinne, Internet Hall of Fame member, co-chair of the Internet Technical Committee of the IEEE and professor at Columbia University; Robert Y. Shapiro, professor and former chair of political science at Columbia University; Ben Shneiderman, distinguished professor of computer science and founder of Human Computer Interaction Lab, University of Maryland; Craig Silliman, an executive vice president for a major global technology company; John Smart, foresight educator, scholar, author, consultant and speaker; Jim Spohrer, director of cognitive open technologies and the AI developer ecosystem at IBM; Sharon Sputz, executive director, strategic programs, Columbia University Data Science Institute; Jon Stine, executive director of the Open Voice Network, setting standards for AI-enabled vocal assistance; Jonathan Taplin, author of “Move Fast and Break Things: How Google, Facebook and Amazon Cornered Culture and Undermined Democracy”; Brad Templeton, internet pioneer, futurist and activist, a former president of the Electronic Frontier Foundation; Ed Terpening, consultant and industry analyst with the Altimeter Group; Ian Thomson, a pioneer developer of the Pacific Knowledge Hub; Joseph Turow, professor of communication, University of Pennsylvania; Stuart A. Umpleby, professor and director of the research program in social and organizational learning at George Washington University; Wietske Van Osch, associate professor in digital transformation at HEC Montréal; Dan S. Wallach, a professor in the systems group at Rice University’s Department of Computer Science; Wendell Wallach, ethicist and scholar at Yale University’s Interdisciplinary Center for Bioethics; Amy Webb, founder, Future Today Institute, and professor of strategic foresight, New York University; Meredith Whittaker, co-director of NYU’s AI Now research institute; Lawrence Wilkinson, chairman at Heminge and Condell and founding president of Global Business Network, the pioneering scenario-planning futures group; Jim Witte, director of the Center for Social Science Research at George Mason University; Alice Xiang, a researcher with The Partnership for AI; Simeon Yates, a professor expert in digital culture and personal interaction at the University of Liverpool and the research lead for the UK government’s Digital Culture team; Warren Yoder, longtime director at Public Policy Center of Mississippi, now an executive coach; Jillian York, director of international freedom of expression for the Electronic Frontier Foundation; Amy Zalman, global futurist and founder and CEO of Prescient; and Ethan Zuckerman, director, MIT’s Center for Civic Media, and co-founder, Global Voices.
A selection of institutions at which some of the respondents work or have affiliations:
AAI Foresight; AI Now Research Institute of New York University; AI Impact Alliance; Access Now; Akamai Technologies; Altimeter Group; American Enterprise Institute; American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology; American Library Association; American University; American University of Afghanistan; Anticipatory Futures Group; APNIC; Arizona State University; Aspen Institute; AT&T; Atlantic Council; Australian National University; Bar-Ilan University; Benton Institute; Bloomberg Businessweek; Brookings Institution; BT Group; Canada Without Poverty; Carleton University; Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; Carnegie Mellon University; Center for a New American Security; Center for Data Innovation; Center for Global Enterprise; Center for Health and Risk Communication at George Mason University; Center for Strategic and International Studies; Centre for International Governance Innovation; Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, France; Chinese University of Hong Kong; Cisco Systems; Citizens and Technology Lab; City University of New York; Cloudflare; Columbia University; Constellation Research; Convo Research and Strategy; Cornell University; Council of Europe; Data Across Sectors for Health at the Illinois Public Health Institute; Data & Society Research Institute; Data Science Institute at Columbia; Davis Wright Tremaine LLP; Dell EMC; Deloitte; Digital Grassroots; Digital Value Institute; Disney; DotConnectAfrica; The Economist; Electronic Frontier Foundation; Electronic Privacy Information Center; Enterprise Roundtable Accelerator; Emerson College; Fight for the Future; European Broadcasting Union; Foresight Alliance; Future Today Institute; Futuremade; Futurous; FuturePath; Futureproof Strategies; General Electric; Georgetown University; Georgia Tech; Global Business Network; Global Internet Policy Digital Watch; Global Voices; Google; Hague Centre for Strategic Studies, Harvard University; Hochschule Fresenius University of Applied Sciences; Hokkaido University; IBM; Indiana University; Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN); IDG; Ignite Social Media; Information Technology and Innovation Foundation; Institute for the Future; Instituto Superior Técnico, Portugal; Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies; Institute for Prediction Technology; International Centre for Free and Open Source Software; International Telecommunication Union; Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF); Internet Society; Internet Systems Consortium; Johns Hopkins University; Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE); Ithaka; Juniper Networks; Kyndi; Le Havre University; Leading Futurists; Lifeboat Foundation; MacArthur Research Network on Open Governance; Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia; Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Menlo College; Mercator XXI; Michigan State University; Microsoft Research; Millennium Project; Mimecast; Missions Publiques; Moses & Singer LLC; Nanyang Technological University, Singapore; Nautilus Magazine; New York University; Namibia University of Science and Technology; National Distance University of Spain; National Research Council of Canada; Nonprofit Technology Network; Northeastern University; North Carolina State University; Olin College of Engineering; Pinterest; Policy Horizons Canada; Predictable Network Solutions; R Street Institute; RAND; Ranking Digital Rights; Rice University; Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology; RTI International; San Jose State University; Santa Clara University; Sharism Lab; Singularity University; Singapore Management University; Södertörn University, Sweden; Social Science Research Council; Sorbonne University; South China University of Technology; Spacetel Consultancy LLC; Stanford University; Stevens Institute of Technology; Syracuse University; Tallinn University of Technology; TechCast Global; Tech Policy Tank; Telecommunities Canada; Tufts University; The Representation Project; Twelve Gates Foundation; United Nations; University of California, Berkeley; University of California, Los Angeles; University of California, San Diego; University College London; University of Hawaii, Manoa; University of Texas, Austin; the Universities of Alabama, Arizona, Dallas, Delaware, Florida, Maryland, Massachusetts, Miami, Michigan, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rochester, San Francisco and Southern California; the Universities of Amsterdam, British Columbia, Cambridge, Cyprus, Edinburgh, Groningen, Liverpool, Naples, Oslo, Otago, Queensland, Toronto, West Indies; UNESCO; U.S. Geological Survey; U.S. National Science Foundation; U.S. Naval Postgraduate School; Venture Philanthropy Partners; Verizon; Virginia Tech; Vision2Lead; Volta Networks; World Wide Web Foundation; Wellville; Whitehouse Writers Group; Wikimedia Foundation; Witness; Work Futures; World Economic Forum; XponentialEQ; and Yale University Center for Bioethics.
Complete sets of credited and anonymous responses can be found here: